Tuesday, December 08, 2020

I Jonathan: A Charleston Tale of the Rebellion - George WB Scott

I’ve been a fan of Civil War historical fiction since I first learned about the bloodiest war in American history as a child more than sixty years ago. Of course, as a true “son of the South,” while watching a movie or reading a book about that war back then, I always rooted for the men in gray despite knowing what the ultimate outcome really had been. Over the years, my interest in the war grew more along the lines of battle strategies and the generals on both sides, and I began to take a deeper interest in the biographies and histories. As it turns out, I had great-great grandfathers on both sides, one a private in a Louisiana infantry unit, the other a sergeant in a Texas calvary unit that fought for the Union. My Texas relative was, in fact, one of less than 800 Texans who fought on that side of the line. It was only later that I developed an interest in diaries of the time and learned about what the war was really like for those Southerners who watched everything around them being destroyed little by little until it was all gone. What they endured was incredible. 

George Scott’s I Jonathan: A Charleston Tale of the Rebellion is very much akin to reading one of those old diaries. The difference is that the “diary” at the heart of I Jonathan is a fictional one supposedly recounted in 1941 to a young man by his 100-year-old great uncle. Needless to say, time is of the essence, and the nephew repeatedly visits his uncle in the old man’s nursing home so that he can capture his story before it is too late. As Ralph Bennett tells us, his uncle was in and around Charleston, South Carolina, for the entire war, having arrived there from Europe shortly before the first shots were fired at nearby Fort Sumpter. 

The odd thing about Jonathan being in South Carolina at all during the Civil War is that he is not a Southerner. Rather, he is a Bostonian who accidentally finds himself landing in Charleston as he is returning to the U.S. from an extended stay in Europe. Unfortunately for Johnathan, upon arrival his personal circumstances continue to worsen even to the point that he cannot afford to make his way back to Boston any time soon even if he wants to - and because his heart has been broken by the one he left behind there, he doesn’t want to. So, not entirely by choice, Johnathan finds himself stranded in South Carolina at the most awkward (and dangerous) time for someone from Boston to be stuck in that city.

For the next four years, Jonathan has to find a way to survive. All the while trying to make a place for himself in a world that is being ripped apart around him, he has to avoid those who cannot understand why a healthy young man like him is not already part of the Confederate Army. He manages to avoid taking up arms by contributing to the cause in a way that allows him to do so without totally feeling that he has betrayed his own country: he transports goods for a local trader, he becomes part of a local fire brigade, and for a short time, he is even a blockade runner. 

Bottom Line: The beauty of I Jonathan is in the evolution of the way its main character sees the fatal mistake that the South has made. While he can never reconcile the idea that professed Christians are willing to die in order to keep other men in bondage, he begins to understand why everything is happening as it is, and in the process, he learns to admire many of the men and women he comes to know. Through Jonathan’s friendships with slaves, free blacks, plantation-owning families, military men, and traders, the reader gets a sense of what it may have been like in one of the South’s major cities and ports as the war progressed. If you are interested in historical fiction of this period, do take a look at the haunting  I Jonathan. 

George WB Scott

Review copy provided by publisher or author


  1. I love really good historical fiction, especially when it highlights a part or side of history I'm not super familiar with. Great review of this one!

  2. It's an unusual approach for Civil War historical fiction in that it only mentions the battles, large and small, in passing as a way to show how the "home front" keeps deteriorating over time.


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