THE GUNNS OF MONTAGUE
By Robert A. Hervey
Book I The Gunns of Montague
Book II The Odyssey
Book III The Civil War Years
Chapter Books for Middle Readers, Ages 8 to 12
This is the history of a family that settled the New England frontier, Jonathan Carver, one of the defenders of the Colonies from the French and Indians, and the one who wrote the most famous account of the massacre at Fort William Henry in 1757; the Gunns, Moses, his father, uncles and cousins who fought in the Revolutionary War; and the four brothers who were caught up in the Civil War. All the characters are real people describing the events from a historically accurate perspective, in their individual voices from their point of view. It is humorous, frightening, poignant and sad. And, for what it’s worth, it is almost all true. Except for the dialogue, of course.
The main characters are four brothers, Milton, Julian, Austin and Virgil, raised in Brandon Vermont in the 1830’s. Abandoned by their father at an early age, fate delivers them to an education by the Shakers, a Quaker sect, which has a positive effect on at least two of them, Julian, who becomes the voice of conscience for the others, and Virgil, who is conscripted into Hood’s Texas Brigade at the outbreak of the Civil War. Milton is a mischievous sort and Austin has an IQ that is inversely proportional to a high threshold of pain.
The boys set out in search of their fortunes. Milton becomes talented with cards and every other way to make a quick dollar. He wins a near bankrupt ragtag circus on a Mississippi riverboat, and the boys make a living with it, touring the antebellum South. Virgil goes on ahead, tacking up posters in the smaller towns, avoiding those where people might have seen a real circus. He meets another boy in Hannibal, Missouri, who was “born on the comet”, too, Sam Clemens. They become life long friends.
Virgil’s pacifism has a gentle, yet powerful influence on those around him despite the incredible violence they encounter in the first year of the war. Recovering in Chimborazo hospital, a rainbow after a storm seems to stretch from one end of the Confederacy to the other. Virgil, constantly questioning the sanity of it all, asks, “Who could fight a war beneath a rainbow?” He is taken prisoner by the Union Army just before Antietam, swears allegiance to the North and serves three years at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, where a storekeeper, Sam Arnold, later imprisoned for complicity in Lincoln’s assassination, befriends him.
Witnessing Virgil’s conscription and the confiscation of the circus animals from a safe distance, Milton and Julian abandon the circus and escape to Philadelphia, after an episode of chicanery with a crippled horse and a big race in New Orleans. Milton has grown into a drinker, successful gambler and ladies’ man, Julian a gifted actor. Austin has been murdered in Texas after a barroom brawl and a shoot-out. Julian meets and impresses Edwin Booth, and becomes part of his company. They wind up in Washington City, living in the rooming house of Mary Surratt, whom Milton woos, meet John Wilkes Booth, a look alike of Julian, although known only as “Jack” until the assassination, and all the other conspirators and personalities of that dark event. After Virgil’s unsuccessful attempt to save Lincoln, the brothers find themselves suspects in the plot because of their relationship with the participants. The book ends with Milton and Julian’s escape from Washington, and Virgil’s transfer to the Dakota Territory to fight Indians with a young officer named George Armstrong Custer.
Book I 25 Chapters, 20,000 words
Book II Approx. 25 Chapters, 20,000 words
Book III Approx. 30 Chapters, 25,000 words