Category Archives: Catahoula Books

UPDATE: The Avenging Angel Is Live!

B3 AA Cover Master1The Avenging Angel, Book Three of the Catahoula Chronicles Series is live. Meanwhile, here is a short excerpt from the book.

Set up: Ethan has been seeking revenge for three murders and has been harassing those responsible who also happen to be members of a recently formed secret organization, the Ku Klux Klan. What he is doing is dangerous, and he ends up getting shot. Wounded, he can’t go home because Rachel is unaware of his nightly activities, so he goes to the only other person he can trust.

*****

I heard a scream behind me and turned to look. One of my pursuers had hit a low hanging branch and was unhorsed. His companion stopped to help him but decided to take one last shot at me first.

The ball hit me in my left thigh just below the hip, but I could not stop to examine the extent of my wound and kept pressing hard until I came out on a road and turned south. Fearing some were pursuing, I pressed on until I was sure I was not being followed. I reined in Pepper and looked behind me and saw no one, nor did I hear any sounds of hooves. Assuming I had lost my pursuers, I turned Pepper to get more moonlight on my leg and found an entry wound but no exit. The ball was still inside—and had to come out. I couldn’t go back to Catahoula for help. I would be discovered. There was only one other place to go, so I tied a bandana around my wound to stem the flow of blood, pulled off my mask and hood and stuffed them in my haversack, and headed for Big Cypress.

The house was in complete darkness when I arrived at Big Cypress sometime around three in the morning. I knew Laura used the front bedroom on the right side and eased out of the saddle to gather a few pebbles from the drive. Not wishing to awaken the servants or her father, I tossed a pebble against her window. Nothing happened. I realized I still had old Zeke’s hat on and tossed it under the bushes beside the house. I was just about to toss another pebble at the window when I saw a face peering down at me—Laura.

“Ethan? What are you doing here?”

“I need help, Laura. I’ve been shot.”

“My goodness! I’ll be right down.”

“But don’t wake anyone, please.”

A few moments later, she appeared in her dressing gown at the front door and let me in. “You needn’t worry. Father is asleep in his bedroom. How bad is it?”

“Just bad enough I can’t go home like this.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Get the ball out and dress it.”

She helped me into the butler’s pantry in the back and lit a lamp. “Drop your trousers, then hop up on the table and let me have a look.”

I slipped my belt and loosed my fly to let my trousers down to my knees and painfully climbed onto the table.

“I’ll save you the embarrassment of making you remove your unmentionables.” With that she grabbed them by the bullet hole and ripped the leg open. “Hmmm, childhood, Virginia three years ago and now this? Seems like you are dropping your trousers for me a lot more than maybe you should, and yet we never…”

“That’s enough, Laura.”

“Just a little levity for the situation,” she replied as she wiped away the blood. “Nice clean hole. No fabric from the trousers or your drawers seems to be in the hole, so maybe you can avoid infection.”

She retrieved a bottle of brandy from the shelf and liberally doused a cloth with it. “This’ll burn a little, and you may want to take a few shots before I start probing for the ball.”

“You’ve done this before?”

“Kind of late to be asking that question, seeing as I have you on my operating table, so to speak. But to answer your question, yes I have—at least I watched the surgeons remove more than a few balls in that hospital in Richmond I found you in back in ‘63.”

I took a long pull of the brandy. “That seems like an eternity ago.”

“Yes it does,” she replied as she felt around the outside of the wound with her fingers. “You may be in luck and get to avoid my oh-so-delicate probing with my finger. The ball is right under the skin about two inches from the hole.”

I looked where she was pointing and did see a slight protrusion under the skin. “How’re you going to get it out?”

She pulled open a drawer in the server and retrieved a sharp knife and a stone. As she went to lapping the knife on the stone, she said, “Cut it out. I suggest you have another pull on that bottle.”

*****

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The Awakening

Book 2 1Excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years

In that September of 1862, the giddy victories of the year before had given way to the soul-numbing realities of a brutal and bloody war. Beginning with the Valley Campaign in the early spring and continuing all summer through to Sharpsburg, what had seemed glorious the year before became for all a dreaded experience that promised only more pain, suffering, and death. Those who believed this war would be over quickly came face-to-face with the sobering realization that it would likely go on for a long while and cost many more lives.

Thomas Paine once said of another war, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” When a man’s soul is tested by the worst of what life can throw at him, especially when he looks death in the face, he becomes contemplative of his mortality. Unnoticed by all but a very few, a change was taking place; an “awakening” was slowly spreading over the army. It would begin in the Army of Northern Virginia and eventually spread to all of the armies of the Confederacy. It would profoundly impact the lives of the many soldiers touched by it, and it would eventually be felt elsewhere in the nation long after the war ended.

*****

In An Eternity of Four Years an entire chapter is dedicated to an event that took place in the Army of Northern Virginia during the war. Chapter 16 is titled “The Awakening” and focuses on two points. The first is the spiritual awakening that took place during the war and the beginning of Ethan’s spiritual recovery from his lapses in judgment and bouts of self-pity over losing Rachel.

As the above excerpt from Chapter 16 of An Eternity of Four Years suggests, the “sobering realization” of what the war was about (seeing the elephant), and when men “look death in the face,” they do indeed become “contemplative” of their mortality. Such a man then becomes much more open to the calling of God.

Both sides of the conflict experienced this awakening but in different ways. The North had many Catholics in its ranks and the intensity of the awakening was not as strong as in the southern armies, which had far more evangelical Protestant members. It is estimated that over 100,000 men came to Christ during this period in the South, while some 100,000 to 200,000 did so in the much larger northern army. That represents about 10% of all who served. Most of those new Christians who survived the war went home taking their new faith with them to become active members of local churches and evangelists for Christ. Thus what they experienced during the war was felt long after it by those they touched with the Gospel message.

I have already discussed how Major General Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson was a great man of faith. So were many other southern leaders, including General Robert E. Lee. While Lincoln’s government did encourage spiritual matters in the military, even providing for chaplains in each regiment, the southern government was not as supportive until later in the war. People like Lee, Jackson, and Leonidus Polk, the “fighting bishop,” strongly encouraged the regiments to see to the spiritual needs of the soldiers.

Local churches back home were encouraged to send “spiritual men” to act as chaplains in the various regiments. Because of the awakening, there was a serious need for Bibles and New Testaments for the soldiers to read. The South didn’t have the resources to meet these printing needs, and the blockaded ports seriously limited their ability to import religious material from Europe. Local churches and Bible societies attempted to fill the gap and print religious tracts, especially those giving the Gospel. Even some northern Bible societies sent tracts south.

Chaplains and men referred to as “colporters”* would pass out what Bibles and tracts they could get, but they never had enough to meet the need. When the colporter showed up in camp, they would be swamped by the men clamoring for tracts. A simple tract on the Gospel would be cherished by the man who had it as if it were the most expensive Bible with gilded pages, reading it over and over until he memorized it.

B3 AA Cover Master1In The Avenging Angel, I introduced a new character who helps Ethan in his efforts against the Klan. He is known only as “Brother Samuel.” He was in the army with Ethan and seriously wounded at First Manassas. After that Brother Samuel became a colporter with the various regiments from Louisiana. He not only supplies Ethan with information he needs in his role as The Avenging Angel, but he also acts as Ethan’s spiritual conscience, sometimes gently chastising him for what he is doing—taking revenge on the murderers of his friends.

God often uses terrible human events to further the Gospel message and call people to Christ. The American Civil War was one such time when He spoke to men through their suffering. If only we would listen more.

*Also rendered colporteur from the French for a peddler of books, usually religious material such as Bibles and religious tracts.

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The Hog Hunt

Here is another scene from The Avenging Angel, Book Three of the series. In Book One, The Last Day of Forever, there is another hog hunting scene. This one takes place ten years after that one. They have just arrived on the scene where the Catahoula dogs have a hog cornered. Little Zeke has not been seen since The Last Day of Forever. Theo is a new character in The Avenging Angel.

*****

Catahoula Map

We dismounted, and I retrieved two short ropes from my saddlebags. “You flip and I sit? Or I flip and you sit?” I asked Little Zeke.

He looked down at that hog, which was one about medium size, less than two hundred pounds.

Before he could answer, Theo did. “I’ll flip, you two old men take it easy and sit.”

We both looked at the grinning Theo like he might have had two heads.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“That puny little piglet ain’t no match for me. I’ll flip.”

Zeke frowned. “You ever done this before?”

“Plenty. We gonna jawbone about it or shall we get to it before he hurts one of the dogs?”

I looked at Little Zeke with my face wrinkled in a frown. He shrugged and said, “The boy says he can do it. Let him have at it, I say.”

“Very well, Theo. The pleasure is yours.”

Theo bowed deeply. “Thank you. You have the ropes ready?”

I held them up. “At your service, sir.”

“Then let’s get after it.”

“You coming?” I asked my father.

Pernell threw a leg over the pommel of his saddle and leaned forward. “This looks like it could get interesting, and I’m too old to outrun a hog, besides it could get a bit crowded down there with all of us. I’ll watch from up here.”

I tipped my hat. “Have it your way, but you’ll miss all the fun.”

“I doubt that,” he muttered under his breath.

We made our way down the side of the low ridge to the bottom. The hog was more interested in the dogs, and we tried to approach him from his rear to keep him from taking any interest in us. That didn’t last long. With Theo leading, Zeke and I following close behind, we were within about fifteen feet of the hog, when he suddenly turned on the two dogs on his left side and spotted us. He kind of lost all interest in the dogs then and came after us with the dogs in hot pursuit.

It was time to find a tree.

Zeke went one way. I went another, and the hog stayed on Theo. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone run so fast as that boy did that morning. Theo rounded a tree and reversed course on the hog. It took the pig but a second to figure out what had happened and reverse course, himself. Theo lit out, but the hog was gaining.

The boy headed for a tree with a branch hanging about six feet off the ground, and the hog was but three or four feet behind him—and catching up. I figured Theo would grab that branch and swing up into the safety of the tree, but he did something I have never seen before. He did grab the branch, but, hanging by his hands, he swung up and over the branch as the hog passed under and slid to a stop, confused and looking for Theo.

Completing his orbit of the branch, the boy landed right behind the hog, and pretty as you please, he reached down and grabbed him by his hocks, lifted his rear end off the ground, and flipped him on his side.

I looked at Zeke, and he looked at me. Neither of us could believe what we had just seen.

Theo still holding the squealing hog by his hocks and keeping him down on its side. “You two old men just going to stand there, or are you goin’ to come an’ help me?”

“Comin’, boss,” I replied as we rushed over and sat down on the pig’s side, pinning it. I handed Theo the ropes, and he hogtied it.

Zeke and I stood, and Theo stepped back, and with his hands on his hips he looked at the subdued hog with a smile of triumph on his face. “And that, gentlemen, is how you flip a pig.”

Zeke looked at me and shook his head. “In all the times we chased hogs together, I ain’t never seen you do a trick like that.”

I put my arm around Theo’s shoulders and grinned at Zeke. “I taught him everything he knows.”

His brow wrinkled, Theo looked up at me. “Even in your prime, you couldn’t have done that.”

I playfully slapped him behind his head. “Hush, boy, or you’ll be sleeping with the pig tonight.”

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The Brave Rifles

Near the end of my book, The Last Day of Forever, I have my main character, Ethan, as a young second lieutenant in a unit called the 1st Regiment of Mounted Riflemen out in New Mexico Territory. They did exist—and still do. Here are some highlights of what I discovered in my research for this portion of the book and this particular regiment.

3rd ACR copy

The Regiment of Mounted Riflemen was created as a very early version of a modern mechanized infantry regiment, in a manner of speaking, that is. They were mounted on horses and rode to the fight, but once there, they dismounted and generally fought on foot. They were also issued rifled muskets instead of the usual smooth bore muskets the infantry of that period carried (prior to 1861) or the much hated Dragoon muskets carried by other mounted troops. The Dragoon muskets were inaccurate, and the ball was prone to rolling out of the barrel if the barrel was pointed downward. In my book I have the Brave Rifles armed with Sharps carbines. I could not determine if they were actually so armed prior to the Civil War or not. Some mounted units were indeed armed with Sharps during the prewar period, so I took a little artistic license on that point.

The Sharps carbine was a breech loading weapon (verses muzzle loading, which means it was loaded from the back or breech end instead of the muzzle end). This made reloading much faster and easier, especially on horseback. The cartridges of the early model Sharps were made of paper and contained powder and a bullet. The trigger guard/lever was swung down, dropping the breech block to expose the chamber for inserting the cartridge. Once loaded, the lever was returned to the closed position, and the breech block closed with a sharp edge clipping off the back of the paper and exposing the powder to the priming charge. A primer cap was inserted over the nipple. Pulling the trigger dropped the hammer on the primer, igniting it and in turn the powder charge. Being rifled, they were much more accurate and had longer effective ranges than the other smooth bore arms of that period. Later model Sharps used metallic cartridges that were fully self-contained; projectile, powder, and primer cap all in a brass case. The longer rifle versions of the Sharps became favorites of buffalo hunters. If you ever saw the movie Quigley Down Under with Tom Selleck, it was a Sharps rifle that Matthew Quigley used.

Sharps Model 1853 Military Rifle

1853 Military Sharps

The Regiment of Mounted Riflemen was formed in May of 1846. Under various names, it has seen action in all of America’s major conflicts since then, including The Mexican-American War, The Indian Wars, The Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and WWII, as well as service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was in the Mexican-American War in 1847 that the regiment got its nickname, “Brave Rifles,” and its motto, “Blood and Steel.” After several major engagements, the exhausted regiment was visited by General Winfield Scott. He had come to order the regiment to Churubsco for an even more difficult battle. He removed his hat, bowed low, and said: “Brave Rifles! Veterans! You have been baptized in fire and blood and have come out steel!” Even today members of the unit greet each other thusly: An enlisted trooper renders military courtesy to an officer by saluting and yelling out “Brave Rifles!” The officer will return the salute and reply just as loudly, “Veterans!”

The regiment is also thought to be the origin of “Gringo,” the modern Hispanic slang for an American. The regimental marching song, which dates back to the Middle Ages, is named “Green Grow the Rushes, Ho!” Legend has it the Mexicans slurred the “green grow” into “gringo.”

In 1848 the regiment returned to Jefferson Barracks, MO where it was originally formed, and in 1849 was sent on a grueling march all the way to Oregon Territory. Two years later, they returned to Jefferson Barracks and were officially designated as the 1st Regiment of Mounted Riflemen (previously without the “1st” designation), because the Army expected to raise two more such regiments. That never happened.

In 1851 the regiment was ordered to Texas, and in 1856, they moved further west into New Mexico Territory. (Ethan joins the regiment in 1860 and resigns in early 1861.) They had a very large territory to police and never enough troopers to do so.

With the advent of the Civil War, all mounted regiments were organized as cavalry, and the 1st Regiment of Mounted Riflemen became the 3d US Cavalry Regiment. They fought in the Civil War, mostly in the western theater, first in Texas and later in Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

In 1866 the Brave Rifles were ordered back to New Mexico Territory to campaign against the Indians.

Old_Bill_Cavalry_Mascot_Poster

In 1898 the Brave Rifles arrived in Tampa, FL for deployment to Cuba during the Spanish American War. The famous western artist, Fredrick Remington, was visiting the regiment’s camp. One of the regiment’s NCOs, Sergeant John Lannen, caught his attention as representing what Remington considered to the epitome of the American cavalryman, and he sketched him. The drawing eventually became known as “Old Bill.”

During World War I, the regiment deployed to Europe and saw only limited action, but during WWII, they traded in their horses for armored vehicles and were reorganized as the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, serving in Europe. It was troopers from Troop B, Reconnaissance Squadron of the 3d ACR that were the first Americans to cross into Germany, albeit only a short excursion to prevent the Germans from blowing a vital bridge.

The Brave Rifles served in Iraq during Desert Storm. In 100 hours, they covered over 300 miles, rolling over three Iraqi divisions in the process. They also served in Bosnia and more tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2011 they were renamed yet again as the 3d Cavalry Regiment and traded in their heavy armor for lighter and faster Stryker armored vehicles. They are currently based at Fort Hood, Texas.

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The Avenging Angel

I have been asked if I plan to write a third book in the Catahoula Series. I do and am working on it now.

It begins in July of 1866, a year after An Eternity of Four Years ends, and carries the reader into that period after the War Between the States called “Reconstruction.” In many respects, Reconstruction was as bad as the war was for the South. Racial tensions ran extremely high and often exploded into violence as the former “rulers” (the planters) attempted to regain some semblance of control over the shattered southern economy and their former servants (the freedmen). The antebellum system of authority was broken by the war and emancipation. In its place, a new system emerged that more resembled chaos. As one would expect, the planters didn’t take well to the change.

Some northern interests wanted the South severely punished for what they had done and saw Reconstruction as a chance to extract that punishment. Southern culture and traditions were turned upside down, and southerners struggled to deal with the changes while attempting to make a living (avoid starving), pay taxes on unproductive property, and rebuild the South.

Out of the chaos came organizations like the Klan and later The White League and the Knights of the White Camellia along with all the violence, mostly against African Americans, that was part of that.

The working title for Book 3 is The Avenging Angel (which is subject to change). It tells the story of Rachel and Ethan attempting to build their lives together in the middle of all this. Along with the familiar characters Ethan, Rachel, Analee, and Pernell, you will meet a few new ones, and see a couple of old ones come back into the story you have not seen since Book 1. Ever wonder what happened to Brandy and Zeke after they ran away?

It is a work in progress that I have only outlined and written a few chapters. A lot of research needs to be done, and story details remain to be worked out, written, and edited before it will be published. I hate date setting, because I am always wrong, but I hope to have it published by the summer of 2016. I will do the best I can, but don’t hold me to that.

Meanwhile, here is the opening scene from chapter 1 of The Avenging Angel to wet your whistle.

*****

From Rachel‘s Diary

28 July 1866

I knew, by the stern expression on my husband’s face, that he was nearing the limits of his patience. Listening to Mr. Waldo T. Pettigrew expound upon how he had been sent by Washington to repair the broken South and lead it from its wayward rebellious ways back into the Union fold. In his tone, you could hear the man’s utter contempt for people like us, southerners, whom he considered to be beneath his station, and that was not sitting well with Ethan.

Four years of war tends to change a man, and I knew it had affected my husband in ways I was yet to fully understand, but I was sure his tolerance level for carpetbaggers, like this one come to bring us the way, the truth, and the light of his enlightened existence, was much diminished.

“Can you swim?” Ethan asked him in a dry, matter-of-fact manner.

Upon hearing that, I frowned as I looked over the rail of the riverboat at the swirling, muddy waters of the Mississippi passing below. I knew exactly what he had in mind to do. “Ethan, please don’t.”

As this pompous ass pontificated on his considerable swimming ability, being as he was from the Atlantic Coast, Ethan noted my pleading expression punctuated by my arched eyebrow expressing my displeasure, a trick I learned from his mother. Thus admonished, he tipped his hat to Mr. Pettigrew and excused himself from his company.

I lingered for a moment when Pettigrew inquired of me, “Why did he suddenly leave? Did I say something that offended him?”

I smiled. “I believe he found your attitude toward the South offensive, as did I. And I would advise you to temper your speech during your stay in Louisiana—unless you fancy wearing tar and feathers.”

Mr. Pettigrew’s shocked expression indicated he clearly understood my meaning. “But—why did he ask if I could swim?”

“Because, you, sir, were about two seconds away from him grabbing you by the scruff of your skinny neck and the seat of your finely tailored trousers and tossing you overboard. You are not treading water right now, only because I asked him not to do it.”

His expression went blank as he took a deep breath and sighed before replying barely above a hoarse, stuttering whisper, “I–I lied. I can’t swim.”

I shrugged. “Then I just saved your life.”

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Dispatches From The Front #8

After Action Report

We are home again and I am mostly recovered from the trip. We learned a lot; at least I did. I came away with a greater understanding of the American Civil War and how very difficult it was on those who fought it, especially the Confederates, who were not nearly as well supplied as the soldiers from the North—not that they had it easy-peasy either, but they were better equipped and supplied. Late in the war, many Confederates were shoeless and their uniforms were rags or a mixture of military and civilian clothing.

I also came away with a greater understanding of the brutality of the war and its staggering loss of life. For those who survived and returned home, it is hard to imagine most did not suffer from PTSD or “nostalgia” as they called it back then. I have seen no records on that, and likely they don’t even exist. I suspect it was the faith of many that precluded at least some of that. Which brings me to ….

I brought back only one souvenir, a book I purchased in the gift shop at the Gettysburg Battlefield, Christ in the Camp by J. Williams Jones, first published in 1886. Jones was a chaplain in the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV), and his book is about the Awakening or Great Revival that took place during the war, especially in the ANV. I devoted a whole chapter to this in An Eternity of Four Years (Chapter 16). Ethan was a man of faith, and also a man “fallen from grace” because of his loss of Rachel and the situation he found himself in (the war) that prevented his searching for her. That chapter was one of the moments he recovered his faith, at least for a while, and attempted to respond to God’s calling for him. It gives some details on this Great Awakening that took place.

Christ in the Camp is full of interesting stories from many soldiers of many denominations. I am barely through about 20% of the book and will be writing more about this in future posts. If these men in the book are examples of what Christianity is suppose to look like, then we are badly missing the mark today. Their faith pervaded everything they did. They lived what they believed. For example, General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s application of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 …pray without ceasing… was eye-opening for me. (I will explain that in a future post.) Today, we often just go through the motions of being spiritual.

Did they get everything right? No, because like us they were fallen men. They got slavery wrong, for one thing, and used Scripture to support their position. But keep in mind, not everyone then was an ardent Bible-reading/believing Christian that lived the Life of Christ through faith. Some were merely “Bible-thumpers” that used Scripture for their own ends. We sometimes have a tendency to read into Scripture what we want to see there, and I suspect a lot of that was happening in the South. It would be unfair to judge all Christians by those kinds of “Christians.”

One thing that has come out in what I have read so far is the issue of slavery is rarely if ever mentioned associated with the war. What they speak of in the many letters and comments is their desire to build a new nation free from a tyrannical government seeking to subject them through force and protect their homes and families from the invaders. For them, the fight was a “good fight.” Today, we look back and see that “good fight” tarnished by the issue of slavery, but that was not their perspective.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of Dispatches From The Front. I certainly enjoyed writing and experiencing them.

I will close with an excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years, Chapter 16 – The Awakening.

*****

Cornfield

The Cornfield

The long line of caissons and cannons, ambulances, supply wagons, and weary men crossed the Potomac and slowly plodding south away from the killing fields of Sharpsburg, Maryland. The army was both physically and mentally spent, incapable of taking the field again anytime soon. It needed to rest, to recover, rebuild and re-equip before it would again be an army.

In that September of 1862, the giddy victories of the year before had given way to the soul-numbing realities of a brutal and bloody war. Beginning with the Valley Campaign in the early spring and continuing all summer through to Sharpsburg, what had seemed glorious the year before became for all a dreaded experience that promised only more pain, suffering, and death. Those who believed this war would be over quickly came face-to-face with the sobering realization that it would likely go on for a long while and cost many more lives.

Thomas Paine once said of another war, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” When a man’s soul is tested by the worst of what life can throw at him, especially when he looks death in the face, he becomes contemplative of his mortality. Unnoticed by all but a very few, a change was taking place; an “awakening” was slowly spreading over the army. It would begin in the Army of Northern Virginia and eventually spread to all of the armies of the Confederacy. It would profoundly impact the lives of the many soldiers touched by it, and it would eventually be felt elsewhere in the nation long after the war ended.

I first became aware of its presence during our withdrawal from Maryland. I was dismounted and walking along with Blue as we led our weary mounts south. One of the Tigers from the 1st Louisiana, his face still blackened with gunpowder from biting off the ends of the paper cartridges to reload his musket, a bloody bandage around his head, shoeless, and his uniform in tatters, stepped out of the formation and approached us. “Beggin’ yer pardon, Captain, may I have a word with you?”

“Of course,” I replied. “How may I be of service?”

That is when I noticed he was weeping though he tried to hide it. “Sir, I understand you are a good man, a godly man who knows the Scriptures, an’ I need to ask ya something.”

“What is it?”

“I ain’t much for church-goin’. Preachers just seem to preach, but I‘ve seen the Lord in you. I seen you in that bloody-awful Cornfield, how you helped the wounded, protected them, and gave comfort to the survivors when we were driven back to Dunker Church. You weren’t ‘fraid a nuthin’. They was balls flying all around you, but you weren’t scart at all. But I was scart, plumb scart of dying and especially knowing I’m going to hell. An’ I don’t want to go there. I been through enough hell right here, and I reckon the one in the Bible has be a whole lot worse.” He paused to collect his thoughts. “Something happened to me in that Cornfield, and some of the boys said you were the man I need to speak to about it.”

*****

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Dispatches From The Front #7

PrintWashington DC

During the Civil War, Washington DC spent many of those years under some level of threat from the Confederates. The main reason for that was many of the engagements in Northern Virginia often took place only a day’s march from the city. Until the final stages of the war, Lincoln’s war strategy always had to consider the Confederate threat to Washington, and it was very real, especially early in the war.

One problem for Lincoln was the Shenandoah Valley to the west. The mouth of the valley at Harper’s Ferry was actually above Washington (to the Northwest) and only about 50 miles away. That meant any army emerging from the Shenandoah would be above Washington and, thus, an immediate threat to the city. Lee used this exact tactic no less than four times.

The first was Jackson’s Valley Campaign in the spring of 1862, in which the Louisiana Tigers, then led by Richard Taylor, played a major role. When Jackson took Winchester (in the Valley) and threatened Harper’s Ferry, Lincoln was forced to abandon his attacks on Richmond to defend his own capitol.

The second was later that year in September, when Lee invaded Maryland that ended at the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam). Technically, he did not use the Valley except for resupply.

The third was the following July when Lee did it again and went all the way to Gettysburg in Pennsylvania (almost due north of Washington).

The fourth was in 1864 when Early’s Corps drove the Federals from the Valley, briefly ending their scorched-earth policy of burning out the “breadbasket of Virginia.” He got close enough to present a “threat” to Washington with artillery bombardment of some of its defenses. He was, of course, incapable of actually taking Washington, thus the quotation marks, but it threw the city into a brief panic. The Louisiana Tigers were part of Early’s Corps then, but a shadow of their former selves due to casualties over the previous three years.

Like most cities near the front in wartime, it was full of uniformed men going about the deadly business of managing a war. Washington was a city that seemed always under threat, and thus its citizens must have spent much of the war concerned about that. But life did go on, even during wartime.

Excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years, Chapter 27 – Friends and Lies

*****

From Rachel’s Diary

25 December 1864

Last night was Christmas Eve, and while there was little joy in my heart, I decided I needed to at least go through the motions.

Taylor asked me to a party at a hotel near the Capitol. I was expecting it to be interesting enough to improve my frame of mind, and perhaps I could be shed of the melancholy mood I was in. He arrived early, splendidly dressed in a finely tailored uniform. I had a new gown made for the occasion in the hope it would help cheer me up.

As I was making my last minute preparations in the hall mirror with Taylor waiting impatiently nearby, grinning as if he knew some secret, he finally blurted out, “Is this going to take all night? You look even more beautiful than I have ever seen you look.”

I smiled at him. “Thank you for the lovely compliment.” I turned to face him. “Very well. I’m ready. Why are you in such a hurry?”

At first he looked down as if embarrassed then back at me. “Because I have a surprise for you.”

“Oh, Taylor, what have you done? There is a war going on.”

He stepped closer and dropped to one knee. I gasped. “Would the loveliest lady in Washington do me the honor of becoming my bride?” And he produced an opal and diamond ring.

*****

Note: You may have noticed this takes place while Ethan is “hanging” at Fort Delaware.

Report:

I have enjoyed as much of this as I can stand! I am ready to go home! I walked nearly four miles today—so far—almost 11,000 steps, and I will have a good walk to dinner tonight that will push that number higher. (All this assumes the iPhone app is even remotely accurate.) And we haven’t gotten lost, at least not yet, and I am not sure I am up to tolerating any aimless wondering tonight.

Capitol Nite

The Capitol building is under some kind of renovation.

We arrived in Washington just as the Million Man March Anniversary was ending. Maybe you heard of it? (Sarcasm off.) They trashed the place. All around the Capitol is a sea of portable toilets and overflowing trash cans. And, I think our hotel was the HQ? I left my Civil War Trust cap in the room, just in case. Actually, its only purpose is to preserve CW battlefields, but explaining that and American history to some might be more than they can handle, especially when they are shouting “Down with America!”

Today we toured two Smithsonian Museums, the Air and Space version and the American History version. Fun but exhausting. Interesting begins to lose its interest when your back feels like someone is stabbing you with an ice pick. But I gutted it out.

Tomorrow I am going home. Whoo hoo!

Is that a bad attitude?

We are planning to do this again next year, but fewer days and somewhere else. I think everyone is tired.

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Dispatches From The Front #6

Book 2 12 August 1864

Fort Delaware

Sitting in the middle of the Delaware River about 9 miles south of Wilmington, is Fort Delaware. Designed to protect Wilmington and Philadelphia from attack from the sea, this imposing and impregnable granite and brick fortress sits on little Pea Patch Island. Pea Patch was so named because a shipment of pea seeds were lost overboard and ended up growing on the island. Much of it is at sea level and underwater when the river runs high with spring runoffs.

The fort was finished just before the recent rebellion began and has, thus far, not served its purpose of defending upriver citizens. Its isolated location in the middle of the Delaware River, however, rendered it a perfect prison for captured rebels and those opposed to the measures taken by the government in defense of the nation. The North calls them “traitors,” but in the south they are called “political prisoners.”

Among those held illegally is one Reverend, Isaac W. K. Handy, a Presbyterian minister, arrested the previous summer (1863). He is a man of proud bearing and a ready smile. After a careless remark at a dinner party, the Reverend found himself a guest in the infamous Fort Delaware prison.

The prison facilities inside the massive walls of the fortress are reserved for high ranking Confederates and the political prisoners. Their accommodations are demonstrably superior to those housing the lower ranking officers and enlisted men living in shabbily built barracks, where they are forced to wash themselves and their eating utensils in the putrid water of the canals running through their fenced confines.

Because of its location, escape from Fort Delaware is a fool’s errand, risking life and limb in the frigid and dangerous currents of the Delaware River. One has little choice but to endure the squalid conditions of the prison and hope the war ends soon.

Guards are often sadistic and some take pot shots at prisoners if they act suspiciously or do not quickly obey orders. Commanding the guards are Captain George W. Ahl and Lieutenant Abraham G Wolf. Both gentlemen, if one can even call them that, have the lowest respect for mankind, especially Confederate prisoners and often abuse their charges at will. General A. Schoepf is Fort Delaware’s commanding officer and seems to allow Ahl and Wolf freedom to have their way with the prisoners.

While there are many rumors of prisons in the South with prisoners suffering under similar conditions, alleged by some to be even worse, one certainly does not want to find oneself incarcerated at Fort Delaware.

Excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years, Chapter 26 – Wolf’s Revenge

*****

The shackles were placed on my wrists, and they were tight. One guard tied a rope to the center of the chain connecting the two shackles and tossed the other end over a beam. Then two of them began hauling me up until my arms were fully extended over my head, and my toes barely touched the ground. I could neither hang from the shackles on my wrists comfortably nor support myself on my toes.

Wolf got in my face again, and like every encounter I had with him before, I could smell the alcohol on his breath. His eyes were glassy and he slurred some of his words.

“How long?” I asked.

He shrugged. “As long as I feel like.” He left two guards with me. “No one comes near him, understand?”

Christmas Eve and I was hanging from a beam like some ornament on a Christmas tree. My hands were already beginning to hurt, but I dared not show my discomfort to give them any satisfaction. It was to be a cold winter night, and I was not properly dressed to spend it outside. I knew if I hung there very long, my hands would eventually swell and turn purple, and I could lose their use.

*****

Author’s Note: Lieutenant Abraham Wolf and his immediate superior Captain George Ahl were real guards at Fort Delaware, and their attitudes towards the prisoners depicted in my book were true to what my research said about them. The hanging torture that Ethan endured on Christmas Eve 1864 was indeed practiced on Confederate prisoners at Fort Delaware. An author could not ask for better antagonists than these two, or a better name for one than Wolf.

Sources:

Images of Fort Delaware by Laura M. Lee and Brendan Mackie, Arcadia Publishing (Lieutenant Wolf is pictured on the cover of this one, seated second from the left)

Unlikely Allies, Fort Delaware’s Prison Community in the Civil War by Dale Fetzer and Bruce Mowday, Stockpole Books

Report:

Not much to report on Fort Delaware. After getting up at 6 in Gettysburg followed by a three hour drive to FD, we found it closed for the winter. The last weekend it was open was last weekend!

So, we packed up and headed for Dogfish Head Brewery, one of the most successful of the rapidly growing number of craft brewers, number 13 of over 3,000, a number changing almost daily. That was another hour and a half. We tested samples and took the tour. The place was indeed impressive, especially considering they started from nothing only 20 years ago.

Dogfish Brew

We then packed up and drove 2.5 hours to Washington DC, managing to take wrong turns only three times, and that was using iPhones and Google Maps.

I am tired and ready to come home!

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Dispatches From The Front #5

Book 2 16 July 1863

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Lee has once more crossed the Potomac and entered Maryland and Pennsylvania, capturing many towns and cities. The Confederates eventually massed near the little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, pushing the Yankees back to positions south of the town on Cemetery Hill and down to the Round Tops on their extreme left flank in the south. Federal positions were arrayed in the shape of a fishhook, with the hook end on the north end at Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill only a few hundred yards east.

Late on the first of July, Ewell’s Corps faced weak Yankee positions on Cemetery Hill and could have pushed them off if he had had reserves available to support any successes they were almost assured of. Instead, Ewell was compelled to hold until all of the Confederate Army could mass at Gettysburg. That meant Hays and the 1st Louisiana had to assault Cemetery Hill on the second of July after it had been heavily reinforced and its positions hardened by the Yankees.

To the South, a Confederate assault on positions on the Union left flank at the Round Tops proved a failure. At the other end of the battlefield when Confederates began their assaults on Culp’s Hill and nearby Cemetery Hill, the fight that went well on into the night. Hays’ Brigade of Louisiana Tigers overran the Federal positions on Cemetery Hill, briefly taking their gun line only to be pushed back when Meade brought up reinforcements.

On 3 July, Lee assumed the Union center to be weakened and ordered Pickett to attack the center after cannonading their lines. This famous attack also faltered. Suffering heavy losses, the Confederates were stopped at the very muzzles of the Yankee canons.

On 4 July, Lee withdrew and positioned his forces in preparation for a withdrawal on 5 and 6 July. Gettysburg was a decisive loss for Lee and surely is a major turning point in the war.

Ethan’s comments on the battle. An excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years, Chapter 19 – Close Enough to Touch

*****

LA Monument GettysburgI am sure what happened on 2 July of 1863 will be long debated by the historians. Some will say the Confederate advance ran out of steam after taking the Federal gun line to be pushed back by more northern brigades thrown into the fight.

Others will say the outcome would have been far different if only Rodes and Gordon had thrown everything they had into the battle to exploit what we had accomplished.

Still others will say it would not have mattered even if they had, because the Union forces would have been just too strong for the Confederates to push much beyond where we had.

But I believe the answer is more complicated than that. Looking at pure numbers does not tell the whole story. After the war, some who were there on the other side that night of 2 July told me the South almost won the whole thing. Had we exploited our gains and pushed even a little further, enough to at least appear as if we were threatening to cut the Baltimore Pike south of Cemetery Hill, whether actually able to or not, all Federal resistance might have collapsed for fear we were about to cut off their only supply and escape route.

It is claimed the high tide of the Confederacy was on 3 July with Pickett’s charge in the Federal center. I contend it was the night before at Cemetery Hill on the Federal right flank. Either way, the end of the war was sealed at Gettysburg, but it would drag on for nearly two more bloody years.

I do know this much: the Tigers from Louisiana complained that once again they had gained for the South the potential for a great victory, only for that opportunity to be lost for want of forces to exploit what we had won with our precious blood.

Note: The monument above is the Louisiana State Monument to its soldiers at Gettysburg. It was designed by the same man who did Mount Rushmore, John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum.

*****

Report:

Another exhausting day…. We toured the battlefield and learned a lot I had not read in the many histories of the Battle of Gettysburg I have read. The weather held—and since we had a driver who knew the place, we didn’t get lost again today!

I paid special attention to the events on Cemetery Hill, which was a major event in An Eternity of Four Years for my characters. Again, the scale of the locations surprised me. Winebrenner’s Run was closer to Cemetery Hill than I understood. And Cemetery Hill was smaller than I imagined.

Winebrenner's RunPhoto taken from the Federal gun line on Cemetery Hill, looking downhill to Winebrenner’s Run, which is in the trees only a few hundred yards away. If you read the book, you will know Hays’ Brigade (1st Louisiana) was stuck there from before sunrise until late in the afternoon of July 2—in the hot July sun.

Gun Line CemetaryThe Federal gun line on Cemetery Hill. The 1st Louisiana captured these guns but could not hold them.

We also visited the Gettysburg Cyclorama. I saw it when I was here nearly 20 years ago, but it has been completely restored and is housed in a new building. It is a 19th century version of a 3D movie, only nothing moves. They have skilfully blended real foreground items with the 360 degree painting. The viewpoint is from the very center of the battle on the third day of the battle from the point where the Confederates briefly broke the Union line. See if you can tell where the real 3D stuff ends and the painting begins in the attached image.

Cyclorama1

After the bus tour we finished our visit to the new museum. The exhibits are very well done and tell the story of the war from before it started to well past Reconstruction with emphasis on Gettysburg, naturally. If you ever get here don’t miss it.

Overall, what emerged is an appreciation for the complexity of this battle, not that the others we visited were very simple. Because of this battle’s importance, a major turning point in the war, you get a real feeling for how much was in the balance and how such small things things like timing made the difference between success and defeat both tactically and strategically for both sides. Misjudgment, such as Lee underestimating the strength of the Union center on July 3, is a good example. Tactically, his idea to hit the center was sound, because he had already hit both ends, which should have encouraged Meade to weaken the center to protect his already threatened and attacked flanks. But the center was much stronger than Lee thought, and much of the artillery bombardment from the Confederate side went long because of gun smoke obscuring the impact of the rounds from the gunners to make adjustments.

Knowing this, Meade began silencing his guns a few at a time to make it sound to Lee like he was hitting them. When the Confederates got close in that famous Pickett’s Charge, Meade opened with his “silenced” guns using canister and slaughtered them. Fewer than half that began the charge returned to the Confederate side that evening. Lee was personally devastated by what he considered his failure.

Again, the bloodletting was on a scale unimaginable. This was indeed a brutal war.

Tomorrow – Fort Delaware, a prison for captured Confederates.

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Dispatches From The Front #4

Book 2 117 September 1862

Sharpsburg, Maryland

General Lee has daringly invaded Maryland and thrown the Yankee strategy in disarray. After briefly using South Mountain as a barrier, Lee pulled back to Sharpsburg and assumed strong defensive positions along Antietam Creek.

Jackson’s Corps arrived during the night from his capture of Harper’s Ferry, securing a safe supply route for Lee, and was assigned positions on the Confederate left.

It rained last night and into the predawn hours, with the dawn breaking foggy and damp. By 5:30 AM both sides were exchanging volleys of musket and cannon, mostly on the Confederate left. The center of attention soon became a 20-acre field of corn standing tall and ready for harvest, but the harvest this day would not be of corn—but rather of men. Soon it would simply be known as “The Cornfield,” and anyone who had been there would know immediately the meaning behind the name.

The cannonading was so heavy that at times it seemed almost as one long roll of thunder, a noise straight from Hades sure to shake even the most stouthearted veteran present.

The Confederate brigades of Tremble and Douglass occupied the Cornfield. Union General Hooker noticed Confederate polished rifle barrels and bayonets glistening among the corn stalks and brought forward four batteries or artillery to deal with the threat. With canister shot, they mowed down corn and men alike, the men falling among the corn as if still in their ranks.

Jackson sent the Tigers of Hays’ 1st Louisiana Brigade into the fight to hold the faltering Confederate line. They charged through the Cornfield and pushed the Yankees out. Standing on open ground, they withstood withering musket and canon fire. The dead and wounded mounting, the Tigers were forced to retire with Walker’s Texas Brigade rushing past to assume their vacated positions.

Soon both brigades were forced to retire to Dunker Church, where they withstood further attacks by the Yankees throwing more brigades into the fight. Hays had lost over 60% of his Tigers, and every staff officer and regimental officer had been shot.

To the west, Stark’s 2nd Louisiana exchanged deadly fire over a chest high rail fence until forced to retire with heavy loses. In less than one hour, both brigades of The Louisiana Tigers were rendered hors de combat and were out of the fight.

The fighting followed to the south centered mainly on the Sunken Road, where Confederate casualties were such that they were stacked as many as three deep in the roadbed.

As the day closed, Lee withdrew and licked his wounds. The battle was, at best, a draw, but could have been a decisive Northern victory had the cautious McClellan used the several divisions he held in reserve.

With total casualties well over 23,000, this day will go down as the bloodiest single day of the war thus far.

Excerpt From An Eternity of Four Years, Chapter 15 – The Bloodiest Day

*****

The 550 screaming Tigers of the 1st Louisiana crossed those 300 yards under murderous artillery fire that cut our fellows down. In spite our losses, we plunged headlong into the Cornfield and collided with the Federals in a bloody melee of musketry, bayonets and clubbed muskets that eventually drove the Yankees back. The 12th Massachusetts received most of the attack.

I caught a glimpse of Jean leading his company and Sean right behind him as they ran, fired, reloaded and fired again. The Yankees were resisting stubbornly and falling back slowly.

We advanced to within 250 yards of the Federal line in the East Woods and faltered against stiffened resistance. Trapped out in the open fields, we were hammered by artillery and musket fire. The dead and wounded fell in staggering numbers.

*****

Report:

CornfieldThe Infamous Cornfield.

We did Sharpsburg today (Antietam if you are a Yankee) and Gettysburg in the late afternoon. We managed to get in some of the stuff at the Gettysburg Visitor’s Center after we arrived.

While Sharpsburg was the single bloodiest day of the Civil War at over 23,000 casualties (dead, wounded, and missing), Gettysburg, lasting three days, was the bloodiest battle at over 51,000 casualties . Those are truly staggering numbers. One thing is becoming abundantly clear from visiting these four battlefields, something that had not hit home quite as hard as it has on this trip, and that is this war was a human meat grinder, chewing men up and spitting out them out. Read what is written on the two plaques below to get a picture of how bad it was.

LA PlaqueThe Louisiana Brigade and the Cornfield

Let me put this in perspective for you. There were over 620,000 casualties in the Civil War. That is substantially more than the total American casualties in ALL of America’s wars prior to the Civil War, and the CW was pure fratricide! World War II lasted less than four years, almost as long as the civil war, and spanned the globe. American casualties in that war were a little over 405,000, about two thirds of the American Civil War. Get the picture now?

TX PlaquepsdThe Texans that replaced the 1st Louisiana came off even worse.

It begins to hit home reading the accounts of the 1st Louisiana Brigade in the infamous Cornfield and those of the Texas brigade that relieved them. It was said the corn stalks, cut as if by a knife, dripped blood, a harvest or corn and men.

Dunker OutsideDunker Church

I have included images of the famous “Dunker Church” that some spell as “Dunkard Church”, both inside and outside. It was where several of the brigades withdrawing from the Cornfield went to attempt to recover. It is not far from the Cornfield only a few hundred yards. The fighting followed the shattered brigades right to the church.

Dunker InsideInside Dunker Church. The pastor would have stood between the two windows to teach God’s Word.

I have also included an image from the famous Sunken Road, where Confederates took positions in this trench-like sunken road. They held off determined attacks until the Federals brought up artillery and managed to fire deadly canister shot down the road, mowing them down.

Sunken RoadSunken Road

The carnage that was Sharpsburg is just unimaginable.

Report on Gettysburg tomorrow. I am sunburned and exhausted. Janis forgot the sunscreen. I have a complete drug store in my bag but NO sunscreen.

The countryside driving up from Sharpsburg to Gettysburg was beautiful. Road was too twistie to stop and take pics. We managed not to get lost today. Used the iPhones and Google maps.

I am done for today…

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