From a Barroom Brawl to the Battlefields
NORTHERN WOLF is the story of 19-year-old Johannes Wolf (Wolf). The opening scene, set in Grand Rapids, Michigan, October 1862, depicts a hot-headed youth starting trouble in a barroom. Despite having a bum leg that requires wearing a metal brace, Wolf challenges three burly brothers, recent immigrants from Poland. The bartender, a friend of Wolf’s father, suggests, “Why don’t you join the army or something? You’ve got a thick neck. Remind me of a lame ox.”
After the opening chapter, it was a little difficult to root for the protagonist, but eventually, I came around. After cooling off in a jail cell, Wolf musters for service in the American Civil War, joining the fictional 13th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry. At this stage in the war, Wolf’s disability is overlooked. Also mustering are Wolf’s friend, Franz, and Franz’s widower father, as well as the three strong men from the barroom brawl.
Can an angry young man with a bad leg survive the rigors of war? The following summer, Wolf and the 13th Michigan find themselves engaged at East Cavalry Field in the company of newly promoted, 23-year-old Brigadier General of volunteers, George (Autie) Armstrong Custer. Perhaps more people are aware of Custer’s Last Stand and his defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn than they are of his service in the Civil War. I love the portrayal of Custer in this book.
The author expertly depicts the life of a soldier and battle scenes. Spotlighting tiny details, conveying the enormous stakes, and expressing the camaraderie of men who must depend on one another, that’s how author Daniel Greene recreates the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg. Having visited Gettysburg several times, it is incredible to look upon the open land and imagine tens of thousands of soldiers battling thereupon. This book vividly paints that tragically violent picture on that open landscape in my mind.
I noticed lots of descriptions of beards and facial hair, and it made me think of all of the times I’ve seen pictures of officers on both sides of the Civil War.
I highly recommend NORTHERN WOLF by Daniel Greene.