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Gabriel's Trumpet
By Steve Chicoine

by Stephen Chicoine
published 2011

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Review of Gabriel’s Trumpet by Martha Boltz for the Washington Times Communities

Every once in awhile a new Civil War book of fiction comes along that seems to resonate with today’s reading public while retaining the color and depth of the past about which it is written. Such is the case with “Gabriel’s Trumpet,” by author Stephen Chicoine, who has written several non-fiction books as well. Though apparently directed at the middle school/high school age reader, there is absolutely nothing in this well-written book not to please the average adult casual reader with a Civil War interest. It is centered around two young Union recruits, for whom the war thus far consists of marching from Chicago into the South, eating non-palatable meals and with little activity to get their blood properly boiling. Timothy O’Connor and Patrick Hanrahan vacillate from blaming each other as to whose idea “this war stuff” was, to looking forward to a good bloody fight with the Rebels. One is more feisty than the other, but their friendship is undeniable as they annoy a corporal and capture a semi-wild pig to roast, calling it “a Tennessee slow bear” to get around the rules against foraging in the enemy’s territory.

Slavery has only been a vague concept to the two until the time comes that they actually meet real slaves. They are struck by the normalcy of the black men and are sympathetic to their plight as well as their treatment. New feelings arise in the souls of each one, until they realize that being friendly to an individual slave brings wrath down upon them from the putative owners. Their activities vary from complete boredom to the excitement of hearing cavalry troops coming, as they alternately look for a battle to fight to being grateful that one has not found them.

Hanrahan carries a gold watch, which he took from someone he had killed prior to the war, and considers it his talisman. At times it almost gets him killed, but he clings to it. An interesting exchange with other Union troops occurs when the latter state they are not fighting to protect or free the slaves, but just because they want to save the Union. The story is unique for its genre because it proceeds along its way without having an apparent agenda, refreshing to say the least.

An interesting but little used subject matter is the infusion of old time gospel or slave songs, accurate in all respects, as spare time around the cabins frequently was spent in singing black hymns. Some of these have been heard for years, but some are old-time ones rarely seen or heard today in literature and are a welcome addition. Songs like “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” plus “God’s Gonna Trouble de Water” are priceless and should never be forgotten.

The author brings to his subject matter a fresh approach that is beneficial to the youth of today who manage to graduate from high school with no more than a 15 minute talk about the Civil War, War Between the States, or whatever name you wish to use. While this is obviously written from a slightly Union perspective, there is little in it to upset the most rabid Rebel.

High schoolers are at an age that they are fairly knowledgeable about the subject of slavery but are woefully un-knowledgeable about the Civil War as a whole, and this story of two Yankee boys not that far from their own age should arouse a deeper interest in what the young lads of that era went through and how they did or did not accept the situations in which they found themselves. A good read for all. 

Review by Martha Boltz for the Washington Times.


BOOK OVERVIEW: 1862. While the main forces clash to the west at Shiloh in a colossal battle, a small Union force moves southward into northern Alabama. They are overextended and soon in desperate need of reinforcements. Local partisans bushwhack remote sentry postings nightly. Frustration builds over the loss of life. Rumors abound of the presence of Rebel cavalry moving into the region in the aftermath of Shiloh. GABRIEL'S TRUMPET is the story of Patrick and Timothy, two young soldiers who find themselves in the middle of the action in a brutal fight that has no front line. The nightmarish landscape of war displaces any notions the two have of glory as they struggle to make sense of the violence and somehow survive. Patrick and Timothy and their comrades-in-arms come face-to-face with the grim reality of slavery and what is really at stake in the Civil War. Their encounters with slaves and slave hunters and with planters and partisans gradually transform them and eventually push them to the edge in a gripping climax.

The issue of slavery ignited the War Between the States. However, President Lincoln went to war to restore the Union, not to free the slaves. Consequently, the policy of the war in the first year was to not antagonize the Southern planters. In time, as they lost comrades to bushwackers, the federal soldiers in the field began to blatantly disregard orders to this effect. Nothing had prepared the volunteers for the experience of losing a comrade. Nor did they have any sense of the abomination of slavery until they marched into the South. GABRIEL’S TRUMPET conveys the personal experience of the soldiers in the field during the time leading up to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the transformation of the war into a crusade.