Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Owain’s Own
By John Corns
Review by
Fred Shira

The Owain referred to in the title Owains’s Own refers to the hero of Welsh folklore, Owain Glyndwr, anglicized by William Shakespeare, Owen Glendower who in the fourteenth century was born into an aristocratic family that lived and owned property along the Welsh and English border. After the death of his father, Owain was sent to London to study law. While in London he witnessed the failed Peasants Revolt of 1381 when they rose up seeking to abolish serfdom. In 1383 he returned to Wales, established himself as a country squire, and started what was to be a large family.
In 1401 Owain broke away from England and, along with his followers, crowned himself Prince of Wales. From 1401 to 1412 he was involved in the popular Welsh Revolt, Glyndwr Rising or the Last War of Independence. With the loss of several battles and the shifting of English politics, he simply disappeared from the history books leaving his later life to the imagination of the historians. But, from this lost rebellion Owain Glyndwr galloped into Welsh mythology and the history books.
There have been roughly 65,000 books written about the Civil War. They have covered every battle from nearly every perspective. There are books on sex during the Civil War and cook books from the Civil War. I sometimes wonder if there is a receipt for cooking corn bread on a rifle ram; this was very common place.
John Corns is a retired Army General with a deal of combat experience during the Viet Nam war. He brings that experience to his story. One of the most interesting things about this story is that it tells us something about a part of the war that has not been over written: the war in the Appalachian Highlands of what was then Virginia. In comparison to the great battles of the war this section of the country witnessed only minor skirmishes; albeit if any battle can be considered minor when brave men fight and die.
Owain’s Own is a chronicle of the life of James M. Corns from his days as a young man in Wales through his experiences in the war to his ultimate end. In the mid-nineteenth century James, call Jamie, lives with his parents on a farm in Wales. The farm was owned by an absentee owner who could simply throw the family off the farm at any given whim.
Here’s an interesting note: In mid-century it became very fashionable for the London gentry to clear their farms and make them into hunting preserves. The Crofters (farmers) of Scotland had been on their farms for generations when they were simply turned out with no where to go. Harriet Beecher Stowe the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly that heralded the mistreatment of the slaves of the US South wrote how wonderful it was to go to the hunting preserves: a bit of irony here. Many of the Crofters settled in Nova Scotia.
Jamie and his friend, virtual brother, Gareth, left for America leaving behind a cloud of rebellious activity. Upon leaving Jamie’s father counseled him to go to American and own land: land where he could not be expelled simply by caprice. He and Gareth land in Philadelphia where Jamie finds employment in the construction business. He learns the trade of masonry and grows to own a contracting company of his own. He falls in love and marries but at the expense of his friend, Gareth. After some difficulties with his business he moves to Virginia with a short stop over in western Pennsylvania at his wife’s parents.
In Virginia with the help of an uncle he acquires a small farm and begins a new life and expands his family. Things go along fine until Virginia’s secession from the Union and war breaks out. Jamie feels that he should serve to protect his land, and he believes in the Southern Cause. He serves loyally and fights bravely and is promoted to the rank of colonel. It is during the war that he begins to experience problems with him family. He is ambivalent about his duty to his soldiers and his wife and children. His reason for joining becomes clouded with the separation of West Virginia. Is he still protecting his land from the Union when it is now part of the Union? This becomes a very interesting point. In 1861 after a dubious election and a questionable interpretation of the Constitution western Virginia is formed into a separate state: West Virginia. As you can imagine this would have put the men who joined the confederacy into quite a quandary. Just where do they stand. A good question for the historians.
John Corns gives us a very good compelling look at the history and geography of the mountains of West Virginia. He writes a love story like a historian lacking the florid language of a poet, but none-the-less he spins a good tale.