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A Young Man's Journey into Manhood During the Civil War - an Editorial Review of "War Tears"

War Tears book cover

Book Blurb:

A young Vermont boy's journey into manhood amidst the turmoil of the Civil War.

Book Buy Link:

Author Bio:

John Swanson author photo

 Teacher, American History Survey, Community College of Vermont, mid-1990’s

 Social Studies Teacher at Springfield High School

 History Teacher at Fall Mountain Regional High School

 Social Studies Teacher at Bellows Falls Middle School

 History and Social Studies Teacher at Riverside Middle School

 Degrees from UVM

 BS in Secondary Education

 MA in History

 Track Coach

 -Springfield High School -Fall Mt. Regional High school

 -Bellows Falls Middle school

 -Riverside Middle School

 Member of Springfield Board of Selectman

 Cemetery Commissioner for the town of Springfield

History & Research:

 Gettysburg College... 15 years at the Civil War Institute

 Springfield Art and Historical Society -Co-founder High School History Intern Program

Achievements & Honors:

 Vermont VFW Middle School Social Studies Teacher of the Year

 Vermont Civil War Hemlocks, a living history

 Set up 1 st 7th grade class trip to Gettysburg at Riverside

 251 Club done


 Books and Reading

 Enjoys book talks and bookstores with friends

 Friends are greeted with the question "What are you reading?"

Editorial Review:

"War Tears" by John Swanson is a captivating historical novel that takes us on an emotional journey through the tumultuous times of the American Civil War. The author skillfully captures the atmosphere and emotions of the characters, blending historical facts with personal stories that bring to life the events and their impact on ordinary people. The book explores profound themes of sacrifice, love, and family against the backdrop of the turbulent American Civil War. Through a combination of vivid historical descriptions and poignant personal narratives, Swanson provides the reader with a detailed picture of the war's impact on ordinary lives.


The book opens with a powerful quote that sets the tone for the entire narrative: "The spirit that has called this great assembly of our people together, on this field shall live forever.” - Dr. Nathaniel D. Cox. This quote reflects the hope and determination of those who participated in those events and resonates deeply with the book's main theme - sacrifice and human resilience.


One of the memorable scenes of the book portrays an elderly veteran arriving at the Gettysburg reunion. John Swanson's description is rich in details that bring the character to life: "Something was different about this old man getting off the train. He was taller than most men and wide in the shoulders. He stood straight, unlike many other gathered veterans, who had a certain bend in their posture.” This imposing man with a commanding presence symbolizes the strength and dignity of those who fought and survived the war.

The narrative is enriched by the characters' memories and their complex relationships. A powerful scene from the book describes protagonist Joshua's inner turmoil after President Lincoln's call for troops. His reflection reveals the emotional complexity as he grapples with the desire to serve his country and concern for loved ones. Swanson also underscores the family dynamics and deep bonds among family members. Joshua remembers the moment his father first called him by name, a memory that highlights not only the complex father-son relationship but also Joshua's personal growth and evolution. The book depicts daily life and the challenges faced by families of those going to war, illustrating the sacrifices and extra efforts made by those left behind to sustain their households in the absence of family members. Swanson blends everyday moments with the tension and drama of war, offering a balanced perspective on life during conflict. In a moment of deep reflection, Joshua meditates on the moral complexity of war, emphasizing the duality of his role, both as a soldier and as an individual caught amidst violence and confusion.


President Lincoln's visit is a crucial moment in the book. The protagonist describes Lincoln as an unusually homely man, yet his warm and sincere words manage to inspire an entire regiment. The protagonist's personal meeting with Lincoln is an emotionally charged climax, with the President taking a moment to speak directly with him, leaving an unforgettable impression. Despite the morale boost from Lincoln's visit, the regiment soon faces an epidemic that puts many soldiers on the sick list. Those who remain healthy, including the protagonist, are given double duties, even being put on guard duty, a heavy responsibility for a young and inexperienced musician. As winter approaches, the protagonist reflects on the seasonal changes. The new blue uniform, though less comfortable than the previous gray one, is necessary to avoid confusion on the battlefield. However, the protagonist finds ways to keep dear memories close, adapting his new jacket to include a pocket for his handkerchief and a picture of his beloved Elizabeth. The homecoming is described with profound joy. The protagonist is greeted with tears by family and friends, and the reunion with Elizabeth is particularly touching. His wounds are a constant reminder of sacrifice but also a symbol of survival and hope.


In a memorable scene from the book, the author demonstrates his ability to vividly depict soldiers' lives during the war. A veteran emotionally recounts the moment he was first wounded and the memories associated with that traumatic experience. Describing the exact places where he was hit and showing the scars on his leg, the veteran emphasizes not only the physical pain of war but also its profound impact on his life and memory. His details about nearby monuments add a note of symbolism, illustrating both the soldiers' personal wounds and the painful imprint of the conflict on society as a whole.


Another remarkable aspect of the book is its deep portrayal of human relationships. Swanson explores family, friendship, and camaraderie amidst the adversities of war. The relationship between the main characters, Isaac and John, who discover they are cousins during a nighttime patrol, is particularly moving. This surprising discovery and temporary reunion of the two cousins, separated by war, add a profound note of humanity and moral complexity to the narrative. It is a testament to Swanson's exploration not only of the external struggles of war but also the internal conflicts and deep human connections. As the army returned home, the sense of threat that defined military life over the past four years began to fade. In this relaxed context, Lieutenant Silas Robinson and Captain Lyman Chapman of the 39th United States Colored Troops Regiment were granted permission to visit Washington, D.C., for two days. Upon arrival in the city, the two officers checked into the Willard Hotel and enjoyed a hearty meal. There, they learned that the famous actress Laura Keene was performing in "My American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre and managed to secure the last available tickets after dinner. That evening, the theater was festively adorned, and the atmosphere was filled with anticipation, especially since President Lincoln and his wife were in attendance. During the play, a gunshot rang out, and Lieutenant Robinson, together with Captain Chapman, immediately reacted. They were among the first to attempt to enter the presidential box where President Lincoln had been shot. In the ensuing chaos, the two officers remained calm and assisted in transporting the wounded President. The following morning, they received the tragic news of the President's death from Secretary of War Stanton. With their gloves still stained with the President's blood, Lieutenant Robinson and Captain Chapman returned to their regiment and shared the tragic news with their comrades. Tears flowed on the soldiers' faces, for whom President Lincoln was not just the Commander-in-Chief but also a symbol of freedom. Those two days would forever remain in the memory of the two officers as a moment of profound sorrow. For their calmness and courage on that April night, the two were promoted in rank.


The book provides a vivid and poignant picture of events during the American Civil War, highlighting the sacrifices and moments of humanity of the soldiers involved. It is essential reading for anyone seeking a better understanding of the complexity and impact of this conflict on ordinary people.


"War Tears" is essential reading for anyone looking for well-documented and emotionally engaging historical fiction. John Swanson has created a captivating work that not only informs but also deeply moves readers, offering them a deeper understanding of the devastating impact of war on individual lives and society as a whole. In a story of courage, camaraderie, and love in times of conflict, Swanson masterfully captures the experiences of a young soldier, transforming this tale into a memorable and profoundly moving journey.


"War Tears" by John Swanson receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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