By James Reasoner
“Manassas,” the first book of James Reasoner’s ten volume, “The Civil War Battle Series,” introduces the Brannon family of Culpepper County, Virginia. The patriarch of the family, John Brannon, an Irish immigrant with a penchant for reading Shakespeare, died in 1851 leaving his wife Abigail to raise their family of six children: William Shakespeare, MacBeth Richard (“Mac”), Titus Andronicus, Coriolanus Troilus (“Cory”), Henry and Cordelia.
The novel begins in January, during the “Secession Winter” of 1861. Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States the previous November. As the states of the South begin to secede from the Union and form a new country the Brannon family anxiously await Virginia’s decision to remain in the United States or to leave the Union and join her sister states in the Confederacy.
Will, the eldest child of the Brannon clan, and the central character in Mr. Reasoner’s novel, is the Sheriff of Culpepper County. Will suspects the Fogarty brothers for a series of robberies and murders in the county, including the murder of his deputy Luther Strawn. When Will corners Joe Fogarty in the general store and is forced to shot and kill him for resisting arrest, a feud erupts between the Brannons and the remaining Fogarty brothers.
When the Brannon’s barn is burned to the ground their neighbors gather on the Brannon farm for a barn raising during which Henry Brannon is shot through the shoulder by a hidden gunman. Abigail, a Christian woman strong in her beliefs, blames Will for the violence that has been brought to bear on the family and disowns him, banishing him from the farm.
Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops to be raised after the surrender of Fort Sumter results in Virginia’s secession from the Union, and in an attempt to focus the attention of the George and Ransom Fogarty away from the rest of the family Will enlists in the 33rd Virginia Infantry to fight with the Confederate Army. The Fogarty’s also enlist, seeing their opportunity to kill Will during a battle and avoid the suspicion of murder. Together they march to battle the Yankee army, and each other, on the fields of Bull Run, near Manassas, Virginia.
Reasoner’s novel is a simple tale told simply. Its linear narrative is mainly a plot driven vehicle with little character development, but all in all, still an enjoyable read. Anyone looking for an in depth treatment of the First Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run, as the Union Army would later refer to it) should look elsewhere, as the battle does not begin until page 316 of this 336 page book.
ISBN 978-1581820089, Cumberland House Publishing, © 1999, Hardcover, 336 pages, $22.95. To purchase click HERE.