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!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I'm interviewed on One Writer's Journey

Fellow author and blogger Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz is interviewing me today on her blog One Writer's Journey. Besides my endless nattering on about my Civil War novel, I talk about how I got into writing, my creative process, and my take on the future of ebooks.

This is a very cool blog I've been reading for a while now. Penny gets a wide variety of authors to talk about their careers and books. Interesting stuff!

Book review: The Civil War in the Western Territories by Ray Colton

The Civil War in the Western Territories: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and UtahThe Civil War in the Western Territories: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah by Ray Charles Colton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Civil War in the Far West--New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah--is the least studied theater of the war. Having lived there I find that strange because those years redefined the borders of all the states and created Arizona. Colton's classic study has been around since 1959 and it still makes useful reading today.

Colton gives a relatively brief (209 page) description of the conflict in this region, focusing on the military aspects. A long final chapter goes into politics, but those seeking in-depth political coverage will have to seek elsewhere. Same goes with the economic and social aspects. These are covered, but take a back seat to military operations.

It's here that Colton is at his best. the descriptions of battles are clear and full of color, and even the tiniest skirmish gets its due.

A few criticisms: the maps are a bit simple and the map of the Battle of Glorieta is reproduced so small that it is almost illegible. Also, there is little coverage of the motivations behind the Native Americans. They are seen as simply another combatant with little context as to why they did what they did. The Native Americans are shown in a somewhat sympathetic light (rare for work from the 1950s) yet they remain voiceless.

I would recommend this book as a starting point for those looking to study the war in the Far West, or as a basic coverage for those who only want to read one book on this aspect of the war.

View all my reviews

More Neoconfederate nonsense

As I mentioned in my last post, the Neo-confederates don't like my Civil War novel's negative portrayal of Bloody Bill Anderson, rapist and murderer of unarmed prisoners. Big surprise.

The admin over at the Missouri in the Civil War Message Board deleted the thread, saying,

"The message boards extend a courtesy to our "Contributing Authors" to promote their books, articles, speaking engagements, etc. In the case of a book or article posting, I must ask that any critique of an author's work be on the highest and most polite level. If you have an "historical" issue with the content of an author's work, please specifically address a statement from the book or article with page numbers, dates, the text in question and your documented response to the author's position. No personal or "petty" exchanges will be tolerated on the message board from authors or respondents. Thanks for your cooperation."

Yeah, I was partly guilty for the petty exchange, but as anyone who knows me knows, I have a zero-tolerance policy to assertive stupidity. Despite the admin's words, Bloody Bill's #1 fan Neil Block wrote again. This time he used a spell checker, sort of.

"One last time, if it remains here, I'll express an opinion. I hope it suits this board:
I find it unexceptable for anyone to make remarks or assumptions about the mental condition of anyone who has been involved in close quarters combat in any war. If you ain't been there, don't assume that you would be able to handle the stress in any given situation or the results of having war waged upon "your soil" and againest your friends and family. None of us can judge others or be for sure how many of us would regain their humanity after having cared so little for it to survive. For 150 years those have that demeaned Missourians to be less than perfect in their eyes have assumed that they are moral & intellectual superior to the rest of us. Promoting work that makes statements about real life soldiers should be based on works by those that actually knew the soldier and not statements made in judgement by his adversaries. I know there are soldiers and former soldiers that read this message board and if they have been CQC they may have known a few "Bill's", but they have also known some "John's"........John McCorkle suffered the same fate as Bill Anderson did, CQC, losing family in the same event, but John was able to return and make a life after the war. We don't know his ghosts but he was able to maintain his civility thru some pretty tough times...........Nobody Knows Who Will Return..............that is why soldiers make the best peace makers...........beating up on Bill Anderson has made quiet a few folks a little $$$......."Doing right ain't got no end" is the redleg way..........defending his victims is mine..........Neil Block"

To which I responded,

"And I find it unacceptable for anyone to make remarks or assumptions about a book they haven't even read.
I hope this thread does stay up because it points out the narrow pro-Confederate bias that is all too obvious among some in the community. The idea that one side was bloodthirsty and evil and the other side was perfect and honorable is contrary to the facts. Both sides did terrible things in that war, and both sides included honorable men.
Mr. Block says: "Promoting work that makes statements about real life soldiers should be based on works by those that actually knew the soldier and not statements made in judgement by his adversaries."
I'd like to see him apply that idea to Union soldiers and Redlegs as well Confederate soldiers and bushwhackers."

Will this end the debate? I doubt it, considering the Neoconfederates griping at me anonymously in the comments section. Those comments were all redirected to my blog from the same cc'ed message sent via Yahoo mail. Gee, I wonder who sent THAT? Blogger tells you some amazing things if you understand the system.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Neo-Confederate threatens author of Civil War novel

My Missouri Civil War novel A Fine Likeness has only been out ten days and it's already getting an angry response from Neo-Confederates. I posted an announcement on the normally sane Missouri Civil War Discussion Board and included my blurb. Skip down if you've already read it.

A Confederate guerrilla and a Union captain discover there’s something more dangerous in the woods than each other.

Jimmy Rawlins is a teenaged bushwhacker who leads his friends on ambushes of Union patrols. They join infamous guerrilla leader Bloody Bill Anderson on a raid through Missouri, but Jimmy questions his commitment to the Cause when he discovers this madman plans to sacrifice a Union prisoner in a hellish ritual to raise the Confederate dead.

Richard Addison is an aging captain of a lackluster Union militia. Depressed over his son’s death in battle, a glimpse of Jimmy changes his life. Jimmy and his son look so much alike that Addison becomes obsessed with saving him from Bloody Bill. Captain Addison must wreck his reputation to win this war within a war, while Jimmy must decide whether to betray the Confederacy to stop the evil arising in the woods of Missouri.

Bloody Bill Anderson was a real person. Neil Block, Commander of the Captain William T. Anderson Camp #1743 SCV (Sons of Confederate Veterans), posted this response. I've kept his and grammar spelling intact.

"Any writing, even fiction, especially fiction that portreys Capt. Anderson in a negitive light should be considered a Hertiage Violations by the Captian William T. Anderson Camp #1743 SCV and steps will be taken to address this writers material as such............"

Okaaay. Neil Block can't even spell the name of his own organization! As you can see from their website, they're desperately trying to rehabilitate the name of this guerrilla who killed unarmed prisoners, scalped victims, and according to the scholarly biography Bloody Bill Anderson: the Short, Savage Life of a Civil War Guerrilla, had a fondness for raping young black girls. This isn't just some damned Yankke talking. The self-styled modern Missouri Confederate government admits Anderson's band had a penchant for rape.

I used Bloody Bill as a character in my novel because while he was a real person, his personality was like something straight out of central casting for a horror movie. I didn't include the rapes because I didn't want to write those scenes, so in a sense I was actually kind to Anderson's memory.

Of course I responded:

"Mr. Block,
You misspelled "portrays", "negative", "heritage", and "captain".
And you forgot the apostrophe in "writer's".
After careful consideration of the evidence I find you guilty of a Literacy Violation and hereby sentence you to complete grade school."

You can read the inevitable continuation of the thread, here.

Interview with the Missouri Writers Guild

Fellow Missouri author Dianna Graveman has published an interview I did for the Missouri Writers Guild's newsletter. I talk about my travel and history writing. I'll be back on her blog this Thursday talking about why I picked Missouri as the setting for my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness. Check my page of Online Appearances for a complete and constantly updating schedule for my virtual book tour.

To learn more about Dianna, check out this interview I did with her about her local history writing and research.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Guest blogging about historical fiction over at Cynthia Hope Clark's blog

Today I'm guest blogging at Cynthia Hope Clark's blog on Tips for Writing Historical Fiction. Hope is a great inspiration for lots of writers out there and has been plugging away at this crazy game for many years now. If you are an aspiring, struggling, or professional writer, you can get a lot out of her blog.

Be sure to check out my Online Appearances section for more stops on my virtual book tour. I have several this week!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The horror photography of Amanda Norman

Dark Road Nowhere by Amanda Norman
Horror photography enjoys a growing acceptance among fans of all things frightful. While most of us think of books and movies when we think of horror, talented photographer Amanda Norman sees terror through the lens of her camera.

Graveyards, Gothic architecture, forests in winter, even beaches become places of eerie light and shadow. Most of these aren't straight-up horror in the style that Hollywood embraces. The shots have disturbing subtly, more like The Seventh Seal than Seven. Occasionally she goes for fanged punks growling at the camera, and these aren't nearly as effective as her main body of work. She's at her best when she's being contemplative and melancholy.

Some of these would work great as book covers, although as tiny Amazon thumbnails they'd be all but blacked out. That's one thing I don't like about ebooks or shopping online in general. It's like what happened when album labels went from being on big record sleeves to being on CD jewel boxes. A shame, because the image below fits perfectly with a dark fantasy novel I'm writing.

I have a feeling we'll be hearing more from Amanda Norman. Art of this quality could take her places.

Three by Amanda Norman

Friday, November 25, 2011

Civil War Photo Friday: Bushwhackers

Some readers have asked me about the profile photo I use so I'm featuring it here for Civil War Photo Friday.

It shows three bushwhackers in the band of William Clarke Quantrill. They are (1) Arch Clements, (2) Dave Pool, and (3) Bill Hendricks. As you can see they are well armed with pistols and bottles of liquor.

This was taken in Sherman, Texas, where the band was wintering. As the leaves fell and the underbrush thinned, bushwhackers would leave Missouri for their homes or for Texas. In my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness, the young bushwhackers Jimmy and Morgan discuss wintering over in Texas instead of going home as they usually do.

Those two dangerous but otherwise honorable teenagers wouldn't have fit in. The three real bushwhackers shown here sat for their photo right after shooting up a hotel on a drunken spree. They didn't like this picture and trashed the photographer's studio, although Quantrill later made them pay for damages.

Dave Pool makes a brief appearance in A Fine Likeness. A real firebrand, he is absolutely fearless in the face of the enemy, yet is very afraid of what some of his band are trying to summon in the woods of Missouri. Another member of the gang was a young Jesse James, who has a larger role in the novel.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lancers in the American Civil War

I recently did a guest post over at Genre Author about Medieval Weapons in the American Civil War. Space limitations didn't allow me to include all examples of "primitive" weapons used in the war, so here are some more.

Some Texas cavalry units had lances. These weren't the huge lances of the medieval jousting era, rather the slim lances used in the Napoleonic era. The Texans' lance blades were 3 inches wide and 12 long, mounted on a 9 foot shaft. Each sported a red guidon with a white star to "drink the blood" of the Yankees.

At the Battle of Valverde, New Mexico Territory,  on 21 February 1862, Texas lancers under Capt. W.L. Lang, Fifth Texas Regiment, formed three columns and charged the Union left flank. Facing them were the Second Colorado Volunteer Infantry. The infantry waited until the horsemen were only 20 yards away and then gave them a volley. At that range it was hard to miss. At least 20 fell and the Coloradans quickly reloaded and gave them some more of the same.

Some Texans managed to close with the infantry. The Colorado troops didn't break, instead fighting back effectively with their bayonets. At this point the Texans should have been able to destroy the infantry. They had longer reach, after all. That a lancer should be beaten by a bayonet hints that the Texans hadn't trained with their weapons much. A fellow history buff over at the RenWars Yahoo group told me the Texans, disgusted at their performance in battle, ended up using their lances as firewood!

Another RenWars user pointed out an interesting article on pikes used by soldiers in Georgia. None actually saw combat, which was probably a good thing as far as the Georgians were concerned.

I couldn't find a public domain image of the Texan lancers. There's a good modern painting of them here

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Civil War Missouri: a great setting for a novel

For my next stop on my virtual book tour I'm over at historical fiction author Minnette Meador's blog writing on the subject of why Civil War Missouri is a great setting for a novel. Hop on over and check it out!

Minnette and I go way back. I can't actually recall when exactly I met her online. We've been chatting for years. I've been watching her list of historical novels grow and grow. Strange to say, I got onto Twitter today to retweet some of her posts and found I wasn't actually following her! We chat on Facebook and via email and for some reason I always assumed I was following her on Twitter too. All this social networking is frying my brain. . .

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Starting my virtual book tour for A Fine Likeness

Now that my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness is out, I'm starting a virtual book tour. My first stop was yesterday over at fellow author and medievalist A.J. Walker's blog. I blogged about Medieval Weapons in the American Civil War.

I've created a page on this blog for my online appearances. I already have several stops scheduled on my virtual book tour and more are on the way, so check back often as I hop around the web blogging about writing, horror fiction, the civil War, Missouri history, Jesse James, and more!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Edward "Stu" Bailey (1949-2011)

In the busy days after the release of my latest book, I want to take some time out to remember a good friend. A Fine Likeness is dedicated to my wife and son, as usual, and it's also dedicated to Edward "Stu" Bailey, who died earlier this year. Stu lived in Columbia, Missouri, and one of the highlights of my visits there was hanging out with him.

I first met him at Osama's, a popular downtown cafe. He and Tyree Byndom were playing chess and had a little sign up announcing that this was the first meeting of the Kneighborhood Knightz, a new chess club. I sat down and played. I'm not sure who I played but I'm pretty sure I lost. I could only beat Stu one game in three and I've only ever beaten Tyree once.

Several years later and the Kneighborhood Knightz has grown from its initial three members to dozens. It's a place where minds meet and friendships are made. It's one the the good things Stu helped bring into the world. My little boy even became a member without ever making it to Missouri. He played Stu online.

Stu was the kind of guy I immediately like. He lived in public housing but his apartment was full of books. He loved to party but one of his best friends was a devout Bahai who never touches drugs or alcohol. He was proud to be black but didn't give a shit what color you are.

Stu lived a full life. He spent time in the army in Germany, worked down in Jamaica, and had a variety of different jobs and homes. A few years ago he suffered a stroke that left him in a wheelchair. The depression this caused didn't last long. He soon rallied and took up wheelchair soccer. This earned him new friends and he got to travel across the country. Nothing could keep him down long.

But the end came as the end always does. Tyree emailed me the news in March while I was in Harar, Ethiopia. I intended on writing this memorial then but found I could not. Neither could Tyree. Eight months hasn't made it any easier.

So long, Stu.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Fine Likeness is out now!!!

My Civil War horror novel A Fine Likeness is finally out! It's available at Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon DE, and Amazon FR. In the next couple of days it will become available at Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. A print edition will appear in a couple of weeks.

Thank you all for your encouragement and for following this blog. I'll be hosting some giveaways in coming days as well as some guest posts and the usual blogging about the American Civil War west of the Mississippi. For those of you unfamiliar with my novel, the blurb is below:

A Confederate guerrilla and a Union captain discover there’s something more dangerous in the woods than each other.

Jimmy Rawlins is a teenaged bushwhacker who leads his friends on ambushes of Union patrols. They join infamous guerrilla leader Bloody Bill Anderson on a raid through Missouri, but Jimmy questions his commitment to the Cause when he discovers this madman plans to sacrifice a Union prisoner in a hellish ritual to raise the Confederate dead.

Richard Addison is an aging captain of a lackluster Union militia. Depressed over his son’s death in battle, a glimpse of Jimmy changes his life. Jimmy and his son look so much alike that Addison becomes obsessed with saving him from Bloody Bill. Captain Addison must wreck his reputation to win this war within a war, while Jimmy must decide whether to betray the Confederacy to stop the evil arising in the woods of Missouri.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Civil War Photo Friday: The sinking of the General M. Jeff Thompson

The Confederate navy was outnumbered and outgunned from the start of the Civil War. Despite this, they put up a spirited fight right until the end. One of the more interesting naval theaters of the war was on the Mississippi River, where North and South fought for control of this vital waterway.

The engraving above shows Battle of Memphis on June 6, 1862. The rebels were soundly beaten, losing almost all the ships they then had on the river. One of them was the General M. Jeff Thompson, shown sinking on the left. Actually it ran aground under heavy enemy fire and a blaze on board set off the magazine, blowing the ship to pieces.

The General M. Jeff Thompson was a side-wheeled steamboat converted into military use by fortifying it with a double layer of pine beams. The space between this layer was stuffed with bales of cotton. "Cottonclads" were warships made cheap, but cotton bales could stop bullets and even cannonballs. Sometimes only bales of cotton were used in a pinch, especially on troop transports. There were also "tinclads" made with thin sheets of metal (not always tin) and of course the more fearsome "ironclads".

The General M. Jeff Thompson was commissioned in April 1862 and fought with distinction at the Battle of Plum Point Bend on May 10. The Battle of Memphis was its second and last engagement. Although like many ships it was fitted with a ram, it never got to use it.

The ship was named after the Confederate Brigadier General of the same name, who became famous as the "Swamp Fox of the Confederacy" for his hit-and-run actions in southeast Missouri. The region there was mostly swamp before being drained by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 20th century, and his little army hid in "Swampeast Missouri", popping out at unexpected times and places to hit the Union forces.

Thompson was no stranger to steamboats. He briefly commanded some Confederate rams in 1862 and like other commanders in the Trans-Mississippi theater, often targeted enemy shipping. On this day 150 years ago, he seized the steamer Platte Valley at Price's Landing, MO. 

Both photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shrunken heads and preserved human flesh: mixing travel and horror

I've realized that I've been overlooking the horror genre on this blog. My Civil War novel A Fine Likeness is technically historical horror, although it's also been called paranormal, action/adventure, even mystery. It being between genres is one of the reasons I decided to self-publish with Kindle Direct Publishing. Now that we're in the final days leading up to its release, I'll be mixing horror in with my history posts.

As most of you know, part of my writing career is travel writing. I've seen some things that wouldn't look out of place in a horror novel, and so of course I've written about them. For example, I did an article on Five Places to See Shrunken Heads. More recently I examined the Preserved Human Flesh at Amsterdam's Tattoo Museum. When I was conducted historical research in Rome earlier this year, I took time out to write a whole series titled Vacation with the Dead: Exploring Rome's Sinister Side.

So there you go, some horror along with the history! There will be more to come. If you're more into the days of black powder and pistoleros, check out the news about my latest book project over on my personal/writing blog.

Photo courtesy Joe Mabel.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Another five-star review for Armies of the Adowa Campaign

Another review of Armies of the Adowa Campaign has appeared on Amazon. This one is by R.A. Forczyk, an Amazon Top 500 reviewer. It's my second five-star review. I also have a four-star review where the reviewer's only beef is that the book is too short! Forczyk's review is below: 

"If You Liked the Movie Zulu, You'll Love This Book

"Osprey's Men-at-Arms series, which has nearly 500 titles in print, has been gradually devolving into a litany of military uniform trivia and has seemingly run out of new or original titles. Then along came Sean McLachlan's Armies of the Adowa Campaign 1896, which is both original and focused on the kind of content that the MAA series used to deliver.

"Despite the fact that the Battle of Adowa was a large-scale action, it has received far less coverage than the smaller battles of the earlier Zulu War but it is fair to say that if you liked the film Zulu, you are likely to enjoy this volume. In short, in 1896 the Italians committed an army of 14,000 troops into an invasion of Ethiopia, but ran into an Ethiopian army near Adowa that was five times as large. In the resulting battle, the Italians were defeated piece-meal and were routed with more than 50 percent casualties. This is an excellent volume, with just the right mix of order-of-battle data, uniforms, weapons, campaign narrative and discussion of tactics.

"The volume begins with an introduction to the creation of the Italian colonies in East Africa and then moves into a campaign narrative that traces the beginning of the Italian confrontation with Ethiopia in 1895. A total of 18 pages are spent discussing the actual Battle of Adowa and includes a tactical sketch map. The author then details the composition, tactics and weapons of each army. The volume has useful B/W photos as well as eight color plates depicting uniforms. Overall, this is a very satisfying volume and provides a great introduction to the worst colonial defeat of the Nineteenth Century. Armies of the Adowa Campaign is very well written and well researched."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tough times for the Confederacy in Missouri

General McCulloch
As winter set in for the first year of the Civil War, Brig.-Gen. Ben McCulloch, commanding the Arkansas forces in Missouri, wrote to J. P. Benjamin, the Confederate Acting Secretary of War:

"My forces are at present near the main road from Springfield to Fort Smith, the infantry and artillery in Arkansas, and three regiments of mounted men in this State. General Price has fallen back to Pineville, some 25 miles west of this. . .

"The Missouri force is getting weaker daily by men leaving for their homes. The time for which many of them enlisted will expire in a few days. Nothing but a battle within the next ten days will keep together over 4,000 or 5,000 out of the 13,000 they now have. This battle cannot be fought without the enemy should advance. For us to attack them in their present position would be to lose a battle. Our troops, being mostly mounted men, are unfit to attack a strong position or to be of great use in a general engagement with heavy forces.

The Missouri Army is composed of some 5,000 infantry and artillery, 8,000 horsemen, with all sorts of arms, and without discipline. This force, if possible, should be taken into the Confederate service and reorganized this winter. It is now under the control of politicians, who know not the value of discipline, and consequently can never make an army that would be but little better than a city mob. There is excellent material out of which to make an army in Missouri. They only want a military man for a general. . .

"As for myself, it would never to do place me in command of them. I have made myself very unpopular by speaking to them frequently about the necessity of order and discipline in their organizations. There is unfortunately but little cordiality of feeling between the two armies; hence it would not answer a good purpose to place any man now in either army in command of both."

Although McCulloch and Price had defeated the Union army at Wilson's Creek that summer, they did not like one another and their rivalry seriously hampered their cooperation. McCulloch's full letter can be read in the Official Records.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book Review: Cole Younger, Last of the Great Outlaws

Cole Younger: Last of the Great OutlawsCole Younger: Last of the Great Outlaws by Homer Croy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cole Younger was one of the most successful outlaws who got their start as Confederate bushwhackers. Like Frank and Jesse James and a whole crowd of lesser names, Younger learned to ride and shoot and steal in Missouri's bitter Civil War. He became a legend, and tales of his exploits made fireside conversation in Missouri and other states for generations.

Homer Croy (1883-1965) grew up on those tales. He grew up not too far from the James farm so he heard a lot of them. Reading this book is a bit like sitting by a fire in a little cabin in the woods, hearing some oldtimer spin stories. It's hugely entertaining, but it's not history.

Croy writes in a homey, informal sort of way, often slipping out of the narrative to talk about his own experiences researching this book. He talked to many people who knew Cole Younger, and this adds a huge amount of value to his work.

He's weak on the facts, though. For example, he has Quantrill dying a few months after the Lawrence Massacre, when in fact he lived until 1865. He has Jim Younger getting shot through the jaw during the Northfield holdup, when actually he received that injury two weeks later when cornered by a posse. He also says the film Under the Black Flag was about Cole. I've seen it and it's about Jesse James, played by his son Jesse James, Jr. Croy obviously didn't see the picture, which is good for him because it was terrible.

Croy also repeats the legend of Cole Younger and Belle Starr being lovers. This has been disproved. It was Cole's uncle who had a brief affair with Belle.

But legends are what this book is about. Croy spins a fun tale, and as long as you don't take it as history, or at least reliable history, it's a highly entertaining read.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Two announcements: Facebook page and new Civil War article

I've been getting several friend requests on Facebook from readers. While I want to interact with everyone, I also want to keep my profile for people I actually know. To solve this, I've set up a public Facebook page. Feel free to Like me over there so you can keep up to date on all my latest publications and what's happening with A Fine Likeness. I'll also be featuring some giveaways exclusive for FB followers.

In other news, I've posted an article on Gadling related to the Trans-Mississippi Theater. The Honey Springs battlefield in Oklahoma may become a national park. This is promising news for everyone interested in preserving the legacy of the Civil War. Check out the link for more details.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Ulysses S. Grant proves his worth in Missouri

Ulysses S. Grant was one of the greatest generals of the Civil War. While he's most famous for his campaigns in the East, he actually got his start in Missouri. On this day 150 years ago, he fought his first battle at Belmont, Missouri.

Grant has steamed down the Mississippi River from Cairo, Illinois, with 3,150 men under orders to make a demonstration against Columbus, Kentucky. Instead he decided to attack General Pillow's Confederate camp at Belmont, directly across the river in Missouri.

Pillow had about 2,700 men at Belmont and another 2,000 or so across the river at Columbus. A determined Union attack and a shortage of ammunition on the rebel side soon gave the field to Grant. His men plundered their camp. Grant, flushed with victory and still pretty green, allowed his men to descend into disorder and Confederate troops from Columbus crossed the river and cut off his retreat. Grant had to fight his way back to the steamboats, leaving some of his plunder more than a hundred of his men behind.

Both sides claimed victory. The rebels said they were left in possession of the field, which is true. The Union pointed out that they defeated both forces sent against them, which is also true. Whatever way you slice it, the real victor was Grant himself. While other Union generals stayed in camp training their troops and begging Lincoln for more supplies and men, Grant went out and sought the enemy. That got him noticed. A few more stunts like that and his career was made.

For more on the battle, there's a long description here. The Civil War Daily Gazette has also done a good coverage of the preparations for the battle and the battle itself. If you're interested in the Civil War (and why else would you be reading this?) I heartily recommend the Civil War Daily Gazette. I read it every day. Just don't forget to come back here for more detailed coverage of the Trans-Mississippi Theater and the Civil War in Missouri!

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Armies of the Adowa campaign gets a four-star review!

I recently mentioned that my book Armies of the Adowa Campiagn 1896: Italian Disaster in Ethiopia  got a five-star review on Amazon. Well, I just got another review. This time it's four stars, and the reasons for losing a star are just fine with me. The review follows:

"I am very surprise that this subject matter, the Adowa Campaign, never made to the Osprey Campaign series. It would have made a great addition. Instead, we are treated with short verison of Men at Arms Series instead. I must ask why the author did not see fit to write an Osprey Campaign book and why he settled on this short version format instead?

"I wrote that because I found this book to be highly interesting reading material, there are a lot of facts packed into this book and it definitely deserves a longer treatment then what this series could afford. The narrative is short but well written, obviously the author did his research and provided many colorful plates on the uniforms and outfits of the two opposing sides. There are quite a few interesting photographs included including one where Italians and their African allies were being released, most of the African allies are missing some limbs of their bodies. Another interesting photo was one of two Italian survivors of the battle barely reaching back to their home base, looking more like escaped slaves then soldiers.

"Overall, its a pretty informative book that deserves a longer format of a Campaign series. Why the author settled for less is mysterious to me. Adowa campaign is a highly interesting campaign where an African power inflicted the greatest military defeat on an European power during the 19th century. Far greater defeat then Islandlwana which was British's smaller version of what Adowa turnout to be for Italy."

So his only complaint is that there wasn't more of it? I can live with that! To answer the reviewer's question, there are a couple of reasons why it wasn't part of the Campaign series. The main reason is that Osprey requires a topographic battle map for each title. I wasn't sure I could get a topo map for the Adowa battlefield. After visiting the Ethiopian Mapping Agency in Addis Ababa, my worries proved to be correct. Another reason it was in Men-At-Arms and not Campaign is that I've been working closely with the editor from the Man-At-Arms series and he offered me the title to do for his line.

So yes, Adowa deserves a longer treatment, but a couple of factors prevented me from doing it. Still, it was a fun book to write, and certainly not my last book on Ethiopia.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

An interesting Civil War letter about treatment of civilians

Here's an interesting letter from the Official Records that shows how quickly the war was degenerating in Missouri. Union officers were threatening to burn towns, rebel bushwhackers derailed civilian trains, and now this. The Confederate Captain Freeman mentioned in the letter was the object of a large Union manhunt. He got away.

HEADQUARTERS POST, Rolla, Mo., November 4, 1861.

Colonel GREUSEL,
Commanding Southern Expedition:

COLONEL: If the men who are away from home are in the rebel army, or if their families cannot give a good account of themselves or their whereabouts, take all they have got. They have aided and abetted Freeman in all ways, and most of them are now in the rebel army. You had not been gone long before the enemy were signaled from this vicinity by firing and beacon lights. They could only guess your destination, as no one knew it except you and myself.

Keep account of everything you take and who it is taken from. I think your idea is a good one about dividing your forces. Let the infantry, on returning, visit the Pineys and look out for affairs there. Be careful in taking contraband negroes that their owners are aiding the enemy.

Your obedient servant,


Colonel, Commanding Post at Rolla, Mo.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Civil War Video Friday: Rapping about the 54th Massachusetts

This is usually Civil War Photo Friday, but I just heard about this great video about the famous black regiment, the 54th Massachusetts. It's very professionally done even though the rappers look like they're in high school. Nice to see kids who know their history! Thanks to Jimmy Price over at the Sable Arm for bringing this to my attention.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Creative foraging in the Civil War

 As I mentioned in a previous post on weapons shortages during the Civil War, both sides had to deal with constant shortages of essential equipment. While the Confederates suffered more, Union troops were not immune, as this dispatch from the Official Records shows. It's from Major Frank J. White (Union) and dated 24 October 1861, but recounts events from two weeks before. It's addressed to acting Brig.-Gen. Whyman.

"On the 5th instant I received your orders to organize a scouting cavalry squadron for special service, and organized one by making the following details: Company L, First Missouri Cavalry, Captain Charles Fairbanks, 65 men; Company C, First Missouri Cavalry, Captain P. Kehoe, 65 men; the Irish Dragoons, independent, 51 men. We left Jefferson City on the 5th instant, and after a severe march reached Georgetown, our men in good condition, on the afternoon of the 8th. Our horses being all unshod, and consequently unfit for travel, we procured a few shoes and a quantity of old iron, called for blacksmiths from our ranks, took possession of two unoccupied blacksmiths' shops, and in five days shot our horses and mules, 232 in number.

"Our scanty supply of ammunition having been destroyed by the rain, and having two small bullet-molds in our possession, we procured lead and powder, and turning a carpenter's shop into a manufactory, made 3,000 cartridges for our revolving rifles."

Major White doesn't mention if these items were given up voluntarily, or why the villagers had so much powder in their possession. The soldiers' hard work, however, would soon be rewarded.

"On the 15th instant Colonel Hovey, commanding at Georgetown, received a dispatch from Lexington, stating that a valuable baggage train had left the vicinity of Lexington destined for Price's rebel army; also a private dispatch from Colonel White, stating that if he and his fellow-prisoners were not relieved within twenty-four hours they would be assassinated by the rebel marauders infesting Lexington. As Colonel Hovey's command was under marching orders, and therefore could not go to their relief, my command volunteered for the service, and Colonel Eads, of Georgetown, tendered me 70 men from his regiment. Accompanied by Colonel Eads, I started at 9 p. m. on the 15th instant, my whole force being 220 strong. By a severe forced march of nearly 60 miles we reached Lexington early the following morning, drove in the rebel pickets without loss, and took possession of the town. We made from 60 to 70 prisoners, 60 stand of arms, 25 horses, 2 steam ferry-boats, a quantity of flour and provisions, a large rebel flag, and other articles of less value. The rebels fled in every direction."

The next day the Union troops captured another steamer and left Lexington because the rebels were massing against them. With wry humor White added that, "As soon as the rebels were satisfied of our departure they attacked our deserted camp with great energy."

"We then proceeded to Warrensburg, making a few captures on our route. The evening of our arrival at Warrensburg we easily repulsed a slight attack, and by threatening to burn the town if again attacked, remained two days unmolested. We next proceeded to Warsaw, and are now on our route to Stockton. . .I have no casualties to report, and my men are all in good health, anxious for further service."

Threatened to burn the town if you got attacked? Nice. The war was getting ugly in Missouri.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. It's actually a blacksmith's shop in Pinal, Arizona, in 1882, but I liked the picture.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Back from another trip

As I'm sure you've noticed and I hope you care, I haven't blogged for more than a week. That's because I was traveling in Belgium and The Netherlands to write a series for Gadling. I'm four articles in with several more to go. One post that fans of military history might find interesting is my visit to a series of German bunkers from World War Two.

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting online with a Dutch man from the Gouda region. He told me that the farmers there were fascinated by the American Civil War and many invested in Confederate war bonds. I kept an eye out for them when prowling through the antique stores in Antwerp but sadly I didn't find any. Strange that they threw money at the Confederate government. The Dutch are usually pretty shrewd in their investments!

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.