The Bluecoats Vol 14: The Dirty Five

By Lambil & Cauvin
Publisher: Cinebook
ISBN: 9781800440043

With both sides in the Civil War battling themselves to a standstill, the Yankees are feeling the strain. Having lost so many men, and with a cavalry of three, Chesterfield and Blutch are ‘volunteered’ to seek out fresh recruits. The trouble is, too many men are more attached to their lives and their livelihoods, and don’t want to risk it all by joining the 22nd Cavalry. In fact, in some cases, Captain Stark’s reputation is more than a hindrance. So, after several false starts, and now desperate, Blutch and Chesterfield find themselves at a prison offering deals to condemned men. Fight for their country, or continue to the gallows. Consequently, they end up with five new recruits – and none of them are all that keen with their new lot.

Having read all The Bluecoats books to date I’ve been inspired to read Bernard Cornwell’s Starbuck Chronicles. If you think that The Bluecoats may be a little lightweight, or perhaps offer a shallow or sparse picture of the events of the American Civil War, then think again. Raoul Cauvin’s writing is spot-on, not least because it doesn’t shy away from the futility of it all, the needless loss of life, and the inept decision-making by both sides. The significant difference is that The Bluecoats doesn’t show the blood and gore, but it does highlight the ever-mounting death toll and countless injuries sustained by the Confederates and the Yankees.  Cauvin turns this into the series’ darkest joke, that the cavalry, led by Captain Stark, continues to lose a horrendous amount of men and horses.

By the time the dirty five turn up, the book has again covered much of the historical struggles faced by the army, not least the many ways the recruiting teams employed to bring new soldiers in. The dirty five themselves are, essentially, five (well four, as there’s a two-for-one package) punchlines, with their own running jokes. To expand upon their characters beyond that would have been a distraction from what the book is really about – keeping a steady flow of new blood in the face of so much loss.

There’s a long history of humorous takes on war. The best of them don’t sugarcoat the horrors, and draw the best humour from the darkest moments. The Bluecoats stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of them.

And if you liked that: Volume 15 is coming soon

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