The Rebel Killer
Instead of retreating to Boston with the defeated Union army, after the battle of Manassas, Jack Lark and the escaped slave Rose intend to head west and forge a new life. The surrounding countryside, however, is full of Confederate soldiers, and they are captured. Major Lyle threatens to kill Rose, and Jack, badly wounded, wakes up in a Confederate hospital. He manages to escape, vowing vengeance on Lyle, but is weak. Found ill and injured by an old man, he is taken back to a cabin where his daughter Martha nurses Jack back to health. Then the soldiers come, the old man is killed, and Jack and Martha set out to the west, she to look for her husband in the Confederate army, he to pursue Lyle and his avowed revenge. Jack will steal, lie and kill, whatever is necessary for his survival. They travel to the west, and become embroiled in the war. The latter part of the novel covers the battles at Fort Donelson and Shiloh, with brutal detail.
Collard portrays vividly the fury and agony of the battles, the horror, barbarity and suffering of war and particularly the aftermath. Jack is fighting without any principles, he is just a killing machine, revelling in his ability to kill, and only occasionally questioning his actions. I didn’t find him an admirable character. There is plenty of description of the battles, but only in the latter chapters. I’d have appreciated more detail of the state of America during Jack’s attempt to go west.