Manse: One Man’s War
By Wilton Earle
Adept Publishers, Atlanta, GA
Reviewed by Keith Jones
At the opening of this fact based historical fiction, we find Sgt. Manson Sherrill Jolly and his best friend, Tom Largent severely wounded and left for dead on the battle field in the waning weeks of the war. The two cavalry scouts manage to find nearby farmers who take them in and help nurse them back to health. Upon recovery, they discover that the war has ended and they head home to Anderson County in the upstate of South Carolina.
When they return, Manse discovers that only one of his six brothers, Larry, has survived the war. Manse, Larry and Tom dedicate themselves to working the neighboring Jolly and Largent farms together to survive and recover the best they can. There is only one problem with this plan; it’s called Reconstruction. Reconstruction, of course, was not designed to reconstruct anything. Rather it was intent on destroying what dignity and hope remained in the South. It also was planned to rob Southerners of what little economic resources they had left; leading to the regional and racial differences that plague us to this day in much the same way that the intentional humiliation of Germany in the aftermath of World War I planted the seeds of despair that brought about World War II. But I digress.
In any event, Manse Jolly returned to a land dominated by Carpetbaggers and Scalawags determined to take what little they had left in the name of taxes and war reparations. They did the best they could, but the murder of his last brother, Larry, was more than Manse could stand. People throughout the South had been forced to endure such atrocities with little or no investigation conducted into the death of just another “damned rebel.” Manse, not about to sit still for this, decides to take matters into his own hands and soon finds himself the intended target of the hangman. So was born Manse Jolly, avenging angel of the South; a hero to some, a murdering marauder to others.
A colorful cast of characters and sub-plots, which Mr. Earle skillfully brings to life, peoples this book. Lt. Martin McCollum, an intelligence officer in the U.S. army, whose search for Confederate gold in Anderson puts him on a collision course with Manse Jolly. Robespierre, a black freedman who grew up with Manse and Tom, who finds himself a witness and unwilling participant in many of the goings on about Anderson. The local Klan leader, a man who calls himself Texas Brown, attempts to manipulate Manse’s crusade against the Union occupiers for his own purposes. These are but a few.
Author Wilton Earle mined these resources for all their worth and then he said that the trail went cold on the day that Manse left Anderson and made his escape to Texas to start over. So, Earle decided that the only thing for him to do was go to Texas. In Texas Earle discovered the rest of the saga and tells it in beautiful detail. He found Manse’s grave, the old home place of Manse’s widow and the Mason’s hall that Manse belonged to. In the process he managed to authenticate which of five suspected daguerreotypes was the actual image of Manse Jolly and that picture appears on the cover. Then he really struck gold. Earle met two of the great nieces of Manse’s widow who allowed him access to a trunk of her worldly goods. At the bottom of this trunk, Earle found a diary. It dated from shortly before she met Manse to the day he died.
Wilton Earle manages to bring Manse Jolly back to life from his rise as outlaw hero to his eventual mental decline, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; known then as the “nostalgia.” Hang on tight as Earle takes you along on this emotional journey of the war claiming one more victim.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about Reconstruction and its horrible affects on this country. Manse is a historical thriller of the highest caliber.