Ash Thompson is a Union soldier during the U.S. Civil War. As a farmer from Indiana, Ash travels to Ohio, leaving the only home he has known—and his husband.
Some of you may be thinking, “Same-sex marriage was allowed in the mid-1800s?” Well, no, but Ash Thompson is not really a man. Ash Thompson is actually a woman named Constance Thompson who disguises herself as a man to take the place of her husband Bartholomew in the war.
The plot line reminded me a lot of Disney’s “Mulan,” but it is not the same story at all. First, readers learn that Constance is one of the strongest and most bull-headed women there is. She can shoot, farm and do just about anything better than Bartholomew, except for writing letters. This is why Constance sees the war as a better place for herself, instead of her beloved husband who, although he would make an effort, would never survive in battle.
So, off Ash Thompson goes, walking miles and miles to Ohio to join one of the bloodiest wars in U.S. history. Not only does Ash successfully keep his true identity hidden throughout most of the novel, but he also makes a name for himself after helping a young woman stuck in a tree. From that point on, everyone in his platoon calls him Gallant Ash, and there is even a song made about him.
While Ash seems to enjoy the soldier life at first, it is just before the second section of the book when he learns what war really is. He calls it his “hell.”
When Ash and two boys from Akron are captured by Rebels, it is Gallant Ash who helps them escape from being turned in as spies or killed, and the three make it back to camp.
Along with descriptions of grotesque battle scenes like that of Antietam, readers get to experience the war through the eyes of a woman soldier. Once people discover Ash is a woman, they believe she is a rebel spy and lock her up in a “lunatic house,” which she again escapes using her force and wit.
Constance is not the only woman to disguise herself in order to fight in the war. On her journey home, and even upon her arrival, Constance learns of many other women who fought. Toward the end of the book, Constance receives a visitor at her home who comes to share her war story.
“We went out onto the fields after the fighting and walked among the dead men and helped take them to their graves. We saw the surgeries where the men were brought to have their limbs removed. We watched them chop a boy’s leg off and throw what they took straight out the front door,” the visitor says,
The book is full of romantic letters between Constance and Bartholomew, battle scenes, soldiers’ stories and more. From the beginning to the end, this book is one of the greatest I have ever read. Perhaps it is because of it’s atypical nature: the point-of-view from which it is told and the not-so-happy-ending.