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!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zouave

At the outset of the Civil War, the familiar blue vs. gray color scheme hadn't been fully adopted. Northern troops had uniforms of various colors, including gray, and many Southerners had no uniforms at all. Some units had elaborate outfits, and none were more famous than the Zouaves.

The Zouaves took their colorful uniforms from North African French colonial troops. Most Zouave units were from the North, like the New York unit that wore the uniform pictured here. There were some Southern Zouave units as well..

Zouaves got a lot of attention for their flashy duds, and some fought as light infantry like their North African namesakes, rather than in the closed formations used by regular units.

Zouave units are popular at reenactments, and one of my fellow Osprey Publishing authors, Robin Smith, reenacts the Civil War as part of the 5th New York DuryƩes Zouaves. So. . .he's an Englishman pretending to be a New Yorker pretending to be a North African in the French Army! It takes a special breed to write for Osprey. :-)

Photo courtesy Matthew G. Bisanz.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Connect with me beyond this blog!

As the April A to Z Challenge winds down, I want to thank all the people who've started following me. I've found tons of new blogger buddies out of this! I'll be reading and commenting on your blogs a lot more closely in May. Right now I'm still trying to get through the list of 1500+ participants. If you're one of them, you know EXACTLY how time consuming (and fun) that is!

Anyway, I'd love to connect with you beyond this blog. We can talk books on Goodreads, follow each other's tweets on Twitter, and you can see all of my news and online articles on my Facebook fan page. If you want to chat privately, feel free to email me at the address on the sidebar.

Tomorrow: Z is for . . .?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for Cole Younger

Thomas Coleman “Cole” Younger grew up on a wealthy farm in Missouri. When the Civil War started, he joined the rebel bushwhacker band of William Clarke Quantrill. In those chaotic days, his father was murdered by a Union militia, and this gave him a burning hatred of the North.

When the South lost he found he couldn't put the war behind him and was a founding member of the James–Younger gang with fellow bushwhackers Frank and Jesse James and other ex-rebels. He participated in the gang's first robbery, that of the Clay County Savings Association in Liberty, Missouri, in 1866. Cole went on to a successful life in crime, sometimes teaming up with the James brothers and sometimes working with his two brothers, Jim and Bob, or other outlaws. The "gang's" membership was always fluid.

Cole hit stagecoaches, trains, and banks, and his activity included Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Iowa, and West Virginia. He had a reputation for being practical and level-headed, which put him at odds with the impulsive and showy Jesse James. The gang came to disaster during the robbery of a bank at Northfield, Minnesota in 1876. During the shootout and ensuing chase, three robbers were killed and everyone else wounded. Only the James brothers escaped. Cole and his brothers were captured and sentenced to life in prison.

After serving 25 years, Cole was released. For a while he was a traveling tombstone salesman, then he co-managed a Wild West show with Frank James, and also took time to lecture on the subject of how crime doesn’t pay. In 1903 he wrote the book The Story of Cole Younger by Himself: An Auto-biography of the Missouri Guerrilla, Confederate Cavalry Officer, and Western Outlaw, a remarkable piece of self-puffery that's fun to read but shouldn't be taken as anything close to history.

Here's a weird bit of trivia: in the 1957 movie The True Story of Jesse James, Gilligan's Island Skipper Alan Hale, Jr., plays Cole Younger. Having that actor forever associated in my mind as the Skipper made his appearance in this western more than a little distracting! Here's another bit of trivia, the actor's father, Alan Hale, Senior, who looked much like his son, played Little John in two versions of Robin Hood: the 1938 Errol Flynn version and the silent 1922 version.

There, I've managed to link Jesse James and Gilligan's Island. My life is complete.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia. The entry for Cole Younger in Wikipedia is peppered with errors. Read a book about him instead.

Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for ex Civil War Soldiers who couldn't stop fighting

Yeah, this is a bit of a stretch for "X", but looking at some of the other participants in the A to Z Challenge it appears I'm not alone in this.

Anyway, as we all know, veterans can have some issues. This isn't a new thing, and in the nineteenth century psychology hadn't been developed and nobody knew the term "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder". Plenty of Civil War veterans had it, though.

Considering that such a high percentage of the American male population had seen some wartime service, and many of them had seen some incredibly bloody battles, it's no surprise that American history for the rest of the nineteenth century was seriously affected by wartime experience.

Take, for example, the rise in organized bands of outlaws right after the war. The James gang. The Younger gang. There were dozens if not hundreds of them. The majority of their members were former Confederate bushwhackers, those who had seen and committed the worst that war has to offer. It was hard for these folks to put the war behind them. Harder still, considering the laws that were put into place in some states that kept former Confederates from being fully integrated into society.

Then there were all those feuds in the Wild West. When you look at many of them, like the Baldknobbers or the Arizona War, you find that the bulk of the people on one side were former Union soldiers and the bulk on the other were Confederate soldiers. Violence begets violence, and civil wars are the most violent of all since the same nationality is both winner and loser, hero and villain.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Waning Days of the Civil War

Robert E. Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, is often held up as the end of the Civil War. It certainly took the fight out of most of those rebels who still had fight left in the them. A string of surrenders came after that, most notably General Johnston's Army of Tennessee on April 26. Confederate President Jefferson Davis fled, hoping to somehow continue the Confederacy from Mexico, but got captured May 10.

West of the Mississippi River, things moved a bit more slowly. At first, many Confederates thought that news of the surrenders was a Yankee trick. Realization of the truth eventually dawned, however, and General Kirby Smith surrendered his Department of the Trans-Mississippi on May 26. The last rebel to surrender was General Stand Watie in the Indian Territory, shown in this Wikimedia Commons image, who didn't give up until June 23. By this time there had been several more battles and skirmishes in various parts of the South, although things were rapidly winding down.

Despite all this, President Andrew Johnson (who came into office after Lincoln was assassinated on April 14) didn't feel secure enough to issue a proclamation officially ending the war until August 20, more than four months after Appomattox!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Fine Likeness gets its first public reading!

As I mentioned earlier this week, I had my first reading of A Fine Likeness. The city of Madrid sponsored me as part of their annual Noche del Libro (Book Night). On Monday I read at J & J Books and Coffee, a great little English-language used bookshop/bar that’s a popular meeting ground for expats and locals.

I was scheduled to read at 6pm, which is very early for an event in Spain, especially on a weeknight. When I got there, I saw only two guys quietly drinking at the bar and I got the feeling they weren’t there for me. A friend of mine was alone downstairs looking at the books. Meanwhile, I’m sipping on warm water and trying not to cough, a legacy of a rainy London pub crawl from a week before. Not an encouraging start!

Well, nobody expects you to start on time in Spain so I waited an hour. By that time, the bar had filled up nicely and so I started my reading. I read the entire first chapter, which is short, introduces several main conflicts for one of the protagonists, and gives a feel for the historical era. I then read a few shorter passages to give the POV of the other protagonist. When I finished I got warm applause that did my soul good.

Then I opened it up for questions. This is always a bit scary because you never know what to expect. I’d placed a ringer in the audience to ask a question. There’s nothing worse than asking if anyone has any questions and being met with dead silence. Luckily, several people had questions and some were quite good. One guy asked, “You mentioned you’re a history writer. How do you feel about using real historical figures in your fiction?” Damn good question, and one I’ll devote a blog post to later on.

In all I sold ten books, mostly to people I didn’t know, and I got to see some old Madrid friends I don’t see often enough. All in all, a great evening!

If you happen to be in Madrid, J & J’s has a stock of my books!

V is for Vicksburg

When the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg surrendered to General Grant on July 4, 1863, the Confederacy was cut in half. Vicksburg controlled the Mississippi River, and with it in Union hands, there would be little communication between the Confederate states to the east of the Mississippi and those to the west of it.

My special interest has always been the Trans-Mississippi Theater. By this time, the best Confederate troops from Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas had been mostly drawn off to the killing fields of the east, leaving behind a weak army that included many conscripts. You'd think this would make those states easy pickings for the North, but the Union high command was also drawing off troops from places like Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa.

So when they were cut off from the rest of the Confederacy, western Confederates did not give up hope. True, they were undermanned and undersupplied, but they controlled a huge swathe of territory and kept up raids and minor campaigns against the Yankees until the very end. At least some of them did. The loss of Vicksburg was a huge blow to morale, and desertions increased in the Confederate ranks. Some of the roving bushwhacker bands I've mentioned before were actually AWOL soldiers, sometimes even from both sides, banded together into roving gangs of thieves.

Painting courtesy U.S. Army Center of Military History.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Undertakers in the Civil War

When the Civil War broke out, the art and science of undertaking was in its infancy. Most people buried the dead themselves within a day or two of death, so there was no need for an undertaker's services. With so many people dying far from home, however, there was soon a demand for a process that would preserve the dead so they could be brought back home to be buried.

Preservation of the dead was done on-site by Embalming Surgeons, who followed the armies and preserved those who could pay for the service. Men with enough money, usually officers, would make arrangements for payment in case of death. Thousands were embalmed and sent home. The vast majority of Civil War dead, however, were simply buried where they fell. Embalming was too expensive, and the embalmers too few, to treat more than a tiny fraction of the dead. It appears that embalming was only a Northern phenomenon. There’s no record of Southern Embalming Surgeons, probably because of shortages in chemicals, medical supplies, and transportation.

Embalming got an early start with the Civil War’s first casualty. On 24 May 1861, Col. Elmer Ellsworth went to remove a Confederate flag flying from the Marshall House Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia. A secessionist shot and killed him. His body was taken to the Washington Navy Yard, and Dr. Thomas Holmes, considered “the father of modern embalming” visited President Lincoln and offered to embalm Ellsworth for free. Mrs. Lincoln was so impressed with the result, that when her son Willie died she asked that Dr. Holmes embalm him too. When Lincoln was assassinated, he became the first president to be embalmed.

For more information about embalming in the Civil War check out the Civil War Undertaker site.

Photo of Civil War embalming surgeon Dr. Richard Burr, courtesy Library of Congress.

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Texans in the Civil War

"Don't mess with Texas!"

I'm not sure when this saying got started, but it may have been during the Civil War. Texan units fought in every theater of the war and were some of the best troops the Confederacy had. As Robert E. Lee once said, "Texans always move 'em!" Texans were involved in many of the battles in Missouri and even pushed as far west as Tucson, Arizona, briefly claiming that dusty frontier town for the South.

Texas was also the site of the last battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Palmito Ranch, fought on May 12-13, 1865, well after most Confederate armies had surrendered. This pointless engagement was a smashing Confederate victory!

As I've mentioned frequently on this blog, history is rarely clear cut. Parts of Texas had a strong Unionist sentiment. Some counties were dominated by German immigrants who had immigrated into one country only to find they were suddenly citizens of another. The Texas government had to strike a deal with these folks--don't rebel against the rebellion, keep farming, and pay your taxes, and you won't be conscripted into the Confederate army.

Some Unionist Texans took a more active part in the war. Like every other Confederate state, Texas had some regiments in the Union army. Hmmm. . .sounds like a good setting for a story.

Photo of Private Thomas F. Bates of D Company, 6th Texas Infantry Regiment, with D guard Bowie knife and John Walch pocket revolver courtesy Library of Congress. Don't mess with Texas!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

My first reading for A Fine Likeness!

This coming Monday is La Noche de los Libros (Book Night) in Spain and the city of Madrid has chosen me to be one of the sponsored authors to give a reading! The fact that I'm not Spanish and my novel has nothing to do with Spain seem to be irrelevant to them. Hey, who am I to complain?

I'll be reading from A Fine Likeness at J & J Books and Coffee at 6PM on Monday, April 23. After the reading I'll be discussing the Civil War in Missouri, the business and process of writing, and opening the discussion up for questions. Knowing the J&J's crowd, I'm sure there will be plenty of drinks afterward.

You can see the Facebook event page here.

Come on down if you're in town!

S is for Slavery in Civil War Missouri

We're now more than halfway through the April A to Z Challenge. I've been meeting lots of interesting bloggers!

Continuing in the more serious vein that I started yesterday, today I want to briefly discuss slavery in Civil War Missouri. Slavery there was of a different character than in many other states. Most slave owners had only one or two slaves, and worked alongside them in the fields. The giant plantations we think of when we imagine the Antebellum South were a rarity in Missouri. The only large-scale use of slaves was for hemp cultivation, which required exacting manual labor.

The first generations of white immigrants into Missouri were mainly from Southern states and they brought their ideas and slaves with them. Starting in the 1840s, however, a large number of German immigrants arrived. Many were refugees from social upheavals back home where they tried, and failed, to improve the lot of the peasant. They looked upon slavery as another form of exploitation. Also, Americans from Northern states started to arrive at the booming river ports such as St. Louis.

At the start of the war, urban areas were generally Unionist, while rural areas were generally secessionist. The Union army quickly took control of the state, and ironically this kept many slaves in bondage. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 only freed slaves in states then in rebellion. Since Missouri wasn't in rebellion, slavery continued nearly to the end of the war.

Arkansas, however, was considered a state in rebellion, so many Arkansas slaves fled north to Missouri, where they were set free. Some settled in St. Louis, while others took (or were forced to take) jobs with the Union army. Many of the men joined black regiments like the First Kansas Colored Volunteers.

Once the slaves were freed and the war ended, black Missourians had other hurdles to overcome. Segregation laws were soon put in place as a result of white fear of what all these former slaves might do with their freedom.

Eastman Johnson's Ride for Liberty courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Racist Abolitionists

Slave auction house, Atlanta, 1864. Photo by George N. Barnard

When someone tells me that the Civil War wasn't fought over slavery, but over states rights, I always reply, "The right to do what?"

The answer, of course, is to own slaves, or more specifically to expand slavery into the western territories. You don't have to believe me. Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said in his Cornerstone Speech early in the war, that the Confederate government's "foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition."

This does not mean that all individual Confederate soldiers were fighting to defend slavery, but their government certainly was. Nor does it mean that all Northern soldiers were abolitionists, or even that all abolitionists were lily-white liberals with 21st century ideas. Reality is rarely so neat and tidy.

Jimmy Rawlins, the teenage Confederate bushwhacker in my Civil War novel, never makes his reasons for fighting explicit. He seems to have just been caught up in the excitement of it all. Union Captain Richard Addison is fighting to preserve the Union, not free the slaves. In fact, in one scene he actually refuses to free some slaves. His sergeant, on the other hand, thinks all slaves should be free. It's not because he really cares about them, rather he thinks it's the best way to defeat the South.

In the sequel (which I'm halfway through writing and still don't have a title for!) we meet Captain Addison's son Allen. He's a typical abolitionist of the mid-nineteenth century. He believes slavery is morally wrong and is fighting the war in large part to end it. He does not, however, think blacks are equal to whites. Far from it. He sees slavery as a "corrupting institution" that steals jobs from whites, makes whites cruel, and tempts them to sleep with black women. These very reasons were often given in abolitionist literature of the era.

. . .and then I throw in Rufus, a runaway slave who everyone realizes they need on their side, and things start to get interesting.

When writing historical fiction you come up against some hard truths about the past. It's best not to gloss them over. Shining light on them makes for much more worthwhile writing.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for William Clarke Quantrill

Anyone who knows about Missouri's Civil War could predict what my "Q" entry to the A to Z blogfest would be. Who else but the most dangerous bushwhacker of them all? While I've written about Quantrill before, this man is endlessly fascinating.

During Bleeding Kansas before the war he fought on whatever side promised the most loot, raiding both proslavery men and Free Staters as the opportunity arose. When the Civil War started in 1861 and Quantrill had to pick a side, he picked the South. Quantrill soon built up one of the most effective guerrilla bands of the war and gave the Union troops no end of trouble. He kept looting, though, and in one infamous incident burned down Lawrence, Kansas, killing about 200 men and boys and making off with an immense plunder.

While it would be easy to dismiss Quantrill as a bloodthirsty opportunist who simply used the war as a cover for his own personal gain, as many guerrillas on both sides did, he was more complex than that. He fought right to the end, long after most Southerners realized the game was up and had gone home. He must have known he'd never make it out alive, yet he kept going.he even boasted that he'd ride to Washington, DC, and assassinate President Lincoln! He got as far as Kentucky before he was run to ground.

Photo courtesy Rex Dickson from our visit to a Confederate rest home in Missouri. Only three arm bones, two leg bones, and a lock of hair are buried here. The rest of his body is scattered in two other locations.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for General Sterling Price

One of the defining figures of the Confederate cause west of the Mississippi was General Sterling Price. A former Missouri governor and commander of the Missouri State Guard when the war started, he was a popular figure and was very effective at rallying troops to the Confederacy.

Price was the victor of several early battles such as Wilson's Creek and Lexington, but his star soon faded as he suffered a number of defeats. Price was a brave man who often led his troops from the front (rather than several miles to the rear like too many generals) yet he was a poor strategist. The consensus among historians is that he would have made a better regimental commander than army commander.

In 1864 he led his last campaign, an ill-planned invasion of Missouri. He thought that after more than two years of Yankee rule that Missourians would rise up to support him. Some did; most didn't. His poorly armed troops plodded through the state, winning some battles but losing others, never strong enough to take St. Louis or the state capital at jefferson City as Price had planned.

By this time Price weighed 400 pounds and could barely ride a horse. He rode most of the time in a carriage while many of his ill-equipped troops had to walk. The expedition met disaster at Westport near Kansas City and fled south, having their final engagement at the Battle of Newtonia before retreating south to Arkansas, never to return.

Price never stopped believing in the Confederacy. When the South surrendered he and some other diehards fled to Mexico and started a Confederate colony. It too was a failure and eventually he returned home to live his final years in quiet retirement.

I've always been fascinated with Sterling Price because he sums up much of what was good and bad about the Confederacy: enthusiastic yet ill-conceived, brave yet foolhardy, willing but unequal to the task. And he accepted defeat with his head held high.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Oxford

As I mentioned in my "E" post, my family and I spend every Easter and summer in England, or more precisely Oxford. We just got back home to Spain from our latest trip. It went well. We saw most of the people we wanted to see and I had a meeting with one of my publishers, Osprey Publishing, to discuss my future titles. While I can't say anything until plans are finalized, it looks like I'll have some good news and some interesting trips pretty soon!

When my wife is working in the astronomy department and my son is at camp, I work in the Bodleian Library. It's one of the largest libraries in the English-speaking world and a treasure trove for any writer. It also has some fine architecture, as you can see from the photo.

Part of the Bodleian is being refurbished and they're put up barriers decorated with their own A to Z, based on their collections!

For more on Oxford, check out my posts about it on Gadling, Midlist Writer, and Grizzled Old Traveler. Two of the most popular articles are about a pagan grove and Norman church and one on the Pitt-Rivers, which is the coolest museum in the world.

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for the Battle of Newtonia

The Battle of Newtonia on October 28, 1864, was the last Civil War battle in Missouri. The state had been in Union hands for more than two years when Confederate General Sterling Price led an invasion from Arkansas in September of 1864 in an attempt to take it back. He crossed the breadth of the state, fighting all the way until he suffered a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Westport near Kansas City. His shattered army fled south, suffering another defeat at Mine Creek shortly afterwards.

Still fleeing south, they were harassed by a small Union army led by General James Blunt. All the other Union forces had given up the chase so while Price's army was demoralized, they actually outnumbered the overeager Blunt.

When Blunt came upon Price's supply wagons at the rear of the Confederate column, he formed up his cavalry and led them in a charge. The rebels were exhausted and demoralized through a long march and a string of defeats, but one Confederate unit remained strong--General J.O. Shelby's Iron Brigade. They rushed to the rear and fought off Blunt's charge. Shelby held them off long enough for Price's army to slip away into the Indian Territory.

It wasn't the end of the rebels' troubles. They struggled through snow and hail, fighting starvation while smallpox ravaged the ranks. It is at this low point that the as-yet-unfinished sequel to A Fine Likeness begins. The protagonist is a cavalryman in Shelby's Iron Brigade and he has his own ideas of how to win the war.

Actually this was the Second Battle of Newtonia. The first was a small affair that took place on 30 September 1862 and was also a Confederate victory. The only book on these battles is Larry Wood's excellent The Two Civil War battles of Newtonia. Also check out Larry Wood's blog for lots of cool posts on Missouri history, especially the outlaws of the Ozarks.

Photo of Blunt courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Missouri in the Civil War

When I went to the University of Missouri-Columbia I became fascinated with the state's Civil War history. The war west of the Mississippi doesn't get much attention from historians and so I didn't know much about it. Soon I became hooked.

The Civil War in Missouri actually started years before it did in the rest of the country with Bleeding Kansas. This was a bitter border war over whether the Kansas Territory would become a free state or a slavery state. Proslavery Missouri bushwhackers raided Kansas, killing Kansans and wrecking abolitionists printing presses, while free-state Kansas Jayhawkers raided Missouri, killing slaveowners and stealing their slaves to freedom over the state line. As I've noted before, there were a lot of opportunists on both sides who used the chaos to plunder for their own benefit.

Missouri was an unusual case even when the war started in earnest in 1861. Within a year, Union forces pushed all major Confederate armies out of the state. They had a hard time holding it, though. While the urban areas supported the Union, rural areas tended to be secessionist. A nasty guerrilla war ensued and nobody was safe outside of town. This is reflected in my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness, in which a Union militia captain finds he can't even ride to the nearest town without losing men. Regular raids from Arkansas didn't help the Union position either.

The men fighting in Missouri were quite a mix. Soldiers from Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Illinois, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and the Indian Territory all fought there, and I'm probably forgetting a few states! Many Missouri Unionists were German immigrants, including some who didn't speak English, and the rebel side could boast having a young Frank and Jesse James.

All in all, a rich setting for a novel!

Engraving of the Charge of the First Iowa at Wilson's Creek courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for the Battle of Lexington

No, not the "shot heard 'round the world" of the American war of Independence, but the Battle of Lexington, Missouri. It took place on September 18-20, 1861.

After defeating the Union army at the Battle of Wilson's Creek, the victorious rebels marched north to the Missouri River and besieged a Union garrison that was entrenched atop a hill overlooking town. The cannon duel was furious, and one cannonball can still be seen today stuck into the courthouse!

The Union troops fought valiantly but were forced to surrender after their water supply was cut off. As I explained in an earlier post, this was the high tide of the Confederacy west of the Mississippi River. The rebels soon had to retreat south as more Union troops closed in. Besides a brief and doomed incursion in 1864, no rebel army ever got this far north again.

An interesting side note to this story is that a young Frank James, who later went on to become a famous bandit, fought on the rebel side in this battle! Check out the two links for more detail of this epic battle, which saw the clever use of hemp to help win the day.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kurt Shryack (1962-2012)

We've come to K in the April A to Z blogfest and that means only one thing to me right now--my good friend Kurt, who died last month.

The main downside to a life of travel is that you don't get to see enough of your friends. This is especially hard for me because my friends are scattered all over the globe. Kurt was one of my Missouri circle, a great group of folks I met while going to university in Columbia and who I make a point of spending time with whenever I return to do research.

Kurt was a great guy to hang out with. He was very easy going and could talk all night about philosophy, music, history, and a host of other topics. We often went camping/partying together in Kansas with some of my other Missouri friends, and those days at camp are some of my fondest memories. Kurt was a part of all of them.

He'd been going through some rough times in the past year and had some health issues, but just like when my friend Stu Bailey died, it still came as a surprise. I'm only 42, and the illusion of immortality that goes with youth has only recently worn off. As the list of people I care about who have died relentlessly lengthens, I'm becoming more and more aware of my own limited time here, and the need not only to keep chasing my dreams, but to spend as much time as possible with those close to me. You never know when a "see you next time" will turn into a "goodbye forever."

So long, Kurt, I'll miss you.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for Jayhawkers

I've talked about bushwhackers a lot on this blog. These rebel guerrillas were the terror of Missouri and Arkansas, but they weren't the only terror. Their Union counterparts were called Jayhawkers. Many were based in Kansas and raided across the state line into Missouri and Arkansas.

Like the bushwhackers, some were ardent if somewhat lawless supporters of their cause. Jim Lane, for example, stole slaves from Missouri and Arkansas and created the First Kansas Colored Volunteers, the first black regiment in the U.S. army to see combat. Others were little more than bandits. Charles "Doc" Jennison, pictured above in a very dapper frontier outfit, leaned more toward the bandit side. While he did fight bushwhackers and Confederate regulars, he also ransacked secessionist and proslavery homes, mostly for personal gain.

The Jayhawkers and bushwhackers personified the bitter border war that helped lead to the start of the Civil War. The hatred had grown so great that mercy was in short supply and thieves and killers rode beside patriots. The downward spiral of brutality and bloodshed has left animosities that are still felt by some in the region today.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Fine Likeness is out now in print!

My Civil War novel A Fine Likeness is now available in print! I got my author's copy from Createspace and it looks grand. Here are some photos of the new arrival and the proud father.

This is a historical novel with a splash of paranormal. If it's not your thing, that's cool. Nevertheless, I'd love it if you helped me out by asking your library to stock it. Just request A Fine Likeness by Sean McLachlan, ISBN-10: 1468004476, ISBN-13: 978-1468004472. Tell them it's a Civil War novel. Those have become increasingly popular because of the Sesquicentennial. It's set in Missouri, so if you live there mention that too! A friend has already requested it for the Salt Lake City public library system. Thanks, Jim!

If any of you have some books that deserve to be in the library, post the information in the comments section and I'd be happy to return the favor!

I is for Ichthyoelectroanalgesia

Here's an A to Z post I'm sure nobody else is going to do!

Ichthyoelectroanalgesia, if you parse the term, is the use of an electric fish as a pain reliever. I found the word when reading an archaeological journal article about Parthian batteries, made in the 1st century AD. These mysterious objects, which generated a weak electrical current, may have been used for pain reliever when you couldn't find an electric fish to do the same job. Yes, ancient medical books actually suggested doing this!

Ichthyoelectroanalgesia was also the name of a zine I did in the mid-Nineties. It was my first serious stab at writing, a collection of travel and archaeology with some old-school art clips. I had a great time trading zines with people all over the world and at its peak the zine had about 200 readers. I'm still in touch with a few of them, including the editor of the amazing bibliophile zine It Goes on the Shelf.

While I moved on to other things and eventually became a professional writer, Ichthyoelectroanalgesia is still a fond memory for me. It's also a good word to trot out at parties. I managed to stump an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary with it!

Monday, April 9, 2012

H is for Horror

I love the horror genre. When I read H.P. Lovecraft in middle school, his vision blew my mind, and his prose showed me the richness of the English language. I've read lots of horror since then, although not as much as many horror fans since about 75% of my reading is nonfiction, mostly related to my historical research.

It's no surprise that I've written horror myself. My Civil War novel A Fine Likeness and my short story collection The Night the Nazis Came to Dinner and other Dark Tales are my first two contributions to the genre. There will be more later this year, including another Civil War horror novel, a novella set in Viking Greenland, and an anthology collaboration with author A.J. Walker.

My favorite subgenre is historical horror. Someone once said that the past in another country, and setting horror in a distant time and place adds a level of strangeness that makes the horror more believable. In my writing it's often an open question whether anything supernatural is actually going on. Not that you need supernatural to make a horror tale, although it helps!

Do you have any recommendations for historical horror? I'm always open to discovering new authors. But please, no vampires. I am sooooo tired of vampires. Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire came out in 1976 and the craze has been going on unabated ever since. I am done with vampires.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

G is for Grizzled Old Traveler

Grizzled Old Traveler was my very first blog. It ran from 2008-2010 with a total of 199 posts. It was mainly a travel blog with some random personal stuff thrown in. I stopped writing it when I got a paid blogging gig at Gadling (there's another G for you) and saw no reason to continue.

It's still up and got 447 hits last month! Nice to know somebody's still reading it. Or maybe those were just spambots. Whatever. My favorite posts are Ten Reasons the Moon Landing Conspiracy Theory is Stupid and The Thunderbird Photo and False Memory Syndrome. I also wrote a lot about Spain, where I live much of the year.

Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for First Kansas Colored Volunteers

For me, the most fascinating unit in the Civil War west of the Mississippi is the First Kansas Colored Volunteers. Most of the soldiers for this Union unit were runaway slaves from Missouri and Arkansas, many of them "stolen" on raids by Kansas guerrillas and given their freedom in Kansas. These raids were often led by abolitionist Kansas senator Jim Lane. It was Lane who created the unit in 1862, against the direct orders of President Lincoln, who was still waffling on the issue of black soldiers.

The regiment got its "first taste of powder" on 26 October 1862 when they fought and defeated a much larger force of rebel guerrillas at the Battle of Island Mound. Until then, most white people North and South assumed that blacks wouldn't make good soldiers. The First Kansas Colored Volunteers started to change this racist mentality.

I'm shopping around a book proposal about the First Kansas and am having trouble finding a publisher or agent to take it on. This seems strange to me considering that I already have more than ten books published, including two on the Civil War. I'm no stranger to book rejections, it's part of the business, so I'll keep trying. It's a story worth telling.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for England

While I love adventure travel, one of my favorite places to go is England, where I am right now. My wife, son, and I spend every Easter and summer in Oxford. It's a nice change from Spain and a good way to keep the kid bilingual. These are working vacations for us. My wife has collaborators at the university's astronomy department and I research my books at the Bodleian Library, one of the largest English-language libraries in the world. This shot is of Queen's Lane, part of my way to work.

Oxford has been a university town since the Middle Ages and is rich with history and tradition, like the Eights Week boat race. There are lots of historic sights nearby. Iffley village on the outskirts of Oxford has a Norman church and a pagan grove. My kid used to go to school right down the street from it when we lived there a couple of years ago.

For more about the sights in and around Oxford, check out my Gadling posts about travel in Oxfordshire.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for Derringer

Here's a cute little gun that's fun for all ages. It's called a Derringer, a small pistol used for personal protection. They were mostly one-shot models, although a double-barreled Derringer was also produced. Being so small they didn't have room for a magazine or cylinder.

These guns were so small they could be hidden in pockets or even ladies' stockings and were favored by gamblers, prostitutes, and other citizens who sometimes had need to protect themselves. A newsboy even fired one at Jesse James and his gang when they held up the Missouri Pacific Express in 1876. The newsboy objected to one of the gang members stealing his assortment of pies and tried to plug him. The gang took it in stride and laughed, "Listen to that son of a bitch bark!"

Below is the most infamous Derringer of all, the one that was used by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for Columbia, Missouri

It's the third day of the April A to Z challenge. Today's letter is C and so I'm picking Columbia, Missouri, one of my many hometowns. I went to university here. When I was a university student I made the smart move of making friends with lots of so-called "townies". Unlike Tucson, another of my hometowns, my circle of friends hasn't scattered to the four winds. I even set my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness in and around Columbia with a bunch of inside jokes only my Missouri friends will catch.

Like most people who have lived there, I have mixed feelings about Columbia. It's one of Missouri's liberal flight towns and has a great community of artists and thinkers, yet on the other hand it has some serious racial issues most people pretend don't exist. One of my friends, Tyree Byndom, is tackling these issues and it's hard going. Like his Facebook page. He'll challenge your thinking and won't mind if you challenge him right back.

So what was Columbia like during the Civil War? It was a Unionist oasis in a secessionist countryside and that was not a very comfortable thing to be! A Union blockhouse was placed at the intersection of 8th St. and Broadway and a local militia constantly guarded the town. In my novel I add a fictitious militia company led by the equally fictitious Captain Richard Addison so I can have them go of on adventures that aren't found in the history books. Addison makes damn sure there's no written record of some of the things he sees and does!

The real Columbia didn't see much action during the Civil War, except for a raid by some Confederate bushwhackers to bust a comrade out of jail. There are also plenty of local ghosts stories involving Civil War soldiers and a few period homes like this cabin.

Photos courtesy Horncolumbia via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for Bushwhackers

It's the second day of the A to Z Challenge and so of course B is for bushwhackers!

Bushwhackers were Confederate guerrillas. They generally did not have an official position in the Confederate army and fought the war "on their own hook." They were especially rife in Missouri and Arkansas, where they burned bridges, tore down telegraph wire, ambushed Union patrols and supply wagons, and even attacked small towns.

One of the protagonists of my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness is teenaged bushwhacker Jimmy Rawlins. He and his friends cause trouble in Missouri until they meet up with the band of Bloody Bill Anderson, the most notorious bushwhacker of them all. Jimmy is fictional, but Bloody Bill was all too real.

This photo shows three of Bloody Bill's men, well equipped with Colt Navy revolvers and bottles of liquor. Number 2 is Dave Poole, who has a memorable scene in the novel at the Battle of Fayette.

B is also for the Battle of Boonville, the first battle in Civil War Missouri and one of the first anywhere in that war. While it only lasted twenty minutes, it had an important effect on the war west of the Mississippi. Hit the link to see an article I wrote about it.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A is for Adventure Travel

Hello and welcome to the A to Z blogfest, where I and hundreds of other bloggers are going through the alphabet this April! I bet you expected I was going to post something about the Civil War. Andersonville? Antietam? Ambrose Burnside? There will be plenty of Civil War posts in the days to come, but today I want to talk about another of my interests--adventure travel.

I've always been a keen traveler and got my first real taste at age 20 when I worked as an archaeologist in Israel. After university I spent a year hitchhiking across Asia, going from Bulgaria to Turkey, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Thailand. In total I've been to 31 countries, most of which I've stayed in for a month or more. I prefer to travel slowly and solo in order to get a feel for the place and get to know people.

Now I work for the travel blog Gadling. I've written several adventure travel series for them, including one on a road trip around Ethiopia, living in an African city, and visiting Somaliland. This photo shows me feeding the hyenas outside the Ethiopian city of Harar. I'm hoping to do a couple more adventures this year to countries I haven't visited yet. Stay tuned!