Pickett’s Charge, by Charles McNair
Livingston Press; The University of West Alabama, 2013
Threadgill Picket is the last living Confederate soldier, and he just can’t let go of all the rage and grief the Civil War brought into his life. Haunted by ghosts, pursued by his demons – both real and conjured – Threadgill is a man on a mission determined to destroy his nemesis; the last surviving Union soldier, now living in a Bangor Maine.
Pickett’s Charge is an epic road show that carries you along on Threadgills harrowing (occasionally hilarious, as often quite tragic) journey from Alabama, due north. It’s a trip through time and imagination that keeps reminding you why America cannot let go of the Civil War, why prejudice still prevails despite 150 years of “peace”, and what price we pay in the end for hanging onto rage and the relentless desire for vengeance.
It’s clear that Charles McNair wanted to write a lighthearted novel about one stubborn man’s personal vendetta. Threadgill Pickett clearly had something very different in mind. Through him, we experience a post-war South as pitifully scarred as the old soldiers’ ravaged body, but paradoxically, as essentially pure as his love for his native soil, his mischievous twin brother Ben, his saintly old Aunt Annie who raised him, and the beautifully tragic Eva, who was Threadgills’ first and only love.
McNair’s prose begins thin and lapping, then gradually builds like a hurricane crescendo that carries the reader on a whitewater crest toward a conclusion that is as unexpected as it is dreadful. From the top of that mountainous wave of skillfully drawn landscapes, familiarly detailed characters, and painfully wrought human interactions, we get a glimpse, through Threadgill’s last steps on earth, of what might have been, had Threadgill – had all the Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs of the world, both then and now – chosen to throw a bar-b-que instead of a launch a Civil War. We’d all be living in a far better world.
Pickett’s Charge is a last ditch plea for reconciliation in the face of division, misunderstanding and blind ignorance. It’s a last, lonely Rebel Yell that warns us from the torment of Oblivion to choose a path different than the doomed circle we’ve been going around and around in for the last one hundred and fifty years.
Charles McNair’s Pickett’s Charge is highly recommended reading for anyone who thinks the Civil War is alive and still raging in our hearts, and especially for those who think it’s nothing but ancient history.