Young Jeremiah Wakefield joins the Union Army from New York farming country in 1862. His new wife, eighteen-year-old Rosetta, "independent as a hog on ice," follows him into the 97th New York State Volunteers, Company H, dressed as "Ross Stone." That's not what Jeremiah planned; he envisioned a quick end to the Civil War and the pay he would receive enough to buy a farm when he returned to Rosetta.
But she would never be a simple housekeeper. Once Jeremiah's shock of recognition subsides as Stone is introduced into the company, he offers a place in his tent to the new recruit. Some of their friends from Flat Creek are there as well, but soon lighthearted jibes and days of tedium give way to battle. Narrated by Rosetta, "I Shall Be Near To You" ($24 in hardcover from Crown; also for Amazon Kindle) by Erin Lindsay McCabe marks the debut of a compelling talent.
McCabe earned a teaching credential at Chico State University and has taught composition at Butte College. In an author's note she says that "the fictional Rosetta's experience as a soldier is an amalgamation of the experiences of the more than two hundred women who are known to have enlisted. ... Many women joined up to be with fiances, husbands, brothers, fathers. Not only did these women manage to pass the Army's physical exam (often just a handshake), some of these women even managed to conceal their identity until the very moment they delivered their babies in the ranks. ..."
McCabe's story is shattering, bringing the reader into the midst of war, confusion reigning, the smells of dying, the sights, even the taste, but most especially the sounds. The sounds of Rosetta's own thoughts, the din of battle, the screams of pain. "Sergeant bellows, 'Fire at will!' through the noise, but all I can do is keep low. ... I don't know where any of my boys are, but I have got to do this thing. I get to my knees and then it is time it is time it is time to make my run across moldering logs and branches and dead leaves and men." Heartbreaking and unforgettable.
McCabe will be signing copies of her book Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.