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, December 28, 2012

Wild West Photo Friday: Tumbleweed Snowmen!

Happy Holidays, pardner! These tumbleweed snowmen are celebrating Arizona's winter season, such as it is, in Tohono Chul Pk, Tucson

Photo by Chanel Wheeler.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Off to Tangier, see you later!

Today my wife and I are heading south to Tangier, Morocco, for five days. I've already scheduled a Wild West Photo Friday post for tomorrow, but that's the last you'll hear from me until later next week. This is a total vacation with just me and the honey. The kid is staying with his grandmother. No responsibilities, no work, and no computer. A total vacation!

Well, almost. I'll be taking notes and pictures for a Gadling miniseries. A travel writer never travels without a bit of work involved!

Happy New Year!

Photo courtesy Trent Strohm. My photos coming soon!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

For all those separated from their loved ones this Christmas. . .

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The First Kansas Colored Volunteers gets its first book (sort of)

I've written here before about the First Kansas Colored Volunteers, a unit mostly comprised of runaway slaves who had the honor of being the first black regiment in the American army to see combat when they fought (and won) the Battle of Island Mound in Missouri on October 26, 1862.

They've never had a book written about them. I've been shopping around a proposal for several years now but keep getting told the subject isn't "commercially viable" and I should go to an academic press. Well, academic presses don't pay so I can't. It's ironic that writing for a living actually limits who you can write for.

Luckily Robert W. Lull has a day job as a history professor and could afford to write a book for the University of North Texas Press. His subject: the little-known commander of the First Kansas Colored Volunteers--James M. Williams.

The blurb says: "The military career of General James Monroe Williams spanned both the Civil War and the Indian Wars in the West, yet no biography has been published to date on his important accomplishments, until now.

"From his birth on the northern frontier, westward movement in the Great Migration, rush into the violence of antebellum Kansas Territory, Civil War commands in the Trans-Mississippi, and as a cavalry officer in the Indian Wars, Williams was involved in key moments of American history. Like many who make a difference, Williams was a leader of strong convictions, sometimes impatient with heavy-handed and sluggish authority.

"Building upon his political opinions and experience as a Jayhawker, Williams raised and commanded the ground-breaking 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment in 1862. His new regiment of black soldiers was the first such organization to engage Confederate troops, and the first to win. He enjoyed victories in Missouri, Indian Territory (Oklahoma), and Arkansas, but also fought in the abortive Red River Campaign and endured defeat and the massacre of his captured black troops at Poison Spring.

"In 1865, as a brigadier general, Williams led his troops in consolidating control of northern Arkansas. Williams played a key role in taking Indian Territory from Confederate forces, which denied routes of advance into Kansas and east into Arkansas. His 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment helped turn the tide of Southern successes in the Trans-Mississippi, establishing credibility of black soldiers in the heat of battle.

"Following the Civil War, Williams secured a commission in the Regular Army’s 8th Cavalry Regiment, serving in Arizona and New Mexico. His victories over Indians in Arizona won accolades for having “settled the Indian question in that part of Arizona.” He finally left the military in 1873, debilitated from five wounds received at the hands of Confederates and hostile Indians"

While this isn't the regimental history that I've been hoping for, it's a great leap in the right direction. I'll be sure to buy and review Civil War General and Indian Fighter James M. Williams: Leader of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry and the 8th U.S. Cavalry when it comes out next February.

Friday, December 21, 2012

How will the world end?

How will the world end?


Despite what the wide-eyed True Believers would like, the world is not going to end today or any other single day. No civilization has ended in a day. The real destruction of the world as we know it will come around a lot more slowly.

And that's going to make it a lot more painful.

This Choose Your Own Apocalypse blogfest came along at just the right time. While I'm busy with my next Civil War novel, I'm thinking of what I'll do next. One possibility is a series of loosely connected post-apocalyptic novellas. That got me to thinking how are world could fall apart.

First would come the Lean Years as the current worldwide economic meltdown worsens. This leads to various wars and civil unrest that stir the pot even more. Environmental degradation picks up pace and soon coastal areas are flooded by rising sea levels. This causes large-scale migration and that, compounded with a cash-strapped governments not being able to control the outbreak of diseases, leads to the Plague Years.

Now the world governments are really backed into a corner, and they do what they always do in such a situation--they start a war, actually The Wars, several major conflicts between groups of constantly shifting alliances. Thinks 17th century Europe with 21st century weapons. Not pretty. A few places will get nuked, biochemical weapons spread more disease, and the breakdown of civilization begins in earnest.

Then comes the World Revolution. This isn't one revolution but several. The people have had enough and a bewildering array of political and religious groups try to take over. The weakened governments fall after taking out large numbers of their own citizens. Countries fragment and the revolutionary groups end up with little patches of territory. Having widely different belief systems, they start fighting against one another, ushering in the Feudal Times.

But we're not done yet! In a world left with virtually no infrastructure or reliable long-distance trade, things like electricity and gasoline become rarities to be fought over. The new feudal states begin to collapse because of their own infighting, local revolutions, or simple starvation. A vastly depleted population is left living in fortified villages or scavenging the remains of the civilization they destroyed through their own ignorance.

And that leaves us at page one of my first book. . .

Now I just have to write it!

This photo of the Namibian ghost town Kolmanskop is courtesy Harald Süpfle via Wikimedia Commons. To learn more about this eerie ghost town and to see more photos, check out an article I did on Kolmanskop.

Civil War Photo Friday: "Jeff Davis and the South!"

Today on Civil War Photo Friday we get to meet Thomas Isaiah Booker. Here he is with a Colt Navy revolver, book, tin drum canteen, and sign reading "Jeff Davis and the South!" Thomas wanted to make his loyalties clear. Less clear is which unit he served in. According to the Library of Congress he was in either Co. D, 8th Louisiana Cavalry Regiment; Co. B, 28th Louisiana Infantry Regiment; or Co. B, 29th Louisiana Infantry Regiment.

I wonder what the book is? A Bible?

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Choose my next adventure!

Now that my Iraq travel series is done, I'm thinking about where to go in 2013. Since I write up all my big trips for the travel blog Gadling, I've decided to ask my readers to pick my next destination! I've put up a poll. The main choices are Sudan, Lebanon, and Iran. You can also name your own location. So far Sudan has a slight lead, so you might be sending me to see the pyramids at Meroe.

What do you think? The poll closes December 31!

Image courtesy Sven-steffenarndt via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The "petticoat flag" in the Civil War

In my Civil War novel A Fine Likeness, Jimmy Rawlins and his band of rebel bushwhackers are helped by several female civilians, who provide food, shelter, and even weapons to help the Cause. This was quite common in Civil War Missouri and other regions under Union occupation. A letter dated December 13, 1862 from William Strachan, Provost Marshal for Palmyra, Missouri, gives details of one such incident. He had brought charges against Misses Lizzie Powell and Maggie Creath.

Strachan wrote to General McNeil:

". . .these young ladies had taken a carriage of Armstead Botts, of Monroe County, driven to Hannibal, and brought out under the protection of the petticoat flag a quantity of gun caps, some 50,000, and other essentials to the guerrillas.

"Miss Creath made quite a sensation in Monroe County traveling with one Clay Price, a noted captain of guerrillas, dressed in rebel colors and a brace of rebel pistols ornamenting her taper waist. Their influence, being young ladies of large talking propensities, was particularly pernicious, they openly declaring that they acknowledge the authority of no Government but that of "Jeff Davis, the noblest and wisest man that ever graced a presidential chair."

"Their cases were submitted by me to Colonel Grantt, provost-marshal-general, and he advised their banishment from the State, but gave me no written order to that effect. The manner of their detention has been on their personal parole that they would abstain from writing and talking treason. They remained at the house of Elder Creath without guard, and Miss Powell has since been allowed the liberty of Hannibal, her native town, at your order."

My, my! "A brace of rebel pistols ornamenting her taper waist." That's enough to send any young rebel's heart racing!

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Reader news!

I have some awesome readers, many of whom are writers, so I've decided to start mentioning their accomplishments here. This week's news:

Missouri writer Donna Volkenannt recently got three items accepted for publication. A reprint of her Christmas short story "Canned Beets" will be included in the Saturday Writers 10th Anniversary Edition, Cuivre River Anthology VI. Her short story "Time to Get Your Jingle On" appears in the Kindle version of Fifty Shades of Santa. She also has a recipe for German Gluhwein coming out on the Panera Bread Company website this month.

I never thought of Panera's website as a potential market. Just goes to show that resourceful writers reap the rewards!

Friend and fellow Madrid Writer's Critique Group member Jennifer Deborah Walker has just launched her new website. She's a new writer coming from an unusual background--she got her Ph.D. in Physics and then realized she didn't want to be a physicist, so right after defending her dissertation she left science behind and launched a freelance career. That takes balls!

Do you have any news you'd like to share here? It can be about writing, history, archaeology, adventure travel, etc. You know what I cover in this blog, so if it's at all related, send it along to the email on the sidebar to the left.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: A $275,000 sack of flour

This is Reuel Colt Gridley, a storekeeper in the Nevada Territory during the Civil War. Although he didn't fight, he decided to do his part by raising money for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, an organization that aided sick and wounded Union soldiers.

He did this in a rather odd way. He had run for mayor of Austin, Nevada, and lost. He and his rival had made a bet that whoever lost would carry a sack of flour through town. Gridley made good his bet, to the accompaniment of the local band and a throng of curious onlookers. Then he offered up the sack for auction, with the proceeds going to the U.S. Sanitary Commission. A generous buyer paid $250 but refused to take it, saying Gridley should auction it again.

And so Gridley did, again and again, traveling from around the territory visiting dusty mining towns and remote ranches and selling the same sack of flour over and over again. By the end of the war he he had raised $275,000 for the boys in blue.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Finishing my Iraq travel series

My series on travel in Iraq is finally done over at Gadling. The final articles include visits to Ur, Ctesiphon, and Babylon; Iraq's Christian community; the much more chilled-out region of Kurdistan; a Baghdad amusement park (no, really); and my experiences walking alone through Baghdad (bad idea, glad I did it). I round out the series with ten random, humorous observations about Iraq and a discussion of the practicalities of travel in Iraq.

If you liked this series, please share, tweet, and blog about it. More people need to read it, not because I need more readers but because people need to know what Iraq's like beyond the mass media headlines.

It's always a bit of a bummer finishing a series. It makes me feel like I'm finally done with the trip. Don't worry, there will be plenty more adventures in 2013!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A practical joke in the Wild West

The Wild West was a tough place to live. Fun was hard to come by and people resorted to such strange diversions as anvil artillery. Practical jokes were popular too.

In Tombstone, Arizona, a tenderfoot was sure to come in for some ribbing. One popular trick was to take him out "Apache hunting". The guys in on the joke would slip the bullets out of his gun. Once they got out in the desert, they'd ditch him (a bit like snipe hunting) and then some other forntiersmen dressed up as Apaches would leap out from behind some rocks and charge at him, giving out blood-curdling war whoops.

The tenderfoot would try to fire, only to find he didn't have any ammunition! This was all good fun until one newcomer in Tombstone pulled out a holdout weapon and blazed away at the dressed up cowboys. Luckily nobody was hurt. The game kind of lost popularity after that.

Image of The Apache by Henry Farny courtesy Wikipedia.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Cheers, Cavanaugh Blogfest!

Today I and a whole bunch of my online friends are participating in the Cheers, Cavanaugh Blogfest. If you don't know Alex Cavanaugh, he's a bestselling science fiction writer who has made a name for himself in the blogosphere by helping others. His positive outlook is an inspiration and we want to thank him.

The rules of this blogfest are to answer the following four questions:

What does Alex look like?
No idea. We all get mental pictures of people we don't know, though. I imagine a middle-aged guy, slightly receding hairline, bit of a paunch (sorry Alex, but there it is), and a smile permanently fixed on his face. I know I have the smile part right.

Who could play Alex in a documentary? (Living or dead.)
For a living Alex it could be just about any male actor, since we don't know what he looks like. For a dead Alex, any of the male zombies from 28 Days Later. Can you imagine Alex with the Rage Virus? Weird, huh?

Who does Alex remind you of?
That cheerful kid in high school who we all knew. Everyone liked him and he skated through adolescence with no damage. "Whatever happened to that guy?" "Oh, he became a science fiction writer." "Figures."

Write flash fiction using all these prompts: Cavanaugh, Ninja, IWSG, Cosbolt, Guitar.
Mrs. Cavanaugh took her red pen and marked a word on the manuscript that lay on the dining room table. She looked up to where a man in a ninja costume clung to the ceiling.
"Replaced that light bulb yet, honey?" she asked.
"Just getting to it now," the ninja replied as he scuttled upside down towards the chandelier.
"You misspelled Cosbolt again," she said. "This time you have it as 'Cosbot'. Makes it sound like some kind of droid."
The ninja detached himself from the ceiling, did a triple back flip, and landed soundlessly on the floor.
"Thanks, honey, I don't know what I'd do without you."
Mrs. Cavanaugh put her pen aside and studied the ninja for a moment.
"Now that you've completed the third book, what are you going to do?" she asked.
The ninja shrugged.
"I don't know," he replied. "Maybe take up my guitar again and start a band. Rap is still big, how about I do that?"
The ninja struck a gangsta pose, or at least a computer programmer's approximation of a gangsta pose, and rapped out, "I'm down with IWSG, yeah you know me!"
Mrs. Cavanaugh folded her hands on her lap, let out a sigh, and said, "Honey, I think it's best if you write another novel."

Bonus Points: Leave a comment for Mrs. Cavanaugh - thanking her for sharing.
Included above. Thanks Mrs. Ninja!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A fine review for A Fine Likeness

My Civil War novel A Fine Likeness has garnered another five-star review. Under the title, "A rip-snorting historical horror story", user Kayann wrote:

"I generally don't read much long-form prose on my kindle, unless I'm trapped on an airplane but I was at home for this one. That says something about my experience with A FINE LIKENESS. Setting aside my downloaded newspapers and blogs paid off, because reading A FINE LIKENESS -- which must run over 85,000 words -- renewed my faith in both the e-reading experience and my attention span.

"McLachlan sets his horror-history story well outside the norm, avoiding the tried-and-true territory from big clashes like Gettsyburg and Shiloh. I would like to see more stories set in places that are often overshadowed by the giant military maneuvers. By sidestepping the stereotypes, McLachlan takes readers smack dab into the guerrilla war of the trans-Missouri theater. This clears out the preconceptions that Hollywood has inserted into our minds and prepares readers for a singular story with hairpin turns.

"McLachlan leads on with solid action and an especially deft hand for description. He clearly knows the terrain under his characters' feet and offers sensory impressions of the natural world that anchor the story in place and time. One well-handled account of riders approaching an abandoned camp through smoke and a screen of trees instantly conveys the creepy reality of the tale -- and there is real poetry here as well. Most tellers of swashbuckling tales tend to skip this stuff, and their stories often suffer as a result. McLachlan is at his best with description of this kind and with action -- much more so than with dialogue. One downside: I wish we had seen Bloody Bill sooner in the story, but it's tough to get everyone on stage, and set up the tale, which is braided together while being told from different perspectives.

"Central themes -- spirit photography and spiritualism - serve to tie the story together and prove thought-provoking. I even found some relevance for our own times --contemplating soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan dealing with guerrilla warfare on very different terms.

"I recommend."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Veterans of the Battle of Prairie Grove

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Union victory at the Battle of Prairie Grove. This was a brutal slugfest in northwestern Arkansas that spelled the end to Confederate hopes of invading Missouri and opened up Arkansas for Union invasion. It would take both sides some time to fully realize the significance of this battle.

The battle has been well described in many places, such as this official site and the awesome blog Civil War Daily Gazette. So I'll just give you this interesting photo of the veterans of Company K, 34th Arkansas Infantry, taken at a reunion at the battlefield sometime around 1905-1916. This public domain image comes courtesy Campsite Artifacts, a very cool website run by a metal detectorist who specializes in finding (and selling) Civil War artifacts.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Herding turkeys in the Wild West

"They can have my turkeys when they pry them from my cold, dead fingers."

One of the side effects of writing nonfiction is that you end up with a bunch of little side stories and tidbits of information that don't fit in the book. These end up as material for later works, talking points at parties, or. . .blog posts!

I'm currently writing a book on Wyatt Earp and his involvement in the O.K. Corral gunfight and his Vengeance Ride. One minor figure in this history is Henry Clay Hooker, a prominent rancher in southern Arizona who sheltered Wyatt and his crew as they rode around the countryside hunting the Cowboys. Hooker was played by Charleton Heston in the movie Tombstone.

Before Hooker became a big rancher, he had quite a past. Born in New Hampshire, he moved to California in 1853, ran a store, and drove cattle to Nevada mining camps. A fire destroyed his store in 1866 and in order to make money he bought 150 turkeys at $1.50 each and herded them from California to Carson City, Nevada, where he turned a tidy profit by selling them for $5 each. This gave him enough money to get started in the cattle business, and he eventually became one of the Arizona Territory's most successful ranchers.

Herding turkeys? I didn't even know this was possible! While I doubt any Western movie has ever shown a hard-bitten hero with a ten-gallon hat herding turkeys, it's one of the remakrable stories of the Old West.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Civil War Horror blog wins the Liebster Award!

O.K., it ain't the Oscars, but this still makes me happy. Blogger buddy Sapper Joe over at Sapper Joe's Wargaming & Toys has awarded me the Liebster Award, a recognition of a fun blog with fewer than 200 followers. I may have few followers, but I have cool ones!

This being a blog award, it comes with some rules:

Copy and paste the award on your blog linking it to the blogger who has given it to you.

Pass the award to your top 5 favourite blogs with less than 200 followers by leaving a comment on one of their posts to notify them that they have won the award and listing them on your own blog.

Sit back and bask in that warm fuzzy feeling that comes with knowing that you have just made someone's day!

Only five, huh? That's tricky. I know a lot more deserving bloggers than that! Here are my picks:

The 2nd Kansas State Militia and the Battle of The Blue: You knew I was going to pick a Trans-Miss blog, didn't you? Jeff Bell digs into the little-known history of this Civil War battle and what happened to his ancestor John F. Bell and his comrades. Bell (the modern one) doesn't post very often but I immediately click on his posts when he does. I've been studying the Trans-Mississippi Theater for years and he always teaches me something new!

The Sable Arm: Jimmy Price blogs about black soldiers in the Civil War. This is another blogger who I wish posted more often. There's a lot of good material here, including a fascinating series on whether Robert E. Lee's slaves joined the Union army.

The Post Modern Pulp Blog: Jack Badelaire is becoming an indie publishing machine. He loves all those men's adventure novels of the 60s, 70s, and 80s and he's busy writing new ones in the old style. He blogs about his favorite genre and throws in some reviews and military history to boot.

Mad Padre: A Canadian Army chaplain blogging about spirituality, wargaming, books, and travel. He has a second blog called Mad Padre's Wargames Page that's also worth a visit. I'm not a wargamer, but his posts there are entertaining that I read them anyway. I can't seem to find his real name. He just goes by "Mad Padre." I wonder what his regiment thinks of that?

Donna's Book Pub: Donna Volkenannt is a Missouri writer whose short stories and articles have appeared all over the place, including the Chicken Soup books. She blogs about her work, the writing life, and posts calls for submissions. If you're looking for a blog about the writing life from a hardworking pro, this is a good one to follow. She's at 165 followers; let's see if this award can push her over 200!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Confusing friend and foe in Civil War Missouri

As I've mentioned before on this blog, it took some time on the western fringes of the Civil War for uniforms to settle down to the familiar blue and gray.

The First Kansas Colored Volunteers, a Union regiment, wore gray uniforms. At the Battle of Wilson's Creek, the detachment of the Union army under Col. Franz Sigel confused the advancing 3rd Louisiana for the 3rd (1st!) Iowa, a Union regiment that wore gray. They didn't realize their mistake until they got fired upon. Even the Confederate South Carolina Flying Artillery wore blue at the beginning of the war.

In Missouri, many local militia had no uniforms at all. The Union militia near Lancaster wore white hatbands to show who they were. On October 18, 1862, a large troop of them were hunting some rebel bushwhackers. The rebels decided the militia's "uniform" was easy to imitate and made themselves some white hatbands. The poor militia let most of them escape, even though they greatly outnumbered the rebels. They simply didn't know who was who!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Book Review: My War: Killing Time in Iraq

My War: Kiling Time in IraqMy War: Killing Time in Iraq by Colby Buzzell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Buzzell's famous memoir in preparation for my own trip to Iraq. While I was going as a tourist and not a soldier, I found this book to be really informative.

For example, Buzzell says, "[the women] would stare at us but as soon as you made eye contact, they would look away. The Iraqi men were a little different. They stare too, but don't look away, and if you wave, which is something they never initiate, they wave back, nervously."

That was 2003-4. In October 2012 the women still look away, except for a few younger ones. The men are more forthcoming. On the street they rarely wave first, but when you wave or say salaam alaykum most burst into a smile and return your greeting. If they're in a place where they feel more comfortable, like a mosque, they'll often come up to you first and start a conversation.

While this is a war memoir, much of the book is about Buzzell's personal growth and the uncomfortable position he gets in when the blog he's writing becomes famous. The Army had never had to deal with this before and its policy on blogging was pretty much created because of him.

The subtitle, "Killing Time in Iraq" more accurately reads, "Killing Time in Iraq". Buzzell discovers all too well the truth of that old saying, "War is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror."

The boredom is narrated with hilarious cynicism. The terror is some of the best combat writing I've ever read. If you want to know about the war in Iraq from a grunt's-eye view, read this book.

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I've made it past 300 posts!

This past week I've gone past 300 posts! I didn't even notice at the time, but my post on Thanksgiving in the Civil War was number 300.

This blog keeps growing. I only started in July of 2011 and I've collected a nice group of followers. I appreciate every one of you! Thanks to you my hits have risen to an average of 250-300 a day. I'm planning on expanding this blog in 2013 with more posts and participation in blogfests. I'm always open to guest posts too.

I'm sort of spread out on social media right now and I think it's best to focus only on one or two. This blog and my Goodreads account will be getting the most attention. I'll also be using my Twitter feed, because that brings in new readers.

So what does this picture have to do with anything? Well, it's a 300-pounder Parrot gun, a rifled cannon used as a shore battery that threw a 300-pound shell. The photo is courtesy Wikipedia.