Sergeant Owen Young is among the first infantry soldiers to face Lees army and to later repulse the famous Pickets Charge on the third day of the battle. His fighting is far from over as he participates in nearly all the battles fought by the Army of the Potomac until Lees surrender to Grant at Appomatox.
Owens best friend Jim Wright has a sister with whom Owen falls in love. Virginia Wright is very unlike the clinging vine types who are so often portrayed. Like Owens Abolitionist mother, she is strong as well as beautiful.
But there is mystery and romance in the story that are introduced in the Prologue and not solved until the very end of the novel. Civil War Sergeant is a fast-moving epic story of the GIs, the grunts, who did the fighting in the American Civil War.
Megan Kate Nelson examines the narratives and images that Americans produced as they confronted the war's destructiveness. Architectural ruins--cities and houses--dominated the stories that soldiers and civilians told about the "savage" behavior of men and the invasions of domestic privacy. The ruins of living things--trees and bodies--also provoked discussion and debate. People who witnessed forests and men being blown apart were plagued by anxieties about the impact of wartime technologies on nature and on individual identities.
The obliteration of cities, houses, trees, and men was a shared experience. Nelson shows that this is one of the ironies of the war's ruination--in a time of the most extreme national divisiveness people found common ground as they considered the war's costs. And yet, very few of these ruins still exist, suggesting that the destructive practices that dominated the experiences of Americans during the Civil War have been erased from our national consciousness.