Vineyarders at Gettysburg
"Seen the Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Gettysburg" by John Hough Jr., Simon & Schuster, 2009, 423 ppg. $25.
John Hough Jr. may be a writer on the brink of the bestsellers list, but since the publication of his novel, "Seen the Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Gettysburg," his days have remained identical to the days prior: biking at dawn before even the guinea hens are up; checking in with his father, John Sr., who lives next door to his West Tisbury home; then off to his writing desk where he spends afternoons editing, and evenings teaching.
There's also been little change in Mr. Hough's modest demeanor, despite the praise Publishers Weekly bestowed for his "novelist's insight and historian's eye," or the fact that the Book of the Month Club chose "Seen the Glory" as an alternate selection in its military and history categories. Many writers in his place might have kicked back and popped a cork or two, but not John Hough.
Seen the Glory, the first Civil War novel whose main characters are Vineyarders, is the tale of brothers Luke and Thomas Chandler, raised by a fierce abolitionist father and by Rose, the Cape Verdean housekeeper they adore. When Nantucketer Lt. Col. George Macy lands on the Vineyard in search of soldiers, the idealistic teenagers join up, a decision that lands them at Gettysburg for the Civil War's decisive battle.
Mr. Hough's book is part Civil War epic, part love story, and destined to become a Vineyard classic. Although it is his fourth published novel, he says it felt different from the others from the start: "I never felt the sense of energy and optimism before that I felt with 'Seen the Glory.'"
Perhaps it was because the book combines his love of writing and his fascination with the Civil War. Perhaps it's the foray into historical fiction. Mr. Hough recalls a long-ago conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winner William Styron: "I wish I could recall his exact words - he put it beautifully - but I remember the idea: that writing his books within the context of history helped him write a better book." Mr. Hough nods. "I found that true as well."
The West Tisbury author spent a year researching before starting to write. Many scenes in "Seen the Glory" are set on the Island and local experts like Art Railton and staff at both the Martha's Vineyard Museum and the West Tisbury Public Library helped him reimagine the Island of the past.
It was an off-Island historian who brought to his attention the story of Elisha Smith, one of the few Vineyarders to join the army - rather than navy - and fight at Gettysburg. Mr. Smith appears in the story as the boyhood friend and battlefield comrade of the Chandler brothers.