After an explosive, vivid moment of battle, Joseph Forsyth winds up in a hospital tent, with the doctor giving him up for dead. A lonely, heartsick nurse, tending him, finds a letter from his wife, and begs the doctor to save him. He clings to life, drifting from infection to fever, and in between, Shipman tells the story of Joseph Forsyth’s life.
The story wanders far from the Civil War battlefield where it starts. Born in Ireland, Forsyth has come to America with his parents, been abandoned and virtually enslaved, farmed and traveled the back country and fallen in love, always on a quest to find some place to belong.
“Joseph walked quietly through the house and back out the front door. He sat down in a chair he kept on the porch, looking out over the land and up at the stars. He wondered about life, all his adventures and all those to come. He whistled an Irish tune his mother had taught him. He was finally home.”
James D. Shipman is the descendant of the real Joseph Forsyth. He plunges through his story with a sincerity that overcomes the stiff characters and the sometimes clumsy writing. The work draws on family sources, and the details of life are sharply drawn. An interesting rendition of the Civil War novel, surely by now its own subgenre.