CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 1 . . . . September 3, 2004
War, we quickly learn in John Wilson's novel of the American Civil War, had always influenced the path the McGregor family would take. Rory had fought for the Scottish cause at Culloden Moor, in 1764, and immigrated to British North America after the English defeated the clan army. Family unity was split when his sons chose different sides during the American Revolution. The loyalist brother fled to British Canada and became a pioneer farmer. The other went to South Carolina to become a prosperous slave-holding plantation owner. In 1860, fate throws Rory's teenage great grandsons, Nate a Southern loyalist and Walt a Canadian supporter of abolition, into the cauldron of the American Civil War. The story begins when a runaway slave named Sunday makes his way to the McGregor farm in Canada West. He is looking for Touss, an ex-slave who had escaped to Canada on the underground railway. Sunday's story of the slave owner's brutality reinforced Walt's hatred of the evil institution. Little did he know that Sunday had escaped from his cousin's plantation and Frank West, the vicious plantation overseer, had vowed to recapture the runaway and to take him back to South Carolina. Walt prevents West from re-capturing Sunday, who, along with Touss, joins the Union forces to fight as a "free black" in the war to abolish slavery. When he thwarted West's plans, Walt made an implacable enemy. West returns and kidnaps Walt, takes him to the United States and "crimps" (sells) him to the Confederate army. When war begins, Nate joined the staff of the famous Confederate General Pierre Beauregard. He sees the horrors of war and fights bravely in many bloody engagements. During the Battle of Shiloh, Nate and Walt meet in battle, and, if Sunday had not arrived, one or both would have been killed. When they realize that the Union forces have won the battle, they abandon their Confederate uniforms to avoid capture. They leave the field of battle together, leaving us to ponder their fate (a sequel in the making, perhaps?). The Flags of War is one of those historical fiction novels in which the author's historical interests sometimes overwhelm the plotline. At times, Wilson overburdens the text with too many political issues; however, it is still an enjoyable and well crafted. Students will be drawn to the complex characters of Walt and Nate. Although Walt is a heroic and noble young man, he must come to grips with the ambiguities of war. After his capture, he had to fight and likely killed Confederate soldiers to survive. Even though Nate is fighting to preserve a privileged way of life based on slavery, he always treats people fairly and honorably. This situation leads us to recognize that at times good people may fight for wrong causes. Wilson also deals with this issue in his wonderful 2003 novel Flames of the Tiger (CM,.Vol. X, No. 1, September 5, 2003).
Ian Stewart teaches at David Livingstone School in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.