Seeing Glory

A Novel of Family Strife, Faith, and the American Civil War

Christian - Historical Fiction
543 Pages
Reviewed on 10/21/2022
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

Seeing Glory: A Novel of Family Strife, Faith, and the American Civil War by Bruce Gardner is the towering story of a family caught up in the clash between two vastly different ideologies, concerning the role of slaves in American society before the American Civil War. The Hodges were a proud, Southern plantation-owning family from Virginia, who had toiled to create a wealthy estate that owed much of its success, as indeed did the South’s entire economy, to the use of slave labor. Following the death of the lady of the house, it fell to the three children, David, Catherine, and Emma, to assist their father to continue the tradition of great Southern plantations. Storm clouds were on the horizon as the abolitionists fought to convince the government that slavery was an abomination both morally and in God’s eyes. All three children had different outlooks on the practice. Princeton-educated David was firmly in the abolitionist camp, Catherine’s viewpoint followed her father’s in that well-treated slaves were happy just to be working, housed, fed, and safe, whereas Emma’s care, concern, and indeed love for the individual slaves on their property, especially Sallie, meant her views were often at odds with those of Catherine and her father. The coming war would tear this family apart, as it no doubt did many families from the South. All three siblings must, at some point, make a stand for or against the Confederacy.

Seeing Glory is an extremely powerful and emotional read. Bruce Gardner has crafted a wonderful story of the conflicting emotions and motivations around the time, seamlessly melded into real events, historical Civil War battles, and names that even today, resonate through history such as Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Stonewall Jackson. What I particularly enjoyed about this story was the careful thought, consideration, and discussion that the characters engaged in while debating the merits of slavery and abolition. The attempts by both sides to rationalize their particular stance on slavery using the Bible and their faith were equally fascinating as each party was able to come up with diametrically opposed views. Despite the wonderful ideological debates, readers should not lose sight of the fact that this story also takes us inside the Union Army, as they fight their way down the U.S, in historical battles to try to crush the rebellious Confederacy. It also allows us to experience the life of both a plantation owner’s family and the lives and thoughts of the slaves on that plantation. It is as much about love and hope as it is about war and evil and that’s what drew me in as a reader. That so much of the perspective of this novel allows for the expression of the slaves' dreams, aspirations, fears, hopes, and cruel realities is a real credit to the author’s skill at creating a moving, yet also intensely exciting narrative. This is one of the best Civil War novels I have read and I can highly recommend it.

Asher Syed

Seeing Glory: A Novel of Family Strife, Faith, and the American Civil War by Bruce Gardner is a sweeping Christian historical novel that follows the lives of a plantation-owning family. It is the three Hodge children in particular whose divergent stories are narrated: David runs off to fight against his own family as an abolitionist, finding himself even in the presence of Abraham Lincoln who requests the Hodge son's opinion; Emma, who tries to do well by the slaves on her plantation and beyond in her own misguided way, and Catherine, whose opinions are aligned with those of her parents and the man she hitches her future to while they live and later finds herself at not just one plantation helm, but two. There is also Abel, David's friend in the Union Army, who is part of the fragile thread that works to keep the Hodge family together. “...She looked around, surveying the mess on the ground, the mess she had caused... Maybe that’s exactly where God wants you to start...”

Seeing Glory is a long book with a lot to unpack as it takes place over a protracted stretch of time and involves whole character arcs for all four of the primary points of view. The main plot is the splitting of family over one of America's most horrifying legacies; slavery. The rise of the Civil War compounds different ideologies within a single family. Abel and David were the only two likeable characters, although author Bruce Gardner did so well in developing Catherine and Emma that their actions are understandable, even if both are abhorrent. Emma is so completely out of touch with reality that she actually believes a slave she is fond of has even a scrap of agency to feign anything but devotion to his master's daughter.

Where Gardner excels here is in making Emma's dangerous ignorance believable, as it truly is the way a woman of her time might think she is actually doing good. It takes courage for an author to create an anti-hero out of what many would see as a noble woman, and it is so refreshing that Gardner addresses this without sugar-coating any action. Catherine is the most honest and her emotions, her pull toward self-harm, and a true mark of redemption is the highlight of the subplots. Catherine is a character I would actually really love to read a prequel on, as well as the trio's father. Overall, this is a well written book that readers of the Christian fiction genre will find entertaining. Recommended.

K.C. Finn

Seeing Glory: A Novel of Family Strife, Faith, and the American Civil War is a work of fiction in the historical and social issues subgenres. It is suitable for the general reading audience and was penned by author Bruce Gardner. The book follows farmer Abel Bowman and the Hodge siblings as they each take a role within the abolitionist movement in the American Civil War. As each of them follows their destiny to defy family and neighbors and stand up for what they believe in, they are forged by the struggle for a better life for all. And along the way, they start to forge a better America.

This was a thrilling and dynamic adventure across four diverse characters during a fascinating period of American history, littered with engaging moments of drama and excellent character development as the historical context pushed the characters further and further outside their comfort zones. Author Bruce Gardner’s understanding of the cultural and social nuances before, during, and after the American Civil War is excellent and his prose brings the world of the past to life. That world is the perfect backdrop for this story of people challenging the world they know because their conscience compels them to. The development of all four protagonists throughout the story was extremely well done as they responded and grew organically in response to the world around them. Overall, Seeing Glory is an essential read for people with an interest in the Civil War and its cultural context as the fictional story is so seamlessly grounded in the historical facts that I felt the whole work deepened my understanding of the conflict.

Stacie Haas

Seeing Glory: A Novel of Family Strife, Faith and the American Civil War by Bruce Gardner is an epic Civil War-era book that tells the story of the War Between the States from the perspective of two families: the Hodge family from South Carolina, plantation owners who thrive on the lifestyle of the Southern aristocracy, and the Cobbs, a family of slaves who work on the Hodge plantation. Mixed in with these two families are the historical figures of John Brown, Frederick Douglas, and Abraham Lincoln to tell a story of family strife, faith, and the war just as the subtitle suggests. Gardner’s war certainly includes intense tales from the front lines of battle as well as the politics and economic pressures that led to the conflict. However, it is the issue of slavery that takes center stage in Seeing Glory. The novel begins with John Brown’s famous raid, known later as the Pottawatomie Massacre, as he and his sons seek the Lord’s glory by making the first strike against what Lincoln called the “peculiar institution” of slavery. As Brown is set to be hanged for his crimes, the undeniable truth of slavery and the cause of abolition crystallizes for members of both families and the house divides. How will Lawrence Hodge, the plantation owner, father, and politician, respond when his son leaves home for the North and attaches himself to an Ohio Union regiment? How will Lawrence’s daughter, Emma, respond when her father refuses to take care of his slaves properly? How will Sallie Cobb react as her family is slowly but surely torn apart? The time for choosing comes quickly for these families, as it does for the country, which finds itself in an intense and bloody battle for its future.

It's quite easy for me to say that I lost myself in Seeing Glory. It was a page-turner in every sense. I was absorbed in the incredible journeys of all the characters, especially the Hodge siblings, David, Catherine and Emma, Sallie Cobb, and the fascinating character of Abel Bowman, who was with John Brown on that fateful night in Kansas Territory. The depth of the character development in Seeing Glory is one of its strengths. As a student of the Civil War myself, I can attest that the historical background of Bruce Gardner’s novel is spot-on and incredibly well-researched. As it covers the issues of slavery, abolition, and a deep undercurrent of racism, Seeing Glory is also quite thought-provoking and relevant to today’s America although the story’s setting is more than 150 years ago. In fact, the author adeptly manages to bring a unique perspective to a well-known historical event, and while one knows how the war ends, it’s the fates of the characters that matter more. As with any war novel, Seeing Glory has its share of loss and triumph, and rightly, not everything is tied up with a perfect little bow—although it does leave the reader highly satisfied and perhaps a bit sad to see it end. Seeing Glory is everything I want in historical fiction. Highly and enthusiastically recommended.

Teresa Syms

Seeing Glory: A Novel of Family Strife, Faith, and the American Civil War by Bruce Gardner highlights two families that come together despite the obstacles and challenges that each member faces. Abel Bowman receives Glory from the abolitionist, John Brown, who believes he must punish those who use horrific mandates against the slaves of the South. David Hodge, the oldest child, grows up on a plantation with over 700 acres of different crops. His father, desperate to be elected into office, leaves the control of his slaves to the evil Sam and his father. They beat, abuse, maim and kill as they see fit. Catherine and Emma, David’s sisters, have different roles. Catherine has replaced her mother after her death, and will do nothing to upset her father. Emma, however, befriends Sallie, her maid, Charles her brother, and little Lew. Emma has special feelings for Charles after he saves her life. David leaves the South to be a war reporter in the North. After a horrific event on the plantation, Emma escapes with Sallie, Lew, his parents and others, hoping for a better life in the North. Emma and Sallie find a new life working for the AMA. David once again becomes part of their lives as does William Johnson, Abel Bowman and unfortunately a man who haunts their every step. This story relates intimately what life must have been like for both sides of the war. Will they see Glory ever again? Only the end of the war and time will tell.

I highly recommend Seeing Glory by Bruce Gardner. An exceptionally well written novel highlighting several main characters who do their best to find their way and purpose during the Civil War. I applaud the story's plot line and development. The book flows so well that the reader will forget the length. The reader will be absorbed by the story, waiting with bated breath as each subplot unfolds and each character faces the onslaught of racism, violence, the division of the state, family, and the Southern way of life. Each character is extremely well developed. I was able to visualize each person, how they looked, and their clothing, and cheered for each win, and shed a tear with each disaster that struck. How difficult it must have been for David and Emma to walk away from their plantation lives into a world striving for equality. You will not be disappointed in reading this well-developed, written, and presented book. Kudos to Bruce Gardner.

Tom Gauthier

In his novel, Seeing Glory, Bruce Gardner vividly documented the fear, suffering, and intense conflicted relationships swirling around the evil and immorality of slavery. He has integrated the political, social, and military events around the Civil War with care for historical accuracy and the added elements of action, battle, intrigue, and guile. With the thickly woven theme of John Brown's vision from God that drives his life – and death – and envelops characters like Abel Bowman and his own vision of glory, Gardner weaves a masterful chronicle of the war, the battles, and the complex personalities. John Brown and his disciple Abel Bowman are clear and focused on their goals. The Hodge family members--the patriarch, daughters Emma and Catherine, and son David--provide the conflict of beliefs and divided loyalties within one family and are the framework on which Seeing Glory is securely constructed.

Bruce Gardner has written a bildungsroman on steroids with Seeing Glory as he introduces the elements of this style with multiple characters, each dealing separately while they interact and ultimately resolving the personal conflicts. Abel Bowman is questioning his views on slavery which drives his emotional changes. Emma Hodge questions her father’s morality and turns actively against him. Catherine Hodge defends and carries on their father’s life mission. David questions the entire morality of his southern roots and joins the Union fight. All are seeking answers, pushing aside their previous beliefs, and seeking knowledge while building life experiences to support new directions. These elements of bildungsroman, questioning, and seeking, are continued with each of their journeys as they grow toward enlightenment and maturity, experiencing the twists and turns of life they didn’t expect but dealt with.

Reading, I was keenly aware of classic elements of Civil War novels that Bruce Gardner has woven into Seeing Glory. Noting these comparisons is my compliment to his work. Abel's and David’s war experiences are beyond even Howard Bahr’s classic The Black Flower. And further, David’s journalism and interaction with President Lincoln evoke the complexity of communication in the war of Newt Gingrich’s The Battle of the Crater. Catherine’s conflicts and tragedy reflect Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind as she defends her family's traditional way of life and suffers the insults of attack by all sides. Finally, Emma, moved by the plight of her father’s slaves, risks all to be true to herself as we saw in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. These are all classics of Civil War settings, and I am adding Bruce Gardner’s Seeing Glory to that list. He has taken his own blend of morality, of Christian beliefs, and blended them with the evil and violence of the setting in his own style to produce a compelling tale of individual lives woven together, seeking truth, defending beliefs, and bringing closure as they matured. Truly classic bildungsroman writing.

Vincent Dublado

Bruce Gardner presents a compelling view of the American Civil War in Seeing Glory, a story inhabited by real and imagined characters that give a strong dimension to this historical novel. Among the major players is Abel Bowman, a young Kansas farmer, who, like his family, opposes slavery and wants to see the Territory admitted to the Union as a free state. His ardent desire for freedom will bind him to the cause alongside the abolitionist John Brown. Meanwhile, the Hodge siblings, composed of Emma, Catherine, and David, belong to a family of slave owners, and while they love one another, each of them will be pushed to make moral choices against the backdrop of racial tensions. Bowman and the Hodge siblings will find themselves on common ground at the risk of their own lives in a world where faith and reason are bent to serve one's interest.

Seeing Glory is a powerful look back at a period in American history that no one should forget. But that is something expected as the painful lessons and memories often go with the territory. Bruce Gardner may well have written a novel that will become a topic in literature classes, quite simply because he has written a good story, and his style backs it up. One of the strongest points of this novel is the way it delves into the motivation and focus of its characters when even religious beliefs and personal faith are utilized to advance a cause--something many military novels never touch upon, being too preoccupied with action and logistics. For the story that it wants to tell, this book appears at just the right time. Just when you think you've had enough movies and books about slavery, this book gives you a whole new experience. The headstrong passions that drive the characters to take charge of their destinies are a major element that makes them relatable and sympathetic. The strong link between drama and action makes Seeing Glory a reading experience to cherish.