“Recommended” – The Book Report

With his father killed in the Battle of Shiloh and four younger children still at home to support, and too young by one year to join the Union Army, fourteen-year-old Gideon Tell becomes an apprentice photographer to fast-talking, clever, and well-read Charles Rintree. Rintree is headed to infiltrate enemy lines at Vicksburg to take photographs of positions and armaments, reckoning to get them to General Grant—not for outright cash but for the fame and subsequent money that fame will bring. Occupation of Vicksburg by the Confederates has made it impossible for Union forces to use the Mississippi River as a means of moving men and supplies.

Aboard the Empress, Grant’s supply steamer, Gideon and Rintree are caught between a double line of fire. The captain has taken civilian passengers aboard against the arguments of Union troop commander Lieutenant Stephen Kane. With the steamer under attack, Rintree has Gideon bravely remain on deck taking pictures of the shore battlements. Later, seeing the photographs and realizing that photographic surveillance is the way of the future, Kane conspires with Rintree to place him and Gideon inside the city of Vicksburg—their cover story to be that they are refugees desiring to return to the South, Rintree as a surgeon and Gideon as his son with an interest in the new science of photography chronicling his father’s work. The Millers, newspaper owners with Union sympathies, will be their contacts.

Rintree quickly becomes a surprisingly good full-time civilian surgeon. Vicksburg’s society loves him. Gideon realizes that it is up to him to take the pictures. Under the guise of a newspaper photographer creating an image of Vicksburg for the Millers’ newspaper, Gideon can go almost anywhere and photograph freely “on assignment.” His objective is the panoramic view from atop the courthouse.

Slowly, Gideon reassesses Rintree as a liar, a forger, and perhaps a wheeler-dealer angling to sell the photographs to the highest bidder. When Kane arrives incognito (switching identity with a recently dead war correspondent and doing a fine impression of him), they share their suspicions of Rintree being a double spy. It becomes imperative to get Gideon and his prints to General Grant. A prisoner/troop train out of Vicksburg is the answer. What follows is a thrilling, action-packed, no-holds barred, identities-revealing great train escape.

The novel is seasoned with humor, seeds of romance, masked identities, and great insight into character development and relationships. A bonus is actual photographs of Vicksburg and historical personages who are woven into the story.