When I was younger I read a book called Behind Rebel Lines which is based on a true story of a woman who entered the Civil War on the Union side (I believe) dressed as a man. Now, I don’t recall all the particulars because I think she ended up becoming a spy and I’m not sure how that happened. I do recall being terribly fascinated with her story.
I know it is no longer a big shock to people that women in disguise fought alongside men in the Civil War, but I think because I found Behind Rebel Lines so interesting as a young person, I picked up I Shall Be Near to You by Lindsay McCabe when I read the description. Also, when I was at the library I noticed there were about five copies of the book on the shelf, which led me to believe it was once a book club book and for better or for worse I’m drawn to those books.
The story is about a newly married woman, Rosetta Wakefield, whose husband enlists in the Union army and leaves her on his parents farm. She tries for a few days (literally) to be apart from him and decides her place is with her husband so she disguises herself as a man and enlists with her husband’s company. I’ll try not to spoil anything for anyone, but oh my GOODNESS this was a tear-jerker.
Now, most of the story takes place at the camp, with a lot of soldiers. There is at least one character named Hiram, who is the course jester of the group and he has many bad words and remarks about women that the gentler reader might not like, but other than that the book is very clean. Hiram is not exactly viewed favorably. Rosetta and her husband seemed to remain chaste prior to marriage (it takes place very early) and even in the confines of marriage Ms McCabe leaves the romance mainly veiled. You understand what is happening but it is treated respectfully.
I feel like one can’t enter into the topic of women disguising themselves to fight without touching on egalitarianism or women’s rights or something, but I enjoyed how non preachy McCabe’s story was. Rosetta has always found farm work and outside labor much more interesting than housework, which doesn’t come very naturally to her, but it doesn’t seem like she’s trying to make a statement. She has seen her father mourn over his lack of sons and she is trying to fill that space for him. So, when she eventually enters the war some of the tougher tasks come easier to her than it would to most women. But she doesn’t even enter the war to make a statement. She goes because she decides her place is with her husband. I can dig that.
This is a wonderful story of love. True, real, and sacrificial love. There are undertones of Ruth throughout the book and it will break your heart. I just thought it was completely well done and very moving. I am probably going to go back to the library and see if Ms. McCabe has written anything else.