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I Shall Be Near to You: A Novel by [Mccabe, Erin Lindsay]
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4.3 out of 5 stars 310 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Essay by Erin Lindsay McCabe

It is July, 2009, and I've already written hundreds of pages. I am talking to my mom on the phone when she asks me.

“Why do you want to write about this?” she asks. “Why this person? Why not someone else?”

I give her my answer, the one I think I would give Oprah if Oprah asked me the same question, the one I would say to my mom’s book club if they asked.

“Because people should know about her,” I say. “Because people should know women did these things. Because I can’t believe no one gets taught this stuff. Because I think it’s important.”

I am not writing about Rosetta because of the things we know about Sarah Rosetta Wakeman. We know that she was born on January 16, 1843. We know that she was the oldest of nine children, that she was her father’s farmhand, that her family had financial trouble. We know that when she was 19 she decided to leave the family farm and find work so she could send money home. We know that she decided to dress as a man to get work on a canal boat and that it only took her one boat ride up the river to find out that being a soldier for the 153rd New York State Volunteers paid better than any job she could find: $13 a month plus a $152 signing bonus. But there's a lot we don't know.


March, 1998. I had gone into the stacks to find a woman, any woman, who lived in the 1800s. I was looking for a primary source on which to write my next paper for U.S. Women’s History. I wanted to find a diary, but what I found were Rosetta Wakeman's letters.

Rosetta told her family, “I have got So that I Can drill just as well as any man there is in my regiment.” She is both tender and brazen, writing in one letter, “I don’t know how long before i shall have to go into the field of battle. For my part i don’t Care. I don’t feel afraid to go. I don’t believe there are any Rebel’s bullets made for me yet. Nor i don’t Care if there is.” She can make us laugh with her directness. We know for sure she got into a fistfight with Pvt. Stephen Wiley, who was a drunk and a thief. She “give him three or four pretty good cracks and he put downstairs with himself.” She loved her family, sent home all the money she could spare, and had dreams she could never fulfill as a woman. “If I ever own a farm, It will be in Wisconsin. On the prairie,” she wrote. She tells us she was “independent as a hog on ice,” and that she had no intention of giving in to anyone else’s ideas of how she should behave, saying, “I will Dress as I am a mind to for all anyone else cares, and if they don’t let me Alone they will be sorry for it.”

Rosetta was not an anomaly. In fact, there were a lot of women like her. At least two hundred women are documented as having fought on both sides of the Civil War. Even Rosetta knew they existed, writing:

“Over to Carroll Prison they have got three women that is Confined to their Rooms. One of them was a Major in the union army and she went into battle with her men. When the Rebels bullets was acoming like a hail storm she rode her horse and gave orders to her men. Now She is in prison for not doing aCcordingly to the regulation of war. The other two is rebel Spies and they have Catch them and Put them in Prison.”

Who were those women? Rosetta doesn’t say. History doesn’t either, because the records from Carroll Prison are incomplete.

There are a lot of things I love about Rosetta that didn’t make it into that college paper, but they made it into my novel. And there are a lot of things she didn't tell us: How it felt to be a woman dressed as a man. Whether or not she ever killed anyone in battle. What it was like to march into combat, all the way down to Louisiana, and to never once get found out for being a woman in the two years she served. How she did it, how she did all this, while pretending to be a man.

I imagined answers to the things we can't know, adding tidbits from the tales of other women who fought. Then, with Rosetta’s voice in my head, I tried to introduce a woman like her to the world, envisioning what someone in her position might have experienced, giving her a fictionalized life, a fictionalized husband, and a fictionalized story. But here, I'll leave you with Rosetta's own words:

“The weather is cold and the ground is froze hard, but I sleep as warm in the tents as I would in a good bed. I don't know the difference when I get asleep. We have boards laid down for a floor and our dishes is tin. We all have a tin plate and a tin cup, and a knife and Fork, one spoon. We have to use the floor for a table. I like to be a soldier very well.”

From Booklist

*Starred Review* A girl as tough as Katniss Everdeen. A romance out of Twilight. A historical backdrop as strong as Cold Mountain. These things combine in the extraordinary story of Rosetta Wakefield, a young woman from rural New York who follows her childhood sweetheart, Jeremiah, into the Civil War. Rosetta grows up preferring to haul hay with her father over mending socks with her mother and sister. Often teased for her tomboy ways, Rosetta has a constant defender in Jeremiah—and eventually a lover and husband. When he enlists in the Union army to earn money for their future, she finds she can’t sit at home, bearing the hostility of her new mother-in-law and the oppressive domesticity. Dressing in men’s clothes, she takes the name of Ross Stone and enlists. Together the two young people face the everyday challenges of army life—cold nights, drunk tent mates, uncertainty—and the horrors of war, culminating in the terrible battle of Antietam. Author McCabe makes every sentence count, with a narrative full of authentic dialogue, historical realism, and great feeling. Loosely based on true events, including the letters of the more than 200 women who are known to have served as men in the Civil War. --Lynn Weber

Product Details

  • File Size: 3212 KB
  • Print Length: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (January 28, 2014)
  • Publication Date: January 28, 2014
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,327 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just finished "I Shall Be Near You" and thought it was wonderful. It was so well
written and period appropriate that it was easy to be transported back to the Civil
War. Rosetta was a well developed character and I foundit was easy to be swept into
her life during the late 1800's. I appreciated the Author's Note describing how the book
was created through letters, pictures, fact and fiction. I love this genre.

I judge a book by how much I want to read it often letting other things slide as much
as I can during the day. I read this over the weekend and loved every minute of it.
The pace was good and the ending believable and heartbreaking all at the same time.
I recommend it most highly!
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A moving testament to the power of love and a woman's courage, "I Shall Be Near To You" is a novel readers may be unable to forget. Erin Lindsay McCabe has written a very personal, intimate accounting of Rosetta Wakefield's life as a Union soldier during the Civil War. Echoing the sentiments of the Biblical story of Ruth and Naomi, this novel follows the life of Rosetta from just prior to her marriage through her enlisting in the Union Army to be with her husband. The subsequent wartime events she experienced reflect those actually lived by women who defied convention to enlist and fight as soldiers on the battlefield in order to be near their loved ones.

Erin Lindsay McCabe has effectively used the first person narrative style to humanize Rosetta and to evoke an emotional response from the reader. Grammar, syntax, and style add authenticity to the presentation of Rosetta's background as a young farm-raised woman whose education is limited. Letters written by the characters - to be opened upon their death - are touching and may, upon reading them, result in the reader shedding tears.

"I Shall Be Near To You" highlights the strict parameters of behavior and the scarce career opportunities available to women during the mid-nineteenth century. The appeal that enlisting in the army provided to those of lower economic classes is apparent throughout the novel. By enlisting and fighting the War, many men saw an opportunity to advance and provide a better life for their families.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction, based on factual events, will want to read "I Shall Be Near To You". Be prepared to lose yourself in Rosetta's life and experiences; this is a book you may have difficulty setting aside. I highly recommend "I Shall Be Near To You". I will be suggesting it to my Book Club as a choice for next month's book selection.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Rosetta decides to marry Jeremiah when he plans to enlist as a solider in the Civil War. She is not at all happy that he is leaving so soon after their wedding. He wants to make enough as a solider to buy a farm around which to build their life together.

After Jeremiah has left, Rosetta realizes that her life is by his side. Her home is empty without him. She cuts her long, beautiful hair and stays up all night to tailor some of her husband's clothes to fit her.

Upon finding his regiment, Jeremiah is not happy. He fears for her safety. However, she continues to insist that there is nothing back home for her, that her place is with him. After a time, he is glad she has come. She trains with the men, as she and Jeremiah grow closer as husband and wife.

This book is a gem! The character development is incredible. Rosetta, being a woman who is not very educated, says and does some amusing things, but her common sense always saves her in the end. She seemed so real.

Be sure you do not miss the author's notes at the end of the book. In her notes, she tells about women, including the real Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, who really did fight in the Civil War, disguised as men. The author admits that she tried to portray war as realistically as she could.

This is an extraordinary, but unusual, love story. The author shows us the strength and determination of true love. I will not forget this unforgettable book!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Heartrending and evocative, I Shall Be Near to You is the beautifully written tale of an independent, loving young wife who follows her husband into the Union Army to fight at his side. Written in a spare but vivid style that’s perfect for farm girl Rosetta’s point of view, the story recounts the wedding just weeks before Jeremiah enters the army and Rosetta’s decision to follow him. Rosetta joins her husband’s company, marching, starving and fighting at his side and the newlyweds seek comfort in each other’s presence even as they endure the horrors of war.

This is a love between equals and that love radiates right off the page. Having endured teasing and aching disappointment from a father for whom she can be everything but a son, Rosetta is strong and likable. Jeremiah is good man who clearly loves and accepts her for who she is.

I won’t lie; it’s an emotional read but one well worth the teary-eyed moments. Erin McCabe is a shining talent and this glimpse into the life of women soldiers in the civil war highlights an important and too long overlooked piece of American history. Well done.
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