Fire by Night is the second book in Lynn N. Austin’s Refiner’s Fire series of books about young women around the time of the Civil War. The first, Candle in the Darkness (2002), which dealt with the daughter of a slaveholding family, and Fire by Night both won Christy Awards. The final work in the series, A Light to My Path (2004) featured a story about a slave girl.
In Fire by Night, lovely but headstrong young Julia Hoffman rides to Bull Run, Virginia, in July, 1861, with her congressman uncle and young minister Nathaniel Greene to watch the battle. When their carriage is surrounded by wounded soldiers pleading for help, Julia is shocked and repelled, and orders her uncle to take her home. The next day, after overhearing Greene describe her as spoiled and shallow, Julia begins to reexamine her life of social events and servants. Moody and discontented, she begins to do charity work and is inspired by Greene’s plea for volunteer battlefield nurses. Despite parental disapproval, she goes to Washington to apply for a nursing job but is rejected.
Determined to win Greene’s admiration, she applies at the hospital of renegade surgeon James McGrath. McGrath assigns her the menial job of laundress, whereupon she decides to go home. However, she runs into some former slaves and employs them to work for her in the laundry. When a measles epidemic strikes the hospital, Julia is pressed into service as a nurse. A young soldier dies in her arms, and she feels God’s approval for the first time in her life. She decides to stay at the hospital, pretending to be married because single women are not allowed to be nurses.
Meanwhile, in West Virginia, tall and homely Phoebe Bigelow, orphaned and raised by brothers who have gone off to war, decides to become a soldier herself rather than endure life as a domestic servant. She goes to Pennsylvania and enlists in the Union Army as Ike Bigelow. She makes friends with Ted Wilson, another recruit, with whom she bunks and secretly falls in love. During training, she fights off bullies, and her sergeant discovers she is a crack shot. Phoebe’s outfit marches to Yorktown, where she shoots a Rebel sniper and fights in a battle. Although she hates fighting, she decides to stay in the army to be with Ted.
Julia, now accepted as a nurse, volunteers in a hospital ship and sails to Richmond, where thousands of dying...
(The entire section is 997 words.)