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Posted September 20, 2010
Fifteen-year-old Vincent Wingfield is the son of an English gentleman who came to America, married the daughter of a Virginia planter, and settled down on her family estate of the Orangery, just outside of Richmond, VA. As the book opens, Vincent returns from four years of schooling in England, and while he favors slavery he does not support brutality towards slaves. Therefore, when he was returning home from visiting friends, he intervened when Andrew Jackson, the son of his neighbor, was mercilessly beating a slave named Tony. To prevent retaliation, Vincent helps Tony escape to England. When Mr. Jackson sells Tony's wife Dinah and her baby in revenge, Vincent secretly buys her and keeps her at the Orangery.
Then the American Civil War breaks out, and Vincent signs up in the cavalry under Col. (later Gen.) J. E. B. Stuart. After being badly injured at the first battle of Bull Run, he is taken prisoner during the second battle of Bull Run and imprisoned at Elmira, NY, but escapes, makes his way to St. Louis, MO, disguised as a minister, and while making his way to his unit through Tennessee saves a young lady named Lucy Kingston from northern bushwhackers. However, he is seriously injured again in the process, but after his recuperation, he escorts her to safety with relatives in Georgia before returning to his home. Meanwhile, his neighbor, Mr. Jackson, has conspired with the Wingfield's former overseer Jonas Pearson to kidnap Dinah and take her to South Carolina, so Vincent must rescue her before rejoining the army for the battle of Chancellorsville. However, he is captured while spying out the Northern defenses and is to be shot, but it just so happens that Tony had returned, joined the Union army, and was present to help him escape again. Pretty soon, the war ends and Vincent marries Lucy.
This is my least favorite Henty book so far because of Henty's obvious sympathies with the Confederacy. He seems to go a bit overboard in painting a picture of happy, contented, carefree slaves in the South, even making fun of Harriet Beecher Stowe and her Uncle Tom's Cabin, and in depicting the Northern armies as mean, nasty, bullying ogres. You can read the writings of Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman to get a first-hand view of Southern slavery as opposed to the quaint, sanitized view of Henty. This book seems to have a lot more drinking of alcohol that other Henty books we've read; even the underage Vincent imbibes quite a bit. And in imitating the Southern Negro dialect, there are several usages of the word "Lor'" as an interjection. At the same time, the book is well written with a lot of excitement and adventure. And like other Henty boys, Vincent is still a model of honesty and integrity. He engages in deception as part of his service in the army during warfare, but he refuses to lie just to save his own skin. Also he encourages Tony not to seek personal revenge on the Jacksons. And he urges his mother to free their slaves before the end of the war and make the necessary provisions for them. So far as history is concerned, Vincent meets not only the Southern generals Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson and, of course, Robert E. Lee, but also the Northern generals George B. McClellan and Philip Sheridan. Finally, there is the advantage that since most Civil War novels for children are written from a Northern viewpoint, this is one book that does portray the Southern side of the issues.
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Posted June 27, 2012
Posted December 21, 2011
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