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In a resonant narrative limning the sectionalism and discontents that threatened the young republic barely three decades after the revolution that created it, Nevin focuses on three central figures: President James Madison (sustained in crucial ways by his beloved Dolley); General Andrew Jackson (gentled as well as cherished by his Rachel); and Winfield Scott (a precocious military talent whose strong opinions bring him into frequent conflict with his colleagues). When events draw a deeply divided America into war with England, the wispy chief executive shows himself to be a principled man of strong convictions as he battles not only British armed forces but also recalcitrant New Englanders (whose lucrative trade with the erstwhile mother country has been disrupted), and states' rights frontiersmen like Jackson who distrust Madison's vision of the federal union's future. With emotional assistance from Dolley, the President manages to keep the ship of state on an even keel during a series of early setbacks in the War of 1812; concurrently, Scott learns the close-combat lessons that will lead to later victories along the Canadian border, and the volatile Jackson raises an army of irregulars who, defying the odds, mount successful campaigns in southern woodlands against Indian bands backed by the British. Before the tide turns, however, vengeful redcoats sack Washington, D.C., and raze the White House, forcing Madison and his government to flee. Bloodied but unbowed, the president rallies the nation, and Jackson stages an epic defense of New Orleans against British invaders at the start of 1815. A war- weary England agrees to peace, allowing a now-united America to pursue its manifest destiny in the West.
A brilliantly realized chronicle that gives a human scale to the author's panoramic canvas. A considerable achievement and one that transcends genre.
"1812 is splendidly researched and finely written—a fiery tale of our country’s youth, of mighty passions, a half-forgotten war, and incomparable men and women. David Nevin’s readers are blessed.” —Ralph Peters, author of War After Armaggedon
“Entertaining and very illuminating...1812 is a substantive work.”
“Nevin, helping himself with particularly vigorous battle scenes, conveys a kind of grandeur. This is...crammed with color and captivating characters.”
“This sprawling historical novel...will certainly have some guaranteed appeal.... This is recommended wherever there is interest in historical fiction.”
“A brilliantly realized chronicle that gives a human scale to the author’s panoramic canvas. A considerable achievement and one that transcends genre.”
“Whatever we have gained by technology we have lost by ease. These people who lived in 1812 faced danger, adventure, and—no income tax! Read on.”
—Rita Mae Brown, New York Times bestselling author of Dolley
"A rich, robust historical novel of the kind we don't get often enough. Famous men and women spring vividly to life—action abounds—1812 is a great read."
—John Jakes, New York Times bestselling author of The North and South Trilogy
"It was a perilous and pivotal time for the young and not-entirely-United States, but it has been the most unremembered time in American history. Until now. The faded old etchings of battle on land and sea, of statesmen, heroes, villains (and their ladyloves), are now, in David Nevin's 1812, brought to vivid life and color, tumultuous intensity, and you-are there immediacy."
—Gary Jennings, New York Times bestselling author of Aztec
On the Great Bend of the Cumberland, Tennessee Territory
"You're sweet on young Jackson, ain't you?" Ma said.
"Oh, Ma," Rachel said. "He's…nice, that's all."
Of course she was sweet on him. Andrew Jackson was tall, rail-skinny but strong in that Scotch-Irish border way, long-limbed, and fierce. He had red hair that blazed like his temper, eyes that snapped and sparked and went from sky-blue to purple when he was angry, a laugh you could hear a half mile off, and a way about him like a pistol on cock-he was vivid, that's what he was, made you feel good just to be with him, made life itself seem exciting and full of mysterious meaning.
He lived with little Johnny Overton and the other young lawyers in the guest cabin Pa had built next to the blockhouse. After Pa was shot down in the woods they needed boarders, what with roving war parties—Creeks and Cherokees—still common. But it was white men killed Pa, she was sure of that; John Donelson was too old a hand in Indian ways to let savages ambush him. Now each boarder was another rifle, if it came to that. And Andrew…oh, my. The thing was, he made them laugh. It was like a weight off Ma's soul to throw back her head and laugh out loud, and as for Rachel, why she'd get to telling stories to match his and they'd go back and forth whooping and yelling and she'd laugh till her eyes ran. And that drove Lewis Robards into a frenzy.
"Anyway, Ma," she said, "I'm a married woman."
They were outside, Ma tending the fire under the black iron wash kettle on its tripod while Rachel stirred the clothes. It was a brilliant day. Sunlight bathed the bare branches of the pecans Pa had been so proud of, flashed on the rolling Cumberland down at the far end of the property, softened the winter air here in the lee of the peeled log blockhouse. Ma's flower beds were banked for spring, her little square of grass neat as a patchwork quilt, fruit trees in pregnant rows. It was a kindly place, demanding but good to those who tended it. She added soap they'd boiled in the fall and stirred with both hands on the oak paddle.
"More's the pity you're a married woman," Ma said. "Reckon Robards'll come back?"
"Oh, God. I hope not."
There was something wrong with Lewis Robards's head. She'd known it the moment they wed and not one moment before. Sick jealousy. Let her talk to anyone, tell a story, laugh, tap her foot to the fiddle, any old thing he took as her being unfaithful. Or getting ready to be. If she smiled while reading a book, he asked of whom she dreamed.
"I couldn't make him believe me, Ma. He was unfaithful, so he figured…oh, I don't know. His head is just screwed on wrong."
"Andrew showing him that knife wasn't no help neither."
Rachel sighed. That was Lewis's fault, too. Lewis had talked his crazy jealousy in front of the wrong man. Andrew showed him a skinning knife a foot long and told him he'd cut his ears out of his head if he heard it again. What was Andrew supposed to do—just ignore nasty slander? Anyway, he was a coiled spring. She couldn't imagine him walking away from trouble.
Ma took the paddle. "I reckon you're well off he's gone."
"I guess…a married woman without a husband."
"Divorce, maybe? He sure deserted you."
"Oh, Ma! Go all the way back to Carolina and get the legislature to pass a special bill to give me a divorce? How can I manage that?"
"Tennessee's gonna be a state. With our own legislature."
"What then? You know how folks are about divorce. No one gets one without proving somebody sinned—adultery, just to say it flat out. Why, you've about got to be a whore!"
"Rachel! You're not too big to get your mouth washed out."
Rachel laughed. "Sorry. But just the same, I'll never take Lewis back, so how will I live, a lone woman?"
"Well, dear, you have brothers."
And she would be a maiden auntie, minding someone else's babies. "Yes…" She sighed.
Ma gave her a knowing glance. "It's, lonely, without a man?"
"I sure don't miss Lewis! But…I guess it is. At night, you know."
"I know," her mother said dryly.
"You miss Daddy, don't you?"
Ma nodded, biting her lip. Rachel said, "You never told me…well, what it was like. You know?"
"Oh, Rachel, how could I?"
"It downright amazed me, at first, anyway. I remember thinking how wonderful it was, night after night. But then he started going out to the slave cabins and coming back in the morning, and after that…" Across the river a man pushed a skiff into the water. She could see his fishing pole. "And that crazy jealousy started. Him, jealous of me! I should've taken a stick to him."
"Acting out his own guilt, I reckon," Ma said.
"And thank God he's gone. But just the same, the nights…" She shrugged. "Well, it's lonely, that's all." She studied her mother. "Was it that way for you, with Daddy?"
Ma sighed. "Yes…your father, he was…"
Her mother blushed and then they were giggling like girls.
"I don't know that it's proper talk," Ma said, "but I reckon it's the way life is."
"And it's denied me…when life is just beginning."
They heard hoofbeats, loud even before they could see the horse, and her mother shifted toward the door and the rifle standing just inside.
"I think it's Andrew, Mother," Rachel said, and then he rounded the bend at a lope, sun glinting on that shock of bright hair, his long, lean body rocking to the bay's rhythm, and her heart swelled with pleasure.
• • •
He saw the women as he rounded the turn, the sun flashing auburn lights in Rachel's dark hair. She was in that deep blue gown he liked with white lace at the throat, a black shawl across her shoulders, the strength in her face and carriage evident even at a distance. She stood poised, both hands raised, like a bird with wings lifted to take to the air and soar. Rachel Donelson—he hated the last name that scoundrel Ro-bards had fastened on her—the prettiest, liveliest, laughingest girl, the best horsewoman, the fastest dancer, the dandiest girl in the Cumberland Valley or the whole damned world!
And now this. And yet, it might yet play to advantage. He wasn't a lawyer for nothing. He reined up.
"Miz Donelson. Rachel." To her, he said, "Walk with me while I water Maxine?"
They led the bay mare toward the barn. "Didn't want to say it before your ma," he said, "but it's all over Nashville. Robards says he's coming back for you. Says he'll take you by force…"
"Oh, God," she whispered.
"I'll kill the son of a bitch, he touches you," he said. He heard his voice, cold as a stone in snow. It was exactly how he felt, but he knew it was too strong. She took a step back from him. "Andrew," she said.
"It's all right," he said gently. "It's all right." He touched her arm. He knew his capacity for anger frightened her sometimes. Frightened him sometimes, but by God, it was real.
"What'll I do?" she said. In the barn he pulled off the saddle, let the mare drink, and turned her into a stall. The barn was quiet, the light dim. Harness leather hung from pegs, saddles were slung over a bar. He heard the mare crunching oats. In another stall a horse stamped and threw up its head. Its halter clinked. There was a delicious privacy in the dark barn. They could talk.
"I got a plan," he said. He'd thought it out, made up his mind in a moment, made the arrangements. "I want you to go to Natchez. We have friends there. He'll never go clear to the Mississippi country to find you, but if he does he can be dealt with."
"But so far?" she said. "And how?" She was looking up at him with an expression of trust that made his heart swell.
"Colonel Robertson is taking his family down by flat-boat." They'd float the Cumberland in the open boat, then the Ohio, then the Mississippi down to Natchez. Two months in the wilderness. "I asked if he'd take you, he said what I figured he would—he'd need an extra rifle. He'll take you if I come along. And I sure wouldn't let you go alone."
"Oh, Andrew." She swayed toward him. His hands found her waist. "What will people say?"
"That's the point. Folks around here, folks we care about, won't say anything. The Robertsons will vouch we weren't improper. But from a distance, maybe it'll look different."
"You mean to Lewis?" she said in a small voice.
"Maybe he'll go get him a divorce. And then you and me, we can marry. That's what I want."
It was the first time he'd spoken. "So do I," she said, as if she'd been holding her breath.
He could feel his own heart beating. "You mean it?" he said. "You'll marry me, once you're free?"
"Yes, yes, you know I will. But I'm not free."
"This might do it."
"Give Lewis grounds?"
"Apparent grounds. Everybody who matters, they'll know better."
She wore a new, open look, fetters dropped, a bird ready to soar.
"Maybe it'll work," she said softly. "Maybe it will." She began to laugh and he caught the edge of hysteria and tightened his hands on her waist.
"D'you realize what it means?" she said. "We'll sleep by a campfire for two months and never touch."
And then she was crying, tears streaming down her warm, smooth cheeks. Her arms went around him, held him hard.
"Let's go up in the loft," she whispered. "Now."
"Your ma will figure—"
"I don't care. I want you now." Her lips were parted. He could feel her breath on his face. She pulled away from him and darted up the ladder. "Come!"
The deep blue gown draped from her fine hips swayed as she climbed and the movement touched off a blast of desire that shook him. When he reached the loft she was on her knees in the hay, arms outstretched. "Oh, darling," she said. "Darling, darling, darling!"
• • •
"I'm going," Andrew Jackson said. "Nothing more to say."
Little Johnny Overton, who knew he looked like a dried-up prune and didn't mind at all, peered at his tall friend. They were standing in the square in the shade of a sweet gum. The log courthouse seemed to shimmer in the July heat. The air was heavy as a winter blanket, and Overton wondered if the heat itself hadn't touched off his friend's restless tension. But no, Jackson was just wild. All that red hair. The man did as he pleased and stood ready for the consequences.
Like when he took Rachel Robards to Natchez. Good God, did that set the town to talking! Still, he wore out good horses coming back on the Natchez Trace with testamentary letters from both the Robertsons, and the Robertsons were pillars in this community. If they said nothing happened, nothing happened. So the talk died down. Jackson had slipped through that one, but he shaved things mighty close. And now this!
"It's just a report," Overton said. "No better'n a rumor."
"Yes it is," Jackson said. "Sounds official, anyway-Virginia legislature gave Robards his divorce."
"On what grounds, do you reckon?"
"Who knows?" He smiled. "Robards has a brother-in-law in the legislature in Richmond. That smooths things along."
"Yes, but in six months? You know how hard divorce is. Come on, now—you're a lawyer, you wouldn't settle a dogfight without seeing the paper. Wait for confirmation."
"No, I'm going to Natchez in the morning and I'm marrying Rachel the minute I get there. She's free, Johnny. Hell, the family would never have tolerated me taking her down if it wasn't clear we'd marry soon as we could. Her brothers'll be looking for me, I don't go marry her now."
"Just see the paper. So you know."
"But how? Ride a thousand miles to Richmond? There's no mail, you know that. Suppose I ask a traveler to carry a letter there. Maybe he drops dead. Maybe a war party gets him. Suppose there's an answer. Someone agrees to carry it back. Maybe he changes his destination, maybe someone else takes the letter, maybe not. Maybe he dunks his bags fording a stream and the ink runs. Come on, Johnny—I'm not going to stake the very happiness of my life on a letter in somebody's saddlebag."
"But suppose it's false. You marry her and you're committing adultery. Adultery! It would follow you to your grave. They'd pillory you. And her."
"Pillory her, they'll be looking down a pistol barrel."
"There aren't enough pistols to kill gossip."
Jackson stared at him. "Well, Johnny," he said. His voice was soft but something in his expression made Overton shiver. "I'll tell you. Back in Eighty-one when the war had been on awhile, a British major came up in the Carolina hills with a troop of redcoats and they ransacked our house. Tore it all up. And the major, he says to me, 'Boy, clean my boots!'
"I'd just turned fourteen but I'd been riding with the troops and I was a soldier. I drew myself up and I said, real politelike, you know, I said, 'Sir, I'm a prisoner of war and I aim to be treated as such.' He was a pale-eyed bastard and he didn't say a word, he drew his saber in one quick motion and I saw it swinging down, saw it glitter in the firelight, and then it like to cut my head in half and over the next month I was pretty near dead."
He rubbed the scar in his scalp. "But, Johnny, the thing is, I never cleaned his boots. You see what I mean? There's times in life you got to decide. You got to stand up, act, you got to do what you think's best. I never regretted speaking up-he could have cut my damned head off, I wouldn't have regretted it."
He smiled, suddenly at ease, and Overton knew his friend had crossed some interior barrier. "You got to do what your heart tells you. My life don't mean a damned thing without her. She's like me, too—she'll grab on for the whole ride." He shrugged. "If we're wrong, we'll deal with it then. Whatever it takes." He put out his hand. "Wish me luck, old friend."
"Good luck. God bless you, Andrew." He watched the tall, lean figure swing resolutely away. That spirit would be the making of him if it wasn't the death of him.
Copyright © 1996 by David Nevin
Posted January 3, 2000
This is a highly enjoyable book, and I would recommend it without hesitation. The only shortcomings are the sometimes inane dialogue and the often overly melodramatic narration. These are minor problems, though, and don't really take away from the story.
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Posted May 14, 2014
Posted October 27, 2013
This book was not my cup of tea. Rather than being a book about the war, it reads more like a novel.
Instead of describing the history, it has the various historical figures talking about what is going on or battle scenes with the soldiers talking to each other. Obviously, no historical record of the actual dialogue exists, so it had to be invented for the book. I prefer more of a description of history based on diaries, letters, battles, and other verifiable means. Some may find this type of book more interesting than dry facts, but I prefer dry facts.
Posted August 30, 2012
No text was provided for this review.