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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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 Thirteen (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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Sharpshooter glasses

You can buy these orange-colored, nickle-plated wire-frame glasses on eBay with the assurance of several books that they were worn by sharpshooters in the Civil War. Ahem.

One sharpshooter (today he would be called a sniper) played a prominent role in the 1863 siege of Knoxville and therefore figures in the novel. The sharpshooter in question, firing from the tower at the Bleak House mansion where Gen. Longstreet kept his headquarters, mortally wounded Union Gen. William P. Sanders.

In the novel, his historical Knoxville ladyfriend Sue Boyd fictionally relates the event and his subsequent death and burial. Gen. Burnside promptly named Fort Sanders for him.

So was the Confederate sharpshooter, who used a special rifle (a Whitworth) with a telescopic sight from more than a mile away, also wearing special orange-colored glasses when he did the deed? We’ll probably never know for sure, but Brett Schulte at the TOCWOC blog offers a clue.

“Were these spectacles really used for shooting? Maybe. I’ve looked though civilian texts on rifle shooting and have not found any reference to them before 1880 or so, and most references (which do not specify what the spectacles looked like) are from the turn of the century…Overall conclusion is that the ‘sharpshooter glasses’ seen today are really mass-marketed turn of the century sunglasses, made fully forty years later, and had nothing to do with the Civil War or sharpshooting.”

Via TOCWOC — A Civil War Blog

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Cooking with one pot on an open fire

downloadThe novel’s fictional widow Parthenia Leila Ellis presumably had more than one pot to cook with, but soldiers on both sides at Knoxville probably didn’t unless their unit’s cooks were rustling up grub for all.

For those, particularly among the besieging Rebels, who had to fend for themselves, you might have a hard time imagining how creative you could be cooking with one pot or skillet over an open fire—no matter how creative they might be in scrounging up the makin’s from pitifully small rations.

Comes Clarissa Clifton to help you out. Her good recipe book “One Hearth, One Pot” is short but valuable, and her explanations will help you conjure a full picture of a Civil War soldier or his mess’s servant/slave cooking in camp or at makeshift stops on the march from one battle to the next. Chicken, hoe cakes and sweet potato biscuits. Yum.

“Remember,” she writes in her introduction, “most of the basic home recipes we cook today come from the open hearth…This cookbook focuses on the techniques of cooking used by slaves and the yeoman class of farmers.”

Ms Clifton, who does living history, open-hearth cooking demonstrations for visitors at foundation-owned historic plantations in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Roswell, Georgia, has a second cookbook in the works.

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