A look at the Revolution from the top down
By Deirdre Parker Smith
You won’t hear this in the South very often, but author Charles Price is a little tired of the Civil War.
That’s why his new historical fiction, “Nor the Battle to the Strong” focuses instead on the Revolutionary War.
“The South’s fixation with the Civil War is essentially negative,” says Southern-born Price. “We need to get past it. … It’s like a wall we can’t get over.
“The Revolutionary War was a time we made a huge contribution here in North Carolina.”
Price says, “We are really imperfectly educated about it. The general perception is it was all fought and won in the North.”
Price’s previous books include “Hiwassee: A Novel of the Civil War,” “Freedom’s Altar” and “The Cock’s Spur,” three books that follow the Curtises and Prices through the Civil War period.
He wrote about the earlier war for two reasons, one of which was to move on from the Civil War. The other involved 9/11. “After 9/11, I got to thinking about our civil liberties and how we should regard them, especially under the threat of terror.”
He thought it would be “good and wholesome” to go back to a time “when people were establishing our country and trying to hold on to those liberties. … I’m afraid some people are willing to set some of those values aside” in view of what happened on Sept. 11.
Price “didn’t know beans about the period” he wanted to write about. He’d read all 19th century stuff, all the Civil War stuff. “The 18th century was just a different world, there was no Victorian repression. … It was a more earthy and outspoken and interesting and colorful time to me.”
He got carried away with characters he read about and their individuality, but it was Gen. Nathanael Greene who got him, hook, line and sinker. He was reading some of Greene’s papers … “the one that applied to his service in the South. … It was like reading an epistolary novel,” Price says, as Greene writes of himself and all the others ó Jefferson, Washington and Adams. Plus Gen. Thomas Sumter and Francis Marion.
“I said, I gotta write about this.”
Price doesn’t want people to see the book and think it’s a war book and “only guys will read it. One of the things that captured my imagination was the women and children went to war with the men; whole families went to war.
“In my book, my characters are all in this together.”
Women during the Revolutionary War were not just making the traditional sacrifice, they are active in the cause.
“This is not a war book. It’s a book about people in a war. War is such a large and terrible thing that it’s very hard to meet one’s own expectations of one’s performance in it; we expect to be heroes and we may or may not be.”
He wrote “Nor the Battle to the Strong” featuring Gen. Greene and Pvt. James Johnson, to see the war from the top down.
Price says Greene was a Quaker. “He’s struggling to come to terms with their pacifist teachings. He was probably the best field soldier Washington had.
“I fell in love with the way his mind worked.” Greene had a great love affair with his wife, Price says. He was decisive but introspective, he doubted his abilities. Although he wants to win a pitched battle, most are inconclusive, but it turns out he’s the general who runs the Brits out of South Carolina.
The private in the story is inspired by one of his wife’s relatives. Price says he “wrote myself out on” his father’s ancestors ó he got too close to modern times.
His wife’s ancestor was in in the cavalry in Greene’s army, which led Price to read about Greene, which led to his creation of a dual-character story with alternating chapters.
Price prides himself on historical accuracy and does two full years of reading before he starts writing.
“I put a lot of truth in my fiction; there are a lot of writers who don’t worry about that and misrepresent the past. I think that’s an enemy of popular understanding of our history.” He says some writers just create “people of today dressed in funny clothes. They don’t learn about values and social structure.”
That’s what’s important to him ó writing historical fiction to try to make it relevant for people in the present.
He praises his publisher, Frederic C. Beil of Savannah. Beil used to be a Scribner’s editor. “He wanted to be on his own. People like him are the last refuge for literary fiction. He only publishes what he wants … fine writing in books that are well made that will last a long time. He even allowed me to illustrate my book.”
Price is working on something that took place in Colorado in 1863. Some Hispanic religious zealots went on a killing rampage, believing the Virgin Mary was directing them. Mobs went wild seeking revenge, leading to even more horrific acts. Price says it reminds him of modern terrorism.
But that’s another war altogether.