Book review: The Unfinished Work by Frank Meredith
“The puffs of smoke cleared as the reports echoed from the hillsides. The Union rifleman clutched his bloodied wrist and retreated into the bushes. A moment later, the attacking Yankee cavalryman blindsided [General Wade] Hampton with his sabre. Jake cringed as the shiny blade arced toward the unsuspecting general. The sabre ripped through Hampton’s hat and glanced off the back of his head. A mist of blood flew from his scalp. He reined his horse around, raised his revolver, and fired.
Jake braced in anticipation of the death of the Yankee assailant. But nothing happened. Was Hampton out of ammo or was it a misfire?”
Frank Meredith, a native of Hanover in southwestern York County, Pennsylvania, is a writer of historical fiction, as well as a Grammy and Emmy-nominated musician. An international traveler and accomplished photographer, Meredith uses his prolific imagination and experience as a storyteller to weave together a fascinating novel, The Unfinished Work, based upon the events of the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign.
The lead character, Jake Becker, like Meredith is a Hanoverian. Early in the Civil War in 1861, he has escorted the other two main characters, sisters Kathleen and Eliza Bigler, from Virginia back to Hanover for safety. Little did they know their paths would cross the Confederates in southern Pennsylvania just two years later when elements of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia invaded York County. The book begins with the Saturday June 27 raid of Elijah White’s Virginia cavalry on Hanover and the Rebel infantry’s occupation of nearby York PA. The dialogue and action sets the stage for the main event, J.E.B. Stuart’s entry into Pennsylvania on June 30 and the subsequent Battle of Hanover.
Through the well crafted narrative, Jake meets and interacts with the leading Southern generals, including Lee, Stuart, Wade Hampton and others, as well as such Yankee luminaries as George Armstrong Custer. Becker becomes an eyewitness to the fighting at East Cavalry Field at Gettysburg, which the author refers to as the last great cavalry battle in history (I would consider Trevillian Station as a larger cavalry battle a year after Gettysburg). Jake Becker is later present at the ceremonies dedicating the National Cemetery and listens to President Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address.
A main plot line is the sisters’ unexpected romantic rivalry. As the author has stated, “As in Gone with the Wind, Eliza, a pampered southern belle, must cope with the life-changing consequences of the war, watch her lover go off to join the fight, and deal with the most unexpected rival for his affections – her sister, Kathleen.”
Unlike many works of historical fiction, Meredith relies quite heavily on the actual historical accounts of the Battle of Hanover and the fierce fighting at Gettysburg. Drawing upon his impressive knowledge of local geography and the network of roads, for those of us who live in York County, this novel is clearly written with a keen understanding of the culture of the 19th century Pennsylvania German farmers and residents, and the Civil War buff will appreciate the attention to historical detail, including some useful footnotes (unusual for a novelist to add this much appreciated touch). For those readers who enjoy historical fiction, The Unfinished Work has broad appeal for both men and women, and has an excellent storyline that holds the reader’s attention.
The Unfinished Work is 309 pages and is available from leading retail outlets across the country, as well as on the Internet. ISBN 978-1449545116; soft cover (hard cover coming), illustrated with maps and period photographs. Savannah Press.
Frank Meredith maintains a Facebook page and a website for the book with more information, endorsements and reviews, upcoming book signings, and other supportive material.