My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Year of Disunion opens with preparations for the first battle at Bull Run, but it is told less from the military perspective than from the point of a view of an extended family from Vermont. Sisters Roxana Tilton and Lettie Humphreys have little inkling as to how this war will change their lives; they couldn’t be more different from one another, but the coming trials will strengthen and cement their bonds. Lettie is fleeing from a wealthy but abusive husband, and shelters with Roxana and her husband, the Reverend Joseph. A staunch abolitionist, Joseph enlists as a chaplain. At first, he moves the family to Washington D.C., where he is stationed, hoping that Lettie will be able to evade her husband’s attempts to find her and force her to return. During the debacle that was Bull Run, Joseph is taken captive by the rebels, and Lettie and Roxana pack up their children and head further south in hopes of finding him and securing his release.
This debut novel by Blythe Forcey Toussaint provides fascinating and accurate insights into the lives of Yankee civilians during the first year of the war. It is an era in which women have few rights, but circumstances demand that they step out of traditional roles, an opportunity embraced by both Roxana and Lettie as they strive to live with constant anxiety. Many of the other characters are slaves, and through their interactions with the protagonists, they emerge as strong individuals in their own right. The narrative is a succession of alternating chapters featuring Joseph, Roxana, and Lettie, providing a multidimensional look at some of the ways in which people found to cope with the exigencies of civil warfare.
Ms. Toussaint has released Year of Disunion as the first in a series of related novels, planned in observance of the sesquicentennial of The War Between the States. I enjoyed this introduction and look forward to reading more about Roxana and Lettie in the next installment.