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!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Civil War Video Friday: Loading and firing a Springfield rifled musket

Here's a video showing how to load and fire the 1861 Springfield rifled musket. This was the standard issue weapon for Union infantry. A large number of Confederate troops also used the Springfield. It was a single-shot muzzleloader.

For dramatic effect he pulls off several shots at the end instead of just one. In reality he'd have to reload for every shot but they edited that out.

One realistic aspect of this is the fellow playing the Union soldier. So many reenactors are paunchy middle-aged guys, when in fact most Civil War soldiers were skinny kids like this guy. He looks a bit too clean, though. Maybe he just bathed in the creek.

You also might be interested in a video on how to load and shoot a Colt Navy revolver.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The dangers of delivering the mail in Civil War Missouri

The Official Records has an interesting report from 150 years ago.

Report of Colonel Daniel Huston, Jr., Seventh Missouri Cavalry.

Lexington, Mo., June 15, 1862.

SIR: I have received a report from Lieutenant-Colonel Buel to the following purport

A mail escort, which left Independence for Harrisonville on the morning of the 11th instant, consisting of 23 men and 2 non-commissioned officers of Captain Cochran's company of Missouri State Militia, was fired into 15 miles from Independence, and 2 men of the escort were killed and 2 wounded. A scout sent out by Colonel Buel failed to find the marauders. Colonel Buel also reports that information, believed to be reliable, had been received that Quantrill, with 60 men, was near Pink Hill. He closes his communication by saying:

I shall not for the present have any more of my men shot carrying the mail between Independence and Harrisonville. I am obliged, by orders from District Headquarters, to keep the route open. I shall compel secessionists in this vicinity to carry that mail for a while. I believe this will be the best course I can pursue. On receipt of your dispatch yesterday I prepared one for Major Linder, at Harrisonville, and sent it by a secessionist, who has returned safely. . .

As I explain in my book American Civil War Guerrilla Tactics, while sending secessionists to deliver the mail reduced attacks, it only encouraged the conscripted secessionists to join the bushwhackers. If they were going to be shot at, they reasoned, they might as well be shot at by the other side! Telegraph was the safest way to communicate, but it was impossible to protect the entire line and bushwhackers were constantly cutting them.

Photo of the Army of the Potomac's General Post Office in Brandy Station, Virginia, 1863, courtesy Wikipedia.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Author Interview: fantasy novelist A.J. Walker

I've decided to take a note from uber-blogger Alex Cavanaugh and announce new releases from my followers. If you've been reading my blogs for a while, you'll recognize the name of writer and medievalist A.J. Walker. I've done guest posts for him on such subjects as medieval weapons in the Civil War. He's returned the favor by writing a very popular guest post on leather armor. Now he has a fantasy novel out called Hard Winter and he's joined us to talk about it.

Hi A.J.! First, give us the skinny on Hard Winter.

Hi Sean! Thanks for having me. Hard Winter is the first book in the Timeless Empire series of military fantasy novels. The best summary I can give you is the blurb.

His past has been erased, his future is uncertain, but he knows one thing—in the coming revolution he must choose which friend to support and which to betray.

The Dragonkin have ruled the human race for centuries, but now the eastern territories have broken away and a blight has left thousands of humans destitute. Assassinations and riots plague the cities.

While the empire’s future is in peril, one man struggles to reclaim his past. Recorro lost his wife to the Gatherers, shadowy beings that prowl the streets on moonless nights. Those who witness their passing are forever changed. Recorro can remember nothing about his wife beyond the fact that she existed.

Aimless and struggling with despair, Recorro joins the army gathering to crush the rebels. What he discovers there may answer all his questions, and topple the empire he swore to uphold.

Military fantasy? Tell us more about that subgenre.

Military fantasy isn't a term that's used much, although many books fit into the category. One of my main influences is Glen Cook's Black Company series, especially the grittier early novels where it's a bunch of soldiers just trying to survive. The later books get a bit more elaborate and political. I prefer the common man's view. The same with the Thieves World series. It started out with thieves doing what thieves do, and turned into world-shaking politics. I'm not knocking the later numbers of either series, I just prefer the earlier ones.

Military fantasy is the experience of soldiers in a fantasy setting. Dealing with how magic affects strategy and tactics is a lot of fun and requires some serious thought.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Famous Union Battle Flags

This illustration was originally published in My Story Of The War: A Woman’s Narrative of Four Years Personal Experience as a Nurse in the Union Army by Mary Livermore. It shows several Union battle flags from celebrated units. From left to right they are: Thirteenth Illinois, Twenty fourth Michigan, Eighth Missouri, First Minnesota Artillery, Second Michigan Artillery, and the Seventh New York Heavy Artillery.

The Eighth Missouri was organized in St. Louis in the summer of 1861. The men were drawn from the Irish workers on the city's riverfront. They wore distinctive Zouave uniforms and fought with distinction in the Eastern theater. Today the regiment is remembered with its own reenactment group.

Some nice flags, although the heavy artillery from New York seems to have shredded theirs!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Busy, busy, busy

I've been a busy bee lately. As I mentioned before, my wife and I are running a photo exhibition on Ethiopia to benefit the charity A Glimmer of Hope. Opening night was on Sunday and we met some interesting folks as well as seeing many of our friends. I wrote an article about running a photo exhibition for Gadling that might be of interest to you shutterbugs out there.

I've also been busy on the sequel to A Fine Likeness. The most recent scene involved two bushwhackers hunting each other through the dark rooms of an abandoned plantation, while our hero, a naval officer who has never fought on land, tries to help one of them and finds it's all he can do to survive. I had a lot of fun writing that scene. Always a good sign!

In completely unrelated news, my fellow blogger Melanie Renzulli recently visited the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. This museum has many grim anatomical samples from Civil War casualties. Worth reading. Be warned about the photo gallery, though, it's not lunchtime viewing!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Victorian vampire hunting kit up for auction

Vampires were big in the Victorian era. Books such as Dracula and Varney theVampyre were bestsellers and adventure travelers to eastern Europe reported that the people still believed they existed.

A rare vampire hunting kit from this era is now for sale. The box contains a crucifix, pistol, wooden stakes and mallet, a Book of Common Prayer from 1851, and bottles of holy water, holy earth, and garlic paste. There's also a handwritten note quoting Luke 19:27: "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me."

Vampires have been in the news a lot recently. Archaeologists in Bulgaria have just discovered two vampire graves. Hit the link to read the Gadling article I wrote about it.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, from Les tribunaux secrets, published in 1864.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ethiopia photography exhibition opens Sunday!

My wife and I are opening a photography exhibition about Ethiopia this Sunday at 8pm here in Santander, Spain. If on the off chance you happen to live nearby, please come along. You can find the details in this poster. It was designed by my brother-in-law, who also used his talents to design the cover of my Civil War novel.

All proceeds will go to benefit A Glimmer of Hope, an NGO that's doing excellent work building schools over there. You can read an article I wrote about them here.

The local paper El Diario MontaƱes gave us a nice writeup today, and they even mentioned my novel!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Cherokee Confederates Reunion, 1903

This fascinating photo shows a reunion of Cherokee Confederates that took place in New Orleans in 1903. Like many other Native American tribes, the Cherokee were split in their loyalties. Some sided with the Confederacy since they were slaveholders and wanted to get back at a Federal government that had treated them horribly. Others sided with the Union in the hope that their loyalty would be rewarded with better treatment for their people. Well all know how well that worked out.

Native Americans fought in many battles and campaigns in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. Stand Watie, a Cherokee, became a brigadier general in the Confederate army. He was the last Confederate general to surrender, not giving up until June 23, 1865, more than two months after Lee had surrender at Appomattox.

The Indian Territory (modern Oklahoma) was torn apart by rival factions backing opposing sides and by Union and Confederate campaigns. In addition to battlefield casualties, many civilians died from starvation and exposure when they had to flee their homes. It's safe to say the Indian Territory suffered as bad as any place in the Civil War.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I've made it past 50,000 words in my next Civil War horror novel!

The still-untitled sequel to A Fine Likeness is coming along nicely. Today I passed the 50,000 word mark. I anticipate it will end up being about 90,000 words. My goal is to get the first draft done by my birthday on August 16. That's doable if I write 1,000 words a weekday and don't get stuck. If I do get stuck, oh well, that's an important part of the process and a writer shouldn't fret about it. I can always work on other projects.

For those of you who have read A Fine Likeness, you'll see many of the characters who survived the last novel. There are also some new characters, such as Allen Addison, the naval officer you only met through letters, and Bill Treadway, a Confederate cavalryman in Price's defeated army, who makes one last gamble with the forces of Chaos to win the war.

Much of the action takes place on the USS Essex, pictured above. I just wrote a scene where the ship's crew, under Addison's command, teams up with some deserters from the First Kansas Colored Volunteers to fight a band of bushwhackers. When Addison investigates their camp he find these rebel guerrillas are more than what they seem. . .

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I have a reader in Andorra!

Well, I had a reader in Andorra. A friend of mine just came from there to visit me here in northern Spain. He started A Fine Likeness while he was there and finished it on the long bus ride to Santander, Spain. His copy was all battered and dog-eared from being in his backpack, the way a book should look. :-)

That makes four countries that I know of where my Civil War novel has been read: Andorra, Spain, the UK, and the US!

Here's a question for my readers who are writers. Where's the most obscure country where you've been read?

Photo courtesy Christof Damian.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Military ballooning

The Civil War saw lots of military innovations, including the first extensive use of balloons for observing enemy troop movements. They'd already been used by the French as far back as 1794 but the Americans and Confederates took it higher (ahem!) by using them much more and hooking telegraph wires between the balloon and the ground station to send messages back.

The North used them more, having many more industrial facilities. Balloons stayed fixed as observation posts and never tried anything like dropping bombs
The Intrepid was one of the Northern balloons, crewed by Prof. Thaddeus Lowe, a balloonist who offered his services to the war effort. The photo below shows him going up to spy on the rebels at the Battle of Seven Pines.
The first of the photos is of a different balloon. It makes for a nice series, though!