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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Savage Wounds: The True Story of the Ruined Men by Sam Knupp is an incredibly powerful and moving story of the aftermath of war and the horrific injuries experienced, especially in the American Civil War where so many men were left “ruined”; missing arms, legs, blinded, deafened, or disfigured. Goliath Entwhistle was a colossus of a man, close to seven feet tall and massive in every way but with a gentle and fair soul. A farmer from West Virginia, when the Civil War broke out, Goliath enlisted in the Army of the Confederacy, not because he supported slavery; he was vehemently opposed to it, but simply because he had to fight to defend his home, his family, and his community. After the Battle of Gettysburg, where Goliath was horrifically wounded, with most of his face destroyed, it seemed there was no future for him or indeed for many of the other wounded or “ruined men”. President Lincoln, however, had other ideas for these men. Goliath was asked to command a group of over three hundred ruined men and lead them to somewhere they could settle down and live out their lives in dignity and usefulness without the stigma of being ruined. The families of these unfortunate men would be told their loved ones had died at Gettysburg. The 1st Gettysburg Invalids would carve an indelible name for themselves in the annals of American history and achieve amazing feats of bravery and courage that few could ever have imagined.
Few books have stirred my soul, roused my ire, and plucked at my empathy quite as much as Savage Wounds. Author Sam Knupp has created a scenario here that is as fantastic as it is believable. His writing is so sincere, so impactful, and so deeply realistic that the reader is left wondering if this did happen and if this is a historical record rather than historical fiction. Immense kudos is due to this author for achieving that reaction in readers. The author’s beautifully descriptive and flowing prose draws the reader along in a whirlwind of emotions from page to page. I particularly enjoyed that the story was told not only from the perspective of Goliath but also from that of his beloved Laura who refused to believe that Goliath had died at Gettysburg and set out in the middle of a war zone, with Rhinoceros, a freed slave, to search for her love and to bring him home, regardless of how horrible his injuries might be. She was as certain he was alive as she was that their love could overcome any physical handicaps he might possess. Gratifying, as a reader, was the author’s often philosophical musings on the futility and waste of the Civil War, in particular, but on the conflict between men, in general. The idea and absurdity of a brother raising weapons against a brother and families split asunder by the violence was threaded beautifully throughout the entire narrative. This is a difficult book to read, given the violent nature of conflict and the horrific injuries of those involved, yet it is impossible to put down and truly did reach deep into my heart and soul. One of the best books I’ve read this year and one I can highly recommend.