Kindle version of the novel now 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

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, indexed 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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Those sharpshooters

Sharpshooters, like the unknown Rebel one who felled Fort Sanders’ namesake, General William P. Sanders, from more than a mile away, were special troops with their own drill and esprit.

It helped that they often had special arms such as this 13-pound English Whitworth rifle which the Knoxville shooter employed. But there was more to them than their tools.

A newly revised 2006 nonfiction history has the details of these “shock troops” of the Confederacy. There’s also a new collection of papers and letters from Eugene Blackford, a contentious major who helped organize the first battalion of sharpshooters of the Army of Northern Virginia in January, 1863. Worth a look.


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Reprise: General McLaws’ courts martial

Although convened in February, 1864, McLaws’ courts martial for dereliction of duty in the assault on Fort Sanders at Knoxville, was on-again, off-again, for the next several weeks.

Finally, on March 11, the trial commenced at a private home in Greenville, Tennessee, where Longstreet’s artillery battalion was camped for the winter.

Indeed, the artillery battalion’s commander Colonel Edward Porter Alexander was one of the trial’s principal witnesses. It was heard by a seven-officer court, which included the Mississippi Brigade’s commander Gen. Humphreys, the only member who had previously reported to McLaws.

McLaws had demanded the trial after Longstreet relieved him for failure “to make arrangements essential to success” in the attack on Fort Sanders, specifically in not providing ladders for the assaulting Mississippi and Georgia troops to climb the icy walls of the fort’s northwest bastion.

“My trial commenced yesterday,” McLaws wrote his wife, Emily, on March 12, “and two witnesses were examined for the prosecution, both of whom testified as strongly as possible in my favor.”

Alexander was one. He “declared,” McLaws wrote, “that he made a reconnaissance of the enemys works, and the result was his conviction that there was no ditch at the north west angle of the enemys works that offered any obstacle to entering the works[,] that he repeatedly declared this to Genl. Longstreet and myself and repeatedly advised that the assault be made at that point and that it was his opinion which he expressed openly, there was no [need] for ladders or fascines to get over the ditch.”

The problem, of course, was that the fort sat on a higher elevation than the immediately surrounding terrain. So no Confederate, including Longstreet, could see the ditch well enough to properly estimate its width and depth.

“The other witness, the next,” McLaws continued, “was surgeon [Dr. J.S.] Cullen, who visited the fort under [the] flag of truce [and testified] that the ditch at the angle where the assault was made was not more than four feet deep but that along the sides of the work it was ten feet deep and ten feet wide at least.”

Other observers not involved in the trial put the depth where the assault was made at much more than four feet. Less easy to refute in the trial was Longstreet’s charge that throughout the siege of Knoxville, McLaws had showed a want of  confidence in the commanding general. And, in the end, the court found McLaws guilty and sentenced him to a sixty-day suspension of rank and pay.

A reviewing officer later threw out the verdict. He decided the court had not substantiated its decision and “irregularities…fatal to the record” had occurred when Longstreet tried to manipulate the court’s officers. McLaws was ordered reinstated in command of his division. But he never returned.

Longstreet succeeded in having Gen. Lee order McLaws replaced. McLaws went on to supervise troops in the defense of Savannah, Georgia, until the war was over.

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Jacob Lyon, Fort Sanders defender

Simon Lyon of Chicago has written me of his great grandfather, Jacob Lyon, who fought in the defense of Fort Sanders as a member of Lieutenant Benjamin’s battery E of the 2nd U.S. Artillery. Benjamin commanded the defense in the absence of its nominal commander. Here is Simon’s email:

“Hello Dick:

My great-grandfather, Jacob Lyon, was a member of “Benjamin’s Battery” (Battery E, 2nd US artillery) and was present at Fort Sanders during the Battle.

He was an “Old Soldier”, a German immigrant shoe-maker, starving in NYC, who enlisted, there, in 1854, and experienced his basic training at Governor’s Island.

He was recruited by William Selby Harney and was immediately sent to the Everglades, where he participated in the Third Seminole War. (In those days in that place, the artillery was really infantry.)

I won’t bore you with the details, but he served in the Army from 1854-1864 (honorably discharged before the Wilderness).

I have a copy of a letter from Benjamin to his [former battery first sergeant, Andrew Eitelman], which mentions my great-grandfather.

I also have copies of letters of reference from Winfield Scott Hancock (whom he met in Florida during the Third Seminole War) in behalf of my great grandfather, which I obtained from the Federal Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.”

The Benjamin letter, written years after the war when he was a major and an assistant adjutant general, follows in Simon’s transcription:

WASHINGTON, April 1st (Year not mentioned)

Dear Sir [Andrew Eitelman]

I was very glad to get your letter and to learn that you were doing well. I am always glad to hear of the men who were with me in the War and fought so bravely. We went thru many hardships, and I have always thought that I had a remarkably good set of men. Your own record is an unusually good one.

Lt. Graves is a Captain and is now in Texas. Lt. Ford is now a captain in the ?? ???? Dept. Sergt. Kaiser is an Ordinance Sergeant. Kerffe is a 1st Lieutenant in the 4th Infantry. Sergeant Aigle has a small farm near Fort Monroe. Lyon & Carew are in the [Treasury] Departments in the city. Capt. Carlisle is dead. Lt. Denike & Major Robertson are dead. I am sorry Kruger turned out so badly & thank you for warning me.

I hope sincerely that you will prosper & do well. You have earned the right to consideration & respect of all, by your bravery & devotion.

With kind wishes for the welfare of your family and yourself.

I am Yours Very truly 
S N Benjamin, Major & AAG

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Grave of Fort Sanders’ commander


First Lieutentant Samuel Nicoll Benjamin, who commanded Fort Sanders while the political general who was its nominal commander spent his time drinking, is buried at Saint Phillips Church Cemetery in Garrison, New York. The cemetery is across the Hudson River from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from which Benjamin graduated in 1861.

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Phillips Legion at Knoxville

The Phillips Georgia Legion (or Phillips Legion of Georgia or simply Phillips Legion) rates its own chapter in the novel, for its co-starring part in the attack on Fort Sanders. Although this stirring little animation of its battle flag does not include any mention of Knoxville.

The Legion was famous enough in its own right, however, even towards the tail-end of the war—its officers claiming pride-of-place (though disputed) in its having been the last Rebel regiment to leave Richmond in the city’s April 3-4, 1865, evacuation.

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Reprise: The Unfortunate Friendship

Unfortunate, that is, for the boys age 14 to 17 who comprised the majority of Captain/Doctor William Watts Parker’s Sixth Virginia Light Artillery.

Meaning his friendship with Colonel Edward Porter Alexander, Longstreet’s chief of artillery. For as Alexander put it in his memoir:

“If I want a Christian to pray for the dying soldier, I call on Parker. If I wish a skillful surgeon to amputate the limb of a wounded soldier, I call on Parker. If I want a soldier, who with unflinching courage, will go wherever duty calls, I call on Parker.”

Which is why, at Knoxville, the “Boy Battery” had to haul their 3-inch rifled field pieces on a leaky old flatboat back and forth across the freezing Holston River in a snow storm.

“We’d came and went no less than three times in four days,” as my fictional sergeant-gunner Pichigru Pease put it, “to satisfy some damn fool generals who couldn’t make up their feeble minds.”

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USS Monitor restoration continues


The USS Monitor ironclad is featured in the novel in the recollections of Sergeant Timothy Chase of the 29th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. The fictional sergeant saw the Monitor’s successful fight against the CSS Virginia ironclad in 1862 and has “dined out” on the experience ever since. The real Monitor is undergoing restoration in Newport News, Virginia.

“Mariners’ Museum conservators are performing electrolysis and desalination of USS Monitor‘s 120-ton revolving gun turret. The 90,000 gallon treatment tank [pictured above] is filled with an alkaline solution of sodium hydroxide in reverse osmosis water to promote electrolysis and desalination. Treatment of the wrought iron gun turret is anticipated to take an additional 15 years before the turret will be stable enough to display in the Large Artifact Gallery of the Ironclad Revolution exhibit at the USS Monitor Center.”

Watch it all on Webcam. Refreshed every twelve seconds. If nothing seems to be happening, you’ll notice that an occasional breeze ripples the surface. ;-)

Via USS Monitor Center.

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Colonel Kennon McElroy’s grave

Here’s a possible correction in the Afterword—not in the novel itself.

In the Afterword, I asserted that the grave of Colonel Kennon McElroy was unknown. It was as far as I knew at the time I wrote the novel. Apparently it is not unknown anymore.

McElroy was a University of Mississippi graduate and Lauderdale Station farmer killed commanding the 13th Mississippi Regiment in the attack on Fort Sanders.

“Most of the Confederates buried on the battlefield were transferred to a Knoxville Cemetery in the spring of 1864,” I wrote. “Many were never identified. Colonel McElroy’s descendents do not know exactly where he is buried.”

Apparently, however, at least some of them do. Probably shortly after the war, according to independent historian and reenactor Kenneth Robison II at Find-A-Grave, McElroy’s “remains were later brought back to Mississippi and buried at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Meridian” in Lauderdale County.

Several other grave registries at genealogical sites on the Web now also have McElroy buried at Rose Hill in Meridian. None did when I wrote the novel. But, curiously, neither Robison nor any of the others has offered a photograph of a tombstone for the young colonel who would have been 23 years old when he died. Is his grave unmarked?

I regret the error, if error it is.

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