Blue, Gray, and Red

This month I offer comments about a great reference book which I recently completed: Blue, Gray, and Red: Two Nurses’ Views of the Civil War. I received this book as a gift from my good friend, John P., whom you may recall gave me Statesmen of the Lost Cause, a reference source about political events at the highest level within the Confederacy.

Blue, Gray, and Red provides us with the reminiscences of two women, one from Concord MA and one from Mobile AL, who went to work in the army hospitals for each side. Most people will recognize the Massachusian: Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), but I suspect fewer know of Kate Cumming (1836-1909). The book is actually a reprint of their two memoirs originally printed in 1869 and 1866 (reprinted in 1895) respectively.

The book’s premise seemed promising in comparing the circumstances of women in parallel situations but that promise is not kept. The two women had vastly different experiences. Alcott served but six weeks in a Georgetown DC hospital (Dec 1862 – Jan 1863) before she contracted typhoid fever and was sent home, while Cumming served in numerous army field hospitals in the Army of Tennessee from the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862 until she was ordered home from Georgia in May 1865. Alcott’s story suffers further from the fact that she chose to tell the story as a novel, Hospital Sketches. This, she wrote in the florid and profligate style of late 19th century novelists with run-on sentences and paragraphs which cover entire pages. Also weakening the narrative is the fact that of the 58 pages assigned to Alcott’s story, nearly a quarter describe how she made the decision to serve and her difficulties in traveling from Concord to Georgetown.

 

By comparison, Cumming’s writing style, although covering essentially the same topics, flows easily and is quite modern, except for its biblical and mythological references. Cumming saw enough of the destruction of war that her narrative becomes more mature in its outlook as the work progresses.

Unlike Alcott, Cumming’s family found themselves dispersed in England and New York at the start of the war and later, she had a brother and many close friends in the same army where she served. Here is a summary of Cumming’s service, taken from the University of Alabama Reynolds-Finley Historical Library:

Kate Cumming was born in Scotland and, as a child, moved to America with her large family, first to Montreal, then to New York, and finally in the 1840’s to Mobile, Alabama. There she spent the remainder of her youth and early adulthood.  By the 1860s, Cumming had been in the South for many years and identified the Confederacy as home and “the cause” as her own. Several months after the start of the Civil War, Kate was much inspired by an address given by family friend, Reverend Benjamin M. Miller, at a local church. In his speech, Miller called for Southern ladies to help the wounded and sick by becoming nurses at the war front. Cumming was discouraged from volunteering by her respectable Southern family, who thought that “nursing soldiers was no work for a refined lady,”. Therefore, initially she relegated her involvement to assisting other volunteers in their preparation to leave for the hospitals. However, when a regiment of old school and church friends were sent off to war, Cumming was compelled to offer her services to Mr. Miller despite her family’s disapproval and her own lack of hospital training. In April of 1862, Mr. Miller summoned his volunteer ladies to head north to Mississippi to help those returning from the battle at Shiloh.

Conditions in the hospitals of Okolona and Corinth, Mississippi were so horrible that only Cumming and one other nurse stayed beyond a week. Despite the hardships, Kate remained through June and returned to serve in Chattanooga that fall. Her duties were many faceted – delivering food and medicine, managing laundresses, writing letters, keeping clothing and bedding fresh, and even cooking. In September of 1862, new laws allowed the employment of women to be officially recognized by the Confederate medical department, and at that time, Cumming received the rank of matron, or hospital supervisor. She worked in Chattanooga until the summer of 1863, and then traveled with Surgeon Samuel Stout’s medical corps in the Army of Tennessee, which was constantly moving as General Sherman swept through Georgia and the Carolinas. Stout was first hesitant to accept the role of women in the hospital, but was soon convinced, and commended them in his personal narrative. He specifically names Cumming and two others as “the first refined, intellectual, self-denying ladies, who in the midst of the suffering soldiers, served at their bunkside at night as well as day. Their self-denying and heroic benevolence inspirited many other educated and refined ladies to imitate their examples,”.

While traveling with the Army of Tennessee, Cumming faithfully recorded her experiences in a journal, which became her great contribution to history. Hastily published within a year of her return to Mobile after the war, Kate Cumming’s journal did not receive the readership it deserved, perhaps because it was too close to the events or because of the influx of Confederate narratives at the time. However, the journal is invaluable from a historical perspective because it is the most complete and realistic record of the workings of Confederate hospitals and the services of matrons. Later, in 1890, she republished the journal under the title, Gleanings from Southland. This shortened, edited version experienced more success in a market “hungry for ‘the romance of reunion’” . Cumming moved to Birmingham in 1874, where she remained until her death in 1909.

I found Cumming’s narrative both informative and compelling in an area of the Civil War where I had never before paid much attention. Furthermore, in the events she describes, we catch glimpses of the social standards of the era and relationships among the Southern upper class and between the upper class and the lower orders. The reader is also treated to Kate’s understanding of the meaning of the war which I found worth consideration. Throughout the narrative, Kate keeps a restrained tongue in describing the Federal soldiers.  I suspect that in the 1890 edition used in this book, she edited-out the more “colorful” names she may have used at the time. Of course, every single one of the Southern soldiers in her book is a hero.

While she remained a patriot to her state and to the Confederacy, one cannot help but be impressed at the hardships she and the others overcame. The descriptions of the fear of marauding Federal raiders and war-time destruction in Georgia and Alabama at the end of the war were particularly moving for me. As a citizen of a united America, I find it a great shame that the service the Kate Cumming and those women who served with her are not as well recognized as those of Clara Barton or Mary Ann Bickerdyke.

Cumming returned to Mobile after the war, and in 1866 she first published her journal. In 1874 she moved with her father to Birmingham, Alabama. She never married but resided in Birmingham as a teacher and active member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy until her death on June 5, 1909. She is buried in Mobile.

 

The Tale of Katie Malloy

When I write, I use the close third person point-of-view (POV) to tell the stories in The Shiloh Trilogy. I actually have three POV characters.  First, is Jamie Harper, an officer in the Union army and nominally the lead protagonist in all three books – he is the title character, after all: Harper’s Donelson, Harper’s Rescue, and Harper’s Shiloh. Next is Gustav Magnusson, a corporal in Harper’s regiment and the oldest child and only son of the Friend Leader in a Quaker Meeting at Salem, Iowa.  Lastly is Katherine Malloy, known as Katie, who first appears in the story as a saloon girl and high-priced prostitute.   This month, I want to talk a bit about Katie and how she came to have such a prominent role in these three books.

Katie appears in the first chapter after the prolog in Harper’s Donelson.  It seems that Lieutenant Harper arrives in Paducah Kentucky on the afternoon before his two-month convalescent leave expires and rather than report early to the First Iowa’s duty office he has decided to spend the night in the comfortable feather-bed of the most expensive “soiled-dove” in Paducah. Lafitte’s Hideout is an above-average saloon run by Franklin Bosley, his wife Loreena, and her friend Eleanor. The saloon gets its name from the Louisiana heritage of the two ladies.

When the story opens, we find Harper and Katie in her bed slightly before sunrise, with Harper checking to ensure that none of his valuables were stolen and thinking about his future with the First Iowa while Katie chatters in the way that teen-aged girls sometimes do.

When I first wrote this chapter, it was to meet a class homework assignment: Write an Interest-Grabbing First Chapter. At that time, I was taking creative writing courses at the Extension University of U.C. San Diego and this particular class numbered twenty students: fifteen women, five men, and a lady professor.

The expectation was that the students would offer critiques of each other’s work and given the composition of the class, I expected the worst when it came time to discuss the chapter.  In my turn, I stood and passed copies of the five pages to the instructor and the other students. While I read the work-in-progress, I avoided eye-contact with the people in the room by reading directly from the pages.  Eventually, I reached the end of the piece and sat down to a silent room.

The three Fates smiled on that day. When I looked at the other students, they were busy leafing through the pages and not staring at me as if I had just pooped in the punchbowl. The questions began and I waited with anticipation to collect feedback on their impressions of Jamie Harper.

“Was I really going to use this in a story?”

“Why did you choose to make Katie just fifteen?”

“How did Katie come to be working in the saloon at such a young age?”

“Was indentured prostitution a real thing?”

Etc., etc., etc.

A stream of questions about Katie’s back story and how did she play into the plot of Harper’s Donelson. Meanwhile, I’m waiting to hear just how well I had revealed Jamie Harper’s background as former marshal, a loner, and a man without feelings for the people around him, an anti-hero. So I asked, “What did you think about the Harper character?”

The answers were pretty much: “Yeah, yeah. We get it: The Lone Stranger, Man-with-No-Name, Josey Wales, etc. Got that, but where does Katie go in your story?”

My answer: “Well, she’s a throw-away character. This is her last chapter.”

“Oh no you don’t!” This was the unanimous decision of the class and the professor. “She has to stay!” The women in the class were Katie’s greatest supporters.

So, she stayed and I had to figure out how to get my 67-year-old male engineers’ brain inside the head of a fifteen-year-old girl of the mid-nineteenth century and after that, decide where her character arc would take her across a novel which was already too large to be published. It is largely because of adding the story of Katie and the other inhabitants of Lafitte’s Hideout that the over-sized novel: Harper’s Shiloh became The Shiloh Trilogy.

If I continued to write in close third-person, what do I do with a fifteen-year-old prostitute in the middle of a story about soldiers and fighting and spitting and other guy stuff?  I knew that Katie should exist in the stories as realistically as possible. I also knew that if she survived into Book 3, I would need to find a logical reason why she should become part of Harper’s posse. I found a partial answer from an authors’ group on Facebook when I learned about a website called TV Tropes. It was while visiting TV Tropes that ideas for Katie’s character arc flew off of the page – too many to put into one book. The result of melding several of these tropes is a relatively complex character who adds an entire new dimension to The Shiloh Trilogy.

The trope which I enjoyed using the most was: The Plucky Girl, described thus:

“You might be able to pile life complications onto this young woman to the point where the readers would forgive her if she just refused to go on. She might even have a chapter or so where she does throw in the towel, because human beings can only take so much of what the universe is handing her. But The Plucky Girl always comes back. That’s the bravery part.
“The optimistic part is the rest of it. This character leans toward the sane version of The Pollyanna, blending the agency of the Action Girl with the sweetness and wise charm of the Spirited Young Lady, while exhibiting a strong sense of optimism and an unassailable spirit. You can beat her, but damned if she’ll let you break her.”

I had a lot of fun working within this trope in the first book. It allowed me to throw a series of outlandish mishaps at Katie to see how she would react and bounce back.  The description of The Plucky Girl includes a number of sub-tropes which also helped to frame her reactions.

Another trope which I found I needed to cultivate was the Moe (pronounced mo-eh) :

“The ability of a character to instill in the reader an irrational desire to adore them, hug them, protect them, comfort them, etc. To evoke a sort of Big Brother Instinct, in men and women.”

This was a magic combination. The only thing left to do was to observe modern teen-aged girls in their natural habitat and then speculate how they might respond to the challenges I planned for Katie if they were bound by elements of the two tropes I had chosen. This worked so well that soon, one of the more common comments from my reading group was a sad-faced: “Oh, Katie.”

In Harper’s Donelson, Katie’s fate is set by the circumstances of how she became a saloon-girl and how she responds to the trusted guidance of Eleanor and Loreena.

In Harper’s Rescue, she is forced to confront the degrading reality of life as a prostitute in an Army-town.

And how will the Fates treat her in Harper’s Shiloh? That story evolves still.

Here is an extract from Harper’s Rescue which illustrates Katie’s dilemma.

****

Alone in the darkness, despair began to tinge her thoughts and she fell into a full-on crying jag. She had been in The Box once before, right after she arrived in Paducah. Then, Loreena told her they must teach her what she would do to entertain the soldiers.

Tonight, she sat alone on the crude bed in the dark, dank cell awaiting her punishment. Eleanor wouldn’t learn what had happened until morning. However, even Eleanor might not be able to stop Loreena from keeping Katie locked here or allowing the workmen at her.

Katie shivered as much from the cold as from her fear. No sheets or blankets covered the bed – not even a mattress. She felt along the walls around the small space but couldn’t find any other objects on the dirt floor except the dry, empty honey bucket. Katie moved her hands along the walls to search for something she could use to keep warm. She found nothing there, only the ladder up to Mister Bosley’s office. The Army had taken everything.

Feeling had left her toes. They scuffed across the dirt floor. She paced the length of The Box several times to keep the blood moving before she sat on the bed to rub them hard and fast. After a minute or so, pain of the cold stabbed at them. Frustrated, Katie pulled her feet under her. She squeezed into the corner, propping herself into a tight ball while covering her feet with the pillow sack. Hoping she had found the daguerreotype of her mother, she pulled it from the sack along with the dagger next to it.

Katie gripped the picture and the knife to her chest. She wished her mother would come visit now, while she waited for her punishment to begin. She rummaged into the sack to find the bottle of opium extract. Her mother came to visit her when she last used the opium. She would come again if Katie used the opium now. Katie pulled the cork stopper to smell the concoction. No odor. She froze. Opium was more powerful than laudanum. If she took any, she might not be able to protect herself.

The noise from some creature scuttling across the floor startled her before she realized it was not a threat. Katie slumped into the corner of the cell. Her shoulders, back, and arms burned from the stings of the riding crop. She wore stinking clothes bought from a stable hand with everything she valued bundled into the sack made from a pillowcase. A single tear rolled along the side of her nose, onto her lips. They would be here in the morning, the way they had the last time she stayed in The Box.

This time, she had her dagger.

****

Sean Gabhann

Book 1 of the Shiloh Trilogy

Book 2 of the Shiloh Trilogy

The $15,000,000 Cotton Loan – a 7% Solution?

erlanger-cotton-bondThis month, I’d like to take another story from Statesmen of the Confederate Cause by Burton J. Hendrick to tell the tale of the $15,000,000 in Confederate bonds.

Having failed to gain English and French recognition in the first year of the American Civil War, the Confederate government found itself in possession of 450,000 bales of cotton which it had purchased and held in port in order to create cotton shortages in the mills of Lancashire and northern France, causing such economic turmoil that those nations would ally through necessity. Last month, we discussed why that did not come to pass.

Accordingly, as winter came to an end in 1862, the Jefferson government held possession of what should have been an extremely lucrative product if it could be moved to Europe. The increasing effectiveness of the Federal blockade did prevent its shipment overseas, particularly after April 1862 when Farragut captured New Orleans. Nevertheless, the cotton did present the potential for future wealth which proved too tempting for European speculators.

Erlanger,_Frederic_Emile

Baron Emile Erlanger

The banker who rose to the challenge was a certain Emile Erlanger, of Erlanger et Cie in Paris. Erlanger offered to raise $25,000,000 in gold in exchange for Confederate bonds guaranteed by the cotton bales then sitting in Confederate warehouses. The success of this arrangement depended of course on Confederate victory. In September 1862, this seemed the likely outcome following the Confederate victories of the previous summer and the predisposition of European elites towards an eventual dissolution of the United States, a country ruled as a democracy by rabble-rousing, venal politicians instead of a titled elite.

After negotiations in which Judah P. Benjamin, then Secretary of State, led the Confederate side, the resulting terms required the Confederate government to redeem the bonds at face value. The bonds could be purchased for gold at 77% of face value. They would carry 7% per annum interest until redeemed. Unlike the majority of loans to stable governments, the Erlanger loan demanded the Confederacy redeem these bonds at full value for Mississippi Valley cotton at the rate of twelve cents per pound not less than six months following the ratification of a treaty of peace between the United States and the Confederacy.

Such was the sense among European investors that, following the paucity of cotton for the duration of the American war, they would control the European cotton market and thus reap an eight-to-ten-fold bounty on their investment.

Erlanger had underwritten the entire loan at 77% of face value; however, when the bonds became available for sale on March 18, 1863, demands  for subscriptions reached $80,000,000 in the first week of sale, although only $15,000,000 had been put on sale. Erlanger offered the bonds to the public at 90%, yielding an immediate profit for Erlanger et Cie of $1,950,000, not including sales commissions. The value of shares peaked shortly afterwards at 95.5%. Subscribers were required to pay 15% of their pledge upon initial sale and installments thereafter.

The furor continued into early April 1863. However, values began a period of downward fluctuations by mid-April. The causes for this downward trend have not been fully documented. Certainly Federal successes in the Western theater, such as Union victories at Fort Donelson and Donelson, Nashville, Shiloh, and New Orleans had some effect, but that probably news of these victories was off-set by Lee’s victories in Virginia, the more widely-reported front.

A more plausible explanation is the efforts of the Federal ministers to France and England, Charles F. Adams and John Bigelow. Little documentation exists to identify specifically how the Federals worked to devalue the shares in the loan but what does exist implies that Wiulliam Seward, Federal Secretary of State issued instructions not only to paint Jefferson Davis as a “Repudiator” who had defended the default on Mississippi’s state debt while a senator from that state; but also, to purchase as many shares as possible in the loan and then resell those shares at the lowest possible prices. Their counter-schemes worked so successfully that concerns arose within Erlanger et Cie that the investors would abandon their subscriptions altogether, even forfeiting sums already paid.

These fluctuations continued through the Spring and into Summer. Faced with the possibility of huge losses, Erlanger et Cie went to work. In order to shore up the value of the shares, the company embarked on a massive buying campaign. However, as bankers are want to do, their plan did not involve using their own resources. By employing coercive tactics on the Confederate representatives, they used the sums already deposited by investors in the Confederate loan to buy-back shares of the same loan. Ultimately they used about $6,000,000 in the buy-back campaign.

The fluctuations continued until the European public realized the impact of the trio of defeats at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Port Hudson in late July 1863. Thereafter, the value of shares plummeted.

Having squandered $6,000,000 of the Confederate government’s receipts, can you guess who were the greatest beneficiaries of the Confederate bond offering? Confederate Treasury obtained over $5,500,000 to purchase European arms, ammunition, medicines, and other military supplies and to outfit Confederate raiders. However, it was the bankers who saw the greatest returns. Not only did they collect $3,000,000 of the above amount from the Confederate government in the form of bankers’ commissions and other contract requirements, but the majority of the $6,000,000 used to buy-back shares went into the private accounts of the officers of Erlanger et Cie, since they were the first owners offered the opportunity to sell their shares back to the Confederate government!

We can see a number of interesting outcomes from the scandal of the Confederate Loan. First, the beneficiary of the loan, the Confederate government actually paid more in banking fees than they received from the bond issue. Second, the Confederate Minister to France, James Slidell developed a closer relationship to the Erlanger family. In October 1864, his daughter Mathilde married Frederick Emile Baron d’Erlanger, the very manager of Erlanger et Cie responsible for the Confederate bond issue.

Lastly, it is interesting to speculate about the post-war politics surrounding a Confederate victory won in part through bonds held by the Federal government. These held a commitment to deliver $15,000,000 (plus 7% interest) worth of New Orleans middling cotton, at twelve cents a pound, not less than six months following the ratification of the treaty of peace.

Sean Gabhann

Book 1 of the Shiloh Trilogy

Book 1 of the Shiloh Trilogy

Book 2 Harper's Rescue Front Cover

Book 2 of the Shiloh Trilogy, available March 23rd, 2017.

 

 

Seward vs Toombs: British and French Recognition of the Confederacy

William

William H. Seward

As an amateur historian of the American Civil War, I believe myself to be well schooled in the military aspects of that war. Recently, a good friend gave me the book: Statesmen of the Lost Cause: Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet which he purchased at an estate sale for $0.50. Published in 1939, the book offers biographic sketches of these political leaders and draws out their characters through examples of their statesmanship. It sat in my To Be Read pile for several months because it appeared to be an academic tome written to conform to the publish-or-perish mandate of university professors between the World Wars. Frankly, I did not have a great deal of interest in the civilian side of the Confederate government. It was much more fun to do the final edits of Harper’s Rescue and get that in to Sundown Press.

Eventually, I did crack the front cover of the book and discovered a wonderful world of political farce nearly equivalent to the American political campaign of 2016 but for far more lethal stakes.

The book was written by Burton J. Hendrick, a Pulitzer-Prize winning biographer of politicians and other great men. It is written in the literary style of its time and reflects the prejudices of that time as well.  Hendrick also published a companion title: Lincoln’s War Cabinet in 1946.

Moving past the venerable nature of the prose, I was actually able to get into the stories of these men and I continue to learn of the political half of the War Between the States. For example, Jefferson Davis was not the first choice for most of the delegates to the Confederate Convention in Montgomery, Alabama. That honor goes to Robert A. Toombs, a former U.S. senator from Georgia. Davis himself felt he was better suited to the role of Secretary for War or Army Commander-in-Chief because of his military background and by virtue of be the Secretary of War during the Franklin Pierce administration.

Robert A. Toombs

Robert A. Toombs

In the event, however, Toombs’ candidacy was destroyed by late-night rumor that, instead of Toombs, the Georgia delegation would nominate Howell Cobb for the Presidency, a man under much suspicion for having sided with Unionists during a brief attempt to secede in 1850. The rumor was not true, however, the delegates from the other seceding states had voted for Davis before the error became known. As a consolation, Davis selected Toombs for the prestigious position of Secretary of State. It is this position that Toombs came against the Federal Secretary of State William H. Seward, best known for “Seward’s Folly”, the purchase of Alaska in 1867.

The greatest conflict between Seward and Toombs was the attempt by the Confederate government to achieve recognition of their independence from Great Britain, France, and Mexico. This was the most delicate task facing the new Confederate government. Success might mean immediate triumph for the Secession, since it would have involved the Federal government in war with Great Britain and France which would lift the blockade and open European markets to cotton, the Confederacy’s “white gold”. Continuation of sales of cotton to the European powers would give the Confederate government a financial strength which could have secured the Southern cause.

I’ve always know that recognition never happened and after reading this book, I now know why. For a political junkie, this is a fascinating story.

201701 Yancy Photo

William L. Yancy

From the outset, Confederate orthodoxy held that the loss of cotton imports from the Gulf states posed such an economic threat to France and, especially, Great Britain that these countries would become natural allies despite their avowed hatred of slavery. Toombs selected a legation of three representatives for the mission. Of the trio, William Lownes Yancy of Alabama, a former U.S. congressman and long-time pro-slavery man was the only man who possessed the essential reputation and distinction.

201701 Rost Photo

Pierre A. Rost

Pierre A. Rost of Louisiana, was a lawyer and judge, not known on the national stage. His chief recommendations were his French origin and a supposed familiarity with the Gallic tongue. Both of these supposed assets actually worked to his detriment. His broken creole-French became the object of ridicule in Paris and led to a second criticism that the Confederacy had sent him to patronize the French rather than send an “authentic” American.

 

A. Dudley Mann

A. Dudley Mann

Nor did A. Dudley Mann prove any acceptable to British diplomats. Here we see the hand of Seward who injected into the reports being sent from the British minister to the U.S. the notion that Mann was of low family origins and a man of bad character. These allegations were untrue, however, Mann’s actions in England showed that he lacked judgement and good sense and was too unobservant to understand events occurring around him.

 

Napoleon III of France

Napoleon III of France

In addition to the threat of loss of cotton to mills in Normandy, the Confederate approach to France included pandering to the ambitions of Napoleon III for an empire in the Americas. At that time, Mexico was in a state political disorder as a result of revolution. However, by attempting to conspire in a French invasion of Mexico, the duplicitous nature of the envoy revealed itself when the French learned of the Confederacy’s parallel mission to ally with Juarez’ government. The final, fatal flaw in the Confederate strategy to France was Yancey’s out-spoken advocacy and defense of slavery in the parlors of Paris, which most Frenchmen found abhorrent seventy years after the French Revolution.

Lord Palmerston of Great Britain

Lord Palmerston of Great Britain

In Britain, Seward had fouled the water well before the Confederate envoys arrived. In a truly astonishing chapter in American diplomacy considering the state of the United Sates in Spring 1861, Seward was able to convince the British Foreign Secretary that recognition of the Confederacy would mean a war with the United States. As a senator in the later 1850s, Seward had proposed that the United States could reunify a people fatally divided over the issue of slavery by finding a pretext to go to war with some European power. As Lincoln’s Secretary of State, Seward drafted an extremely bellicose statement of position in an open letter to be read by the American ambassador to the Foreign Secretary and posted in British papers. This letter announced under the Monroe Doctrine the intent of the U.S. to declare war on any foreign power which attempted to interfere with the suppression of the domestic enemies of the United States (the secession). Although Lincoln later moderated the tone and directed the U.S. ambassador to deliver it in a more respectful manner, Seward laid the groundwork for this presentation by inviting the British ambassador to a dinner where he read the full text of his original letter. Having been prepared by his ambassador, the foreign Secretary received the American ambassador’s presentation with deference. He had decided to pacify the high-tempered Yankees. Britain cut off all further formal correspondence with the Confederate delegates.

Given the fact that a war with Britain and France concurrent with an internal rebellion might eventually spell total disaster for the Federal government, Seward’s actions were a huge gamble but Seward knew his man. Fortunately, the Liberal government of Lord Palmerston was not prepared to engage in a trans-Atlantic war just five years after the end of the Crimean War, with the Wars of Italian Unification continuing, and nationalist revolts simmering in the Russian and Austrian empires and becoming a force in Germany. Especially, if such a war required an alliance with a rebellious population dedicated to the preservation of slavery.

Having failed in this most important diplomatic ploy, Toombs resigned as the Secretary of State and accepted a commission as a Confederate brigadier general. He led a four regiments of Georgians through the Peninsular and Antietam campaigns until he was wounded at Antietam. At the end of the war, he fled to Cuba and thence to Paris. In 1867, he returned to Georgia but never took the Loyalty Oath, thus ending his public life. He died in 1885 at 75 years.

William H. Seward continued as United States Secretary of State until 1869. He died three years later at 71 years.

Although I love to read about the military history of the American Civil War, I cannot help but be intrigued by these behind-the-scene high-stakes machinations and the subtle and overt factors which affect the outcome. It adds another, huge dimension to the story and begs for a new respect to these little-know personalities.

Now it’s time to speculate about the impact on Jamie Harper and the men of the First Iowa if things had gone differently and to figure out how to shoe-horn some of this information in future Harper’s War Stories.

So thanks, John, for a great read.

Sean Gabhann

Book 1 of the Shiloh Trilogy

Book 1 of the Shiloh Trilogy

Book 2 Harper's Rescue Front Cover

Book 2 of the Shiloh Trilogy, available March 23rd, 2017

 

 

The Model 1859 Sharps Rifle and Telescopic Sight

Social Media Head Shot Sean K. Gabhann 20150329While planning to write a series of historical novels set in the American Civil War (ACW) I needed to decide what would be the firearm of choice for the main character, James (Jamie) Harper. Although he serves in an infantry unit, I wanted Harper and his battalion to carry a weapon other than the Springfield rifled muskets assigned to most of the Federal infantry regiments.I needed a weapon which had distinctive properties and which had existed long enough prior to the war that Harper could have used it when he served as a U.S. Deputy Marshall in the Nebraska-Dakota territory. It did not take long to settle on the Sharps rifle as Harper’s weapon of choice because of its relative uniqueness on the Civil war battlefield, the reputation of the weapon with the FIRST and SECOND U.S. Sharpshooter regiments, and because they were produced in sufficient numbers that the purchase of six hundred rifles by a battalion benefactor was a plausible premise.

Sharps Model 1859 Rifle

 

The Model 1859 was reported to have a maximum effective range of one thousand yards. When I was writing the first drafts of the Shiloh Trilogy, I accepted this number at face value and had my characters, happily blazing away at hapless Confederates from ranges over half a mile. That was until I moved into an office with a window.

One day while busily writing away, I happened to gaze out of the window and mentally go through a sniper’s checklist on a target on the other side of the freeway. While doing so, it became obvious that trying to sight onto a target the size of a single man over that distance would be very difficult without a telescope. The apparent target size is about the same height as the front sight of most rifles. Out of curiosity, I checked Google Maps and discovered that the house across the freeway was only six hundred yards away!

So, if my hero was to earn his reputation as a marksman, either he would have to have supernatural eyesight, or he would need a telescope on his rifle. This set me on a quest to discover whether a telescope had ever been used with the Model 1859 Sharps Rifle. I checked the websites of the two companies currently manufacturing this model or its successor, the model 1862. No, they did not manufacture telescopes for the rifles, nor did they provide any modifications which would allow a scope to be mounted and aligned on the weapon.

Next, I did a search of antique firearms dealers and contacted many of them via email or telephone. All returned the same response: the Model 1859/1862 Sharps Rifle did not use a telescopic sight. So, I resigned myself to rewriting those chapters where Harper takes on targets at extreme ranges.

Then in February 2013, before I began the rewrite, I did one final internet search, trying to prove that the Model 1859 could mount a telescope.

And voila! The Horse Soldier of Gettysburg Pennsylvania showed exactly the weapon of Harper’s dreams in their on-line catalogue: a Model 1859 Sharps Rifle with a telescopic sight manufactured by William Malcolm of Syracuse, NY. The Horse Soldier description of the rifle included a serial number associated with those on the weapons issued to the USSS regiments.

Sharps Model 1859 with Malcolm Telescopic Sight

Sharps Model 1859 with Malcolm Telescopic Sight

 

So now, I can show the documentation proving that such a combination could have existed at the time in which the Shiloh Trilogy takes place. Unfortunately, besides not having $12,000 to buy the weapon and even if I had, it sold the same day that I found it.  So now I need to research how the Malcolm telescopic sight worked.

My thanks to Wikipedia for use of the photo with the open sights and to The Horse Soldier for allowing the use of their photograph with the Malcolm sight.

 

Harpers Donelson Front Page for Web 20150901

 

Harper’s Donelson is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble On-Line, Smashwords, and Kobo.