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Monday, July 2, 2012

Review of A House Divided Against Itself


A House Divided Against Itself by Bob O'Connor is a book for serious Civil War buffs. O'Connor takes the fairly well-known story of the Culp brothers, John (Wesley) and William who fought on opposites sides of the conflict, and expands the known history into a fictional narrative. The story also involves Mary Virgina (Jennie) Wade, the sweetheart of Wesley's best friend "Jack" Skelly. Jennie Wade was the only civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg. The brothers actually faced each other twice in battle during the conflict.

Over ninety letters written by the principal people have survived. O'Connor uses those letters to create first person narratives by each of the people. From chapter to chapter the point of view changes to give each person's perspective on the same events. Other well-known writers use this technique to create extremely accurate stories, and yet they must be considered fiction, as exact dialogue, etc. is only implied in the historical record. Allen Eckert is an example of this kind of writer, although Eckert weaves the stories together into one chronological tale.

A House Divided gives the reader a personal perspective on an enlisted soldier's life, both on the Yankee and Confederate sides. A wonderful addition is an image with nearly every chapter. Sometimes these are photographs of a person featured in the chapter, sometimes maps, or contemporary drawings of places where events in the chapter occurred. At the end of the book, modern photographs of the graves of most of the people are shown as well as vital statistics.

The cover art is taken (with permission) from a painting by Mort K√ľnstler, and provides an great eye appeal for the cover.

To be honest, this book is less novel and more history. Although the events leading up to Gettysburg are quite dramatic on their own, the book is pretty much a re-statement of the letters. This provides excellent accuracy, but there is no building of a particular dramatic moment with a crisis and denouement. One must just take the events as they occur.

I also felt that the different voices were very similar, which lent a flat tone to the book. I wanted Jennie to be more feminine, and William to be more stiff and arrogant, and Wesley to be more consistently colloquial and defensive about his decision to fight for the Confederacy.

Nevertheless, for anyone who likes Civil War history, this is a more personal account of this somewhat famous family than has been previously presented.

Bob O'Connor lives in Charles Town, West Virginia, close to most of the sites of his books about the Civil War.

He has been involved in public speaking for years and years. Since 2006, his speaking engagements have spanned 11 states and the District of Columbia. He speaks at libraries, schools, civic organizations, Civil War Round Tables, book clubs, and to most anyone who will listen.

A House Divided Against Itself is available on line at or at It is also available on all e-book formats.



Bob O'Connor said...

Thanks for your evaluation of my book and for hosting today's book tour stop. I appreciatedd both. Bob O'Connor

Jennifer Walker said...

Thank you for hosting Bob on his tour, and for your thoughtful review!

Michelle Devon (MIchy) said...

Good review, Joan! I am also reviewing this book, so I did not want to read any reviews until I'd already written mine. But it's great to see others' POVs about the same books you've read.

Thanks for sharing it with us!

Love and stuff,