Friday, May 7, 2010

The Golden Circle. By Constance Robertson

The Golden Circle. By Constance Robertson. (New York, Random House,
1951. 339p., bibliography. $3.00.)

Anyone having the slightest acquaintance with Ohio history has heard of Clement L. Vallandigham. Those who have read further, particularly in the Civil War period, have been fascinated by the Vallandigham enigma. Was he a traitor or a patriot? This novel demonstrates that although Vallandigham's motives could be debated, those of his followers-the Knights of the Golden Circle-could not. The Knights were violently anti-war, many of them pro-South. But more than anything, they worshipped the great Val.
Except for a brief account of his arrest, Vallandigham himself does not appear in the novel. The principal characters are Vallandigham's widowed cousin, Gina Deyo; her son, Larry; the head of the Golden Circle clan, Asa Ormerod; and a Union espionage agent, Zachary Granger. The latter arrived in Dayton on the day following General Burnside's arrest of Vallandigham. Sent by Secretary of State Seward, the agent's mission was to gather evidence on "Copperheads," "Butternuts," and Golden Circle members.

Following Granger's progress and the traitorous activities of Larry Deyo and Asa Ormerod, the reader finds himself present at strange and exciting scenes. He witnesses the firing of the Dayton Journal, the Democratic state convention of 1863, the Holmes County "rebellion," the unfolding of plots to release Confederate prisoners, the importation of Indiana voters into Ohio, and the inner sanctums of the Golden Circle. Also, the author spends many interesting pages describing General Morgan's raid into Ohio, his capture, and his escape from the Ohio Penitentiary.

To a historian one of the singular attractions of this novel is its full-scale bibliography. With increasing frequency historical novelists have given the reader brief, explanatory accounts of their research. These vary from assurances that certain characters or events are "historical," to an actual listing of a few principal books or journals in a sort of critical bibliography.

But few-if any-have presented all the material they used. One can only
surmise that their failure to do so reveals either the authors' random research or the publishers' penury. In this novel both obstacles were overcome.

Constance Robertson admits spending three years in writing this book.
Her research substantiates that statement. With the thoroughness of a
competent historian she pored over all pertinent books, articles, pamphlets, periodicals, newspapers, and some collections of documents. In addition, the 'author consulted several historians specializing in the Civil War era. One of them, Dr. Charles H. Coleman of Eastern Illinois State Teachers' College, is engaged in writing a long-awaited biography of Vallandigham.

An occasional fault is found, such as the author's insistence upon hanging a Republican label on Governor Tod, and the somewhat labored elaborations of plot to place her characters in the thick of Golden Circle activities.
However, this is an honest, scholarly novel containing few of the earmarks which have made so many historical novels anathema to the historian. The appearance of more such books would help remove the present stigma which fiction reviewers have stamped upon "historical" novels.

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Dayton, Ohio