Some years ago, I bought a used hardback copy of this book. It is set during the American Civil War, a period that interests me. I decided to keep it in the car, something to read when waiting for things. Things like hospital appointments, a wife on a shopping trip, or being too early when arriving at the Doctor or the Vet.
It took some time to get even one third of the book read in that way. Not that there was anything bad about it, I just wanted to keep it handy in the car. Last week, a four-hour wait for my brakes to be replaced on the car provided the perfect opportunity, and I finally finished reading it.
This is the story of two sisters, as the title suggests. Beginning with their teenage years in Virginia, we see the younger sister Libby fall in love with Arden, much to the annoyance of Josephine, who doesn’t like the man at all, and is going to miss her now married sister. One month after the wedding, the civil war begins, and Arden joins the Confederate Army, assigned to Stonewall Jackson’s brigade.
As the fighting intensifies, they hear of a battle in nearby Maryland. Jackson’s brigade has been involved, and the talk is the fighting was bad, with heavy casualties. The sisters travel to Sharpsburg, (also known as the Battle of Antietam) the scene of the battle. On the grisly battlefield, Josephine fnds Arden terribly wounded, and by the time Libby joins her, he has died. In a rage, Libby cuts off her hair, and vows to join the army, to kill Yankees in revenge for her husbands death.
Fearing for her sister’s safety, Josephine does the same, and they volunteer for Jackson’s brigade, pretending to be young boys who are cousins. They call themselves Thomas and Joseph, and are readily accepted as recruits, due to the need to replace all those recently killed in battle.
(This may sound like a stretch, but it is worth noting that there are many contemporary examples of this happening, on both sides.)
The writing excels in the small details. The problems the girls face in concealing their gender from the rest of the troops in their unit. The harsh weather conditions of extreme heat and cold, with poorly-clothed and underfed soldiers having to undertake long marches then go straight into battle. The day-to-day routine and boredom of life in camp between campaigns, followed by the edge of the seat tension as the sisters find themselves on the firing line in the midst of some of the biggest battles of the civil war.
Along the way, one sister finds love, the other still searches for revenge and peace of mind. They argue, they make up again, and most of all, they display that unbreakable bond of family love, and specifically the unselfish love between the sisters Libby and Josephine that sees them through the worst times imaginable.
This is more than a war story, and much more than a love story. It is a great read, and highly recommended for lovers of historical fiction.