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12996216 (1)This is the first novel I’ve read that Ben Haas published under his own name, though I have one other I plan to get to soon. I have read many of his works under other pseudonyms, moat prominently John Benteen. I loved his twenty Fargo adventures and his Sundance books only a bit less. THE FORAGERS was written before any of them in 1963.

In the latter days of The Civil War, Captain Marsh Wales leads his men across the shattered Virginia landscape on a foraging mission, a euphemism for taking whatever they found for the Confederate army. Lee didn’t allow looting of the civilian populace so everything was paid for. That it was worthless Confederate dollars didn’t matter. His orders were to leave nothing they found: meat animals, staple goods, horses, leather, anything.

Pickings were pretty lean and they men were starving themselves, their horse worn pretty lean.

Then they found Red Oaks, an isolated plantation that seemed untouched by the war.

Two women, a mother and her daughter, lived there with some sixty slaves. Their husbands had gone off to fight for the South leaving them in charge. The master of the plantation had had the foresight to stock up before the war started and, even though the blockade made things tough, they stretched things along. There was even coffee.

And Wales and his men were going to take all off it, a fact that conflicted the good Captain. His own plantation in South Carolina, Ashbrook, lay in ruins, the house burned to the ground, the fields fallow, his slaves gone, his wife, Vivian, run off with an Englishman, pregnant with his child.

The dozen men he had with him had been together for years, but for two. And they were the ones causing the problems.

Lt Vance Channing was an ex-gambler from Tennessee and a man who liked killing. He’d set his eyes on the young woman of the plantation and meant to have her.

Private Sam ‘Jeff’ Davis was from Alabama and an ex-slave trader with a deep hatred of them. Redneck would certainly be the term today for his background. he resented being here because when he signed up he’d been promised never to have to leave Alabama.

A fine novel of one aspect of the Civil War I’d never considered.

For more forgotten books, drop in on Fridays at PATTINASE.

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