War widows rise up against General Sherman in new Civil War novel
University of Mississippi professor releases This Side of the River in 150th anniversary year of end of war
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Southern Civil War widows’ disdain for General William Tecumseh Sherman and the Yankees is evident through the diaries and letters these women left behind, but a new literary noir looks at what may have been had these wives actually armed themselves and risen up.
University of Mississippi English Professor and award-winning short story writer Jeffrey Stayton releases his first novel, This Side of the River, in February 2015, the sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War.
Told from multiple narrators, the gritty tale takes place in Georgia the summer of 1865 after the Confederacy has collapsed. A contingent of young Civil War widows who have survived General Sherman’s March to the Sea rally around a teenage Texas Ranger named Cat Harvey to travel to Ohio to burn down Sherman’s home. The story explores themes of trauma, revenge and redemption, while also touching on the reality of post traumatic stress disorder during the Civil War, known then as “nostalgia” or “soldier’s heart.”
Stayton speculates about the war crimes Shannon’s Scouts committed during Sherman’s March and gives Confederate soldiers’ “body servants” a voice that few Civil War stories do.
Heather Newton, author of Under The Mercy Trees, praised Stayton’s crafting of the “unforgettable widows, whose accounts of their quest for revenge under the leadership of boy-Captain Cat Harvey evolve from humorous to sinister until the very stones cry out with the women’s rage and indignation.”
Corey Mesler, author of Diddy-Wah-Diddy: A Beale Street Suite, calls This Side of the River “a wild and enthralling mythopoeic-historical novel.
“It is an audacious move, especially for a first time novelist, but Stayton’s ventriloquist act and his lyrical aptitude are up to the task. This Side of the River tells a Civil War story you have not heard before,” Mesler said. “Comparisons to Tom Franklin and Charles Frazier are inevitable but Stayton is his own man, and his assured use of his storytelling gifts portends a grand career.”
Stayton has his Ph.D. in English from University of Mississippi, where he now teaches. He currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee and has written book reviews for the Missouri Review and awardwinning fiction for Carve Magazine, StorySouth, Lascaux and Burningword Literary Journal.