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Two Brothers - One North, One South

by David H. Jones

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6324370,144 (2.89)29
A poet acts as the only link between William and Clifton Prentiss, brothers who fought on opposite sides during the Civil War but now stay at the same hospital in Washington, D.C.

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I'm afraid this is not much of a review... I could not get into this book. I did try, but found nothing of interest to grab my attention. I don't think the stilted speech was believable. Only a civil war buff could like this book. I would say very well researched but no story to tell. ( )
  tedstrutz | Oct 11, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Based on my interest in Civil War history, I selected this book from the menu available at the time from the Early Reviewers' program. I look forward to reading it when my schedule permits/
  Doondeck | Oct 5, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I am not particularly well-versed in the history of the Civil War, but have long had a curiosity of how individuals caught up in that conflict found ways to survive, both physically and emotionally. As such, the premise of Two Brothers: One North, One South appealed to me and I opened this book with much anticipation.

The story begins at the end of the War, with the famous writer and poet Walt Whitman serving as the conduit between the family members who remained loyal to the Union and the brother who followed his heart to fight for the Confederacy. William Prentiss, the Rebel brother, had just died in a Washington, D.C., Hospital, while his brother Clifton lay in another ward of the same hospital in serious condition. Whitman, who had befriended William, had spent many hours at William’s side, and upon discovering William’s brother Clifton and two older brothers who are there to visit Clifton, he begins to reveal to them just what their youngest brother had experienced since leaving home to serve in the Rebel Army.

The story proceeds from this point in a series of flashbacks, some as memories of the surviving brothers, others related by Whitman as told him by William. Chief among the other characters are two sisters, Hetty and Jenny Cary, and their cousin, Constance, who secretly aided the Confederate cause as spies from their home in Baltimore.

This book is full of rich characters and there is no shortage of information provided the reader who is eager for a new angle on a much studied topic. At times, especially in the early chapters, I found the story to be bogged down with too many names of generals, captains, corporals, lieutenants, and other people incidental to the story. Likewise, the story was, for me, a bit long on battles and logistics and short on details of the landscape and insights into the human factor. However, the final few chapters pick up the pace and it seems the author shifts his focus a bit away from his original litany of names and engages more in the characters, much to the book’s benefit.

Of course, being a fictionalized account of a true story, much supposition is necessary to weave the tale, and the reader can only appreciate the author’s apparent reticence to make too many assumptions of what his characters were really like. There was also the feeling, in one or two extensions of the stories, of a dead end being reached by the author, with the characters or storylines around them dissipating into thin air. Again, as the author’s careful research is apparent in other areas, one can only presume the trail of information disappeared and the side story sadly followed.

At the end, the author offers an appendix with excerpts from actual letters and newspaper clippings, which was a nice way to wrap up some of the loose ends.

This book is a worthwhile read, but might leave the more casually interested reader feeling it was intended for a more fanatical Civil War historian. ( )
  fallaspen | Aug 3, 2009 |
Walt Whitman has a calling, not only as a poet but as someone to do what he can to ease the pain of the injured and dying soldiers from the American Civil War. Although a native of New York, Whitman does not let a soldier’s military affiliation prevent him from being of comfort to one who needs it. It is in this capacity that he meets and learns the story of Private William Prentiss. William Prentiss was the youngest son of a proud Marylander from Baltimore. He held the distinction of being the only brother who fought for the South. Clifton, his brother closest in age, fought for the North. After William’s passing, Whitman has the opportunity to meet with the surviving Prentiss brothers and together they uncover the story of the Civil War, which tore the Prentiss family apart.

Two Brothers: One North, One South is much more focused on the battles and political shifts than other Civil War novels I’ve read in the past. The remembrances of the battlefields and the political discussions and arguments, which were undoubtedly the result of thorough research, felt authentic and even authoritative. I felt as though I was an insider at each of the Cary sister’s parties or meetings. I also felt as if I was witnessing the long marches and grueling battles. This provided the authenticity required to make the story work. Because of the level of detail, this novel would easily satisfy those well versed in Civil War history. I attended a seminar that was taught by a man who makes such reenactments his primary hobby. While reading this book, I often thought about how perfect this novel would be for those who participate in Civil War reenactments. I can just imagine them reading this book around the campfire and commiserating with the characters’ less than luxurious conditions while in the midst of a reenactment. I think they would especially get a kick out of scenes such as the one where William and a Union soldier are conversing with each other on the sly while they were each hunkered down behind their barricades.

I listened to this book on audio. As much as I enjoyed learning about the Prentiss brothers and the Carey sisters, it was in spite of the narrator, Kirsten Beyer. The way she read the dialog particularly didn’t work for me. Some of the characters’ dialog, especially at the beginning while they were discussing the politics of the war, felt more like formal letter writing than natural speech between family, acquantences, or friends. While this is not the fault of Ms. Beyer, her reading of this dialog made them feel even more than an arm’s distance away from me and from each other. Her change of voice for the male characters especially didn’t work very well for me. Her pacing and style did work better for me during the straight narration. Still, given that most of the characters were male and this story very much took place on the battlefields, I think that a male voice would have made a more natural fit for me.

While reading Two Brothers: One North, One South, I learned a great deal about how the American Civil War affected Maryland and its people. I also learned about the role that women like the “Cary Invicibles” played in Confederate history. Beforehand, I had never heard of sisters Hetty and Jennie Cary or their cousin Constance. I thought it was fascinating how they made the first Confederate battle flags and managed to deliver them to the troops. I was disappointed that there was not more about what happened to the “Cary Invicibles” after the war, but given the structure of this novel, there was no way to tell that story. David H. Jones brings to light the pain experienced by families torn apart by the politics surrounding this war without making the story feel cliched. Having Walt Whitman there to tell William’s story after his passing worked very well for me. While this isn’t my favorite Civil War novel, I left it feeling enriched in my country’s history. ( )
1 vote LiterateHousewife | Jul 21, 2009 |
This was such an interesting novel that was packed full of historical information about the Civil War. It brought us from the high society in Baltimore, Maryland, to battlefields in Virginia, and finally an Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.. Walt Whitman is introduced very early in the book as he spends time with a young wounded soldier named William Prentiss. During their time together, Whitman learns of many significant events that have happened to William over the course of the last four years.

Shortly after William passes away in the hospital (since this happens very early on in the book I don't think I'm giving much away) Whitman is asked to meet with William's brothers and share the conversations that they had during his last days. As Whitman recounts his conversations, and William's brother Clifton shares his experiences, we are given a vivid picture of how the Civil War could affect a family that harbored different political views.

This book was quite the history lesson for me! During this time period, Maryland obviously joined the United States of America, but the Confederate States of America was still a force to be reckoned with. From what I understood in the novel, Abraham Lincoln was the President of the United States as Jefferson Davis was also the president of the Confederate States. For some reason I really had a problem grasping this concept.

John Prentiss is the father of William and Clifton, and is in support of the Union actions. Although he sees the differences in his sons, as William supports the Confederacy, and Clifton supports the Union, he longs for his sons to set their politics aside to remember that they are brothers. As the brothers are preparing to depart for battle they bump into each other on the street one day. The following excerpt explains their brief reunion from page 69:

The brothers stood staring at one another, the stark difference in their uniforms declaring that they had chosen opposite sides in the looming conflict. Their facial expressions were a mixture of shock and dismay. After a moment, Clifton pushed by William and resumed his fast pace. (end of excerpt)

It was very interesting to learn about the import roles that women had played during the Civil War. Hetty and Jenny Cary were good friends to the Prentiss family and unwavering in their support and loyalty to the Confederacy. Although these ladies were the cream of Baltimore society, it was not uncommon for them to put themselves in harms way by delivering weapons, supplies, or personal letters to the fields of battle.

I am finding that the more I recall about this novel the more I appreciate the writing and research that went into it. I was so surprised by the different battles that were described with such detail. I think my only disadvantage with this novel was that because I have not been familiar with the Civil War previously, a lot of these details went right over my head. I found myself having to read sections over again to be able to comprehend what was being told.

Obviously political differences was one of the major themes of this novel, but I found it interesting that even during the Civil War, people found ways to get ahead just by knowing someone. Unfortunately, that is still going on today, but I want to share one last excerpt that describes Clifton's frustrations regarding General Ben Butler, who apparently was known as a political General. The following excerpt is taken from page 232:

"More importantly, I have nothing but disdain for anyone who acquires or maintains his position through political power. Butler was the first major general of volunteers appointed by a grateful President Lincoln in May of 1861. That mistake had terrible consquences in terms of unnecessary casualties and opportunities lost. As a field officer, I deplore the high cost paid by the common soldier for the failures of political generals. Thank God I never had to serve directly under one." (end of excerpt)

I did enjoy this novel, but it did take me a bit longer to read just because everything was so unfamiliar to me. I do think that this is a good thing as I believe that we all should be continually learning. So I want to give a special Thank You to David H. Jones for giving us a story about a family ripped apart by war, but finding their way back to each other. ( )
  jo-jo | Jun 22, 2009 |
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A poet acts as the only link between William and Clifton Prentiss, brothers who fought on opposite sides during the Civil War but now stay at the same hospital in Washington, D.C.

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