Mark James Miller is an educator, columnist, and author of The White Cockade: A Novel of the American Revolution, available for pre-order at Amazon.
The Civil War was America’s greatest agony, and almost all of the characters in Brian Kaufman’s Civil War novel, Dread Tribunal of Last Resort feel that pain, one way or another. “All dead. They’re all dead. The war killed them all,” Decker Brown, Kaufman’s protagonist, sadly muses as he ponders the loss in lives the war has brought about. Even those who survived are scarred either by the death of a family member, the loss of a limb, or the psychological damage of war. Even Paula, whom Brown loves and intends to marry, suffers not only the mental anguish the war brings but also from starvation, when, near the end of the war, another suitor, a rival with Decker for her hand, notices her “skeletal arm.”
Brown in many ways represents the division of the country. A Virginian, he loves the “Republic” and does not want to see the South triumph and tear the country apart. But he also feels a loyalty to the state he was raised in, and does not want to see it invaded and laid waste. He reflects the feelings of many on both the north and the south, put most famously by Robert E. Lee when he wrote to his son:
“With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives…” “Lee,” Bruce Catton wrote, “was tidewater Virginia…he saw himself in relation to his own region.”
Near the end of the novel, Brown strikes a prescient chord when he says,
“But the fight is over, and the outcome is murky.” Even though the Civil War ended 156 years ago, many of the issues for which the war was fought—the status of African-Americans, states’ rights, the Ku Klux Klan, and white supremacy—are still very much with us today. “I fear my efforts were wasted,” Decker opines.
Kaufman’s excellent novel makes us the reader feel that pain. Kaufman is an accomplished writer, author of novels such as Sins In Blue and Dead Beyond the Fence. We take a tour of the young, growing country, from Boston to Virginia to Utah, and see the changes sweeping over the land. A gripping read, Dread Tribunal reminds us not only of the agony of the Civil War but the torment it inflicted on those who had to fight it. The pain lives on.