Book review: Hiram’s Honor

“But you people up North are different than us southern folk. You Yankees don’t respect the old ways, every thing is money, money, money, hustle, and hustle.  We’re different, you know.” – Virginia woman

“Ma’am, every state in the Union has different customs and such. We’re here to preserve the government that allows us to be free, you, me, even the Negroes.” – Private Hiram Terman, 82nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry

“Why you blasted abolitionist… I will never live under an abolitionist flag!” – the Virginian

As a native Ohioan and the descendant of numerous Civil War soldiers who served the Union in Ohio and West Virginia regiments, I have always had a strong bias toward books and articles relating to the Buckeye State during the Civil War. Normally I shy away from historical fiction, much preferring historical accounts of people, places, and battles, but in recent years I have become more interested in the genre of Civil War novels. Dr. Max R. Terman’s new book, Hiram’s Honor: Reliving Private Terman’s Civil War, is among the very best of these recent additions to the fictional literature of the Civil War.

Max Terman has extensively researched the Civil War adventures of his ancestor Hiram Terman and has written a fascinating, gripping account of what it may have been like to be a common infantryman in the War Between the States. Taking Hiram’s known movements, his battles, and his remembrances, the author skillfully interweaves them into a wonderfully conceived and brilliantly written narrative that takes the reader into Hiram’s hypothetical world.

Dr. Terman assembles a colorful supporting cast, which gives him a chance to explore the myriad of emotions and beliefs emerging in the mid-19th century. We meet am agnostic, one of the growing crowd who questioned the existence of God and the supernatural. His interplay with a traditionalist is interesting and filled with the tension that two very different cultural and socio-scientific values systems. Virginia slaveholders clinging to the Old South’s antebellum culture dialogue with pro-Union young men who abhor the idea of owning another human being. Officers with privileged backgrounds and educations lead soldiers fresh off the farm and the factories. Through it all, Private Terman marches, camps, and fights alongside his diverse collection of comrades in such places as Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley and the southern Pennsylvania battlefield at Gettysburg.

Like thousands of other Union soldiers in the I and XI Corps on July 1, 1863, Hiram is captured by the Confederates at Gettysburg as his regiment retreats through the town toward Cemetery Hill. Max Terman’s description of the emotions and thoughts of Hiram and his friends as they head off to prison in Virginia and later to the infamous Andersonville prison camp in Georgia is both vivid and insightful, helping add depth to the character development.

As the prisoners are taken through North Carolina to Andersonville  late in the war, Terman is exposed to several deaths of comrades. Among his descendant’s colorful passages in Hiram’s Honor is this passage which typifies Max Terman’s riveting writing style and narrative. As Hiram surveyed a fallen fellow prisoner, he exclaims “What a pity! The man survived Gettysburg and the horrors of Belle Island [a Virginia prison camp] to be trampled by his own comrades scrambling for apples tossed into our [rail] car by young girls! Now there he is, unknown to his family, without a coffin, naked to the soil in a nameless grave near the railroad depot in Raleigh, North Carolina. Not a good death; not a good death at all!”

Max R. Terman has masterfully crafted an engrossing novel that is difficult to set down. Once you begin reading, you are transported back nearly 150 years to the time of division, heartache, and chaos that became known as the American Civil War. His ancestor’s story comes to life in a fascinating new work that is certain to become a classic among historical novels, and it should be of keen interest not only to we Ohioans, but to all North and South who cherish our history and heritage. His characters capture the best, and worst, of mankind, yet give hope that throughout the ordeal, we, like Hiram, can act with courage and honor. If we learn nothing else from this fine book, it is that Hiram’s honor can be what we strive to emulate.

For more information, other reviews, and several photographs, please visit Max Terman’s blog for this book.

Hiram’s Honor: Reliving Private Terman’s Civil War

Max R. Terman

Tesa Books, 2009, paperback, 240 pages

ISBN 978-0-615-27812-4

Available from amazon.com and other leading retailers and book stores.

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