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John Calvin Batchelor: American Falls

Not great literature, but a rollicking good tale of spies in the American Civil War. Batchelor makes a pretence at fairness by telling the story from both the point of view of the Confederate spies (who are aiming to cause major mayhem in New York) and the Yankees on their trail. But there is no doubt that Batchelor is a Yankee. On the Rebel side John Oliphant is the main character. Oliphant is from Philadelphia but, on a visit to relatives in Savannah, he falls in love and with and marries a cousin and then becomes an unrepentant reb, spying for them in Europe and then leading a band of urban guerrillas from Canada to New York. Batchelor cheats a bit as, while we see Oliphant with his band, we know nothing of his plans from his side, till well into the book and are given the impression that, while Oliphant is a reb, he is now concentrating on the problems of his family.

On the Yankee side, the hero is the good old boy (if you can be from Maine and be a good old boy), Amaziah Butter, injured in battle and now part of Colonel Lafayette Baker‘s Secret Service. Butter who is a decent sort (despite a mild extramarital flirtation), salt of the earth and so on is determined that Oliphant is the worst thing since Jeff Davis and is out to get him and his plot. This book is about how he does or does not do it. If you like adventure, spies and the Civil War, you should enjoy this book but if you are looking for great literature there are better civil war novels.

The attack on New York, including the attack on Barnum’s, is also covered (very briefly) in Robert Edric‘s In the Days of the American Museum.

Publishing history

First published 1985 by Henry Holt