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Book Review: The Sharpshooter: 1862-1864 by Charles Phillips

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Charles Phillips takes his reader back to the days of the Nueces massacre, an intense and violent conflict between the Confederate soldiers and the German Texans of August of 1862 in his novel The Sharpshooter: 1862-1864.

Like many other first-generation German immigrants living in Kinney County, Texas, Jurian Baecker did not advocate slavery nor support the cause of the Confederate States and their arbitrary conscription of young Texicans to fight against the Union. Jurian’s background establishes the essence of the conflict that follows. He is the son of a Lutheran immigrant pastor who joins other German immigrants to farm the land in central Texas. Julian is doubly at odds with his family. He finds it difficult to accept his father’s faith and has a deep distaste for farming.

After his father’s untimely death, Jurian leaves the farm to his brother, to become a dealer in horses. He crosses the border into Mexico to buy stolen horses, to train them in readiness, to make a profit. Jurian is devastated when the girl he loves rejects him to marry the banker’s son to insure her family’s economic security.

Confederate authorities blatantly declare central Texas to be under martial law. As a result of this act, over 60 local draftees head for Mexico to avoid being drafted. Jurian learns that Confederate cavalrymen are in pursuit of the party. Familiar with the territory, Jurian overtakes the fleeing renegades with the intention of leading them to safety over the Mexican border. They chose not to heed his advice. Only a few of the men escape the massacre that follows.

The events resulting in this shocking bloodbath change Jurian’s life. He joins the Unionist forces as Jake Baker, and becomes a sharpshooter assigned to the Army of the Potomac. Jake seeks revenge for the coldblooded killing of his countrymen.

As the result of near death wounds received in battle, Jurian is taken to the home of a pacifist pastor of a colony of Brethren in Virginia. While there, he is conflicted concerning his motives and attitudes toward killing as he reflects on his heritage and his father’s teaching and the convictions of the pacifist code of belief.

Much has been written about the strategy, politics, and bloodshed of the Civil War.

Phillips brilliantly goes beyond the horrors of witnessing the death of comrades on the battlefield and the dreadful conditions prevalent in Civil war history to uncover the emotional trauma of human suffering, the accompanying sacrifice, the confusing emotional reactions experienced by the participants of war and their families, and the unanswered moral questions of life and death while in the midst of battle.

Charles Phillips’ writing creates tension, conflict, introspection, and a mindfulness of the persecution, injustice, and futility that are the result of man’s bias, intolerance, and bigotry. Phillips has developed strong believable characters, a realistic plot, and engaging dialog. I appreciated Phillips’ careful attention to details of Civil War history, evidence of meticulous research, manifest by the transference of this knowledge as expressed though his characters and storyline.

The Sharpshooter 1862-1864 by Charles Phillips is destined to become a classic in the genre of Civil War Novels.

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About Richard R. Blake