Thomas Francis Meagher, the Irish exile, lived a life so turbulent that Richard Wheeler never once exaggerates in narrating the rebel’s story. Born in Waterford, young Meagher used his silver tongue to argue for the repeal of the union between England and Ireland, a popular cause in the mid-19th century. While still in his twenties, he was convicted of treason for ‘exciting the people to rise to rebellion.’ He was transported to Van Diemen’s Land. Three years later, he escaped to America.
This is where Wheeler’s story begins. He depicts Meagher adrift in Manhattan, making wages by public speaking, practicing law, and starting a newspaper – uninspired ventures that fail to provide him a secure living. The Civil War provides opportunity. Meagher raises the Irish Brigade and fights at Richmond, Antietam, Fredericksburg – reaching the rank of brigadier general. When the war ends he is set adrift again, eventually receiving a post as Territorial Secretary and acting Governor of the rough-and-tumble Montana territory.
Wheeler depicts Meagher as a man at his best in conflict, danger, and war – not navigating the domestic burdens of a work-a-day life. A clear, straightforward narrative and a compassionate depiction of a great, and greatly flawed, individual make this novel a solid read.