Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The Blood of the Fallen by James Reasoner, 2002

© Rough Edges Press
There are some stories that you can’t review without spoilers. The Blood of the Fallen: The history that never happened by prolific American author James Reasoner is one of them. 

The 18-page story is narrated by Stark, the captain of the military guard assigned to protect President Abraham Lincoln. I’m not sure if the detail actually existed but it seemed to have preceded the Secret Service formed in July 1865 under the Department of the Treasury. Apparently, the legislation creating the agency was on Lincoln's desk the very night he was assassinated.

But that’s not really the story.

The Blood of the Fallen refers to President Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg speech in November 1863 dedicating a new cemetery to the soldiers whose Union army defeated the Confederates in the Battle of Gettysburg. Just before his speech, Lincoln learns from Stark that his youngest son, Thomas ‘Tad’ Lincoln, had succumbed to a fever and that his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, overcome with grief, had hanged herself. The double tragedy comes not long after the death from illness of his elder son William ‘Willie’ Lincoln. In real life, however, Mary outlived her husband and three of her four sons; Tad Lincoln died in 1871 of heart failure and not fever. 


An 1864 photo of President Lincoln 
with his youngest son, Tad.
© Wikipedia
Remember, this is history that never happened.

In spite of his great sorrow, Lincoln delivers his landmark address beginning with “Four score and seven years ago…” and ending with “…government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish…” as we have known it for more than a century.

But something snaps inside the president. Haunted by the deaths of his wife and sons, Lincoln reveals a side to him that you’d scarcely think of. Delineating from his prepared speech, the president, “his face dark with anger and hatred,” swears vengeance on the Confederacy, the southern states that ceded from the United States in 1861 leading to the Civil War.

Lincoln’s extempore remarks changes the course of the war, in a way that left me speechless and at the same time marvelling at James Reasoner’s imaginative telling of the story. I was quite unprepared for it, I admit.


I very much enjoyed reading this tale of alternate history by the author of the Civil War Battles series and hundreds of other books. It made me think how different history might have been if we looked at other epoch-making events of the world in a similar manner. For instance, what would have happened if Mahatma Gandhi hadn't been thrown out of a first-class coach of a train at Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, one of many humiliations he suffered and which provoked him into returning to India and fight for independence from the British?

The Blood of the Fallen, which originally appeared in the anthology Alternate Gettysburgs, is available at Amazon. Highly recommended.


Note: Previous reviews of short stories by James Reasoner: The Red Reef and The Man in the Moon.

14 comments:

  1. I'm a big fan of counterfactual history as it can remarkably useful and illuminating (in an oblique way) and if we're lucky, really entertaining - thansk Prashant. On the other hand, this does seem, none the less, to fall in with that traditional narrative trope that have always tends sentimentally to side with the South and what they lost in the War as if the dismantling of an economy based on racial prejudice on an industrial scalke really wasn't worth pursuing.

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    1. Sergio, thank you. THE BLOOD OF THE FALLEN was entertaining, and revealing too, as I don't recall reading alternate history or "counter-factual history" before. It has immense possibilities though it'd probably raise the hackles here. It's an idea more suited to a tolerant society.

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  2. This one is on my list. Gotta get some time to do some reading.

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    1. Charles, I liked this story a lot because I enjoy reading history, both real and now alternate.

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  3. I always enjoy when James Reasoner writes outside the usual genres. Something always magical happens.

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    1. David, this was an unconventional story in so far as the subject was concerned. It was an out-of-the-box read for me, so to speak.

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  4. As you might know, Prashant, I'm not a short story reader, but having said that...I might read this one if I come across it. Why? Because is sounds so darn interesting. I do enjoy 'alternate history' ideas and stories. Thanks for introducing me to this one.Why does James Reasoner's name sound so familiar? Maybe I've read him before. Anything's possible with this faulty memory of mine. :)

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    1. Yvette, you're welcome. Mr. Reasoner is a noted author of hundreds of books including western and crime as well as historical fiction. He is known for his Civil War Battle series and two novels, TEXAS WIND and DUST DEVILS, among many others. He has also written some fine short stories and novellas. He was my first connection in the blog world and has been generous with his advice on western fiction.

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  5. You can't go wrong with a James Reasoner historical novel. He's a craftsman and a master story-teller.

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    1. George, I couldn't agree more. I hope to read his novels soon.

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  6. I have enjoyed some novels of alternate history. This sounds good. Glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. Tracy, it was a good story and certainly off-track from what I usually read.

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  7. I've enjoyed a few by Reasoner, but will probably let this one go.

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    1. Col, this one looks at a historical event in a very different light. I enjoyed it as I did Mr. Reasoner's other stories.

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