Before “GI Jane,” before women fought bureaucracy and cultural norms to gain access to combat jobs in the United States Armed Forces, Rosetta Wakefield put on men’s clothes and marched to war.
Author Erin Lindsay McCabe turned to the more than 250 documented cases of cross-dressing women who fought alongside men during the Civil War for inspiration for “I Shall Be Near To You,” released in January 2014. Rosetta Wakefield was a real person, and around her McCabe clothed a Union soldier who bent gender roles in the pursuit of marital happiness. Wakefield decided that her place was at her husband’s side, even on the field of battle.
McCabe’s prose is a delight for someone who never found much excitement in accounts of troop movements and battle losses. The novel brings the Civil War to life in the earnest and honest voice of Rosetta, who takes the name Private Ross Stone. The troops march endlessly and eat salt pork, bathe seldom and play poker often. The novel follows our soldier from rural New York to the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, the single bloodiest day in American military history.
On the eve of battle, soldiers sit in the firelight, stitching their names into the lining of their jackets and writing letters home that they hope their comrades will never have to mail.
This account is a fast read rich in detail, especially a treat for family historians whose ancestors fought on either, or both, sides of the War Between the States.