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, November 30, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Florida Confederate Regimental Flags

We don't hear much about Florida in the Civil War. It was the third state to secede but never saw a large amount of action. The Union navy blockaded the state and took a few key points on the coast. With major campaigns occurring further north, the Union contented themselves with that and there were only a few forays inland.

With its small population, Florida could only supply about 15,000 men to the Confederate army. They did supply a large amount of food, however, and their blockade runners kept the Union navy busy.

Above is an interesting flag of the combined 1st and 3rd Florida Confederate Regiments. They started out as separate regiments but combined in December 1862, probably because both were understrength. They spent the entire war outside of their home state, fighting various battles as part of the Army of Tennessee.
Companies had flags too. Here's one from Company B of the 3rd Florida Infantry. They hailed from Saint Johns County and called themselves the Saint Augustine Blues.
The 5th Florida Regiment served with the Army of Northern Virginia and fought at Gettysburg. Following General Lee throughout the war, they surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9th, 1865. They used the more familiar Confederate battle flag

Photos courtesy Florida Memory, a very cool website for the state's history.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I'm giving away two copies of my Civil War novel!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Fine Likeness by Sean McLachlan

A Fine Likeness

by Sean McLachlan

Giveaway ends December 15, 2012.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
That's right, I'm giving away two copies of A Fine Likeness on Goodreads. If you haven't read my book, or simply want a print copy, here's your chance to win one of two copies for free! Deadline is December 15. This is available only to members of Goodreads, which is kind of like Facebook for avid readers without all the annoying privacy issues that are really, really tempting me to ditch Facebook.

So sign up for your chance to win a copy. And while you're at it, why not friend me at my Goodreads page?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hostility and history in Iraq

My travel series about Iraq continues. The latest installments include a walking tour of Nasiriyah, one of my most intense experiences in the country that included equal parts warmth and hostility; and the first of a two-part post on the archaeological sites of Iraq. The first is about ancient Assyria.

Check them out! That guy next to the Assyrian guardian spirit wants you to!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Plundering the enemy in the Civil War

Victory in war is not just marked by territory gained and the number of enemy killed, it's also measured by the material you take from him. The Official Records of the Civil War are filled with accounts--boasts, really--of the amount of booty taken from a defeated enemy.

In Missouri, for example, the 10th Kansas Volunteer Infantry was moving through western Missouri hunting Confederate bushwhackers in September of 1862. They burned the houses, outbuildings, and provisions of a dozen known guerrillas and took 100 stand of arms, 10,000 rounds of ammunition, four yoke of oxen, five wagons, a number of tents, dry goods, and camp equipment. Presumably these were found in the houses, as no actual combat is recorded. They also recovered property stolen during Quantrill's raid on Olathe, Kansas, on September 6. As the regiment headed back to Kansas, some sixty African-Americans followed them to freedom.

The rebels did some prize taking themselves. A report from September 11 says, "Confederates made off today with a 24-pounder howitzer in a skirmish at Bloomfield. They are now headed toward Holcomb's Island with the howitzer in tow."

Photo courtesy Library of Congress. This ruined home is actually in Petersburg, Virginia.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


COMMANDO: Operation ArrowheadCOMMANDO: Operation Arrowhead by Jack Badelaire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jack Badelaire loves the men's adventure fiction of the 70s and 80s. He has a blog and an ezine both dedicated to the genre. Now he's turned his hand to writing and the influence is obvious.

Commando: Operation Arrowhead reads like those cheap potboilers I read in high school back in the day, and I don't mean that in a bad way at all. There's action aplenty as a team Commandos blasts their way through hordes of Germans in occupied France. It's good versus evil with lots of gunfights, explosions, and blood spraying everywhere.

Badelaire's fight scenes are awesome. He's also good at describing the political and strategic situation of the early war years and the rivalries, petty and no-so-petty, that trouble any group of men in a high-stress situation.

I could have used some more fleshing out of the characters. This style of fiction has always relied a bit more on archetypes than deep characterization. Since this is the first in a series, I suspect we'll be getting into the characters' heads a bit more in later volumes. Well, at least those who survive. Badeliare isn't afraid of killing off characters.

People who aren't World War Two buffs might have a bit of trouble with some of the equipment descriptions. Being a Civil War and Colonial war buff myself, my knowledge of weaponry drops significantly after the invention of smokeless powder. Bren gun and the MP-38? I got you. The MAS-36? I had to look that one up!

All in all, a damn good read for anyone who likes fast-paced adventure fiction and wants to Nazis get blown away in large numbers. I predict Jack Badelaire is going to make a major name for himself in this reemerging genre.

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My Jesse James book gets its first review, and it's four stars!

My latest book, The Last Ride of the James-Younger Gang: Jesse James and the Northfield Raid 1876 has received its first Amazon review less than a month after being released. It must have been from one of the many people who preordered it. I love preorders. It's is my fifth book for Osprey and twelfth book in total. To see my other Osprey titles, click on my Osprey author's page. You can see some interior images here.

The review was four stars and reads:

"The James-Younger Gang's attempted robbery of the First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota in September 1876 is probably the most famous bank robbery in American history, not to mention the most disastrous in terms of execution. Three of eight gang members were killed. Three more were wounded and captured. Only Frank and Jesse James, both wounded, escaped. Two civilians died as well. The robbery netted a total of $26.70!?! Sean McLachlan recounts the story of this horribly botched robbery in THE LAST RIDE OF THE JAMES-YOUNGER GANG, a 2012 Osprey release.

"After sketching in the early lives of the James and Younger Brothers, McLachlan details the origins of the Northfield caper, pre-planning, execution and the post-raid fates of the surviving robbers. Though I've read other books on the Northfield robbery, McLachlan's account still makes for compelling reading. The narrative is complimented by vintage B&W and contemporary photographs, color maps and exciting, color crime scene artwork by Peter Dennis.

Wild West afficiandos will enjoy THE LAST RIDE OF THE JAMES-YOUNGER GANG. It's a comprehensive, exciting summary of outlaws in action. Recommended."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Thanksgiving in camp

It's the day after Thanksgiving and we're all tucking into leftovers. Thanksgiving was a big deal during the Civil War too, when people gave thanks for still being alive. Here's an image from the Library of Congress showing Thanksgiving in a Union camp in 1861. I've included a detail below so you can see the happy guys tucking into some turkey. I have a feeling the meals got smaller as the war dragged on, especially in the Southern camps.

More dispatches from Iraq

I'm still working hard on my Iraq travel series. In my latest articles I visit the soon-to-reopen National Museum of Iraq, Saddam Hussein's palaces, and I go on a beer run in Basra.

I've also done a guest post for Osprey Publishing, which publishes my military history books. It's about the Baghdad North Gate War Cemetery, where many of the British Empire's fallen from the First World War are interred.

So don't be caught napping! Go check out these one-of-a-kind articles. And if you like what you see, please tweet, share, comment, and blog about it. I'm always available for guest posts and interviews.

Photo of some of Basra's finest by Sean McLachlan. These guys were assigned to guard us. Good thing there aren't pirates in the Shatt al-Arab anymore!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

GUEST POST: Civil War Mystery: Objects in photographs are closer than they appear

Today I have an interesting guest post by Kathryn Hohmann, author of the Civil War novel Soldiers Rest, which like my own novel features photography as a central theme. She offers some tips on writing historical fiction. You can learn more about her on her webpage and Goodreads page. Thanks for coming, Kathryn!

Like a resident of a coastal town who rarely gets to the beach, I was surrounded by hallowed ground but never visited the Civil War battlefields of central Maryland. On weekend bicycle trips, I was more worried about the hilly terrain than the interpretive markers along the route. Although I sensed that the landscape possessed some eerie quality, I gave the matter little consideration.

Then I relocated to Montana and on a backcountry outing, I broke my leg and ended up bed-ridden and bored. I rented The Civil War by Ken Burns and found myself engrossed. As the series comes to an end, Burns touches on the years after the war. To illustrate how Americans turned away from memories of the conflict, he includes a remarkable image of glass plate negatives of Civil War photographs, scrapped and salvaged for the silver emulsions on their surfaces and recycled into glass panes for solariums.

These photographs –our collective heritage from the Civil War– dulled by years of sunlight and rain, were the inspiration for my historical novel, Soldiers Rest. The years spent writing my book and becoming conversant in a slice of the Civil War taught me a few lessons that I’d like to share.   

Hit the books – hard. Readers of historical fiction will spot your blunders. Study up, seek help and don’t be afraid to make revisions, especially if you’re in the e-book space. Read, research and read some more.

Take a small bite. History of any period is a sweeping canvas and unless you’re a Civil War scholar, you may want to consider limiting yourself to a small space of geography and time. I chose to concentrate on the aftermath of a single overlooked conflict, the Battle of South Mountain, part of the 1862 Maryland campaign. The event rarely gets the attention it deserves, overshadowed as it is by Antietam. The Battle of South Mountain was small enough to be a good candidate for my story, and focused enough so that when it came time for annual commemorations, the events were intimate and engaging, and there was little chance I would be lost in the crowd, as I might have been at Shiloh or Gettysburg.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Join me on Reddit tomorrow for a chat about Iraq!

My Iraq travel series is has two more articles up, one on Iraqi street art and another on my most terrifying experience in Iraq. It's not what you think. :-) I also did a guest post today on a medieval castle in Iraq.

Also, tomorrow you'll have a chance to talk with me directly about my Iraq adventure on Reddit. Tomorrow, November 20, from 11-4PM ET I'll be doing an AMA (Ask me Anything) on my recent trip to Iraq. You can check it out here once it's live. I've never used Reddit before so it would be great if there were a few friendly faces there to throw me some softballs!

So be there! That's what this cuneiform says. I think.

An unofficial black Union soldier in Civil War Missouri

During the summer of 1862, Confederate Colonel Joseph Porter rode around northeast Missouri recruiting men for the Southern Cause. He assembled about 2,000 recruits, many without any training or even weapons. Pursuing him came Colonel John McNeil of the 2nd Missouri Cavalry with about 1,000 trained and armed men. McNeil finally ran Porter to ground at the town of Kirksville on August 6, 1862.

In a three-hour battle, McNeil kicked Porter out of Kirksville and seriously weakened his force. Porter's scattered recruits would be hunted down over the next couple of weeks.

An interesting footnote to this battle is found in a letter by Union Lt.-Col. William Shaffer: "I must speak of Colonel McNeil's colored man Jim. To him belongs the honor of killing the first man in the fight. Armed with a Sharps rifle, he did splendid work through the entire afternoon. Whenever a rebel showed his head at long range, Jim was almost certain to get him."

While this was two months before the First Kansas Colored Volunteers became the first black regiment to see battle at the Battle of Island Mound, it isn't the first report of a black man bearing arms in Missouri. Even during the border wars with Kansas in the 1850s, there were scattered reports of Jayhawkers having black men in their ranks. These guys were probably slaves freed on previous raids by the Kansas Jayhawkers into Missouri territory.

One question is: was Jim a slave or a freedman? Despite the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery still existed in Missouri at this time because it wasn't considered a state in rebellion and therefore didn't come under the new law. Slaves were sometimes armed so they could go hunt for themselves and their masters, so a slave being a good shot isn't outside the realm of possibility. Some Unionists owned slaves and fought on the side of the North to preserve the Union, not free the slaves. Only some serious research could discover if Jim was a slave or a servant

It's also interesting to note that Jim was armed with a Sharps rifle, the finest gun at this time and a Jayhawker favorite. It's also the weapon of choice for the hero in my Civil War novel.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Uncovering ancient Iraq

My Iraq travel series is still going strong over at Gadling and I'm also doing some guest posts. D.G. Hudson interviewed me over at Rainforest Writing about the archaeological sites in Iraq. Over at The Adventure Blog I've written about the ancient Arab city of Hatra. Both blogs have lots of good content, so you might want to follow them!

Needless to say, I loved exploring Iraq's archaeological sites. There are lots of artifacts scattered on the surface, including nearly complete pottery vessels and fragments of cuneiform writing.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Dispatches from Iraq

I have two posts up about Iraq today. The first is for Gadling and is perhaps the most serious post I'm doing for the series. It's about my experience meeting a child refugee from Syria. Read the story, but don't watch the video if you have a weak stomach.

The other article is about Exploring Medieval Baghdad, written for the Black Gate Magazine blog, which published my historical fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence. So head on over to these sites and get some good free reading. That's where this little Iraqi girl is going!

Wild West Photo Friday: Black Cowboys

Wait, isn't this supposed to be Civil War Photo Friday? Well, I decided to mix it up a bit this week. In honor of the First Kansas Colored Volunteers getting their own state historic site, I wanted to show where some of them probably ended up.

After the Civil War, former slaves were faced with choices for the first time in their lives. Many moved to big cities, especially in the North, to look for work. Sadly, they found prejudices just as engrained there as back on the plantation. Some decided to join the great movement westward.
An estimated 15-20% of all cowboys were black. Prejudice wasn't as serious on the frontier, where everyone had to get along just to survive. In the Old West a man could work hard and maybe make a fortune regardless of the color of his skin. There was racism in the West, of course, but there was also a lot more opportunity. Some black cowboys even banded together to form towns such as West Texas City near Galveston. This town was originally called Our Settlement, showing the pride of these former slaves in finally having something to call their own. One of its founders, Calvin Bell, was the first African-American to have his own cattle brand, in 1874.
Here is one of the most famous black cowboys of them all, Nat Love, who was responsible for his own fame by being one of the few black cowboys to write an autobiography.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

More interesting reading on Iraq

Want to learn about Iraq? This bookstore in Baghdad has plenty of good source material. The problem is, it's all in Arabic! So if you can't read Arabic, read my Iraq series.

The latest installment is titled Muqtada Al-Sadr Promotional Posters--Why Saddam's Hanging Makes For Good Advertising. It's all about how a poorly read cleric scrabbled his way to the top through a combination of Daddy's reputation and sheer ruthlessness.

In the next few days, you'll meet a nine-year-old refugee, visit the holiest shrines of Shia Islam, and see some cool street art. Stay tuned!

And if you do happen to read Arabic, check out Baghdad's bookshops. You can even find an Arabic edition of Orwell's 1984.

First Kansas Colored Volunteers honored with State Historic Site

I've written here before about the First Kansas Colored Volunteers, a unit mostly comprised of runaway slaves from Missouri and Arkansas who fled to Kansas. They had the honor of being the first black regiment in the American army to see combat when they fought the Battle of Island Mound in Missouri on October 26, 1862. There they defeated a much larger force of Confederate bushwhackers.

Now, after long preparation, Missouri has set up the Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site. On the 150th anniversary of the battle they had a formal opening and reenactment. Check out the photo gallery on their site for some great shots!

Yeah, I'm a bit late with this news. Much have something to do with traveling in Iraq. :-)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Going on a road trip in Iraq

The next post in my Iraq travel series, Iraq Road Trip: Who Takes The Ultimate Adventure Vacation And What's It Like? is now live on Gadling. As usual, if you like what you see, please tweet, share, etc. I want to make this series something big!

Here's a group photo of my travel companions and some Iraqi cops in front of the famous spiral minaret of Samarra, which I was sure I was going to fall off of. I'll be posting about that little experience later in the series. I'm the guy in the blue shirt just to the left of center. That's a money belt, not a pot belly!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How I nearly got arrested in Iraq

The next in my adventure travel series, Destination: Iraq, is now live on Gadling. Titled A Run-in With Iraqi Police, it tells the story of how I nearly got arrested for being too trusting of the Iraqi people.

I really want to make this series big, so please share, tweet, and blog about it. I'd be happy to drop by your blog and answer a few questions. Help me out or this guy will come after you!

Monday, November 12, 2012

My series on traveling in Iraq has started!

My new series, Destination: Iraq, about my 17-day trip through Iraq, has started over at Gadling. The first article, Going on Vacation in Iraq explains just why the hell I'm doing this.

I really put myself on the line for this one, folks, so please tweet, share, like, comment, and blog about this series. It would really help me out and encourage my editor to send me on more trips like this one. So spread the word! Nabu, the Babylonian god of wisdom and literature, commands you!!!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Lincoln's reelection poster

Considering recent events, I thought it would be nice to put up Lincoln's campaign poster from the 1864 presidential election. Here he is, trying to become a two-term president in the face of harsh criticism from the Democrats and rising popular complaints about the war.

Interestingly, this Republican president decided to run with Andrew Johnson, a Democrat. Johnson was a slave owner but when the war started, he supported the fight to preserve the Union with all his energy. The support of the War Democrats, as people like Johnson were called, were vital if the Republicans wanted to stay in power. In an attempt to get them on board, the Republicans temporarily changed their name to the National Union Party to emphasize that they were all about preserving the Union.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Voting follows old patterns in Missouri

In the weeks running up to the election I became obsessed with CNN's Election Center. With all the results in, I took a look at voting in Missouri. CNN posted an interesting map showing how Missouri voted county by county.

As you can see, Obama only carried three counties. They were St. Louis, Jackson, and Boone. He also carried St. Louis city. St. Louis County is part of the metro area, Jackson is home to Kansas City, and Boone is home to Columbia, where I live part-time and which serves as the setting for my Civil War novel.

Knowing Missouri, I never expected Obama to win there. He did pretty well, though. St. Louis and Jackson are, of course, the most populous counties, and Boone is number 7, so while Obama only managed to carry three counties and St. Louis city, he did get 44% of the popular vote.

What's interesting is that St. Louis, Kansas City, and Columbia were the three main strongholds for Union sentiment during the Civil War. More rural areas (called "Outstate" by Missourans) tended to be for the South. They supported the Democrats, who back then were a conservative party that wanted to preserve the status quo. If you wanted to find supporters of the liberal alternative to the Democrats, the Republicans Party, you had to look in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Columbia.

A sweeping generalization, I know, but one that still has a ring of truth 150 years later. The three cities are still liberal and the rest of the state is still conservative, all they've done is switch parties!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A faked Civil War photo

Yesterday I posted a cropped version of the above photograph. It was titled "Confederate and Union dead side by side" and was taken on April 3, 1865 at Fort Mahone, during the waning days of the siege of Petersburg.

The body in the foreground is a real corpse of a fallen soldier. While the ammo pouch he's carrying says US, he could be a Confederate since many rebels, short on gear, used whatever Union gear they could get their hands on. It's hard to tell from this photo, but the uniform could either be gray or a faded blue.

The fellow in the background is supposed to be the "Confederate" but has two things wrong with him. 1) He's black, an unlikely skin tone for a Confederate soldier, 2) He's not wearing a uniform, and 3) He's alive.

The guy was the photographer's teamster. There's another photo showing him alive if you follow this link. The Civil War Times published an article on this photo in their December 2010 issue titled "Substitute for a Corpse."

Yep, a little Election Day chicanery for you!

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why you need to vote

This is a photo of a dead Union soldier at Fort Mahone, taken on April 3, 1865. More than 350,000 soldiers in blue died to preserve the Union. If they had not fought for their country, the United States would have become two nations, and in all likelihood neither would have been strong enough to become a global superpower. The effects that this would have had on later events (WWII, the Cold War, the global economy, culture, etc.) are mind boggling.

Have you done as much for your country as this guy? No you haven't, because you're alive and reading this.

Go vote. Now.

This image is from the Library of Congress. There's an interesting story about this photograph that I'll tell you about tomorrow.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Iraq Victory Lap: my fiction is on sale!

For the month of November I've reduced the prices on my ebooks. My Civil War novel A Fine Likeness is reduced to $2.99 and my short story collection The Night the Nazis Came to Dinner and other dark tales is reduced to only 99 cents!

Why? Several reasons.

1. I'm grateful that I returned safe and sound from traveling in Iraq. Despite all the street food I ate I didn't even get a case of Saddam's Revenge! Here is yours truly with the print edition of my novel at Babylon's Ishtar Gate.

2. My Iraq series for Gadling and my blog tour about my trip will both start this week.

3. I'm psyched that my Jesse James book has been released by Osprey Publishing.

4. I love hearing from new readers and I want more of them!

So if you haven't sampled my fiction, now is the time. The links above are for Amazon, but my Civil War novel is also available on many other online venues such as Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. If the recession is hitting you hard, check out my free historical fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence over at Black Gate magazine.

If you have read my fiction already, please help out a struggling writer by reviewing it. Feedback is always welcome!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

My latest Wild West book out now!

While I was traveling in Iraq my latest book was published by Osprey Publishing. The Last Ride of the James-Younger Gang: Jesse James and the Northfield Raid 1876 came out on October 20, while I was somewhere in the Sunni Triangle. This book detailed the ill-fated raid that destroyed the James-Younger gang. It's is my fifth book for Osprey and twelfth book in total. To see my other Osprey titles, click on my Osprey author's page. You can see some interior images here.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Confederate General John S. Marmaduke

I'm back safely from Iraq and while I've been blogging about my trip, it's time to get back to some Civil War and Wild West stuff! My Iraq series for Gadling will be starting shortly and I'll announce it here.

This week's Civil War photo is of John Sappington Marmaduke, a Confederate commander from Missouri. Born to a wealthy plantation family in Arrow Rock, he went with the South when his uncle, Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson, planned the state's secession from the Union. Marmaduke commanded the rebel troops and tasted defeat at the Battle of Boonville, one of the first battles of the Civil War.

Marmaduke rose in the ranks and was appointed a Brigadier General 150 years ago this month. He's most famous for two raids he conducted into Union-dominated Missouri in 1863 in an effort to reduce pressure on Confederate-held Arkansas. The first raid saw him in a bitter fight in Springfield. The second saw him causing havoc in southeast Missouri. Neither raid was particularly successful. His career was further tarnished when he challenged a fellow officer to a duel and shot him dead.

Marmaduke's career ended at the Battle of Mine Creek on October 25, 1864. This was near the end of General Price's disastrous invasion of Missouri, the background for my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness. Marmaduke positioned his artillery and men poorly and the Union army cut him off from the rest of the rebel army and captured him and some 800 of his men. I'll cover all of these events in more detail as their 150th anniversaries come up.

Despite his failings as a commander, Marmaduke remained a popular figure and served as governor of Missouri from 1885 to his death in office in 1887.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.