Book Review: Friends of the Wigwam by John William Huelskamp

October 1, 2016 historical, John William Huelskamp 2

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about the book

FRIENDS OF THE WIGWAM is a historical novel and love story about six young friends whose innocence is stripped from them seemingly overnight in the brutal setting of the American Civil War.

Meticulously researched and based on real-life people and true events, FRIENDS OF THE WIGWAM spans 1857-1865 and introduces you to the courageous men and women from Illinois who staged one of the first contested national conventions, were responsible for getting Abraham Lincoln elected and made the ultimate sacrifice during the American Civil War.

From the true story of a young woman who successfully masqueraded as a man during the Civil War and was buried with full military honors to the often heart-wrenching letters home to wives and families and actual military correspondence between military leaders, author John William Huelskamp brings to life a volatile nation at war.

Celebrate each friend’s successes and struggles on the battlefields, learn the story of those who led the battles, and meet a magnificent war-horse that is a steadfast survivor in the face of many tragedies

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GENRE: Historical Fiction
PUBLISHER: Barrington Group
RELEASE DATE: March 24, 2016
PAGES: 380

“I will not forget you. I have carved you on the palm of my hand.”

friends-of-the-wigwam-book-reviewWhen I first received an email requesting that I review this book, I was intrigued – mainly because the history it draws from is centered in Northern Illinois where I grew up.  Right from the first chapter, in fact, we encounter Freeport (where my grandfather was an interim pastor for a time) and Rockford (where I actually lived).  Most of my Illinois Civil War history knowledge really only revolves around Abraham Lincoln. I don’t know if that’s because this was the primary focus of all my grade school classes on the subject or if I just never really had much in the way of Civil War history until high school – at which point I was living in Kentucky. (I just basically follow Abraham Lincoln around lol)

To properly review Friends of the Wigwam, I need to separate it out into the two elements of its genre – “historical” and “fiction”.

From the historical side of things, I found these regiments from Illinois compelling and inspiring. Knowing that the people on the pages of Friends of the Wigwam were real people who lived and breathed and fought for our country made the history that much more real as well. The inclusion of scans of the originals of several of the letters quoted in this book is an added bonus that made the history geek in me quite giddy.  If you approach Friends of the Wigwam as a storified historical account, you will probably be mostly satisfied with the reading experience.

On the flip side, looking at it as a novel, it just doesn’t quite come together.  The characters are not as developed as they could have been – the potential exists for a deep emotional connection with several of them but it’s not readily given to us. You will, of course, begin to feel for these characters and react emotionally to the outcomes of the war in their lives, but it’s still a very reserved connection as from afar. Additionally, the dialogue is stilted and unnatural, and I often paused over a word that just didn’t seem to fit the rest of the sentence. For instance, the word “screamed” shows up quite frequently – when really no screaming is occurring.  A more accurate word such as “called” or “cried”, etc. would have seemed a better fit.  As such, I kept getting this mental image of a mostly calm situation and suddenly one of the participants makes everyone jump fifty feet in the air by literally screaming the line given to him in the book 😉 Needless to say, this made the book feel rather disjointed and disconnected more often than not.

Bottom Line:  This is a moving historical account of people who made a difference in the Civil War – and of the people who loved them. They were friends, brothers, husbands, sweethearts… even a spitfire of a girl who hid her gender so she could fight for her country.  While I wish it made a more appealing novel, it’s a book worth reading if you approach it as less of a story and more of a documentary in book form.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for only my honest review.)

My Rating: 3 stars / It’s okay!

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about the author

john-william-huelskamp

John William Huelskamp is a historical novelist whose early passion for Civil War history was ignited when he discovered a cavalry saber at a young age in the Maryland woods near his boyhood home. An avid research historian, he is a consultant to Civil War scholars, writers, and artists and has been a frequent commentator on national television broadcasts raising public awareness of forgotten Civil War heroes. He was appointed an honorary Board Member for the General Longstreet Memorial Project at Gettysburg National Military Park and continues to promote Civil War legacy through monuments, museums, and battlefield preservation. He has appeared on multiple media outlets including WGN TV, Clear Channel, WEZC-FM/95.9 FM, GOOD MORNING! 1330 WFIN-AM and RFD RADIO NETWORK

Visit the Friends of the Wigwam website to see the cast of characters (actual photos!) as well as the original letters I mentioned in my review.

Carrie

2 Responses to “Book Review: Friends of the Wigwam by John William Huelskamp”

  1. Gabrielle Meyer

    Great review, Carrie. I appreciate how you approached it “historical” vs. “fiction.” Sometimes, as a writer, we want to be as accurate as possible with the history we put in our books, but I find that the story is sacrificed if we don’t add enough fiction to make it compelling. It’s a fine line, one I struggle with myself. Thank you for looking at this story from two lenses and offering both perspectives to us. It sounds like fascinating history.

    • Carrie

      it IS a fine line and i think in this case it’s an even finer line given that all the characters were actual people.