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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Guest post: Getting the facts straight with my historical novel

Today we have a guest post from someone I met on the Missouri Civil War forums. John J. Gschwend Jr. has written a novel about the Civil War and part of the action takes place in Arkansas, which of course was intimately tied to the Civil War in Missouri. Take it away, John!

Pigeons began landing everywhere: on the ground, on stumps, in the trees. Soon there was little room for another bird, but they kept coming, reminded Joe of ants. Large limbs moaned, cracked, then fell under their weight. A big one from the sycamore crashed to the ground killing scores of pigeons, yet they kept coming.

This didn’t really happen, only in my novel, Chase The Wild Pigeons: A Novel of the Civil War. It could have happened, though. During the time of the Civil War there were estimates of 4 to 5 billion passenger pigeons in America. Yes, I said “billions.” Now there are none.

I spent almost as much time researching facts for my novel as I did writing it. I traveled from Helena, Arkansas, to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. I prowled the battlefield at Brice’s Crossroads, Mississippi. I went to New Albany, Mississippi just to see the topography. I wanted to tell the truth when I spun my story.

I love reading history, and first-person narratives are the cream. With these, you are going straight to the horse’s mouth.  You can get lost in time with these. They should use this stuff in school—kids would like it better than remembering stupid dates.

The internet is a treasure. You can find letters, diaries, and all sorts of records. I found Iowa soldiers longing for home and away from the disease in Helen,a Arkansas—“Hell in Arkansas” they called it. Slaves  describing the beatings, or tell how good “Marse” was to them. A found a letter from a woman telling of hiding between the bed and fireplace as the Battle of Helena raged. It goes on and on.

My story is of two boys traveling from Helena Arkansas to the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War. I placed them in battles and situations that were real. They lived in Yankee-occupied Helena and lived through the battle there. They visited a large plantation in Mississippi. They were witness to a Yankee raid. They lived the hardships of a deprived South. They saw the institution of slavery from many angles.  They were at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads where they met General Forrest. There is much more, and all of it could have happened, because I researched extensively. I wanted to tell the truth.

If you are interested in historical narratives, here are two sites you must visit: Library of Congress and Documenting the Old South.

Chase The Wild Pigeons: A novel of the Civil War can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. My website is http://civilwarnovel.com


  1. I just starting reading this book to senior residents. They can be a tough audience, but they are already eager to hear more.


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