Review of Two Brothers, One North, One South

two-brothersJones, David H.  Two Brothers, One North, One South.  Encino, CA:  Staghorn Press, 2008.  320pp, ISBN 13:  978-0-9796898-5-7, $24.95.

David H. Jones has provided one of the latest additions to the genre of historical fiction on the Civil War, a genre that includes such works as Killer Angels, Gods and Generals, and the Civil War trilogy written by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen to name a few.  The novel intertwines real individuals, including Walt Whitman, and members of the Prentiss family, into a story that illustrated the brother against brother nature of the war.

The story began at a Union hospital, where Whitman befriends a young Confederate soldier from Maryland, who is dying from wounds suffered at Petersburg.  When the young man, William Prentiss passes, Whitman meets his older brothers, including Clifton, who was also wounded and served in the Union army.  Whitman began to tell the brothers what he learned from his conversations with William, in an attempt to help them learn about their brother and his experience during the war, as they had become estranged due to different opinions on the war.

Together, Whitman and the Prentiss brothers presented a story of the war that is rich and lively.  The reader shifts from Armory Square Hospital in Washington, in 1865, back to pre-war Baltimore and countless other places in the Eastern Theater of the war.  William Prentiss, the youngest son of a staunch Union abolitionist father and educator, owing to strong influence of pro-Southern peers, especially the Cary sisters, decides to join Confederate forces when hostilities commence.  His brother Clifton, who attempted to dissuade William, takes up arms for the Union.  William’s father, John, takes his son’s decision to fight for the Confederacy especially hard, calling William a “damned traitor”.(81)  Throughout the war, the brothers experienced such battles as Bull Run, Gettysburg, and Petersburg.  The chapters weave a wonderful tale that discusses daily life in the army, as well as the involvement of women in the war.

The goal of Jones’ book was to present the war in the manner that Whitman hoped, as he (Whitman) feared that the real war would be lost to succeeding generations.  While this is a noble ideal, given the vast number of books on the war from a non-fiction standpoint, the real nature of the war has not been lost, as Whitman feared.  However, Jones does provide, through his story, a good example of the nature of the war.

While the story was good, there were some problems.  First, the book has an air of Confederate bias.  While the story is attempting to help the brothers understand William’s service in the war, there is too much focus on characters, like the Cary sisters and other Southern sympathizers.  This focus on Southerners, coupled with some dialogue that seems haughty for normal conversation, even for the nineteenth century, could turn off some readers too early. The back story surrounding them added intrigue to the story, but detracted from understanding the experience of the men in battle.  Further, more focus on Clifton’s service in the Federal army would have better illustrated the brother against brother nature of the conflict.  The back and forth shift in time of the story is a good concept, but more detail on the Prentiss family would have helped.  While the immediate pre-war events in Baltimore are discussed and others hinted at, a fuller explanation of how the family, especially with adult children in other locales, reacted to events like John Brown’s raid, the election of Lincoln, and secession would have better explained the split that occurred between the family members.

David Jones crafted a unique piece of Civil War historical fiction.  Intertwining real people and real places with fictional characters provides a great story about the war that, hopefully, will lead readers to explore the vast non-fiction literature on the conflict.  Though there are some issues with the book, readers should delight in Jones masterful storytelling.

Author’s Note: I would like to encourage you all that have read the book to pose questions and comments, as David Jones will be visiting here as part of the TLC Book Tour.

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5 thoughts on “Review of Two Brothers, One North, One South

  1. Thank you for hosting a TLC Book Tour for “Two Brothers: One North, One South” and writing your thoughtful review. I very much appreciate it. I will check this blog every few hours today and for the next few days to answer any questions about “Two Brothers” that are posted. Dian and I are on the road today, traveling from Gettysburg to my old hometown of Fairmont, West Virginia to visit friends and family. On Saturday, we did a book signing in the new Museum and Visitor Center at the Gettysburg National Military Park. While it rained all day, we met lots of very nice folks and signed many books. We were able to tour our favorite battlefield spots on Friday and viewed the Cyclorama, the new introductory film, and the museum Sunday morning.

  2. Mr. Jones,

    Thank you for your comment. I am planning to send you a list of questions regarding your book soon, which I will post here. I wish you luck with your writing and hope that you will consider writing a regimental history of the Maryland battalions, as I would be curious to see where you would fit into the historical discourse and how you would use sources. Have safe travels.

    Daniel

  3. Pingback: Q & A with David H. Jones « Civil War History

  4. Pingback: David H. Jones, author of Two Brothers – One North, One South, on tour November 2008 | TLC Book Tours

  5. I came across your page trying to research any history on a traitor brother shooting his sibling in war. My son from the ages of 3 til 6 yrs old use to talk about how his brother and him were in the war and his brother is who shot him. He remembers being on horses and his name was John, his brother’s name was William and his mothers name Elizabeth.

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