Set in Tennessee’s Sequatchie Valley, Broken Valley relates the experiences endured by the families of the valley during and after our Civil War. This work focuses on the Barker family (William, Cornelia, and their children Will and Lillie) from the summer of 1861 to early 1872.
The Barker’s are a typical valley family, locally-focused and hard-working, apolitical and with no deep allegiance to either Union or Confederacy. Yet mountain trails connecting Murfreesboro and Chattanooga run through their part of the valley, and the war directly affected their lives by the autumn of 1863.
Federal and Confederate armies, stragglers, renegades, foragers and smugglers all cross paths with the Barkers and other valley citizens. Among them are Marc Thierry, a mysterious Southern gunrunner who is part Native American and part Cajun Frenchman. True Chance, a wounded Confederate soldier, is hidden from the Union troops and has an impact on William and Cornelia’s relationship. Col. Abram DuMont is the Union commander trying to maintain a law and order, control his troops and prevent espionage and gun-running.
Judge Isaac Easterly represents the pre-war legal values in rural Tennessee, yet also maintains shadowy connections to smugglers and possibly spies. Sheriff Mark Dry understands the valley’s people and tries to maintain peace amid the horrors of the war.
William Barker is the main protagonist of the story, who tries to remain neutral, raise his crop, and protect his family. His relationship to his wife and son and his experiences as sheriff in place of the murdered Mark Dry provide the most interesting character studies and most riveting action of the novel.
Interspersed throughout the story are valley inter-family tensions, youthful romances, family members’ and soldiers’ deaths. As the war and the story come to an end Scott Sims, an Ohio newspaperman who arrives to chronicle the war’s effects on a personal level, is introduced to illustrate how generations will be required to mend the cracks in the ante-bellum order of the Sequatchie Valley.
This book is plainly written, but makes a very enjoyable read. Mr. Greg Wade has given the public a first-rate historical fiction. He identifies the factual incidents on which the novel has been loosely based in his author’s notes.
Wayne L. Wolf is Professor Emeritus at South Suburban College. He is the author of numerous Civil War books and articles including The Last Civil War Scout.
Review by David Lady