Black Iron Mercy
by Eric Schlehlein
Book Review Contributed by: Jim Nelson, Waukesha North Social Studies
This is a very readable tale of one man, Arlis Jenkins, and perhaps the entire country, coming to terms with 19th-century America and the U.S. Civil War.
Schlehlein set his story in rural Wisconsin, a feature that should resonate with anyone familiar with the Dairy State. It is the tale of the Iron Brigade, one of the most famous units in the northern army. The “Black Hats” suffered a very high casualty rate during the war but were famous for standing “like iron” in numerous battles including Antietam and Gettysburg.
Arlis’ tale is told in a series of flashbacks beginning with Violet, his first love, and culminating in an automobile trip to re-visit Gettysburg decades after the battle. Through each of the vignettes that make up the novel Arlis comes to terms with tragedy, love, courage, God, and, by implication, many of the issues the U.S. has faced as we “come of age. ”
The historical research is meticulous, the locales well-chosen, and the story well-told. A good read, even for those who are not history nerds.