The Thin Gray Line ISBN: 9781098740139 assumed published, copyright and written by Michael Kenneth Smith.
This is a story of the Civil War between the states of the newly expanding democracy. The protagonist, Luke Pettigrew was little more than a boy when he is forced to leave his home on a hardscrabble farm in Tennessee by his seemingly uncaring father. He joins the confederate Army, is severely injured and attempts to make it home, when Clyde, a trader, finds him struggling, lifts him into his wagon and gives him a ride to his burned-out home a short distance from his own. Worried about him, he returns to find Luke passed out, takes him to his home where, with Joanie his wife’s help, he removes the partially destroyed leg above the knee because any medical help is at least 50 miles away and he won’t be able to make it alive. As he begins to recover, Clyde’s young sons Timmy and Tommy start asking him questions and he tells them his story. Luke had been assigned to the Ambulance Corps where he had met Col. Bedford Forrest, had performed heroically in battle, had fought at Shiloh, had joined Jeb Stuart where his horse had been shot from under him resulting in the badly injured leg that had required amputation. From this initial activity, Luke continues an interesting and quite serendipitous journey through the war-torn south as he engages in numerous activities dictated by the time and his abilities – care of the wounded as well as amputees specifically, a group with communicable disease, racial concerns, impact of the war on social relationships and more. The characters include several important and even notorious figures of the time as well as a number of fictional heritage.
Discussion: Although presented as a most interesting fictional tale with appealing characters, the author has set forth a fascinating history of some of the first and little known successful attempts made to supply functional artificial limbs to amputees. A man by the name of James Hanger initiated the procedures and lived until 1919 but his company continues today “as a world-wide leader in the development and manufacture of prosthetic devices with branches around the world. During WW I, the company received contracts from the U.K. and France and vaulted them to the top of their field where they remain today.” The only unfortunate aspects of the story are the manner in which the proof readers have let the author down and just a passing but haunting thought of what happened to Luke’s ‘long-sustaining true love’.
5* Heart-warming Civil War tale providing interesting historical details.