Pre-publication review by David Welch, webmaster of the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment website, a direct descendant of the regiment's second commander, Brig. Gen. Norman J. Maxwell, and an expert on all things concerning the "Roundheads".
A few years ago, when Dr. Carolyn Schriber was finishing up her book titled A Scratch with the Rebels, A Pennsylvania Roundhead and a South Carolina Cavalier, she revealed that she would be writing a new book about Nellie M. Chase, the famous Civil War nurse who developed her career with the 100 Pennsylvania Roundhead Regiment following brief service for the 12 Pennsylvania Volunteers.
I immediately took interest as I had always been intrigued by the photo of her with Roundhead staff in Beaufort, South Carolina in 1862 as well as the story of her care of a Union soldier left for dead by surgeons in the aftermath of Fredericksburg. That story was first published as a newspaper feature story, Story of the One-Armed Man, and then published in Frank Moore’s 1867 work titled, Women of the War: their Heroism and Self-Sacrifice. Here was this young, meek, petite and very attractive woman from the 1862 photo who a year and a half later would be working to patch up soldiers in the carnage of a field hospital at Fredericksburg. In fact, the book title is the last few words of a quote by Frank Moore regarding Nellie that stated:
Even here, amid the roar and carnage, was found a woman with the soul to dare danger; the heart to sympathize with the battle-stricken; sense, skill, and experience to make her a treasure beyond all price.”
In Beyond all Price, Dr. Schriber has done an admirable work of historical fiction, weaving a story of an independent young woman with a stormy past trying to give meaning to her life by dedicating herself to the union cause as a regimental nurse, a matron in fact—a “matron of mercy”. After a broken marriage to a nomadic slick talker named Leath who wanted her to be the madame of a whorehouse in Cincinnati, she goes into hiding for a brief time in a seedy part of Pittsburgh where she has a roommate who dies of an opium overdose—a down-on-her luck actress who worked with Nellie at a downtown theatre. At the outbreak of war in 1861, Nellie wisely chooses to escape this dismal existence and finds her way into the service of the Roundheads.
A good deal of the content of Beyond all Price is based on actual historical events.
Dr. Schriber has done her homework and I enjoyed helping her fill in some additional details to the story by some of my own research! As her Civil War years had better documentation, it is understandable that the majority of the
book has a backdrop of the Civil War. The story has a good transition though into post-Civil War life for Nellie in Louisville, Kentucky, Nashville and Paris, Tennessee. She remarries a cavalry and railroad man named George W. Earnest Sadly, her fate at a young age is prophetic.
In The Golden Era, a San Francisco newspaper article from March 30, 1862, Col. Leasure, the commander of the Roundheads, was quoted as saying:
“I believe she wishes to die at her post, sooner or later, to the end that she may lay down a life in the service of her country that has been a burden to her”.
To that end, Nellie died at her post 13 years after the Civil War at the much too young age of 40.
Because of her questionable pre-Civil War background and character, the story has a very believable villain who dislikes Nellie from the start, Reverend Robert Audley Browne, the “fire and brimstone” Roundhead pastor.
Let’s just be frank here and say he does not come across as a nice fellow! He is stubborn with this negative attitude and this ultimately leads to Nellie’s downfall with the regiment. This in spite of Nellie nursing Rev. Browne back to health after he had fallen ill with coastal malaria in South Carolina. Based on Dr. Schriber’s research of Browne’s written letters to his wife, he suspected an affair between Col. Leasure and Nellie, though this was never corroborated.
Historically, Rev. Browne was very vocal and adamant regarding his disapproval of Nellie (though countless soldiers that she cared for would say otherwise!).
One of my favorite parts of the book is Dr. Schriber’s telling of Nellie’s experiences with plantation slaves that were just recently enjoying their freedom. Interestingly, the banter between the freed slaves raises an interesting issue that is often misunderstood—the slaves were not in a position to just walk up and leave with their new found freedom. This was also freedom prior to Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation. The plantation under union occupation offered security and the familiarity of what they had known for generations. They were comfortable with that, and this particular southern plantation owner in Beaufort before union occupation was not cruel to them. There is a very believable wisdom and “street sense” of the old slave characters though they do not read or write.
Dr. Schriber does not sugar coat the carnage of war either, very descriptive and grisly at times but necessary as the weapons of the Civil War were indeed very destructive. There is high contrast and interesting swing at times between stomach churning gore and Nellie’s penchant for cats.
Cats you say? Nellie is a cat magnet and whether she really was or not, based on history, Dr. Schriber makes Nellie a believable and devoted “cat person”.
Considering Dr. Schriber’s book company, Katzenhaus Books, a few cats weaving their way through Nellie’s skirts is not unexpected….. I fully enjoyed the book, heartily recommend it and look forward to its release next month.
Paul G Hedden (Charleston, SC, US) -
This review is from: Beyond All Price (Paperback) A truly enjoyable bit of history. This fictionalized account of Nellie allows us to see the plight of women in the latter half of the nineteenth century; the problems besetting the newly freed slaves and a wider vision of the inner workings of a Civil War-time regiment. An excellent read. I finished it at one sitting!
Dr. Elisabeth Schlegel (Connecticut USA / Roseau, Dominica)
This review is from: Beyond All Price (Paperback) This is another terrific historical fiction that I could not put down. This author tells a wonderful, believable story of a young woman's courage during the difficult Civil War era.
Daniel Uitti "Dan Uitti" (Connecticut, USA)
This review is from: Beyond All Price (Paperback) This is a wonderful, easy to read story of a young woman's heroism during the tough times of the American Civil War. The young nurse develops great confidence, dedication and courage. The Civil War background history is well developed and accurate within the context of the story. The research into the real character brings realism to the story; so there is little doubt that this is how the events took place. - Dan Uitti, President, CT Authors & Publishers Association
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