Review: When the Yankees Come – Paul Graham

When the Yankees Come: Former South Carolina Slaves Remember Sherman’s Invasion (Voices from the Dust Book 1)
Shotwell Publishing
Paul C. Graham
Reviewed by J. Keith Jones

There really is no better foundation for understanding history than reading source material. It is important to hear all the voices before condensing it down to the big picture. The Slave Narratives recorded by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration are a much overlooked source.

Paul Graham has sorted through this database and compiled all the entries containing any reference to the slave experience in relation to Sherman’s army. He was not selective and allows the subjects to speak to you directly. As with most things, their opinions differed. Some had good experiences and saw the Yankees as liberators, while many others had negative experiences and feared and disdained the Yankees as much as the white people did. Of course, there were numerous neutral experiences too.

This volume is a great addition to any historian’s bookshelf or Kindle, especially South Carolina or the Southern experience in the war.

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Review of Audio Book Three Months in the Southern States by Fremantle

Three Months in the Southern States: April-June, 1863 – Audio
By Arthur James Lyon Fremantle
Narrated by Michael Page
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Reviewed by J. Keith Jones

I have long been familiar with the memoirs of Arthur Fremantle of his time observing the Confederate army in 1863. I have used various parts for research, but had not read the whole thing, so when I ran across this audio version, I jumped on it and wasn’t disappointed.

The narration by Michael Page is smooth and clean; British accent, but quite easily understood by American listeners.
The Fremantle diary is most commonly referenced for the Gettysburg portion, but that is only a scant part of the narrative. I many ways the most interesting and vivid parts come earlier in the book. Fremantle’s entry into the Confederate States of America through Texas and his observations of matters with its border with Mexico are fascinating. The author’s talent for understatement provides a great amount of amusement along with the detailed description of the state of affairs in that remote corner of the newly founded country.

To have just shown up unannounced with little more to speak for him than his pedigree in the British army, Fremantle manages to witness several events of great historical significance and meet many notables in both the South and the north. Like most British, Fremantle was avidly anti-slavery, but like many Europeans who found themselves in the South, he quickly decided that the situation was not nearly as two-dimensional as he was led to believe. His observations are startling.

“Three Months in the Southern States” is a valuable resource and an eye-opening read. Page’s wonderful narration makes the visualization all the more powerful.

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Time Travel back in vogue – time for another look at “In Due Time?”

I was listening to a radio interview this morning with comedian and self-appointed “TV Geek” Paul Goebel. He was pointing out the number of new shows this year centered on time travel as the driving device. He spoke of there being three, but a quick internet search also uncovered this article by Elizabeth Logan in Glamour magazine, which names several more. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Time After Time, Frequency and Making History, among them.

This got me thinking, is it time that the public had another look at my novel, “In Due Time?” Maybe in 2010, it was simply ahead of its time. Like many small market books, “In Due Time” didn’t quite capture a large audience. Reviews were mostly positive and many of them came from outside my family [grin], nonetheless, it did have its detractors.

On Amazon, reviews were almost all four or five stars, but naturally there was that single one star review. Once I get past the sputtering, “What! But… but… but…” I become amused and wonder what is behind the person’s viewpoint. So I will look into the other reviews this person has written to determine his preferences. In this case, I determined that he was looking for a shoot-em-up revenge type of book with a high body count. He was disappointed and didn’t stick it out long enough to see the rivers of blood he was seeking. If I ever meet him, I will gladly hand him three bucks to compensate him for the Kindle edition he purchased.

Likewise, Goodreads has mostly positive reviews, but there are a few complaints of it being too “pro-America.” … Your honor, I plead guilty and throw myself on the mercy of the court. Some of these same folks accuse it of being “anti-European.” That I will mount a defense against. Frankly, this book could have been written from the perspective of many European countries. I just happen to be American, so that was my easiest perspective to adopt. It, however; is not a glowing endorsement of the European Union or any global consolidation, for that matter. So for those who believe that the EU is the greatest construct known to history and should be emulated the world over, that would likely be their interpretation. To others who simply hate America, this is also the likely reaction.

There also has been the critique that the women were too idealized. I’m not sure how fair that assessment is, as there are females in the book for whom the pedestal is set pretty doggoned low. Notable examples being a promiscuous fifteen-year-old home wrecker and an abused woman who refuses upset her “ideal world” by walking out on the man who treats her – and their son – like a doormat or worse.

It is true, though, that none of the “leading ladies” of the book fall into the category of: drug addicted, gender confused street urchin who dabbles in prostitution to survive. My apologies. I will try harder next time. The truth is, some of these people were living something of an idealized existence for part of the book – although, I hope I managed to make that entertaining and character building, nonetheless. This is the kind of life most of us would construct for ourselves and friends if we had a time machine we could use to go back and set the stage.

Of course, the point being, this does not last and hits a pivot point that redefines the world of its characters. That’s where it becomes interesting and Joshua Lance (our hero) realizes just how much more complicated his life is than he once believed and it goes from there.
I digress, but it is interesting to look back on a project that is done and released, once it is no longer your main focus. Since “In Due Time” I have crossed over to writing more history with the release of “The Boys of Diamond Hill,” but I still write fiction also, mostly short stories. I do have another novel that is on my radar for the near future, and plan to get back to that soon.

Back to the main point of this piece, do you think that “In Due Time” should see a revival? If yes, how should that take place?

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Spirit of Steamboat – Craig Johnson

The Spirit of Steamboat
By Craig Johnson
Penguin Books

Reviewed by Keith Jones

“Spirit of Steamboat” is a bit of a departure for Craig Johnson. It is still a Longmire book, but this time it is an adventure rather than a murder mystery. In this book, the people of Absaroka County take a break from reducing their limited population through violent means. Rather, we are indulged in a visit from a Longmire spirit of Christmas past in the form of a young woman that a newly minted Sheriff Walt Longmire and former Sheriff Lucian Connally teamed up to save decades before.

It is no wonder that this book was named a must read by One Book Wyoming. Along with the adventure, there is sound history. The reader learns that Steamboat was the name of the iconic bucking bronco on the Wyoming license plate.

Many great books grow from a short story idea. My novel, “In Due Time” being one. This story was originally planned for one of Johnson’s “Post it” stories that he sends to this list, but as he worked on it, the story took on a life of its own and grew. Soon it was a full novella and to their merit, Penguin published it despite it breaking form with the previous books.

The reader is treated to more of Lucian than usual and gets more acquainted with Walt’s late wife Martha. “Spirit of Steamboat” is a hang-onto-your-seat ride of a book and a fun time. Start early in the evening. You just might not want to put it down until you are finished.

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A Serpent’s Tooth – Craig Johnson

A Serpent’s Tooth
By Craig Johnson
Penguin Books

Reviewed by Keith Jones

Every Longmire book by Craig Johnson that I read seems to outdo the last and “A Serpent’s Tooth” is no exception. As Craig Johnson has often discussed, this book explores the dark underbelly of cults. When a homeless teenager shows up in Walt Longmire’s county, the sheriff soon finds himself dealing with more than meets the eye.

The boy is a cast off from a polygamy cult where an excess of male children soon become a liability. Naturally there are more twists and turns and – of course – a murder, thrown in. As with his other books, just when you think you have it figured out, you soon find that you are wrong.

Hang on to the end, it is well worth the ride.

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Battle of Wise’s Forks – Sokolosky & Smith

To Prepare for Sherman’s Coming”: The Battle of Wise’s Forks, March 1865
By Wade Sokolosky and Mark A. Smith
Savas Beatie

Reviewed by Keith Jones

To Prepare for Sherman’s Coming: The Battle of Wise’s Forks, March 1865” walks the reader step by step through one of the most important, yet little known battles in North Carolina. Beginning March 8, 1865, Union General Jacob Cox squared off with the forces commanded by Confederate General Braxton Bragg. The fighting dragged on until March 10. Wise’s Forks was one of the largest battles fought on North Carolina soil, but has been relegated to little more than a footnote in the history of the Carolina’s Campaign.

In the end, Wise’s Forks was largely a delaying action. Meticulously researched, the pages of this book carefully reconstruct the events of those days. Sokolosky and Smith provide such detail that the reader will want to read all the footnotes to avoid missing any of the great material within. This book provides an intense study of Wise’s Forks impossible to find elsewhere. Any serious student of this war should read this.

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Hacksaw Ridge & Sully

This weekend I got the opportunity to check out a couple of movies I had been meaning to see. Hacksaw Ridge and Sully. I don’t usually review or write about mainstream movies, but I really enjoyed both and wanted to jump in with a few observations.

First, Hacksaw Ridge is a very intense movie, but of excellent quality and very moving. Andrew Garfield should be a top contender, if not a shoe-in for the Best Actor Oscar. In fact, it should be nominated in every category. All reason for the R rating is due to the intensity of the battle scenes, which are quite realistic. Everything else is completely in line of what was appropriate for the time and military setting, so most content is either PG or PG-13.

As deserving of awards as this movie is, there are three things that Hollywood and the Academy hate in a movie that will hurt its chances: Christian content, pro-American content and Mel Gibson. For all his idiosyncrasies, Mel Gibson is a top-notch director and this movie more than lives up to that legacy. I have compared the story to the documentaries and judge this to be about eighty to ninety percent historically accurate.

It tells the story of Desmond Doss, a man who disliked the label that the government insisted on laying on him: Conscientious Objector. Despite his refusal to kill or even touch a weapon, Doss believed in the war effort and wanted to do his part by enlisting in the U.S. Army. He insisted on becoming a medic and managed to navigate the rules and politics to get his way of carrying a medical kit into combat and – unlike other medics – no firearm. His courage on Okinawa leads him to save about seventy-five soldiers from death and win the Congressional Medal of Honor in the process.

I also managed to get a last chance to catch Sully on the big screen at the local discount theater. Tom Hanks does his usual great job and portrays Captain Chesley Sullenberger in a superlative way. Clint Eastwood directed this fine dramatization of the Miracle on the Hudson where Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger set his US Airways flight down on the Hudson River in what is probably the most successful water landing in history. All 155 people on board managed to leave the river alive.

The movie is very well done and Capt. Sully stands by its accuracy. The one thing that had the Hollywood touch was the dealings with the NTSB, which Eastwood portrays as being overly harsh on Sully. The NTSB, I have read, was quite upset about this and feels that it was an unfair portrayal. In truth, there are three things to consider here. One is that they were reported to have been more routine and less personal than is portrayed. Two is that what spread out over fifteen months was tightly compressed in the movie which added to the seeming harshness. Lastly even if the investigation may seem harsh, the NTSB would not have been doing their jobs in providing for the public safety had they not entertained every angle in examining this incident.

Sully is a quite enjoyable movie and one that I plan to see again.

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As The Crow Flies by Craig Johnson

As The Crow Flies
By Craig Johnson
Penguin Books

Reviewed by Keith Jones

“As The Crow Flies” is a fine entry in the Longmire series. It is a bit different as there is little of the presence of Deputy Vic Moretti, but it is made up for with an abundance of Henry Standing Bear. In this book, you get to see some of the best of the friendship of Henry and Walt.

As the book opens, Sheriff Walt Longmire and his best friend Henry Standing Bear are helping plan the wedding of Walt’s daughter Cady. While scouting a venue on the Reservation for the wedding, Walt and Henry witness a woman fall from a cliff. Whether it was an accident, suicide or foul play will drive the narrative of the book.

This book introduces a fascinating new character, Lolo Long, the newly hired chief of police on the Cheyenne Reservation. Lolo is a war veteran and a serious hard case. She will be forced to swallow her pride and accept her inexperience to get the help she needs in investigating the case and dealing with the FBI. That help comes in the form of Sheriff Walt Longmire, a man she initially seems to disdain, but by the end of the book the chemistry and sexual tension between Lolo and Walt grows to nearly rival that which exists between Walt and Vic.

“As The Crow Flies” has abundant plot twists and delivers on the promise that every Longmire book makes to its fans as they begin reading. If you have not read the other Longmire books, you can plunge in at this point, but I would advise going back and starting at the beginning as you will certainly want to read them all.

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Great Amazon Review for Boys of Diamond Hill

Diamond Hill CoverFrom time to time, I will revisit my past books on the online outlets to see if there is any activity and am always gratified to find a new review. This fine review (5 stars) copied below is for “The Boys of Diamond Hill: The Lives and Civil War Letters of the Boyd Family of Abbeville County, South Carolina,” a book I am very proud of and was thrilled to have won a gold medal for history from the Military Writers Society of America. I appreciate the reviewer taking the time to share his thoughts on my book.

I approached the writing of this book with a bit of trepidation.  In many ways I felt like I was intruding on other people’s lives, and in many ways I was.  I soon found out from a number of folks, including descendants of the Boyd brothers, that any intrusion I was responsible for was a good one.  Reviews like this one make me glad I wrote this book all over again.

Now, if only my readers will begin to do the same for “Echoes From Gettysburg: South Carolina’s Memories and Images” so others will also discover it.


For those of us fortunate enough to escape going to war, this book provides a glimpse into the horror and tragedy that is always a part of war. The letters to home from members of the Boyd family of Abbeville, SC bring home the personal losses suffered by one family, losses that were seen on both sides of this war.

I picked up this book because my grandparents lived in the Diamond Hill District in the late 1870s thru about 1915. While none of my known relatives are mentioned, nevertheless, my grandparents had to have been familiar with the stories of this and other nearby families. Most historical accounts of wars are somewhat impersonal, say the view from 20,000 feet. This,however, is the ground level account. It’s easy to become attached to the characters, worry with them about how their families are doing, and grieve when they are lost in battle. Accounts such as this are the only way, short of actually participating, to learn what war is really like. For that reason, I think it provides an invaluable lesson.

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Looking for Pictures of Georgia’s Gettysburg Troops

GRG_FrontCover150Now that “Echoes From Gettysburg: South Carolina’s Memories and Images” is out in the marketplace, it is time to take the work I did in “Georgia Remembers Gettysburg” and go it one better. “Georgia Remembers Gettysburg” is now out of print and copies on the secondary market — at last check — are going for around $600 and up. Never fear, it will soon be back. Fox Run Publishing will be releasing an updated and improved edition as a follow-up to the South Carolina edition.

EchoesGettysburgSC_Front_lowerresThe superlative maps of Phillip Laino will once again make an appearance to illustrate the positions and movements of Georgia’s soldiers at Gettysburg just as they do in the South Carolina edition of “Echoes From Gettysburg.” Add to this the stories from “Georgia Remembers Gettysburg” along with additional material I have discovered and photographs of Georgia veterans who fought in the battle and it will reemerge as “Echoes From Gettysburg: Georgia’s Memories and Images.”

Here is where you come in. I need your help. If you have photographs of a Georgia ancestor who you believe fought at Gettysburg, I want to hear from you! Of course, war time images are the prize, but I am interested in post war images as well. I know these are out there and if you want to see your ancestor honored in print, here is your opportunity.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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