Michael Kenneth Smith presents a compelling tale of historical Civil War (or is that War of Northern Aggression?) fiction in Home Again, lived through the experiences of two young men on each side. Luke is a Confederate, volunteering for service as a medic assisting field surgeons who proves his bravery to his fellow soldiers on the battlefield. Zach is a Union soldier earning notoriety for his skill with a custom-built rifle made by his gunsmithing father. Both men end up serving as sharpshooters, the 19th Century predecessors of today’s sniper with equipment and skill capable of accurate shots out to 1,000 yards. With the character interest in riflery, Smith spends plenty of time discussing the design and construction of long range rifles of this era, with plenty of passages on their character’s use and skill with them.
Home Again does not take sides as both Luke and Zach are from Tennessee. In this book, little is discussed on the reasons or justifications for the war. Instead, the story fixes on the tales of two boys quickly turned to men during war, told from each character’s perspective in alternating chapters, and concentrates on their experiences and adventures in the harsh realities of battle.
While this is fiction, Smith weaves in plenty of historical events, notably Gettysburg and Shiloh. Key leaders from the battles are also presented in the tales, as well as historical biographies at the end.
An interesting sidebar on the shooting portions would be looking at actual marksmanship standards of sharpshooters back then. Hiram Berdan, a noted competition marksman of the day, famously formed Berdan’s Sharpshooters during this era. As was common then, there was no formal training program for potential recruits as men were selected based on already-developed skill. After Fort Sumter was fired upon, Berdan began forming regiments of sharpshooters which was approved by the War Department in 1861, appointing Berdan as Colonel of the 1st Regiment United States Sharp Shooters. Recruit testing stated, “No man would be enlisted who could not put ten bullets in succession within five inches from the center at a distance of six hundred feet from a rest or three hundred feet off hand.”
A potential recruit was required to fire his own open-sight rifle, fire ten consecutive rounds, reloading as fast as possible, at two targets. The first target was 200 yards away and fired at using a rest. The second target was paced at 100 yards and fired at offhand. A contestant missing the targets or averaging more than five inches (known as the string of 50) from the center was disqualified. The original recruits were told to bring their own rifles if they wished.
A number of noted historians and authors have praised Home Again for its story and accuracy in the historical backdrop, including Dr. Michael Bernath, a History Professor at the University of Miami, and award-winning author Rafael Lima. A thorough read will reveal why.
Read more in our September 2015 issue.