The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Usaph Bumpass is the hub around whom the many spokes of the novel revolve. Although he never actually encounters the leading actors in the two major subplots, Stonewall Jackson and Horace Searcy, their actions affect him so directly that they nevertheless constitute a part of his personal universe. In keeping with his centrality to the novel’s narrative, Bumpass is in most respects an average sort of fellow: He follows orders, does not stick his neck out, and envies those who, like the artist Decatur Cate and the musically talented Gus Ramseur, have special gifts that lift them above the run-of-the-mill. Even Bumpass’ basic equanimity, however, is broken down by the wear and tear of fighting and his apprehensions regarding his wife’s faithfulness, the latter being brought to the boiling point by the appearance of Cate.

Cate’s feelings for Bumpass, a combination of almost brotherly affection and simple pity, make him one of the most interesting characters in the book. Cate believes that he has been truly and deeply loved by Ephephtha and that this makes him and Bumpass confederates in love as well as in war; for Bumpass, however, Cate is simply an intrusion, a painful reminder that Ephephtha is now beyond his influence. The dynamics of this interaction, in which Cate is compelled to pursue Bumpass and he, in turn, is driven to despise Cate, tend to overshadow the relationship that each has had with Ephephtha, who is described as a very attractive...

(The entire section is 576 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Usaph Bumpass

Usaph Bumpass, a Confederate soldier serving in the regiment of the Shenandoah Volunteers. Malnourished, bedraggled Usaph is a veteran of the war at the age of twenty-three. A poorly educated farmer, he is secretly envious of his two educated friends, Danny Blalock, a schoolmaster, and Gus Ramseur, a music teacher. Usaph constantly worries about the danger of his lovely wife feeling lonely on their farm and being unfaithful to him. When he receives a letter from her, delivered by Decatur Cate, he is sure that Ephie and Cate are lovers.

Ephephtha (Ephie) Bumpass

Ephephtha (Ephie) Bumpass, the beautiful wife of Usaph, reared in the swamps of the Carolinas. She was raped when young, then became accustomed to but not charmed by men’s demands on her. When Usaph takes her from the swamps to Virginia, she thinks that she has been saved, but then Usaph goes to war, and she is convinced that she is being punished for loving him too much. The worldly Decatur Cate represents refinement to Ephie. She is torn between running off to California with him and remaining faithful to Usaph.

Decatur Cate

Decatur Cate, a Union sympathizer conscripted into Bumpass’ regiment. Gangling, hollow-cheeked, and twenty-five years old, Cate is an introspective former portrait painter forced to join the army when Usaph’s Aunt Sarrie has him arrested. While painting Ephie’s portrait, Cate convinces her to become his lover and go to California. Aunt Sarrie intervenes, and Cate is sent to Usaph’s regiment, where he delivers a letter from Ephie. Usaph immediately suspects the worst, and Cate becomes his nemesis.

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, a Confederate general and actual historical figure. He is called...

(The entire section is 753 words.)