Friends of the Wigwam - A Civil War Story, John William Huelskamp

Friends of the Wigwam - A Civil War Story, John William Huelskamp

Friends of the Wigwam - A Civil War Story, John William Huelskamp

This entertaining historical novel is loosely based on real events, using a series of contemporary letters as its framework. These events are largely seen through the eyes of a group of young friends - the 'Friends of the Wigwam', linked by the discovery of a hidden riverside cave near their home. The story begins in the late 1850s and finishes in 1864, and ends with the wartime career of the last of the friends in active service, rather than ending with a particular major historical event.

I found that the book took a bit of time to get into (but worth it), as there is large main cast and a number of secondary characters. There are also sections where Lincoln or other senior figures take centre stage, although I think I would have eliminated these in favour of concentrating on the main narrative.

Despite the major events portrayed and the presence of the major historical figures, the core of the book is the story of how the war splits up a group of close friends, and the impact it has on them. Unusually the main characters don't actually have much impact on the war, and the story doesn't have a traditional happy ending. The atmosphere of the Civil War period is nicely brought to life, the battle scenes are accurate and engrossing, and the main plot is moving and engaging, and as a result this is an entertaining and worthwhile read.

Author: John William Huelskamp
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 382
Publisher: Cadence
Year: 2016

Friends of the Wigwam – A Civil War Story by John William Huelskamp – A Book Review

“Friends of the Wigwam” is set in the state of northern Illinois in the years 1857 and 1865. The locations, battles, and other events are based on historical fact and come alive throughout the development of the narrative.

One by one six young friends become bonded together through the discovery of the hidden cave, “The Wigwam,” near the shore of the Pecatonica River. This fictional account of their lives is a testament of their value for principles of loyalty, of uniting behind a cause, dedicated to bigger than life heroes. It is a story of bravery and sacrifice, where the innocence of youth is stolen in exchange for the atrocities of war.

Will, Aaron, Allie, Jenny, T. J. and Trick are intertwined throughout the chronology of the events of the Civil War. These remarkable incidents are representative of their struggles, successes, determination to make a contribution in unifying our nation. Their efforts are told in a way that will be indelibly imprinting on the memory of the reader and will not be soon forgotten.

Huelskamp has an amazing ability for using descriptive words and phrases that form distinctive images and inspire the reader to use all five senses to capture a scene that matches the action, to listen for the quiet, to feel the muddy slime of the riverbed, or taste the “grass stem” between the lips.

Reading Huelskamp’s “Friends of the Wigwam” has given me a new appreciation for the insight and research necessary to create the right balance of historical accuracy, realism, and creative license. “Friends of the Wigwam – A Civil War Story” is an important dramatic reminder of sacrifice, dedication, and courage of the heroes of American history.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.

Burlington Group Publications, Chicago, Illinois, 978-0692348826, $ 16.95, 2016, 372 Pages

Friends of the Wigwam - A Civil War Story, John William Huelskamp - History

JOHN WILLIAM HUELSKAMP is a Civil War historian and author. He began his professional writing career by contributing articles to several Civil War periodicals including CIVIL WAR REGIMENTS, A Journal of the American Civil War. His publication, Never Forsake the Colors, brought back to the public eye the sacrifice of Union Colonel Holden Putnam and the 93rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry, a famous Civil War Regiment that made a critical and famous stand at Missionary Ridge. This important milestone in Civil War battlefield history was subsequently "captured" on canvas by historical artist Keith Rocco in 1993. Seventeen years later, the painting and story were showcased to America by Anchor Larry Potash of WGN 9 News on Memorial Day weekend, and the broadcast was subsequently nominated for an Emmy Award for historical news reporting.

Along with the credentials listed below, Mr. Huelskamp is a contributing lecturer to Civil War roundtables and historical societies, and has provided Civil War authors including Peter Cozzens, The Shipwreck of Their Hopes and Wiley Sword, Mountains Touched with Fire with rare primary source documents and diaries that have contributed greatly to an understanding of civilians and soldiers during the climactic four years of the American Civil War. Mr. Huelskamp has resided in northern Illinois for over 30 years.

You can view interviews with the author and civil war historian John William Huelskamp below.

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Book review: Friends of the Wigwam: A Civil War Story by John William Huelskamp

The Pecatonica River meanders its way across the northern section of Illinois as it works its way out of Wisconsin, slowly winding toward a junction with the Rock River west of Rockford. One would think that a stream hundreds of miles away from the action couldn’t be worked into a Civil War story, but author and historian John William Huelskamp succeeds in making this corner of Illinois a key player in the events surrounding the conflict. (Of course, it helps that the Commander-in-Chief at the time as well as the victorious Union general were both connected to that corner of the state in the years preceding the war.)

Huelskamp opens the tale by transporting us to the banks of the Pecatonica in 1857, introducing us to 16-year-old Will and 13-year-old Aaron as they discover the wigwam of the title along its banks. But the action doesn’t just occur there – in scenes around the region, from Chicago on the east to Galena on the west, we are introduced to a number of characters whose lives will eventually be intertwined in and around the conflict. The story moves quickly through a number of historical guideposts that set the stage for what’s to come, with some of the most interesting pieces being those where Abraham Lincoln is convinced to run first for Senate against Stephen Douglas and later for President as a Republican, with a band of supporters that came to be known as the “Wide Awakes.”

But the wigwam was the stage over the next two years to six major characters who became the friends of the wigwam – Will and Aaron, the 15-year-old tomboy Allie, the teenage sharpshooter T.J. Lockwood and his portly fisherman friend Patrick “Trick” Kane – who become part of the pact thanks to a rare errant shot from T.J. – and Allie’s 14-year-old friend Jenny Putnam. They come of age as the nation lurches closer to war, with the boys eventually joining the 93rd Illinois Regiment being recruited in the area by Jenny’s father Holden Putnam.

In truth, this book could have easily been subdivided into two parts, as the onset of war changed both the tone and the pace. The second portion opens with Elmer Ellsworth, a “friend and brother” of Allie’s – who she had teased about “actin’ so stiff and stuffy” in his military drill uniform at the Lincoln-Douglas debate a few years earlier – becoming the first casualty of the rebellion as he was ambushed taking down a Confederate flag from a hotel in Virginia, just across from Washington, D.C. As the hostilities escalate, several of the men of the area become part of what was the 45th Illinois Regiment, while the boys eventually join with the 93rd being formed under Colonel Putnam in August of 1862. A distraught Allie, who has fallen in love with Will, begs them not to go, but Will calmly tells her, “Allie, it is our duty to go. If we don’t fight this war, who else will?”

As the 93rd heads south and becomes entangled in the campaigns in Tennessee and Mississippi, we find Jenny and Allie back home, mortified at the prospect of losing their friends – so much so that Allie concocts a desperate plan with Jenny’s help to check on their welfare.

There’s no question that the warfare takes its toll on those in the small towns in that region of “the Sucker State,” with many of their best and brightest men never making it home or returning disfigured or mutilated. The friends of the wigwam are not spared those fates before the story ends with a reunion of some of the survivors along the Pecatonica in 1864. Huelskamp closes the loop with an afterword revealing what happened to many of the main characters, including the six friends of the wigwam.

The beauty of Huelskamp’s work as a historian and writer is how the characters are brought to life. There are some accounts from those with integral parts of the story brought to us through the text itself, with Huelskamp providing photos of the actual documents from the battlefield. We get a glimpse at letters sent from the front, military orders as presented, and other documents that explain bits and pieces of the account he puts together.

But much of the work comes from his imagination as to how events could have taken place, even if some of them seem too strange to be true. As an example, the overall story of Allie’s journey is one which reads as complete fiction but it was eventually documented as historical fact in the decades after the war came to an end. (However, Huelskamp had to take a measure of fictional license with her to make the overall story more clear.) It takes a long time and great deal of flipping back and forth, though, to recall where some of the characters had appeared before as the different regiments and divisions work their way through the battle southward. Huelskamp takes the broad strokes of how the battles were fought and adds in a mix of fact (based on the first-hand accounts of the letter writers and correspondents) and realistic fiction to tell a fascinating story of life as soldiers who were fighting for the cause of preserving the Union.

With the book being so full of characters, though, it seems to me a few weren’t fleshed out as well as they could have. One example was the Negro boy L’il Joe, who the clan discovered hiding in the wigwam as an escaped slave before they assist him on his trek northward. Although he’s later brought up in passing, we only get his story as he reports for duty (with his father and two other family members) in a colored regiment near the end of the war and in the penultimate chapter of the book. But since Joe’s story wasn’t followed upon, it’s possible the Negro and Underground Railroad facets of the story were added as fictional tales based on the real events of the era.

In Friends of the Wigwam, Huelskamp combines all the facts and tales into a believable, riveting story that has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing how the story of each participant will end. Perhaps it’s not the best summer beach book out there, but if you are into historical fiction or relish the legends of the Civil War, you will be fascinated at how interesting the people and places of this portion of the great state of Illinois became as the War Between the States played out. Those in our region who likely learned of Maryland’s place in the war should be fans of this different perspective on history.

Living Better One Day At A Time

Friends of the Wigwam is a historical novel and love story about six young friends whose innocence is stripped from them seemingly overnight in the brutal setting of the American Civil War.

Meticulously researched and based on real-life people and true events, Friends of the Wigwam spans 1857-1865 and introduces you to the courageous men and women from Illinois who staged one of the first contested national conventions, were responsible for getting Abraham Lincoln elected and made the ultimate sacrifice during the American Civil War.

From the true story of a young woman who successfully masqueraded as a man during the Civil War and was buried with full military honors to the often heart-wrenching letters home to wives and families and actual military correspondence between military leaders, author John William Huelskamp brings to life a volatile nation at war.

Celebrate each friend's successes and struggles on the battlefields, learn the story of those who led the battles, and meet a magnificent war-horse that is a steadfast survivor in the face of many tragedies.

Without at doubt, Friends of the Wigwam is one of the most moving Civil War novels you will ever read.


I am not a history buff at all. In fact, in the past I have not liked reading historical books because they were dry and boring and basically seemed to just be fact after fact with little humanity added in. So when I came across John William Huelskamp's novel Friends of the Wigwam, I was intrigued by an author using historical events and weaving them through a story and maybe making history real for me.

I appreciate how Huelskamp weaves personal lives together that starts as friendships at younger ages and weaves how the different lives are impacted by the events leading up to and during the Civil War. I appreciate the inclusion of real life letters and photographs to make the characters pop for the reader and become real. It really helped to visualize the whole character as I was reading. I gained a greater understanding of what life may have been like in the North during those times of strife in our nations history.

However, I will admit that it took me a while to read this book. The style of writing was not really the greatest for this type of story. I felt that Huelskamp did a great job of describing scenery and the battles however, there was something missing from the dialogue scenes. I felt that they were dull and just lacked the excitement and passion that I could feel in the descriptions of the scenery, etc. This led to a kind of choppy story line that may have been better as a play or a movie.

Overall, I thought this was a good effort. However, it was lacking in some ways that could have been improved with better dialogue scenes among the characters.

I was provided a free print copy of this book from The Cadence Group on behalf of the author in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

Friends of the Wigwam

A Civil War tale tracks the braided lives of six friends whose lives are upturned by national tumult.

In this debut novel, best friends Will and Aaron, 16 and 13 years old, stumble upon a wigwam in 1857 in the Illinois woods, a makeshift Native American hut concealed on the river bank. In the wigwam, they find a tomahawk and a medicine bag filled with colored beads. Over time, the structure becomes the official meeting spot for their extended group of youthful fellow travelers, and the physical symbol of their unbreakable bonds. Within the group, romance blossoms between Will and Allie, a self-assured tomboy who eventually disguises her gender to fight in the war, and between Aaron and Jenny Putnam, the daughter of a fire marshal. Another friend, Elmer Ellsworth, particularly close to Allie, becomes a colonel in the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry, and dies taking down a Rebel flag, a harsh reminder of the war brewing in the background. Huelskamp has crafted a scrupulously researched historical novel, culled from the exhaustive study of previously unpublished letters and diaries. Both characters and events are factual, embellished only when the demands of dramatization—largely the concoction of dialogue—must be met. Unfortunately, the dialogue is the volume’s weakest component, often so sentimental and emotionally overwrought it borders on the outright cloying. At one point, Allie learns that Elmer commands a regiment of his own: “ ‘I don’t want Elmer killed!’ Allie stated. Her voice began to crack a little. ‘He’s my friend and brother. He taught me how to fish and trap muskrats. He should be comin’ back home. I don’t want him to be hurt!’ ” The book as a whole, though, is a scholarly triumph, deftly bringing alive the volatile atmosphere of a nation in peril. Major historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Congressman Elihu Washburne appear prominently, humanizing a conflict too often interpreted as a contest of impersonal factions. But the story’s real driving force is the stark juxtaposition of youthful innocence—radiated by the self-professed “friends of the wigwam”—and the savagery of war. Huelskamp’s investigatory rigor is the principal virtue of the novel, but it also manages to be an entertaining, and tender, tale of the relentlessness of love against daunting odds.

A marvelously researched historical novel about Union soldiers and sympathizers, both moving and educational.

The Jerusalem Secret by Ron Cantor – A Book Review

“The Jerusalem Secret” opens where “Identity Theft” left off. David Lebowitz, a young and successful journalist has progressed from skeptic to seeker, becoming a believer that Yeshua is the promised Messiah. Just as the implications of what it means to be a follower of Yeshua are becoming clear, David gets the news that his father has been taken to the hospital and is in critical condition.

As David sits by his father’s bedside, grasping his hand he begins a prayer “In the name of Yeshua” he suddenly finds he has being transported into the heavenly realm standing in a large bright room in the presence of the angel Ariel, his angelic guide and companion, in earlier supernatural experiences.

Ariel informs David that he has been summoned for a purpose he is to take the message of Yeshua to the current generation of Jews and non-Jews to awaken Israel to errors prevalent in religious teaching and practice today. Ariel immediately begins a training program that takes David back into history-shaping events and the prophecies of Isaiah, Daniel, and other Old Testament prophets.

David is than supernaturally taken back in time to Jerusalem and Rome to learn directly from the Apostles Paul, and James, and from other early disciples, of the culture, religious, and political environment of the day and the implications this had on the writing of the scriptures in the original Jewish context to better understand the questions raised and issues being addressed.

Although Cantor is using the medium of fiction as a platform, his research into the background sources are thorough and well documented in his chapter endnotes. I have been personal challenged recently to be more intentional about my verbal my sharing of the Gospel message. While reading the book I have had several open doors for dialog on the Jerusalem secret and message of Yeshua.

“The Jerusalem Secret” must reading for all those seeking clarification and a better understanding of the mission and message of Christian Messianic Judaism.

Chicago book news: Gioia Diliberto's bio of Diane von Furstenberg in paperback

The paperback edition of "Diane von Furstenberg: A Life Unwrapped" by Chicagoan Gioia Diliberto was published by Dey Street July 26.

"Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding the City We Deserve" edited by Tom Tresser, was recently published as a crowd-funded book by The CivicLab and the TIF Illumination Project. Essayists include Tresser, Ralph Martire, Jackson Potter, Jamie Kalven and more.

"Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living" by Shauna Niequist will be published by Zondervan Aug. 9. Niequist lives in Hoffman Estates.

"The Silent Journey" by Michael J. Bellito was published by Oak Tree. Bellito, a longtime speech and English teacher, reflects on the 2012 stroke he suffered that left his right side paralyzed and him unable to speak. Bellito lives in Wheeling.

Friends of the Wigwam by John William Huelskamp

Barrington Group Publications, 2016
Read: July 20 – 23, 2016

Don’t just read the first sentence, please:

This book has all the elements of a winning historical novel — a great (and large) cast of characters, solid research, rich setting — but it just doesn’t come together in the way it should. But it frequently comes close. What it really needed to be successful is pretty simple: More. More of just about everything. Longer scenes, more developed characters, more developed storylines. The book covers the years from 1857 to 1864 in 358 pages — roughly 51 pages a year (with some of those taken by pictures) — you just can’t do a whole lot in that space. Longer scenes could’ve given the chance for characters and events to develop, for nuance to be shown.

The only thing it didn’t need more of was dialogue. Well, that’s not exactly true, it could’ve used more, but primarily it needed better dialogue. There was one scene, and only one, that I didn’t cringe almost every time someone spoke. It was wooden, stiff, artificial.

The book follows a group of friends and people they know from their part of Illinois in the days leading up to and through the heart of the Civil War — just about everyone mentioned was a real person that the historian Huelskamp researched thoroughly. The book is littered with photos of the people, letters and other documents supporting his work. Some of them are political movers and shakers, some are in the military, and some are citizens worrying about loved ones.

The characters — as historically accurate as they might be — were drawn pretty thinly. If Huelskamp is going to talk about interpretation of historical figures, he needs to interpret them multi-dimensionally. I wanted to like everyone (well, except Loomis — who no one is supposed to like), but I couldn’t muster up affection for anyone, there wasn’t enough of anyone to really appreciate.

    Beyond the clearly extensive historical research (and documentation!), this book had a few strengths that I want to focus on:

The book could’ve been really strong maybe as a trilogy (or duology), it could’ve been great. But in its too-short form, it was just almost a good book. I bet Huelskamp’s historical writing is really something — his fiction? Maybe one day. The richness of the historical work here does elevate this over a lot of historical fiction I’ve read recently, so I’m going to give it the 3rd star.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for my honest thoughts.

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