Tuesday, May 19, 2009
A novel of women at Gettysburg
by Peggy Ullman Bell
(Writers Club Press / 0-595-21841-5 / 978-0-595-21841-7 / February 2002 / 278 pages / $17.95 / Kindle $3.96)
Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM
For three days in July of 1863, war raged in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. When it was over, thousands of men on both the Union and Confederate sides of the conflict were dead or dying, and the lives of the residents of Gettysburg were changed forever. Fixin' Things, by Peggy Ullman Bell, is a tribute to those residents, especially "all the women who sacrificed their health, their lives, and their sanity to keep the [Gettysburg National Cemetery] from being a hundred times larger."
The story centers on the Loren family and their near relations. Like many people who lived close to the Mason-Dixon Line, their loyalties were mixed. The Loren women, Kathin and her younger sister Megan, secretly operated a station on the Underground Railroad. Kathin's sister-in-law, although born in Philadelphia, thoroughly adopted the slave-owning society of Maryland, where she lives with her husband Jason Mercer. Jason, a colonel in the Confederate army, is a kind and intellectual gentleman, while Kathin's husband Edwin, a captain in the Union army, is an abusive and foul-mouthed tyrant. When war comes to Gettysburg, family relationships and loyalties are strained. The Loren farm and their townhome, rented to a female blacksmith and a schoolteacher (tacitly recognized as lovers), become field hospitals and refuges for wounded soldiers on both sides.
In this well-researched novel, readers will grasp the immensity of this historic event, and recognize at once how the small community of Gettysburg was devastated. Churches and schools were desecrated and dismantled, overflowing with blood and offal and stuffed to the seams with the dead and dying. Fields and crops were trampled; wells and streams were fouled. Larders were emptied; supplies raided. And rather than fight back or protect their possessions, most residents of Gettysburg gave all they had and more than they could afford. They baked the last of their flour into bread for the hungry men, nursed the wounded in their own homes, and ripped up their petticoats and linens for bandages. In turn, many of the desperate soldiers became attached to their resident saviors, who hid them and shielded them from enemy soldiers and, in some cases, from their own army that would have sent them back into action.
Even after the battle, the horror continued in Gettysburg. The wounded were legion; the town was bereft of supplies, and thousands of dead needed to be buried. (And, in a few weeks, orders arrived to dig them up and rebury them elsewhere.) In Fixin' Things, author Ullman-Bell explores the impact of this event on the fictional Loren sisters and their friends. Readers are transported back to an event of huge historical consequence in our country, viewed through the eyes of people who lived it personally, with all glamour and patriotism stripped away.
See Also: The Author's Website
Ms. Bell's Authors Den Page
Review of Peggy Ullman Bell's Sappho Sings