by Carl Eeman
Published by Melange Press 2009
Halfway between the Emancipation proclaimed by Lincoln in 1863 and the dream of “Free at Last” proclaimed at Lincoln’s Memorial in 1963, America held its breath. What if America’s history had taken a different turn in 1913, and white men had put aside their racial hatred while black men had washed away their pain?
Encampment: A Novel of Race and Reconciliation examines a road not taken during the July 1913 reunion of 54,000 veterans at Gettysburg – a now-forgotten, week-long reunion that ended in a gesture of reconciliation between North and South. Domestic and foreign reporters kept telegraph wires humming while 100,000 civilians came each day to see for themselves: could Blue and Gray bind up the nation’s wounds and make peace? They could, and they did… for those who were white.
But what if there had been a deeper healing? What might have happened if 5,000 black veterans had dared to attend? What if not just blue and gray but also black and white had battled through their hatred and regrets, laid down their hurts and found a way to heal history?
Encampment follows three of these men in their autumn years. Savannah sergeant Zachariah Hampton still marches often, drinks hard, and believes blacks should stay in a place called Jim Crow. To Lucius Robinson, however, Jim Crow’s place smells like the slavery he ran away from 50 years ago, and his heart and dignity are worn down to rags. Retired Vermont abolitionist Calvin Salisbury laments as the triumph of his youth is shredded by a national bigotry that leaves the sacrifices of his comrades in tatters.
These three men are among the thousands at Gettysburg who could have pieced together all Americans into a quilt of common heritage. The hopefulness of this novel evokes forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, and a re-thinking of history that informs the present.
In this beguiling, important novel, Carl Eeman reinvents a world of 1912-14 in which our tortured struggle with Civil War memory and race relations might have had different outcomes. He imagines Civil War veterans, their language, their identities, their sense of place and honor as they have never been portrayed in fiction. And the story of the spectacular Gettysburg Reunion of 1913 is rendered in new terms by the presence of 5,000 black veterans. Every serious student and reader of history has wondered “what if?” In Eeman’s haunting characters and dialogues, and in his textured storytelling, Americans can see the genuine tragedy in our story of Civil War remembrance.David W. Blight, Yale University, author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory