Incident at Jonesborough

Written by Chaz Osburn
Review by Fiona Ness

As General Sherman makes clear at one point in Chaz Osburn’s slim, intensely good debut Incident at Jonesborough, the Georgia town outside of Atlanta mentioned in the book’s title is “perhaps the most important point in the entire state of Georgia,” because it is the juncture of two separate railway lines – one running north and south, one running west – vital for supplying the Confederacy.

Sherman is certain that capturing Jonesborough will force the Confederates, and it’s a testament to Osburn’s storytelling abilities that the large-scale military tensions are just one of the many dramatic threads of his book. Sherman has a scheme to break the back of the Confederate resistance, and the Confederates also have a scheme, to finance a “New Confederacy” with gold making its way through Jonesborough.

Between these forces are two old friends, Confederate commander Baxter Smythe, and Union colonel Miles Barker. Osburn threads a steadily-building tension through this atmosphere of complicated loyalties and wartime drama, and he also manages to include many unexpected glints of humor and a great deal of historical verisimilitude of a very pleasing sort (when one outraged character yells at another “You yellow-bellied sap sucker!”, you really believe it!).

The mission – the incident – at the heart of the novel is the dramatic payoff of the story, but there is quite a bit additional to enjoy here.