A gifted storyteller and award-winning author, Michael K. Smith is drawn to the real-life drama of history. In his latest Civil War novel, THE THIN GRAY LINE (September 2019; KD Publishing; $13.99 trade paperback; ISBN: 9781098740139)), Smith unfolds the coming-of-age story of Luke Pettigrew, a young Confederate soldier who emerges as a man of conscience.
When Luke joined the Rebel forces, he was just 16—a farm boy from Tennessee, told to leave home in the heat of an argument with his father. When the novel opens, Luke is 18 and an amputee. At Shiloh, he served in the Ambulance Corps and became proficient at mending and tending to wounded soldiers. He was captured by Union soldiers and taken to Camp Chase near Columbus, Ohio. With some help, he managed to escape. He crossed the Appalachians into Virginia where he hooked up with a cavalry regiment. Just before Gettysburg, his horse got shot out from under him. Fortunately, Luke was saved by a passing freight hauler. But he lost his leg.
From the spring of 1864 to the summer of 1865, THE THIN GRAY LINE follows Luke’s recovery and adventures. Applying his knowledge as a medic, he makes his own wooden leg—hollow and light, with a hinge for flexibility—and sets out to rejoin the Confederate cause. On the way to Richmond, he falls into an unexpected friendship with a spy for the Union Army—who turns out to be a woman. During a smallpox outbreak, he returns to working as a medic and comes to see the humanity in all those suffering—Reb and Yankee, white and black. His awakening opens his eyes to the plight of Posey, a little black girl orphaned by the pox. After the war ends, he envisions building a business making artificial limbs for wounded warriors and marrying a lovely young woman who claimed his heart before he lost his leg. Yet, a shocking secret suddenly hits him. Most surprising of all, however, is what he is willing to sacrifice for Posey.