Seen the Glory by John Hough Jr. is a fictional story set in the Civil War – more or less around the Battle of Gettysburg. The story revolves around two brothers, Luke and Thomas Chandler, who are abolitionists from Martha’s Vineyard and who enlist in the Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment. The brothers have their abolitionist convictions because of their father and Rose, a free black woman who takes care of the brothers and their father.
Hough generally frames the story in chronological order – from the brothers’ experiences on Martha’s Vineyard to their experiences in the Army of the Potomac. However, Hough interweaves the events leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg with other events from the brothers’ past that fill in gaps in the storyline – this is done without any awkward transitions (mainly because Hough splits the different events into chapters).
In addition to Luke and Thomas, Hough provides fascinating perspectives of other people that bring a more authentic feel to the story and the time period, including Rose, the brothers’ childhood friend, Elisha Smith, free black men and women, and Confederate soldiers. Hough brings these different characters into the story seamlessly. For example, Hough ties the story of Floyd Wilkes, a freeborn black man in Gettysburg who is cruelly mistreated by Confederate soldiers, into the main story.
Hough provides a pretty accurate view of life in the Army of the Potomac – he consulted with a Civil War re-enactor. The men were better fed and clothed than their Southern counterparts, but that did not mean life was all easy and good. For example, one of the brothers’ compatriots went without shoes for a couple of weeks (marching for long periods in his bare feet).
One major strength of the book is how Hough addresses the treatment of blacks in the North. Many people today believe that blacks were treated immensely better in the North than the South – Hough dispels this belief. Although blacks were free in the North and were not subject to outright beatings as often, they still dealt with prejudices, disdain, and sometimes physical violence. Many, if not most, Union troops were outraged when the war was changed from one of union to one of emancipation.
This discussion brings me to one of the issues I was uncomfortable with in the writing. Hough’s characters freely used the N word when referring to blacks – I grew up not using this term and thus am not comfortable using it or hearing it. I am sure that Hough uses it for historical accuracy, but I wanted to warn anyone who is sensitive to the use of this word. In addition, I think his use of curse words is used a little too much (no, I do not think that people didn’t use this type of language, but I also know that some authors have a tendency to over-use the language).
One final thought, although this is an excellent novel in many respects, it is not what I would consider a war novel. The battle scenes are described with great detail, but there just are not that many described. When I saw the reference to the Killer Angels, I thought the book was mostly on the battle. However, that is not the case with this book. Most of the book is spent on the events leading up to the battle.