Remembering Gettysburg’s Veterans

As I take a moment to reflect on the carnage and the high human costs surrounding the anniversary of the most famous battle fought on American soil — the Battle of Gettysburg — I wanted to acknowledge the service of my ancestors who were present.  There were several relatives, but the most closely related were my mother’s grandfathers.  John Chapel Booth stormed Blocher’s Knoll (modern day Barlow’s Knoll) with the 38th Georgia Infantry, Co. H.  John U. Colvard of the 38th had been detached to service in the 2nd Medical Corps due to wounds received at Gaines Mill earlier.  He, undoubtedly, saw the worst any man could see, hauling the wounded from the field, tending their wounds and assisting the surgeons as they went about their grim tasks.  He almost certainly had to help hold men down for amputations and other painful procedures, trying to block out the screams.

Thomas C. Jones

Also there was Thomas Curtwright Jones of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, my great great great uncle. Also there was a man who I sometimes forget was not blood related, Daniel Boyd, whom I became so well acquainted with through the pages of “The Boys of Diamond Hill.” Daniel was wounded on the Rose Farm as part of the 7th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry and had to be left behind when General Lee ordered the withdrawal of his army from Pennsylvania.

Both of these men were members of Kershaw’s Brigade and were among those to whom “Echoes From Gettysburg: South Carolina’s Memories and Images” was dedicated.

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Review of audio book Three Years With Quantrill

Three Years With Quantrill: A True Story Told by His Scout (Audio version)
John McCorkle & O. S. Barton
Narrated by Dan John Miller
Reviewed by J. Keith Jones

I recently picked up the audio version of this informative book to listen to while I work out at the gym. This was a great use of the dead time on the treadmill and elliptical machine. Things you will learn from this book can be summed up nicely with this statement: most of what you know about William Quantrill is wrong.

For one thing, Quantrill’s service in the Missouri militia was intended to help the Union forces to police the actions of the “Red Legs” in its self-serving victimization of the Missouri people. The problem arose when the Federals not only were turning a blind eye to former Sen. Jim Lane’s renegades as they were robbing and committing numerous outrages across the landscape, but in fact began firing on Quantrill’s men when they attempted to stop Lane’s Red Legs. Despite this, Quantrill actually gave them multiple warnings before throwing in with the Confederacy, at which time he rode to Richmond and obtained a commission from the government. Also, something that doesn’t fit with the narrative about Quantrill is his swift punishment of any of his raiders who engaged in theft or harsh treatment of civilians. This seems surprising because of all that you hear about Quantrill and the raid on Lawrence, Kansas. The events in Lawrence are not to be admired, but this book gives you quite an understanding of the happenings that led up to the raid, including the much undermentioned jail house collapse that triggered the attack. When this is mentioned in official accounts, it is played off as a simple tragedy and due to the poor condition of the building. This book offers a deep look from an insider’s perspective. First, the women – several were fourteen or under – were all locked up there simply for being immediate family members of Bushwhacker leaders. Second, the building was selected for its poor condition and the second floor and first floor – which rested above a basement – were overloaded with the deliberate hope that it would collapse. Third, when the building did not collapse, digging was performed around the foundation to weaken it until the “accident” did indeed occur.

Whether the digging to compromise the foundation actually happened, is something that neither side can prove or vindicate now, but the facts arise that in Quantrill’s camp, this was the belief of the soldiers. This was not speculation, this is what was reported to them and they believed it.

John McCorkle was a favorite scout of Quantrill’s. McCorkle started out the war serving under Gen. Sterling Price. He and his brother were captured and after some time, his brother had become so ill that McCorkle feared that he would soon perish. The McCorkle brothers then gave in and signed the oath of allegiance so they could go home and survive. That lasted for a while, but the Federals would not leave him along for long. The harassment started with charges being leveled against McCorkle for being overheard singing a pro-Confederate song as he went about his business. He paid a fine and soon found himself being faced with conscription into an army that he had fought against, but had agreed to sign the oath on the condition of neutrality. He was willing to agree to not take up arms, but was not willing to take up arms against his fellow Southerners.

So, John McCorkle and his brother became soldiers once again. Much like the many states that were willing to stay neutral, but were ordered to raise troops by Lincoln, these states did raise troops, but not for Lincoln. So was the case of the McCorkles, they took up arms and joined with the Confederate Bushwhackers. Much of this time was serving under Col. Quantrill or under Capt. George Todd. This book is a who’s who of the Missouri border war and includes a number of people who are more famous for their actions after the war. McCorkle had extensive interactions with Cole Younger and Frank James. Jesse James also makes an appearance in the narrative, but to a lesser extent.
An interesting thing about this book, is the heavy influence that it had on the book “Woe to Live On” by Daniel Woodrell and the subsequent movie, “Ride With the Devil” starring Toby McGuire. If you have watched this movie, you will recognize many of the archetypes of the characters and events from this book.

The narration by Dan John Miller is very well done and keeps you listening and alert to the story. Highly recommended for anyone interested in this part of the war. In fact, if you listen to this book, you will become interested in this part of the war if you were not already.

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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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