David Stinebeck & Scannell Gill,
A Civil General
(Sun Stone Press, 2008)

Are you a Civil War buff? Are you a fan of U.S. history? If you are, you probably know who General George Henry Thomas was. However, if you are like me and have forgotten most of what you learned in history classes, you might be interested in a short novel by David Stinebeck and Scannell Gill called A Civil General. Not only will this book refresh your memory of just who General Thomas was (assuming you ever knew), but you might just get a little more insight into what the War Between the States was like.

Thomas has been called the Union's greatest officer. His roots were in the South, but his commitment was to the North and keeping the country together. Despite his estrangement from his family in Virginia, Thomas stayed true to his convictions. With a military background that included service during the Mexican-American War, Thomas excelled during the Civil War. He was instrumental in several Union victories including the battles of Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge and Nashville. While Thomas might not have name recognition now, at the time of his death he had mourners across the country, approximately 10,000 of whom showed up for his funeral.

This look at the war time life of Thomas is seen through the eyes of one of his underlings, a colonel by the name of William Swain. Swain became Thomas's confidante and seems to be the best person to describe the general's life during the war. I believe the authors based the character of Swain off of documents, or "wartime recollections," from Captain William Stinebeck and Captain John Beatty, both of whom fought under Thomas.

According to press materials, the two authors of A Civil General are a husband-and-wife team who have been married for more than 40 years. Stinebeck (the great-grandson of Captain William Stinebeck) has a doctorate in American studies from Yale. Prior books include Shifting World: Social Change in the American Novel and Puritans, Indians & Manifest Destiny. Gill's background includes a master's degree in marriage & family therapy. These two are currently collaborating on future novels.

If I had any issue with A Civil General, it would have to be with the novel's length. It is extremely short. However, once Thomas dies, there is not much more you can write about beyond the funeral, so perhaps I can overlook this issue. What I did enjoy was the archaic feel to the storytelling. The novel is written almost as a diary. There is more of a first-person feel that you are part of the action instead of a spectator simply reading a historical novel.

I will end with one word of warning. While the book is based on some historical facts, it is a novel. And this novel may change your opinion about some of the more well-known personalities from this time period. Perhaps some are not quite as great as history books from school would like us to believe.

review by
Wil Owen

7 February 2009

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