Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Midlist Writer blog, where he talks about writing, adventure travel, caving, and everything else he gets up to. He also reproduces all the posts from Civil War Horror, so drop on by!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Shelby's Great Raid: a sneak peak at my next Civil War history book

Osprey Publishing just sent me an advanced author's copy of Ride Around Missouri: Shelby's Great Raid 1863. Earlier this month I blogged about the advance copy I received of my Armies of the Adowa Campaign. As usual, the artist and layout people have made me look good. It's nice writing for a company where everyone cares about their job. That's not as common as it should be in the publishing industry.

This book focuses on one of the Civil War's longest cavalry raids--Confederate cavalryman J.O. Shelby's ride up from Arkansas and through Union-held Missouri. His raiders destroyed infrastructure, skirmished with Union detachments, captured small forts, and led thousands of bluecoats on a merry chase that almost ended in disaster for Shelby at the Battle of Marshall.

This raid secured Shelby's reputation as one of the greatest raiders of the Civil War. Two earlier raids he was on, led by General Marmaduke, are also covered. The book comes out in October.

Shelby was on Price's 1864 invasion of Missouri and is mentioned briefly in my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness, which also comes out in October. Shelby makes an appearance in the as-yet-unnamed sequel. One of the protagonists in that book is in Shelby's Iron Brigade, but deserts in order to fight the war within the war, the battle between Order and Chaos. The second book will be out sometime in 2012.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Guest blogging over at Osprey Publishing


I recently did a guest post over at Osprey Publishing's blog about some medieval cannon I saw at a Spanish castle. Here's a closeup of one of them. While it looks crude, it was certainly better than at least one Confederate cannon used in Missouri. At the Battle of Athens on 5 August 1861, the Confederates had a cannon made of a hollowed out log. I doubt the Union troops were surprised when it blew up the first time the rebels tried to fire it! Check out my writing blog for another image that didn't make it into the guest post. I took a lot of photos at this place!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Civil War Photo Friday: South Carolina men in blue

While this blog generally sticks to the Trans-Mississippi theater, I do occasionally pull in related material. This image from the Library of Congress shows the South Carolina Flying Artillery in 1861. It was a former state militia outfit that had been issued blue uniforms. The color coding of blue vs. gray took some time to be established, and the caption to this photo, which comes from The Photographic History of the Civil War published in 1911, indicates that these men wore blue throughout the war.

They weren't the only ones. The First Kansas Colored Volunteers, which was the first black regiment to see combat when they defeated a larger force of rebel bushwhackers at Island Mound 29 October 1863, wore gray uniforms. At the Battle of Wilson's Creek, the detachment of the Union army under Col. Franz Sigel confused the advancing 3rd Louisiana for the 3rd Iowa, a Union regiment that wore gray. They didn't realize their mistake until it was too late!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Guest Post: Bringing History to Life

Today we have a guest post by genealogist and novelist Dr. Clyde W. Payne, who with his son Jerry Payne has written the novel Beyond the Door, based on their ancestors' experience in the Civil War. You can learn more about the book and its authors at their website.

For each of us, at the heart of all the shared destinies, is our family: our fathers, mothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts—all exist forever in some part of what we are and what we do. These close family connections are as inescapable as life, as inevitable as death, and even if you somehow shut them out of your waking reveries, they remain a part of everything that moves, molds, and renews you


As a genealogist for at least the past twenty years, my interest in family roots has expanded into recognizing the voices of the people who lived the Civil War as members of our family. In listening to those voices, you really get a sense of who these men are, and that they are real people. It makes history a lot less about dates and places and times and more about the human story. Let’s put words into the mouths of our ancestors—let them help us tell their stories.

And it’s in this direction I began to follow the Civil War road with the 101st Pennsylvania Volunteers. One member in particular, a distant uncle, was David Wesley Horner, a private in Company H. During the search, Horner’s life and death as a soldier piqued my interest when I found that the members of the 101st were eventually captured at Plymouth, South Carolina, with most sent to Andersonville. Our book title, Beyond the Door, of course, refers to the entrance into the hell that was Andersonville prison.

After further research which, among other things, allowed me to acquire copies of seven original letters of Private Horner, my interest in the Civil War was again sharpened, to say the least! This was the true beginning, where I chose to build a story around this regiment of captured soldiers, and follow two of them through their plan of escape from Andersonville. I’ve tried to make the characters come alive as heroic, yet, very na├»ve young men.

Apart from the actual battles, events, and locales that figure in my narrative, the two principal characters are a representative pair of boys whose lives mirror so many others who became caught up in the fervor, but faced massive disillusionment and the darkness of despair and desperation along the way.
With my son, freelance writer G.S. Payne, we’ve developed a story about survival and related themes—universal themes about fear, courage, and humanity.

Happy endings? Perhaps if we hang onto our lives long enough, we may be able find focus on such things that we experience in this world. If we continue to delve into the world of genealogy, we’re bound to find elements that motivate us to want to further dig into our past. But, in order to provide the sparks of life, we need to provide the footsteps, the beat of a drum, the turn of a smile, the crack of a rifle, a falling tear or two from the eyes, and a satisfaction with ourselves when we put pencil to paper (or finger to a  computer) and make history live.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I'm on Goodreads!

I just got an Author's page on Goodreads. This will give me another venue where I can interact with readers and writers and talk about my books. It also streams this blog. I'm still feeling my way around the site and meeting people. If you know me and/or like my books, drop on by and friend or fan me.

Monday, August 22, 2011

There's no such thing as an insignificant skirmish

Civil War researcher Carolyn Bartels once counted all the recorded battles and skirmishes in Missouri and came up with about 1,100. The real number was surely higher. Some affairs were so small they recieved only passing mention in a few letters or newspapers so obscure they got missed by even as tireless a researcher as Bartels. Others may not be mentioned in any surviving record at all.

In Missouri we tend to remember only a dozen or so big battles, yet these smaller skirmishes probably account for a higher death toll than Wilsons' Creek, Westport, Lexington, and all the other famous fights combined.

We've just had the 150th anniversary of two skirmishes near Kirksville. I'd never heard of them and until I read Bartels' handy The Civil War in Missouri Day by Day. According to the Official Record, Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Hurlbut, shown here in this Wikimedia Commons image, had sent forward 500 men of the Third Iowa to establish control in and around Kirksville. Another 500 Home Guards (Unionist militia) were also in the Kirksville area. Hurlbut was worried about a nearby rebel force he estimated to number 2,000. Hurlbut soon followed with the rest of his force to Kirksville, but in the meantime the Iowa detachment got in a few skirmishes. Hurlbut's report of August 21 reads in part,

"Before my arrival Corporal Dix, of Company C, Third Iowa, with a few Home Guards, was surrounded by a large body of rebels, and after a most desperate resistance, in which five of the enemy were killed, the corporal was killed and his detachment dispersed. The enemy laid out his body decently, and sent notice to this camp. The body was recovered, and buried with military honors.

Having learned on my arrival that his weapons were in the same neighborhood, and probably in custody of a man named Jackson, on whose ground the rebel camp on Bee Branch was situated, and well known to have furnished large supplies to them, I sent a strong body into that neighborhood, who recovered the weapons, and found at Jackson's house some fourteen rebels, guards on one of their officers, severely wounded in the skirmish with Corporal Dix. The rebels fled, and were fired upon. One, a man named Brown, From Schuyler County, was killed; Jackson wounded in the knee, and brought in, with three others, prisoners. The others escaped. The officer was too severely wounded to be moved, and was left on parole."

As far as I know, no historic plaques mark the spot of these two skirmishes, and no book has been written about them. A military historian would be tempted to shrug off these affairs as insignificant, and I suppose compared to the big picture they are. They certainly weren't insignificant to Colonel Dix, the man named Brown, and the others killed. Or their families. And did that severely wounded rebel officer survive? Did Jackson ever walk again after being shot in the knee?

By focusing on the big battles, we tend to forget the daily fights that led to misery and suffering on both sides. So let's remember just for a moment these two skirmishes, not on the 150th anniversary of when they happened, but on the 150th anniversary of the day when the families of Dix, Brown, and those five other men received the bad news.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Civil War Photo Friday: a tinclad on the Missouri River

One of the reasons Missouri was so important to both sides in the Civil War was its waterways. The eastern boundary of the state is defined by the Mississippi River, the lifeline for the region's industry and agriculture. The Missouri River, flowing from west to east, neatly cuts the state in half and was important as a commercial waterway for Missouri and Kansas.

While the Union firmly established control of the Missouri River at the first significant battle in the state and indeed the whole country, The Battle of Boonville, fighting over the Mississippi raged the entire war. The Union took Vicksburg in 1863 and the river became a waterway for naval gunboats, but the Confederacy never stopped harassing shipping.

This picture is of the USS Naiad, taken in 1863. This stern-wheel steamer was fitted with armor and eight 24-pounder guns. It patrolled the rivers and fought Confederate artillery batteries that were firing on shipping from the shore. That strange rake-like device on the front was a minesweeper. Mines were in their infancy in those days, but the infernal devices appeared on land and at sea. The Civil War Daily Gazette has an interesting post about the first river mines (called topedoes back then).

The Naiad was sold after the war, renamed the Princess, and sank at Napoleon, Missouri, in 1868.

My Civil War novel, A Fine Likeness, only indirectly touches on the naval aspect of the war. Captain Richard Addison's only surviving son, Allen, serves on board the USS Essex. While we only hear about Allen through letters, he's one of the protagonists in the sequal to A Fine Likeness. More on his historic ship in a later post!
[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Waking up to the reality of war

Fellow Civil War novelist Blythe Forcey Toussaint has written an interesting post about Picnicking at the Battle of Bull Run. When the North and South clashed at the first major battle of the Civil War on 21 July 1861, civilians from nearby Washington, DC, came out with picnic baskets to watch the "fun". Instead they saw thousands of men die and their own army get trounced. They fled back home in panic.

It took some time for Americans to wake up to the realities of war. At Missouri's first battle, the Battle of Boonville, a rebel picket who saw the Union troops advancing rode back to Confederate lines and shouted, "They're coming, boys. They were shooting at me back there!"

Well, yeah. What did you expect them to do?

For Missourians, the big wake-up call was the Battle of Wilson's Creek, where both sides got decimated and the Union lost its first general in combat. In my Civil War novel, there's a minor character who lost his leg at that battle. He lost his romantic attitudes to war along with it.

My novel is to a great extent about two men losing the last of their innocence. Despite having been a bushwhacker for some time, Jimmy Rawlins fought honorably until he wound up under the control of Bloody Bill Anderson, a real-life villain who shot civilians and took scalps. Union militia captain Richard Addison never feels fully involved in the war until he faces off against Bloody Bill in an attempt to save Jimmy from becoming something far worse than a mere rebel. The book follows these two in their downward spiral, the same downward spiral so many others had to deal with in that conflict. in the end, though, they do find a way out, although I hope it's in a way that the readers don't see coming.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Finding a Wild West rarity in Oxford

If you've been following me on Gadling, you know I'm in Oxford at the moment. I'm busy working on my next book for Osprey Publishing, which is about the fateful raid on Northfield, Minnesota, by Jesse James and his gang in 1876.

You'd think I'd be feeling a bit out of touch with the Wild West here among the dreaming spires, and you'd be right except that I've found an extremely rare book on the Northfield robbery at Oxford University's Bodleian Library. Titled The Northfield Tragedy, it's the first account written about the robbery, penned by a journalist who arrived on the scene hours after the smoke cleared. He was among the first to interview the citizens who fought off the robbers, and he followed along with the posses as they hunted down the James-Younger gang.

This book is almost impossible to find in the United States. Only four copies are known to exist, none of which are in Missouri, where I'm based when I'm in the country. Most modern books about the James-Younger gang don't cite this important source. The reason the Bodleian has a copy is because it was reprinted by the English Westerners Society. The Bodleian being a copyright library, they had a copy. I would have never heard of it if I hadn't been browsing Jesse James books in the Bodleian. So here I am reading a Wild West rarity in the most English of cities!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Civil War Photo Friday: Union camp in Missouri

Despite the Union defeat at Wilson's Creek on 10 August 1861, the North was still firmly in control of much of Missouri. St. Louis, Columbia, and Kansas City were all in Union hands, although the retreat from Springfield after the battle was a serious blow.

General John Fremont commanded the Western Department, which included Missouri, and this image shows his huge camp near the state capital of Jefferson City. The city, along with the Missouri River, were captured in the first battle in the state, the Battle of Boonville. Controlling the Missouri river cut the state in half, making it very difficult for rebels north of the river to join the main Confederate armies to the south. In fact, there would be few major operations north of the river at any time during the war.

The Confederates only briefly occupied central Missouri. After Wilson's Creek, General Price's army marched up to the Missouri river town of Lexington and took it, but soon had to retreat south in the face of superior forces. Price came back again in 1864 and marched through the entire state. That campaign is the setting of my Civil War novel, A Fine Likeness. As is reflected in the novel, by this time virtually all of Missouri was controlled by the Union, but rebel guerrillas called bushwhackers prowled the countryside. They'd never get near big camps like this one, though!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Civil War in Missouri: Battle of Wilson's Creek

This painting by the famous Civil War illustrator Kurz and Allison, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, was done c1893. It's not entirely accurate but it looks nice.

On this day 150 years ago, a major battle was fought at Wilsons' Creek southwest of Springfield. This battle has been covered in numerous places and two excellent blogs, Civil War Daily Gazette and Seven Score and Ten, posted on it today. There's no need to rehash their good coverage, so I'll talk instead about the psychological effect of the battle and its place in my Civil War novel.

This was the first major battle west of the Mississippi. While skirmishing had been going on since Bleeding Kansas started in 1854, and there had been a few small battles such as at Carthage and Athens, the fight at Wilson's Creek was something else entirely. About 5,500 Union troops fought about 12,000 Confederates. Each side lost well over a thousand men killed, wounded, or missing. The two armies were literally decimated. It was a major wake-up call to everyone in Missouri that the war had come to their state with a vengeance.

In A Fine Likeness, Jimmy and his friends, who have never seen a real battle and instead fight as bushwhackers, talk to a Confederate veteran who lost his leg. Doug, the veteran, tells them about what it was like to be at the Battle of Oak Hills, as the rebels called it.

"I joined up when Price was camped down at Cowskin Prairie in the autumn of ‘61, way down near the Arkansas line. You should have seen it, thousands of Missourians all gathered together. Half of us didn’t have guns. I saw men join up with nothing more than a knife tucked in their boot, but we were ready for anything. I had a musket, so that got me in the thick of it when the time came.”

“And it got pretty thick, from what I hear,” Hugh said.

“Sure did. We headed out with our whole army to take back Missouri, along with a bunch of Arkansans, Texans, and Louisianans. Those Texans all had fine horses and knives as long as your forearm. Good guns, too. The night before the Yanks attacked we camped down by Wilson’s Creek, with Oak Hill just to the north of us.”

“That the one everybody calls Bloody Hill?” Jimmy asked.

“The same. Good reason for it too. Early the next morning I went to fetch water down at the creek while my friends cooked up breakfast, and all of a sudden a whole mob of men came running through our camp.”

“Federals?” the Kid asked.

“No,” Doug smiled, looking embarrassed, “our own side. Lyon and his Federals hit our north camp, and sent them running all the way into our main one. That’s how we first knew he was coming. Don’t seem more than a minute later cannon started booming to the north and south. They had us surrounded, Lyon and his men running up Oak Hill while that Dutchman General Sigel came at us from the other side.”

“I heard the Louisiana regiment made short work of him,” Hugh laughed.

“That they did, but I didn’t see it. I ran to my own regiment and got orders to head up Oak Hill and push Lyon off of it. That hill towered over our camp, and if he kept it, he’d have himself a turkey shoot. We already had enough Yankee shells landing in our tents to keep it pretty hot. That hill was absolutely covered in scrub, though. Couldn’t see more than fifty feet.”

“Just our kind of fighting,” the Kid said.

“Good for bushwhacking,” Doug said, “but hard going when you’re in a proper battle. Half the time I couldn’t even see the Yankees; I was just shooting at the smoke from their muskets. I could see General Price, though. He rode a big white horse up and down our line, encouraging us and waving his hat over his head. We begged him to get back, but he wouldn’t hear of it.”

“He’s the bravest general Missouri has,” Albert declared.

“Darned right, but I got to hand it to Lyon, he rode right out in front too. Even went after Price once. I think he wanted to challenge him to a duel, but his staff pulled him back. Well, like I said we were all hiding in the brush, taking potshots at one another, when Price ordered us forward. We scrambled up that hill and got peppered with bullets, then scrambled right back down again. Then the Federals charged and we gave them a dose of the same medicine. Just seesawed like that all morning. Price got wounded in the side, I saw the blood with my own eyes, but he kept right on riding up and down our lines to encourage us. Then Lyon fell, and the Louisianans joined us after wrecking Sigel’s force. Now we had our whole army up there and the Feds didn’t have a prayer of holding it.”

“They ain’t going to hold Missouri neither!” Morgan shouted. “Not with Price and the cavaliers of the brush ganging up on them.”

“Sure won’t,” Doug said. “We had them and we knew it. They knew it too, and started moving back. We got all eager and rushed forward, and I’m afraid I got too far ahead and a bullet hit me square in the leg bone.”

“That’s a real shame, brother, but you did your duty,” Jimmy said softly, thinking of the graze that militia captain gave him.

An inch to the right and I’d be missing an arm, Jimmy thought, and shivered.

“I don’t mind so much,” Doug slumped a little in his chair. “It’s too bad I couldn’t have seen the end of the battle, though, and kept fighting with Price. I’d be marching into Missouri right now.”

“But you were there. Nobody can take that from you,” Jimmy said.

And I’m here, helping Price win the war, Jimmy thought with pride.

“Yeah, I was there,” Doug said, his eyes growing distant. “Don’t remember much of the rest of it. Next thing I knew I was being dragged down the hill. I blacked out and woke up when the surgeon started sawing off my leg. Went out of my head with fever for a week after that. And now I just sit and carve canes and yokes to sell. Can’t do no farming, can’t do much of nothing.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

Guest Post: Wil Morgan. . .Lumberjack

I live deep in the tall pines of Northern Minnesota where I spend my winters writing. One of the main characters in my books is an old lumberjack named Wil Morgan. Wil and I were close friends. He was a little older than me, almost 60 years. He could cut trees, cuss, run a team of horses, cuss, shoot guns, cuss and spit tobacco. Did I mention that he cussed some?

In the town where I grew up, there was a boarding house not far from my home. The lumberjacks didn’t work in the summer and most of them holed up in boarding houses until the snow came again. It was a pretty quiet existence for them, at least until it got on toward dark. Then someone would start a campfire out behind the boarding house.

One by one the old lumberjacks would shuffle downstairs and out the back door. They’d sit down and just watch the fire. It must have seemed more natural for them, having a campfire.

Every once in a while, one of them would break out a jug of cheap fire water and pass it around.

As the whiskey started to loosen their tongues and bring back memories, the stories went around from one man to the next. Each story was outdone by the next and I’m convinced that the old adage “The first liar don’t stand a chance” originated right there. I was never sure which stories were true but after hearing them over and over for a few years, it didn’t matter much.

The years went by with me attending as many lumberjack campfires as possible. In the spring, I’d see a little wisp of smoke from up the hill and I’d know that my friends were back.
When I turned eleven, Wil Morgan didn’t come back. He’d been killed that winter by a widder-maker. I later learned that a tree limb fell on him.

I learned a lot from old Wil, like how to spit, how to shoot and how to cuss and some other important stuff too. Sometimes I really miss my old friend but ya know, if I try real hard, sometimes I can still hear his gravely voice from across the fire, laughing and carrying on, just like he did sixty years ago.

Today I write stories about old Wil Morgan, remembering the things he told me so many years ago. I have a website, and a blog that keep me pretty busy. I have a good friend in Australia who does all of my formatting and cover design. Please take a look at his work at Covers Are Us. My books are all available on Amazon Kindle in digital format:

1. The River Calls
2. A River of Seasons
3. River Chase
4. Brothers by Fire
5. To Waltz with a White Horse

Most sincere thanks to Sean for allowing me to talk about my books.

Very Best Regards,
Ron Shepherd
Northern Minnesota

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Civil War heats up in the Trans-Mississippi

The Civil War Sesquicentennial is well underway, and with the notable exception of the Battle of Bull Run, many of the biggest anniversaries have been west of the Mississippi. I've already discussed the first Confederate invasion of the North all the way over in New Mexico Territory, and this past week has seen several 150th anniversaries in the Trans-Mississippi.

On 31 July 1861, a state convention in Missouri elected Hamilton Gamble as provisional governor of the state. The actual governor, Claiborne Jackson, was in the southwest of the state after his rebel forces got defeated at the Battle of Boonville back on June 17. This was one of the first battles of the war and the first really significant one, since it gave the Union control of the Missouri River and central Missouri. For the rest of the war Missouri would have two governors and two state governments. The Confederate government was based first in Arkansas, then Marshall, Texas, after the Union took much of Arkansas.

On August 1, Confederate Colonel John Baylor, who had taken Mesilla in the southeastern corner of New Mexico Territory, declared all of that territory south of the 34th parallel to be the Confederate Territory of Arizona. He declared himself governor. The name Arizona, of course, later became used for a state, but in the former western half of New Mexico Territory, not the northern half. During the war the rebels never really controlled their new territory except for one brief and ill-fated foray in 1862. More on that at a later time!

Meanwhile back in Missouri, Union and Confederate forces were gearing up for a showdown in the southwestern portion of the state. Skirmishes at Dug Springs on August 2 and Curran on August 3 were both minor rebel defeats. The armies were sizing each other up for the epic Battle of Wilson's Creek On August 10. I'll be talking more about that when the date rolls around.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My next Civil War history book gets a cover

My second Civil War history book will be released by Osprey Publishing in October. Ride Around Missouri: Shelby's Great Raid 1863 covers one of the most daring cavalry raids of the Civil War, in which J.O. Shelby led his famous Iron Brigade on an epic ride around Missouri, capturing Union forts, burning supplies, cutting telegraph wire, and causing chaos deep behind Union lines.

I've seen the page proofs and the art and layout team have done a splendid job as usual.

This will be my tenth published book, or eleventh if A Fine Likeness comes out first. While the action in my novel takes place in 1864, Shelby does get mentioned since he was part of General Price's 1864 invasion. Jimmy and his crew of bushwhackers are busy causing trouble in support of Price's invasion, while Union Captain Richard Addison is working on an ulcer worrying about Price coming through his territory. Book two of the House Divided series has one of Shelby's raiders as a protagonist and the famous rebel general appears in one scene.

I love meshing my history and fiction this way. It's also a good way to save time on research!