Trapped in the Crossfire: A Civil War Saga of the Endurance of Family, by Gladys Hodge Sherrer

Reviewed by Arley McCormick, Tennessee Valley Civil War Roundtable

This is not just a story of the Civil War in North Alabama, it is a story about a family’s struggle to survive. Perry and Sara Williams, Christians branded abolitionists, choose the hardship and anticipation of migrating west to Sand Mountain, North Alabama to avoid the hostility resonating around their home in South Carolina only to be antagonized by southern patriots that steal their livelihood and men to fight a war they didn’t want.

Perry and Sara are wed in South Carolina and Ms. Sherrer describes their experience in first person accounts that detail their navigating through the wilderness to Alabama and Perry’s kidnapping and being forced to become a Private in the 27th Alabama Infantry. Sara’s struggles to sustain the family as Civil War envelops every aspect of her life and with family and friends attempt to avoid ruffians, southern partisans and Union Soldiers stealing their food, livestock, and valuables while Perry, the pacifist warrior, transitions to a fighter to survive and protect his new brothers in arms.

With every page, a new challenge materializes ranging from illness and fatigue, snake bits, baby birthing in the wilderness, hunger, fear, and the pitched battles are described so vividly one feels like they are at the spot and hear the sounds that soldiers know all too well.  Above all, the author drives home the desperate mental anguish accompanying an overwhelming desire to survive.

Ms. Sherrer’s ancestors are the hero and heroine of this novel and her story clearly captures the historical setting, not only in North Alabama, but the war record of the 27th Alabama Infantry from the Atlanta campaign to Nashville and the surrender in South Carolina. Her characters perceptions of Northern and Southern military leaders and the devastation of North Alabama are consistent with the reputations and research provided by noted Civil War historians.

Trapped in the Crossfire is absolutely the best narrative of life on the home front in the hill country of North Alabama that has been published in the last 10 years.  It is easy to drive to the locations that are described and the series of photos taken during the war that are included add emphasis to the narrative.  Ms. Sherrer avoids and sugar coats nothing; the perceptions of the population toward freedmen, slaves, Native Americans, recalcitrant southern scoundrels and federals alike.

If there is one book, novel or documented historical research, that you have time to read regarding North Alabama, choose Trapped in the Crossfire it will complement any other study on your shelf and you will wish you could meet Perry and Sara Williams and visit a spell.