Review: The Cotillion Brigade by Glen Craney

Georgia burns.
Sherman’s Yankees are closing in.
Will the women of LaGrange run or fight?

Based on the true story of the celebrated Nancy Hart Rifles, The Cotillion Brigade is an epic novel of the Civil War’s ravages on family and love, the resilient bonds of sisterhood in devastation, and the miracle of reconciliation between bitter enemies.

Gone With The Wind meets A League Of Their Own.” — John Jeter, The Plunder Room

1856. Sixteen-year-old Nannie Colquitt Hill makes her debut in the antebellum society of the Chattahoochee River plantations. A thousand miles north, a Wisconsin farm boy, Hugh LaGrange, joins an Abolitionist crusade to ban slavery in Bleeding Kansas.

Five years later, secession and war against the homefront hurl them toward a confrontation unrivaled in American history.

My Review

Cotillion Brigade brings the disruption of a civil war right into focus. We have two parallel stories here: one from a Southern town in Georgia and the other from a Northern family in Wisconsin. Although you can’t get away from the ethical positions  concerning slavery, it’s not “in your face”. This story is about the people who are caught in the cyclone of the war. Our ladies are not slave owners; they just want to get on with their lives, their marriages, their routines. The war starts out as an interruption; it isn’t until later they have to face the reality of defending their homes in the absence of their menfolk. At first, even their hastily gathered brigade is more of a romp than a reality, as the remaining (crippled) man in town shows them what to do:

“Very important duties. You are the bookends. Do you know what bookends do?”
Andelle bit off a sarcastic retort. “Keep the books from scattering?”
“Precisely! You anchor and protect our flanks.”
Before the two sergeants could dispute their assignments, Gus looked beyond the heads of the women and found Nancy sulking alone. “Captain Morgan, you must keep the unit well-dressed.”
Furious, Nancy elbowed her way forward and confronted him, nose to nose. “I remind everyone here every week of the time and place we meet. I pester the codgers for their weapons. I ordered lunches. And now you tell me I have to buy the fabric and stitch everyones uniforms? That is the last straw!”

Of course, they eventually absorb the gravity of what they are doing and—after the initial ridicule dies away—the encouragement their work gives to the troops. Meanwhile, in the north, our protagonist Hugh is pretty much dragged into the abolitionist movement, though he discovers he has a propensity for leadership. The troops are woefully underfunded, under-equipped and badly managed. It’s amazing they made any progress at all. The Southerners don’t seem any better. This war is a miserable slug and the soldiers don’t seem to know what they are fighting for; there is no glory here—only endurance under terrible conditions. It’s a poignant depiction of a conflict that could happen anywhere, to anybody.

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Meet Glen Craney

A graduate of Indiana University School of Law and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Glen Craney practiced trial law before joining the Washington, D.C. press corps to write about national politics and the Iran-contra trial for Congressional Quarterly magazine. In 1996, the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences awarded him the Nicholl Fellowship prize for best new screenwriting. His debut historical novel, The Fire and the Light, was named Best New Fiction by the National Indie Excellence Awards. He is a three-time Finalist/Honorable Mention winner of Foreword Magazine’s Book-of-the-Year and a Chaucer Award winner for Historical Fiction. His books have taken readers to Occitania during the Albigensian Crusade, the Scotland of Robert Bruce, Portugal during the Age of Discovery, the trenches of France during World War I, the battlefields of the Civil War, and the American Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. He lives in Malibu, California.

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