Civil War Memorial Day

Memorial Day is ending (it is later in the evening on May 28th) but I have the only tribute I can to this day where we remember those who fell on America’s battlefields. The following are from the Shiloh and Stone’s River National Cemeteries.

At Shiloh alone there are over 2300 unknown graves, at Stone’s River 2500. These cemeteries hold the honored dead not only from the battles fought there but also from other skirmishes and battles all along the western theater. In addition to Civil War dead, these cemeteries also hold those veterans who have passed on from our other wars.

Shiloh National Battlefield

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Stone’s River National Battlefield
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Rewriting History

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Battery Robinett fortification reconstruction, Corinth MIssissippi Interpretive Center

I’m one month into my rewrite of book #2 in the civil war series starting with the battle of Shiloh. Major General Henry W. Halleck set his plan in motion the beginning of May, 1862 a month later than he’d planned thanks to the untimely intervention of Albert Sidney Johnston’s surprise attack on Grant’s Army of the Tennessee at Pittsburg Landing or more commonly known as Shiloh. This campaign is little known, not important enough to rate a history of its own and of the fortifications built no longer exist around the modern town of Corinth, Mississippi. You can find a fine history of several battles part of the western Tennessee and northern Mississippi fighting in Peter Cozzen’s Iuka and Corinth book but otherwise this is just a foot note in the history of the region.

My writing on book #2 started around this time last year when I was only writing fitfully on the weekends when I made the time. I didn’t set any goal, I just started writing. It wasn’t until this year that I started applying a daily word count that I finished the WIP and began to make notes on a printout copy, small edits in sentence structure and overall plot. I won’t do a line edit (that’s for my editor to do) but I will do several passes looking for specific details. In my initial WIP at the beginning I trashed whole sections of the initial start because I just didn’t feel the story any longer. I write by listening to the story and sometimes I stop listening and go off on some other path and sometimes I stop myself. I wrote out two characters in those early chapters only, later on, to write them back in but with a different start. I even wrote in a new character, a former slave hunter to explore an obviously unlikable character who would be the center of much of the story to see if he could be rehabilitated.

My rewrite has entered the less boring stage of applying the notes and changes from the print out to the electronic file to the addition of brand new content. One character I excised early on is now back and on the brink of the beginning of the Corinth siege campaign. The Army of the Ohio will spend the next month (May 1st to May 29th) making short marches and digging in as Halleck cautiously moves and maneuvers his armies to within a mile of the Corinth fortifications and all the while promising Secretary of War Stanton he intends to take Corinth in one gallant rush. The truth is Halleck never intends to attack but to try and force Beauregard to either attack him or hole up in the city and eventually be cut off from his rail road supply lines. Other than skirmishing, there is no real major fighting.

So, why Corinth? Why is it important when no one else sees it as so? Because for a soldier in the Army of the Ohio at the time, as my Philip character is, it was deadly work and something they would have had to experience as time went on. It is part of the soldier narrative to experience the mundane and the trivial with the important and deadly. It is also something that has to happen to get my character from point A, the survival of Shiloh in book #1 and to where I needed him to be for future books. See, I had a problem with book #2, nothing was happening after Shiloh. The civil war in the west after Shiloh was one of maneuver and strategic movement over tactical battles like Shiloh. So, I thought I would be writing a novel about Stone’s River, something that happens late 1862 and early 1863 but one book has turned into six and the time frame needed for #2 was either going to leave out too much from this time period or be way to long.

I rely a lot on the War of the Rebellion collection of after action reports and correspondences between the field commanders and their superiors for the detail I weave into the story lines of these novels. I like to maintain a historical reality for my characters and have something of the mundane, like changing one’s campsite due to unhealthy conditions, as a framework for change. These are the details I can only find in these reports and correspondence during the war. The changes to the 2nd novel have been guided somewhat by these details that send the gears in my head turning as I attempt to follow some logical progression to tie things together. It has been an adventure, this second book through the multiple rewrites and changes with characters that I can only hope have been part of the making the novel better.
A short story for Kindle is out about these two armies:
Two Struck Images

No better place to die, General Rosecrans

Quote attributed to General George H. Thomas at council of war held in the late of night on December 31st, 1862. Purportedly uttered in support of staying and fighting despite the rough handling the army was given by the confederates that day.

It must have been fate. In the airport waiting for my flight and without Internet I was working on this entry, a little thought running through my head that I should copy the text to the note pad as I wasn’t entirely sure that the iPad app would work that well in offline mode. So I finish the entry and then attempt to upload a photo. Stupid. Further I hit cancel thinking I was canceling the photo upload and not the whole entry. Stupid x2. Gone baby gone.

It was either genius unrealized or it saved me a lawsuit. Either way it is lost in the ether.

On Thursday of this week we traveled to the Stone’s River battlefield in Murfreesboro, Tn. It was sobering. Not just because it is hallowed ground but because so little of it has been saved for posterity. Key positions in the center and Union left flank are preserved, but the vast majority of the Confederate right where the fighting took place has been forever lost. Further, aside from then civil war’s oldest monument, the Hazen brigade monument in Hell’s Half Acre and a few artillery emplacements that have been labeled, the battlefield is bereft of markers. There are park markers giving the history of the specific location and there are plenty of cannon about, but they are unmarked as to what battery they might have been.

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There are some key locations near the Union center (what had been before the confederate attacks forced the Union right to collapse) like the Knoll, an area of high ground astride the Nashville Turnpike where fleeing remnants of Rosecrans’ right flank brigades fled to as the confederate attacks of Hardee’s then Polk’s Corps drove deep into the union lines, through thick woods and came out of the trees to face Sheridan’s division and whatever union brigades that could be rallied. Repeated attacks upon this position on the first day were unable to force their way to the turnpike. Here the Chicago Board of Trade Battery deployed on the rise and fired into advancing confederates of Cheatham’s division. Batteries deployed beyond the turnpike in what is now the national cemetery blunted the confederate attacks here and along the Cotton Field.

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Pictures cannot do the Slaughter Pen justice, however. In a heavily wooded area, Sheridan’s division found themselves beset by Polk’s attacks. The whole area is strewn with glacially deposited rocks, rocks whose surface was worn smooth by years of constant grating and deposited in parallel lines, not unlike a natural trench work of rock. Here Union soldiers lay and fought, taking cover in these formations and dying by the score, so much so that the place was likened to the slaughter houses of Chicago by then Illinois troops who fought there, the pens becoming a pen for the slaughter. The ground is uneven and broken by these rocks making any movement difficult. Rocks like this are all over the ground here and some as big as a man.

Hell’s Half Acre is hard to visualize as the Round Forest is now gone and but for the Hazen Memorial it would not be recognizable. The field just across the Nashville Turnpike and just up against the Chattanooga and Nashville Rail Road line and the facing of the canon at the sight give the direction that the brigade defended against as attacks came from two sides as the Confederates made both for the road and for the rail line, cutting both would have been disastrous for Rosecrans. Hazen’s brigade of Sheridan’s division would be the only part of the original Union line to not bend under the attacks by Polk’s brigades.

I did not make it around to all of the markers and walk all the trails, but the last part that has been preserved is the Union held McFadden farm and ford where the last day’s action took place. The confederate positions are all gone, hidden under asphalt and concrete where Breckenridge’s Orphan Brigade were cut to pieces as they punched through the Union positions on the opposite bank and tried to cross the ford and attack the opposite heights. There is a set of canon on the Union side of the ford marking the line of Mendenhall’s 58 guns that were instrumental in breaking up the attack. The vista is broke by trees that are growing up from the river bank that obscure the opposite heights on the Confederate side of the river, but it is just as well since the view is of a freeway turnoff and other modern development.

If you are like me, you have to read every marker. Stone’s River is an easy read if you have time to walk the trails. I had high hopes of locating positions and monuments for note taking and in that regard was disappointed. I did get good notes for the 4th novel which will center on Stone’s River and walked the ground so tenaciously fought over by both sides.

The battle was an attempt by both sides to attacks each other’s right flanks. As it turned out the Confederate attack hits a weak point as Rosecrans has his left built up and his own right is unprepared. Rosecrans abandons his own attack and the Confederates crush his right so successfully that the whole battle hangs in the balance as Bragg’s attacking divisions fight their way through the thick woods. The battle will end with confederates entrenched in front of the Cotton Field and pulled back from the Knoll. Fighting shifts to other parts of the field inconclusively and there is a rare lull in the fighting as a day passes before Bragg decides to hit Rosecran’s left flank (the McFadden farm) and sends Breckenridge’s division into the meat grinder and the battle ends.

A short story for Kindle is out about these two armies:
Two Struck Images

We don’t count the Siege of Corinth as 1st Corinth

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At the Double Quick, a bronze relief at the Corinth Interpretive Center, Corinth Ms.

It was a long drive from Nashville today to get to Corinth Mississippi. For our battlefield excursion we have based ourselves out of Nashville as being a little more central to a few of the other places we intend to visit.

One of the rangers at Corinth said this line as we chatted in the bookstore over my purchases of two maps of the area, one of the siege operations and one of the confederate attack on Corinth. I mentioned that we were there to take photos for novel covers and that one was about 1st Corinth and the second about 2nd Corinth. I can see their point, there really wasn’t a battle per se the first time, just some fighting here and there as Halleck maneuvered around Beauregard’s forces to try to cut him off from his rail supply. Beauregard abandons the city and there is no bloody battle. Apparently they must get this a lot as she was quick on the draw. I still prefer to call it 2nd Corinth, but I won’t split hairs.

There is practically nothing left at Corinth but the remnants of the earthworks at Battery Robinette. Everything has been bulldozed for the city to grow over. It is fitting, though, that this one area was not churned to nothing due to the lone confederate unknown graves that are resting on a hill (the real earthwork (the interpretive center is built just a little beyond the real battery) and where the grave of Colonel Rogers used to be before being reinterred elsewhere.

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These grave markers were just a few of those killed from the 2nd Texas who stormed the parapets at Robinette and took the battery, if only briefly, before being forced to retreat after suffering galling losses.

There is also a walking tour through the site of a former contraband slave camp, established soon after the failed assault on Corinth and organized by several charitable organizations to socialize and educate former slaves into industry and self sufficiency. It was run for less than a year but was apparently used as a model for other camps to be set up elsewhere. The park is filled with bronze statues and this was one that caught my eye (though I do not believe the site was related to any USCT training or recruiting)

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It was a full day and we still had Shiloh to stomp around at. I met the person who runs the Shiloh Bookstore and gave her the Sell Sheet and bookmark we’d produced for They Met at Shiloh. We still do not know if the lead historian will approve the book or not, but Winston Groom’s novel on Shiloh was in prominent display (this person had informed me the historian only approves “classic” fiction to be sold in the store, Foote’s novel on Shiloh was also on display). It is their choice, but the person in charge of the bookstore is a pleasant person to chat with (several times on the phone and now in person). The bookstores are managed by a third party contractor but the content is up to the park historian. I’m not losing any sleep over it, but I did find it interesting seeing the other fiction works already on the shelves, and not all were “classic”.

They Met At Shiloh

The Eagle has landed

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We landed in Tennessee this evening, Nashville to be exact and right away trouble; my wife’s laptop, an old Dell XPS that has had multiple motherboards replaced just six months ago, the same laptop that was working at the Albuquerque Airport suddenly will not boot once we were settled in our room.

This was one of the first trips where I did not bring my own laptop, choosing to do everything from my iPad. This is only an issue as my wife intended to offload her photos to her laptop so that her camera’s memory cards would not fill up. So, this was unexpected but not entirely disastrous. The Dell is out of warranty by several weeks now. Annnnd, I left my iPad’s HDMI converter as we were planning on watching movies from my iPad on the flatscreen in the room, also not a big disaster and the local Apple store did not have one in stock.

One thing that I am going to hunt for is an iPad to USB keyboard adapter (if one exists). Bluetooth is disabled while in flight, so my Apple bluetooth keyboard, something that I use to type with when I write (I almost exclusively use my iPad for writing) is really tough using the soft keyboard for any length of time. I did manage to get in 1K+ word count in during the first hour of our flight on book #3. So it is not impossible to do serious writing on the soft keyboard, but is a little annoying as I often miss hitting the “n” key most often or I hit the spacebar instead of the n.

But, we are going to leave tomorrow morning for the Corinth Interpretive Center and Shiloh as our first day out. We have all day to revisit sites at Shiloh and get lots of photos of the bronze relief and the Battery Robinette reconstruction. Then we’ll be back at Shiloh to close the park down, drop off a Sell Sheet at the bookstore and try to say “Hi” in person to the lady who runs the bookstore (I’ve talked with her several times on the phone after I mailed her the book and other materials). Will be a long day of driving, however.

The day after …

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One of our early possibilities for the book cover, Byrne’s Mississippi Battery monument at Shiloh facing the Hornet’s Nest.

I inadvertently discovered that my Kindle edition of They Met at Shiloh was inexplicably unavailable for sale on Amazon. I’d uploaded the file for my short story Two Struck Images instead of the file for the novel, so anyone who had purchased the book from May 8 to May 13 didn’t get the right version. D’oh!

In the realm of the rest of my life? No big deal. It will get fixed. In the realm of hourly rankings and changes on Amazon? An eternity. But, what could I do? I fixed the problem and then some back and forth with KDP to explain the issue and the rest is a wait. So, now I check every so often to see if and when it will be available to be purchased but at the moment all of my promotion activities have come to a halt. But, this has me to really evaluating the efficacy of some of my promotion activities via social media. I am willing to admit that I may not be using these avenues very well, but overall they do seem to be ineffective at best in driving sales. I rarely look at tweets any more and when I do I’m looking for content tweets, not marketing ones. I suspect others do as well. Facebook as well seems to be a hit and miss proposition at times. Branding? Better for that perhaps or for allowing fans to keep in contact or up to date on what is happening. But, some of that has also become something of a mine that is about played out. I’d been evaluating period images and mining them for what they might tell us of the men and the times and that was fun for a time, but it has now become rote. If creativity abhors anything it is rote activities.

As an update to the last paragraph, the book is now up again for sales on Amazon. There is no way I can tell how many possible sales I missed in this time frame. But, Amazon is a world wide marketplace and a US wide opportunity to sell to the same consumers over and over through exposure, but getting and keeping that exposure is the great key. I can at least go on my vacation tomorrow and have one less thing to worry about!

Speaking of vacation I will try to share a pic or two from each Civil War battlefield we visit of the next four days this week and some on why we are there at each one and some of the history and how it relates to future books in the They Met at Shiloh series.

Happy birthday to me

May 12, 1967.

A day in the life of someone. A day in the life of the imaginary someone. The someone we think we want to be sometimes. A dreamer dreams and an actor acts. We sometimes fear to act on the dream or fear the dream will turn into our nightmare. I used to refuse to act because the dream unfolding was never the dream dreamt. It was often the clinging to the utopia of the dream that made the reality the most impossible to accept.

I suppose I never really dreamt of being a professional IT person, it was just something I decided I wanted to do and then worked and trained my way through it. I started after marriage. Graduating in 1992 with a BA in history meant that I either stayed in school for the next ten years or I needed to find something to do to work. After two years of temp employment I landed one of several horrible jobs that in retrospect pushed me into the computer and IT world where I’ve been ever since. My first job was as a computer salesman at a small company and a month before the owner sold it I had diversified into the computer support department and learned enough to get my next job and that went on from job to job until I was hired to be the sole PC and server administrator for a large company’s local office. Twelve years later and two IT department reorganizations and a company split I find myself a: working from home, b: working in something I’d trained for, and c: doing an architect’s job and working for people I respect.

Writing, on the other hand, has been quite different. I suppose more emotional. There were emotional times during the various re-organizations and times when I ended up exactly where I didn’t want to be, but nothing like the disappointment of pursuing publishing. It was the impossibility of it all, of writing what I wanted to write but knowing that the paths to visibility were resolutely against finding a publisher.

I’m not going to rail against the traditional way. It’s a business and it’s their money to invest in whom they choose and they choose what is going to fit into several quantifiable measures. They can choose the cream of the crop (though even they fail to discover the cream). If I had 10,000 to 20,000 thousand dollars to invest you can bet I’m going to bet on what is going to make me 80,000 to 100,000 thousand dollars in return. That is all good and well, but as a writer of historical fiction, the formula did not fit my novel. No romance. No edgy or politically correct storyline. No female protagonists. It was a tale of war and of soldiers and written in a way that was unique. Uniquely bad or good is debatable. That it was written over a twenty year time period, rewritten at least five times and professionally edited means nothing. It was not a story that was bankable. It was something I wanted to write but if I’d wanted to write what was publishable along the traditional route I wouldn’t have written it. But, this is not to say that I might have even been considered had I been writing what I thought was going to fit the historical fiction mold. I’ll never know the answer to that question as I’ve published it myself.

As of this writing, I’ve had over 1000 in paid Kindle sales since middle of February (a key milestone for me) and been in the top 100 in Civil War nonfiction Amazon category for the last 12 weeks (many fiction works end up in this category as the historical fiction categories are not fine grained enough). 15,000 people have downloaded They Met at Shiloh during two free Amazon promotional periods. Many do better, many do worse but I’m happy with the progress to date. The key milestone was that They Met at Shiloh has now paid for the next book in the series for editing and cover design costs. We are now no longer saving for this goal and each additional dollar made goes for advertising and production of book #3. In another month we will have earned out our initial advance to ourselves, $3,500.00 for two editors, paperback and kindle formatting, promotional materials, and cover design.

Two Struck Images, short story launch

Thanks to the new ePublishing paradigm, where publishing something someone somewhere might want to read, the short story has been given new life where previously it might only be found in zoo like anthology collections in or in subscriber periodicals. Getting a short story into one of those periodicals was just as difficult as landing an agent and then selling a manuscript to a publisher; and far less lucrative for the author.

When I first took opportunity to evaluate my own writing I did what every aspiring author does, purchased a copy of publishers weekly and a copy of Writers Market for Fiction to find magazines who bought and published short stories. If you can be discovered in one of these, you might be on your way to some notoriety and have some publishing credits to your name. What did the author make on that short story sold? Depended on the magazine and the author. Maybe fifty bucks? Usually you were giving the rights to publish the story away for free and an exclusivity agreement that the story will not be published by any other entity for a year or more and they also had the rights to archive that story as it appeared. You might be able to get the rights back eventually and sell that story somewhere else. You might never get the rights back. That was then, around the 2001 time frame when I was shopping for someplace to publish my short stories.

Now, enter today where a short story can easily be published on KDP or in SmashWords and find someone willing to pay to read it. It means much more than money but meets the same discoverability goals that one might have hoped for if they publish their short story in a mag. They can be stand alone titles, though I know of many who publish theirs in anthology format, and they can be a consumable means to introduce yourself to a wider audience.

At 35% royalty over the lifetime of the product (much, much better than a one time publication in a monthly even if that monthly is available online) and a reach that is really unlimited, the advent of the new eBook publication and distribution streams make dusting off old material an option where they may have never had an opportunity before.

Two Struck Images is just such a story for me, written seven years ago based on an experience I had with my brother at the 135th Chickamauga Reenactment in Georgia, it has become a method of introduction to my other work and a small showcase for me as a writer/story teller. I won’t claim special genius for it, just that it was a joy to write and now a joy to publish.

Two Struck Images

And a few other recommendations of my own:
The Red Pond At Shiloh: A short story

The Red Badge of Courage and Four Stories (Signet Classics)