I started watching my copy of Gods and Generals this weekend, working through my war movie collection. I know several of my civil war online acquaintances dislike various things about the Maxwell movies, some things that I’ve not even noticed before unless they were pointed out for me, but one of the things I liked most about the movie was its grounding in the unit and soldier portrayals. Not just satisfied to show you men in blue or grey moving hither and thither, but to tell you who they were. The opening sequence also sets this up rather well: Gods and Generals opening
Having served in the military in the late 80’s through 2002 I had an appreciation for unit designations. I served all of that time in the 44th Army Band in Albuquerque, NM and we marched hundreds of ceremonies and trooped the line with a new or outgoing commander and the unit’s colors with its battle streamers (New Mexico is home to the predecessors of 200th Coastal Artillery Regiment – the Battling Bastards of Bataan fame) and other awards adorning and often eclipsing the flag itself. Each unit has a stand of colors and each is unique. The opening sequence with the music by Mary Fahl rightly sets the stage for the movie to come, that it is not going to be partisan (though, for better or worse it is almost wholly about Jackson with Chamberlain as the Union counterpoint) and it is going to portray a level of historical performance not seen in many war movies.
It can be preachy, there are some annoying soliloquy’s by a few characters you’d just soon fast forward over, but I appreciated adding dimensions to what I already knew about Fredricksburg and Chancellorsville and 1st Bull Run.
Novel #3 is off to the editor who is hard at work with it, my wife has worked up the cover and is tweaking it, I hope to do a cover reveal soon. A recent bargain book promotion moved more copies of They Met at Shiloh and moved copies of the other books in my series which was nice to see.
A reminder, a sign up to the email list will keep you up to date on book progress and release dates: Email list.
Book 2 is about to be released, March 1st to be exact, so mark your calendars! A follow on to the story set during the battle of Shiloh, a battle that set the course for the rest of the war in the west. What follows is an excerpt from the Prologue and the teaser description.
The cover image is the bas relief prominent at the Corinth Interpretive Center, Corinth Mississippi and part of the Shiloh National Battlefield NPS park and cemetery.
The battle at Pittsburg Landing altered the course of the war in the west and changed the lives of thousands who fought there and survived.
Will Hunter’s pursuit of higher command has been interrupted by his capture, the fault of his jealous commanding officer. Stuck far behind enemy lines with little hope for exchange, escape seems improbable. Neither high prison walls nor hundreds of miles of Ohio backwoods trails will keep him from trying.
Philip Pearson survived Shiloh but wonders if his luck will hold much longer. Pursuing reinstatement in the Methodist Episcopal Church brings him full circle: his battlefield experience calling him back to the collar he left behind. Only convincing the bishop of Dayton and surviving the coming assaults on Corinth stand in his way of a chaplaincy.
Ohio, far from the theaters of war, will test both men’s ambitions and trust in their fellow man.
Will Hunter stole ever so close to his prey. He was dressed in pants and a shirt of old muslin, fading in color and too long in use. The boy’s sandy blond hair and wry smile finished the look of an Alabama backwater, son of a white-trash drunk with nothing better to do but get into shines. The day was bright and hot, his shirt hanging loosely upon his slim shoulders, his cuffs open and begrimed. He would strike a blow for his father or just for himself—what did it matter when the target was a black?
Excitement animated his hands as he looked one way, then the other, then back. The house stood by the side of the road, an old wooden shack not much different from many other rural homesteads. The target of Will’s attentions was not deserving of mischief, nor were its occupants beholden to him in any way. Perhaps that was what irked the boy the most: their total lack of the customary deference expected between people of certain classes and races. The law being in his favor was not enough to satisfy his caprice for the man known as Baxter. He needed to do this to satisfy his superiority in deed as well as station.
Youthful pride and ignorance were no exception for Will. It was mischief he wanted on this day, and what better way to do it than in secret? He was not so protected by the law as to be brazen with his destructive errand, but anonymity would give him his revenge and protection at the same time. He had picked a spot to run and hide where he could watch the shenanigans, and now he needed only strike the match and watch the fun, storing up the details to share with his chums. He wouldn’t burn down the house—just the fence surrounding it. He reasoned that Alabama did not need free blacks and therefore did not need to extend the rights of property to them either.
Baxter’s slave wife, June, was a house slave of one of the larger plantations around Huntsville belonging to the Kearns family. Baxter could visit her and the children now and again. He lived alone and worked his own land, having been freed years before and allowed to build his little home on land his former owner willed to him and a few other former slaves. No longer the possession of another, Baxter was not entirely free to do as he pleased, but he tried to make due with what life and the law would allow.
The house looked still and empty, and the field in the back where the man raised cotton and foodstuffs was lonely. Baxter himself was not to be seen. This was the perfect time.
Engrossed in his preparations, Will did not hear the land owner close up behind him.
“Whut you do there, boy?”
Will gave a cry of surprise and dropped his match. Caught, he had nothing to say.
It was about this time last year that I began work on book 3 of the Shiloh Series, Iuka to Corinth and that work is now nearly completed. What of book 2? Book 2, A Certain Death is nearing completion from the remainder of the production process with the cover designer. I do not have a cover to reveal at this point, but will hopefully in a few days.
When I began writing They Met at Shiloh, I’d envisioned a three book series. Starting with the battle of Shiloh I would follow a few characters to Chickamauga and then with a closing book centering on the USCT to end the series. At the time my concept was to market these to the homeschool community as fully fledged curricula covering the beginning, the middle, and then the end of the war. That has been modified somewhat now to a six book series (don’t tell my wife, but it may be a seven book series and another trip to Tennessee to tromp around more battlefields 😉 )
A Certain Death was begun in 2011 and while I was starting Iuka to Corinth I was beginning to edit and rewrite ACD. I learned a lot from the experience of this novel and the rewriting. I learned to listen to the story all over again as I started and stopped and changed directions numerous times with this work.
The biggest change was the introduction of Will Hunter, an Alabamian who grows up a reckless and ambitious son of a white trash blacksmith who is not content to stay white trash himself. What made this character interesting to write was his vocation as a runaway slave hunter. He’s good at what he does and he does it without any particular malice, as a lucrative means to rise above his birth. Yet one gets away from him and but for the nagging failure, he neither curses the slave that eluded him or those in Ohio who might be harboring him. He curses the slavers that lord it over men of his standing.
Born of an ambition that is not matched by money or birth, Will Hunter finds he cannot escape the slaver class in both pre-war politics and in wartime volunteer militia. His rough and selfish nature has lead him to do things as a boy that he’d rather forget, secrets that he’d like kept secret but for the one man whom he can’t seem to escape, Joshua Kearns. Born of planter blood and privilege and someone who knows Will’s secrets, Will has to deal with this man’s petty and vindictive nature.
Philip Pearson and Stephen Murdoch are back in this novel as well as action shifts from the theater of the war in Tennessee through the attempt by Major General Halleck to invest Corinth, Mississippi throughout the month of May, 1862 to the peaceful fields and forests of Ohio, the POW compound of Camp Chase outside of Columbus and the village of Germantown, Ohio.
For more news and promotions, sign up for the Shiloh Series mail list. Also, They Met at Shiloh is $0.99 cents this week in recognition of this 151st anniversary of the fall of Fort Donelson.
Title: On the march from Hamburg to camp before Corinth / sketched by A.E. Mathews, 31st Reg’t O.V.[U.S.A.] ; lithographed by Middleton, Strobridge & Co., Cincinnati.
Creator(s): Middleton, Strobridge & Co., lithographer
A depiction of the type of terrain that the combined Army of the Ohio, Army of the Tennessee, and Army of the Mississippi had to contend with in their maneuvering to surround Corinth, Mississippi in May of 1862.
The second novel in the Shiloh Series, A Certain Death deals with some of the events of this campaign that ultimately failed to achieve all of its goals, the destruction of Beauregard’s Army of Mississippi.
This blog began about a year ago as I started to replicate what I was told I had to do to begin marketing my first novel. I was told I had to have a website, someplace to describe myself and my work. It was a clumsy first post as I tried to find my voice.
Voice is what animates anything we write. It can be a passion, a goal, a journey, a cause célèbre, a drive to communicate with someone other than our own inner voice. I am still searching for my voice in this blog.
I published my first novel in November of 2011 in both paperback and Kindle format. I sold my first Kindle eBook to someone who has become a good friend and fellow author for the ridiculous price of $9.99. His was to become my first review. He was a brave man, buying an eBook at that price from a random Facebook posting. That first review has over 27 votes and is the top review yet of the 20 I now have. I knew little of how to market at that point and even less of how to find my audience. In November 2011 I had a few free kindle titles on my iPad and very little knowledge about how Amazon was better at selling Amazon than I would be. My wife and I hit publish and hoped that we would figure it out as we went along. I knew one other person at this point who had self published and she was an old friend who had finally written and published her first work a year before. I sold one whole eBook that month, November 2011.
It is December 2012. A year and a month have gone by in a journey I undertook twenty one years before in college to write a novel with all of my friends as characters set in a civil war battle. I never finished it. Twelve years later I undertook to rewrite the novel from scratch and for the next eight years worked on it on the odd weekend or trip, in coffee houses and in hotel rooms, airplanes, and cars. I wanted to finish it. Other than having written stories or stage plays for fun most of my life I had little to go on other than instinct with this rewrite. I knew the story I wanted to tell and I learned to let the story tell itself. I wanted the soldiers to speak their minds and speak about what comradeship and loss meant to them. I wanted confederate and federal to tell why they volunteered and treat both sides with equality of voice, not turning all confederates into antagonists and all federals into protagonists. Men volunteered to follow their own ideas of patriotism and duty and each believed they were serving a higher cause.
I was doubtful that I’d succeeded. The story was written from stream of consciousness and from the point of view of each character, allowing the thoughts and fears, doubts and struggles to be laid out for the reader to experience along with the fright and rush that was civil war combat. The majority of the reviews have confirmed a level of success in that endeavor, that the reviewer was transported int the ranks and experienced the life of the soldier and experienced the common faith that most soldiers shared on either side.
This year has been an eye opener. Many say that you need four things in order to sell an eBook. A good cover, a good book, a good blurb and luck. Now most would say that it is the luck part that can make the difference between a huge seller and an average seller. I do not know if I fit the huge seller or the average even, but we met our goal for this year financially and that was a big thing. It was luck that KDP Select was introduced and for the first part of the year the Amazon selling environment favored the extra exposure from a successful free giveaway.
As I ready my first book launch (we unceremoniously launched They Met at Shiloh with no plan and no promotion) this next year and finish my third novel I do look forward to what 2013 will bring.
Prior to the Confederate attack on the Union camps along the Tennessee at Pittsburg Landing, there was an accidental meeting between a picket relief from the 70th Ohio Infantry and a troop of the 1st Alabama Cavalry under Lt. Colonel Clanton marching up the West Corinth Road to the intersection of the Bark Road. Two companies of the 72nd Ohio were drilling nearby and an alert Major Pickerel from the 25th Missouri directed them to push up the Corinth Road to investigate.
In most books I’ve read about Shiloh, this little incident gets a sentence or two or this little skirmish is barely a footnote. Yet, for those who were captured, killed, and wounded this was not just another day in the war.
What is ironic about this skirmish is how close the companies from the 72nd Ohio, 70th Ohio, and 5th Ohio Cavalry came to discovering what it was behind the 1st Alabama Cavalry screen at Michie’s. The fight was brief but no less full of drama. I discovered this incident while researching for the next novel in my Shiloh series, A Certain Death. Like most historians, I gave this incident barely a mention in the first in the series They Met at Shiloh myself, a happenstance in the story. But, to give it its due, it is drawn out in detail in A Certain Death.
April 5, 1862 in a communication to his superior, Henry W. Halleck in St. Louis Grant had this to say after reporting on the incident.
General: Just as my letter of yesterday to Captain McLean, assistant adjutant-general, was finished, notes from Generals McClernand’s and Sherman’s assistant adjutants-general were received stating that our outposts had been attacked by the enemy, apparently in considerable force. I immediately went up, but found all quiet. The enemy took 2 officers and 4 or 5 of our men prisoners and wounded 4. We took 8 prisoners and killed several; number of the enemy wounded not known. They had with them three pieces of artillery and cavalry and infantry. How much cannot of course be estimated.
I have scarcely the faintest idea of an attack (general one) being made upon us, but will be prepared should such a thing take place…
U.S. Grant, Major-General
General Sherman’s report of the incident adds further detail:
Sir: I have the honor to report that yesterday about 3 p.m. it was reported to me that the lieutenant commanding and 7 men of the advance pickets had imprudently advanced from their posts and were captured. I ordered Major Riker, of the Fifth Ohio Cavalry, to proceed rapidly to the picket station, ascertain the truth, and act according to circumstances. He reached the station, found the pickets had been captured as reported, and that a company of infantry sent by the brigade commander had gone forward in pursuit of some cavalry. He rapidly advanced some 2 miles and found them engaged; charged the enemy and drove them along the ridge road until he met and received three discharges of artillery, when he very properly wheeled under cover and returned till he met me. As soon as I heard artillery I advanced with two regiments of infantry and took position and remained until the scattered companies of infantry and cavalry returned. This was after night.
I infer that the enemy is in some considerable force at Pea Ridge; that yesterday morning they crossed a brigade of two regiments of infantry, one of cavalry, and one battery of field artillery to the ridge on which the Corinth Road lays. They halted the infantry and artillery at a point about 5 miles in my front, and sent a detachment to the lane of General Meeks, on the north of Owl Creek, and the cavalry down towards our camp. This cavalry captured a part of our advance pickets and afterwards engaged the two companies of Colonel Buckland’s regiment…
We lost of the picket: 1 first lieutenant and 7 men of the 70th Ohio Infantry, taken prisonersl 1 major, 1 lieutenant, and 1 private of the 72nd Ohio Infantry taken prisoners, and 8 privates wounded. I have the honor to be, your obedient servant, W. T. Sherman
Of the official reports, the real action comes from the reports of Colonel Buckland of the 72nd and Major Riker of the 5th Ohio.
On the 4th of April, a Major Pickerel of Peabody’s 25th Missouri was out inspecting the picket posts of his brigade as officer of the day when he bumped into Lieutenant Herbert of the 70th Ohio with his picket relief marching up the Corinth Road. As Pickerel was making his way he happened to notice the presence of horseman through a line of trees in an adjacent field. Curious, he picked his way closer when he noticed that they were rebel horseman and they were relieving the picket relief of their weapons. Having heard the commands of a unit at drill close by he raced through the trees until he ran into Major Crocket drilling several companies of the 72nd Ohio Infantry. Informing Crocket that there were rebel horseman just down the road he suggested that he move his companies to disperse them. As they were equal in rank and in different commands, he could not order Crocket to comply.
After dispatching a lieutenant to report to General Sherman, Crocket marched companies H and B down the Corinth Road and was soon pushing a troop of the 1st Alabama Cavalry back down the Corinth Road. It was here that, convinced that this was just a small force of the enemy, Crocket split his battalion with company B on the right of the Corinth Road and H on the left. After marching and lightly skirmishing for two miles they came face to face with the whole of the 1st Alabama Cavalry and a battery of artillery. With horseman moving on their flanks, Captain Raymond of company B moved his men onto a hill that commanded the road and hunkered down while Major Crocket found himself captured as company H became surrounded.
With his regiment formed on the field, Lt. Colonel Clanton had easy pickings until Colonel Buckland arrived with an additional one hundred men of companies A, D, and I of the 72nd Ohio. Surrounded on the hill, Captain Raymond weathered an assault on foot by Troop I of the 1st Alabama and turned his company about and charged for the rear, breaking up an attempt by the 1st Alabama to block his egress. Captain Raymond would return his company mostly unscathed while company H would lose several more men in their attempt to escape.
With the arrival of reinforcements from the 72nd Ohio, the skirmishing became desultory until the arrival of the 5th Ohio Cavalry, who secured the Union hold of the field and pushed the 1st Alabama all the way to the artillery battery when they prudently turned around and marched back to camp.
It is intriguing to read the account by Colonel Buckland in The war of the rebellion; Series 1 – volume 10 (part 1) pg. 91 when you understand that just one more day later the great battle of Shiloh will occur. Other signs were clearly visible that a grand movement of Johnston’s Army of Mississippi was happening and this was not just a random skirmish but an accidental blundering of forces. The two companies of the 72nd, separated and surrounded at one time were close to revealing an attack that would dwarf any battle that had been fought to this time in the war. The numbers of troops involved were small but the obvious impact of this event, if it had been evaluated differently, are immense.
The first novel in the Shiloh Series, They Met at Shiloh, will be free for Kindle on 10/10 to 10/12.
“Spirit of Freedom” memorial for the USCT and Navy service of free blacks in the civil war, Ft. Myers Fl.
I had opportunity to read the first chapter of an independently written work about a black man at the end of the civil war. If you haven’t ever seen this site before, I’d recommend you check it out: historical chapters.blogspot.com. The owner is an author herself and takes chapter submissions, posts them, and then invites comments and suggestions from readers. If you write historical fiction and want a short beta read of your best chapter, I’d recommend submitting something.
I was intrigued and started skimming, reading lightly so I could see the author’s command of military knowledge and in general civil war aptitude. Sometimes a little knowledge can be a bad thing. I found that there were some things that I knew were not exactly right from my own research into the USCT, officer selection, USCT regiment numbering, where they saw action, when recruiting started, etc.
I won’t comment further on the work in particular but it got me to pondering the role of historical record and forming a story around it. Clearly, if it is fiction it didn’t happen with these characters, with these thoughts, with these experiences etc. So, there is a level of license that is to be expected in any work of historical fiction. For me, I was derailed by the blaring inaccuracies (blaring because of what I know) and unfortunately could not finish reading all of it nor comment (it’s probably not a good practice for authors to comment unsolicited on other works lest the negatives be taken to heart and a tit for tat ensue where no one wins).
Personally, it is the little details that make the world work for me. It is fairly easy for me to read something written by someone with only a cursory knowledge of the civil war military to see some holes and then be thrown out of the world they are creating. So, I endeavor to be a detail oriented as I can (I will still find I’ve made mistakes by relying on memory for something that I could have easily looked up). This is not the authors fault, that I have a deep understanding and knowledge of how USCT regiments were formed and organized. For me, this just adds other levels to anything that I write in building a scene or making an interaction between two individuals. There are probably no details that are not usable in a narrative of fiction and there’s always another level of understanding to be had when researching.
I suppose I write this way for me or for someone like me and I lived in fear when I published They Met at Shiloh for this very version of me as a reader to pop up and find some detail that I missed or was incorrect about. I’ve not encountered that person yet (save for in the mirror). I have blogged before about this struggle Drama or History, who wins?. I’ve not resolved that yet, but this latest thing has only brought me closer to how I regard history and minutia of fact in story building. It has also for me highlighted the need to really know what I am writing about lest I become too cavalier with building that story and leave holes for someone to shoot through. Writing and publishing is hard work and we have our reasons for what we write and why.
If I want to be excellent at what I do I need to find that balance between story telling (and the freedom to tell the story) and historical fact and with some mind of me as a reader. I do not write nonfiction history. There are others who are far better at it than I. I want to teach through story telling and I think this is what sometimes drives my fanaticism in getting the details correct. For me, these details and teaching moments drive my story telling.
I’m not sure I’ve answered the question posed by this post satisfactorily for myself, but this has become the thing that has consumed me for these past few days.
I wrote this short story sometime in the early part of last decade after staring at a copy of a daguerrotype of myself and my brother that we’d paid for at the 135th Chickamauga reenactment in 2003. I wrote it after the experience my brother had at his first reenactment and the adventure of what the real 15th Wisconsin went through 135 years earlier. It is about two brothers (fictionalized) and the harrowing experience of this regiment as it was blindly marched into a thick wood only to run into a confederate brigade that had just smashed another Union brigade. Heg’s brigade (Hans Christian Heg) of Davies’ Division would die not far from where the regiments first entered the wood and stood for a short time before being forced to retreat. Their experience was indicative of both sides as the fighting see-sawed back and forth over the Vinniard Farm.
I always have a lot of history sprinkled through my stories, I guess it is the teacher in me. For today only, Two Struck Images is FREE for Kindle owners (if you’ve not a kindle to your name, the Kindle Cloud Reader is also free and the short story can be read on your PC/Mac).
I ran an earlier poll on the title as there was some initial confusion on the part of my cover designer as to how the title should be formatted. I went back and forth with myself over it. Some people were confused, some intrigued, some thought it enough to want to read the blurb. After some time of chewing on all of the advice and offered title suggestions I decided to stick with the original given that it plays such an important role in the story itself. But, that is the danger of all of my inside knowledge. I think the title is what it should be, but there is a world of opinion when it comes to each consumer and what will be liked or be explanatory enough to draw further interest. Two Struck Images
Book #2 in my civil war series is finished as far as the first draft is concerned and now I’m knee deep in the rewrite. I had a character jump back into the WIP, a character I’d excised as the storyline just wasn’t feeling right. So, mid way through this year it made sense to reintroduce him and he plays a part in the climax of the novel after all. Actually, he has become one of the main characters again (I say again, he was a main character in TMAS). So, I’ve made one pass through my hard copy making notes and cutting sections out that didn’t fit or needed to be reworked and decided that this characters actions after Shiloh needed to be highlighted.
The campaign to take Corinth, Mississippi had been General Halleck’s goal since establishing a presence at Pittsburg Landing and ordering the Army of the Ohio to link up with Grant’s Army of the Tennessee. Pope’s Army of the Mississippi was also to cooperate, leading three armies to converge on Corinth, where Confederate General A.S. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard were concentrated. Shiloh disrupted all of that and nearly wrecked Halleck’s overall plans. Unfortunately for the Confederates Johnston is killed and they fail to destroy the Army of the Tennessee. Now, however, after a month of refitting Halleck is ready to try again at the beginning of May.
Book #2 (tentative title Certain Death) picks up after the battle of Shiloh where a new character has been captured and some old characters are preparing to march south from Pittsburg Landing to a fate unknown. In reading the report of Nelson’s division (where Ammen’s brigade is, a clue to anyone who remembers what characters were in Ammen’s brigade) I’d read that there was a delay in movement forward from Mount Olivet Church where the division camped for a few days before moving on due to two days of heavy rain fall that destroyed the bridges and corduroy roads they’d spent the first few days of May constructing (this area between Corinth and Pittsburg Landing is cut by numerous creeks and marshy lowlands that were impassable for heavy, wheeled artillery and supply trains as well as cavalry, barely so for infantry).
So, knowing all of this I decided to add this little happenstance as part of the story, the destruction of the bridges due to too much water flow, the problem of getting supplies to the forward divisions, the danger of trying to repair the pontoon bridges and keep them secure in the middle of the creeks overflowing, the possibility that someone will be swept downstream in an accident. So, I got to chugging along in a dramatic scene that was to chronicle the attempts to secure the pontoon bridge in heavy rain and a swift current and what that might look like. Soon my creek became a river of some unknown breadth from bank to bank and the pontoon bridge of perhaps thirty feet or more long and the water possibly above a man’s head.
Yesterday as I sat to finish the scene the disaster was complete and my MC was swept downstream. I stopped to go back to my source as it occurred to me that I should know where this little creek was to lead to, was it leading towards the confederate lines? How wide was it really if my MC is to let go of what he is clinging to and swim for the nearest bank? It was then that I realized I’d not gotten down to my regimental reports of the 30 day period and learned that my MC’s regiment wasn’t at Mount Olivet Church but still on the north side of one of these creeks and further was prevented from crossing due to damage done by this rain storm. I’d had them on the south side and going back to do the repairs.
These are niggling little details. What side of a creek a unit was on in this little narrative of a minor event probably does not deserve all of the angst and reworking of the details but it would have bugged me all the same. If I make a mistake in error and ignorance that is my bad, but to make it when I know better is something that I cannot abide. In this sense, the drama becomes emptied of its truth if I knowingly record some errors that are easily discovered if someone means to do so.
In the end, I altered some of the details of the event to fit the truth and kept the dramatic scene of the disaster in place, fixing some historic details to suit my own conscience. There’s detail in the reports of General Nelson (Division commander) that initially set me to building the scene but I’d neglected to dig down into the regimental reports where finer details existed and called my initial assumptions into question. But, in the end, history won out where it was important to me to get right and the scene of the disaster was honed to be more realistic for a creek based on the other details gleaned from the brigade reports of each regiment.