Kindle version of the novel now at 99 cents

KVCoverKindleGettysburg held. Vicksburg has fallen. Now Rebel flags ring Knoxville in East Tennessee. General James Longstreet, Lee’s Warhorse, means to wrench this railroad hub away from the occupying Union army.

“I’ve long considered Michael and Jeff Shaara’s Civil War trilogy to be one of the benchmarks for Civil War historical fiction. Knoxville 1863 came very close to that mark.” --Jim Chambers for Red Adept Reviews

In this sesquicentennial of the war’s 1864, the eBook version is available for the Amazon Kindle at 99 cents a copy. It’s professionally edited, proofread to eliminate misspellings, typos and other annoying errors, and has a map of the battlefield and a linked table of contents. A paperback version is available for $7.98 here.

Also now available is my 366-page, non-fiction history of the 13th Mississippi Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the principal Rebel units in the attack on Fort Sanders, here.

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Reprise: Mrs Ellis’s copy of Lucile

I got the idea for the novel’s fictional Union sympathizer Leila Ellis to be reading Owen Meredith’s Lucile on the night the Rebs drove in the pickets at Fort Sanders from an old copy of the book I inherited from my Mississippi grandmother. Grandmother’s copy was published in 1888 in a poets’ series by Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. of New York. TYC was regarded as little more than a pirate publisher at the time, according to The LUCILE Project at the University of Iowa.

From the project’s site I determined that Mrs. Parthenia Leila Ellis’s copy of the Owen Meredith poem would have been the Ticknor & Fields 1860 first edition in blue cloth with a gold title and cartouche on the spine. It was a gift from her Alabama mother who bought it in Mobile before the war began and mailed it to Leila’s new home in Knoxville.

According to the Iowa researchers, even the Ticknor & Fields first edition probably would not fetch more than $15 on eBay, and grandmother’s 1888 edition even less. Still and all, Lucile was a popular poem for many years, selling in one edition or another up until 1938 when it finally went out of paper print. It’s still available today, for free, in HTML format by Project Gutenberg, and for a price in other digital and print-on-demand formats by retailers. Just Google it and you’ll see.

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The Knoxville Whig & Rebel Ventilator


Parson William Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig newspaper added the words Rebel Ventilator to its flag in the runup to the Civil War. The fiery Union editor maintained it until the occupying Rebels drove him out of town, turning his steam presses from printing newspapers to making rifled gun barrels for the Confederacy.

He had settled in Philadelphia, Pa. when Union troops reoccupied Knoxville. He returned but soon fled again when Gen. Longstreet’s forces took the town under siege.

The novel’s fictional character Parthenia Leila Ellis was a close friend of the parson’s wife, the historical figure Eliza Brownlow. In an example of the war’s many dvivided families, she was the sister of another historical figure prominent in the novel: Confederate Col. Alfred G.W. O’Brien, a commander of the Thirteenth Mississippi Infantry Regiment which attacked Fort Sanders during the siege.

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Own Your Own Whitworth, part 2

There’s another opportunity to own a rare English Whitworth rifle, the preferred sniper rifle of the Confederacy. It begins on September 12th through the 14th online at the Rock Island Auction Company.

The Rebs fatally sharpshot Fort Sanders’ namesake Union Gen. William P. Sanders, with a thirteen-pound Whitworth. It was fired more than a mile away, from the tower  of the Bleak House mansion, Gen. Longstreet’s headquarters.

The muzzle-loading, percussion rifle fired a one-inch projectile powered by a three-inch powder charge.  It usually mounted a 14.5-inch sighting telescope. Reportedly even Queen Victoria could hit the bulls-eye with one at 400 yards.

In the 1860s, the Whitworth was terribly expensive at about $1,200. The Rock Island bidding starts at $6,500 but, since only 250 of the rifles are known to have been made for the Confederacy, they have been known to fetch $10,000 and more.

Via TOCWOC — A Civil War Blog

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The very ancient design of Fort Sanders

Fort Sanders was the combined work of (first) Confederate engineer  Danville Leadbetter and (second) Union engineer Orlando Poe, with impromptu assistance from Union artilleryman Samuel Nicoll Benjamin.

But the overall design, from the fort’s earthen ramparts to the dry ditch surrounding the decisive Northwest Bastion to the sloped glacis that made climbing the bastion’s embankment so difficult was thousands of years old. Not unlike, for instance, the fortress town of Megiddo on a hill overlooking the Jezreel Valley in Israel.

Like Fort Sanders, Megiddo’s original ramparts were embanked dirt but its glacis was plastered to make it smooth and slippery, something Benjamin accomplished on a temporary basis. He had Union troops pour boiling water down Sanders’ glacis on a night of freezing temperatures. At dawn, the attacking Rebels found the icy glacis almost impossible to ascend.

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The Union takes Knoxville

civil-war-knoxville-tennesseeA lithographic notion of Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s and his army’s welcome by the Unionists of Knoxville whose Stars & Stripes flags finally could be brought out from under their parlor carpets. While the town’s Confederates had to hide theirs under the carpets where, despite General James Longstreet’s efforts detailed in the novel, they would remain until the end of the war.

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The personal approach to Civil War history

The personal approach to Civil War history is getting a boost in this sesquicentennial year. Not only in our historical narrative The Bloody Thirteenth (told via diaries, letters and memoirs) but in such as the following account of a young slave who escaped to the Union army in Knoxville a few months after the Fort Sanders fight:

There is Jim Heiskell, a 13-year-old Tennessee slave who recounts how, during the spring of 1864, after a beating that lasted more than 30 minutes, he managed to escape into the protection of the Union Army in Knoxville, Tenn., his feet still chained. Of his enslavement he writes, ‘I was whipped three or four times a week, sometimes with a cowhide and sometimes with a hickory. . . . I would have staid on the plantation if I had been well used.’ (While African-American accounts of the war are richly presented in this series, they are often, as in this case, transcribed by literate whites.)”

As a Wall Street Journal reviewer sums up The Civil War: Told By Those Who Lived It: 

“Nearly a century and a half later, with the legacy of the war still very much with us, ‘The Civil War’ allows us to return to the conflict anew, to encounter a spectrum of voices and experiences wider and more diverse than has ever before been collected in a single series. Ultimately the work places us at the war’s ground level, bringing us closer to the lived experience of Americans who endured this climactic period, providing a portrait more nuanced than could ever be condensed into narrative.”

Well, maybe. The portrait will always need a narrative to stitch it together. But it certainly sounds like the four-volume series will be worth reading, even at its extreme length of several thousand pages.

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Of that en barbette gun that greeted the Rebels

Lieutenant Samuel Nicoll Benjamin, who commanded Fort Sanders while its nominal commander, a New York political general, was drunk in his bombproof, arranged several surprises for the attacking Rebels.

One was a Napoleon 12-pounder that could be run up a clay ramp at the Northwest bastion’s apex angle to fire over the parapet, en barbette as it was called.

First Rhode Island Light Artillery Lieutenant Ezra Parker reported in 1913 that Sergeant Charles C. Gray commanded the hidden gun which fired two quick rounds of canister into the attackers. Parker explains what happened next:

“On the morning of the great assault upon our lines, Sergeant Charles C. Gray was in charge of the fourth piece of our battery. He often loaded his piece with double canister and fired with terrible effect, for the range was only from fifteen yards to fifty yards. He moved his piece from its first position en barbette on the right of the fort, to an embrasure that more effectually commanded the rebel advance.

“Here he fired with great rapidity, until the enemy appeared to recoil. He had his gun loaded with double canister and ceased firing. At this time a rebel officer climbed out of the ditch, and standing at the muzzle of the cannon placed his sword upon it and said: ‘Surrender this gun.’ The man who held the lanyard was ready to fire, and asked for the order. Sergeant Gray replied: ‘Don’t waste double canister on one man.’ At this juncture, three other rebels came into the embrasure at the muzzle of the gun, and then the order was given to ‘fire.’ Of these four men, nothing was left but atoms.”

From Lieutenant Ezra Parker’s 1913 memoir in the 50th anniversary year of the Battle of Fort Sanders.

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Contraband of War

Contrabands1863VA To get around the problem of having to return self-emancipated (i.e. escaped) slaves to their Confederate owners, Union Gen. Benjamin Butler dubbed them “contraband of war,” i.e. captured property that didn’t have to be returned. Later, Congress made the term official.

The novel’s Pathenia Leila Ellis disliked hearing her servant/slave Brutus referred to that way when he was “volunteered” by Union engineer Captain Orlando Poe to work on the town’s fortifications. She thought Brutus should be called by his name.

Much of the Union army treated the contrabands not as freed slaves but as newly-arrived servants to be assigned to do camp work for Union soldiers, such as this pair of former slaves, photographed near Culpeper, Virginia, sometime in 1863.

Via Old Pictures

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