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.


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 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.


The First Iowa Volunteer Mounted Infantry

Social Media Head Shot Sean K. Gabhann 20150329When preparing the back-story for the characters in the Shiloh Trilogy, found that I needed to identify a particular fictional Union regiment as the home for Jamie Harper, Josuah Featherstone, Gus Magnusson, Johnny Cooke, and the others.  I wanted to identify a unit which could plausibly have participated in most of Grant’s and Sherman’s major battles not only in the time period covered by the Trilogy, but extending from the earliest battles to the end of major operations in April 1865.

I had the particular good fortune to have chosen Sergeant’s Bluff, Iowa as Harper’s home town.  Using the constraint that Harper would have to join a unit from a state near his home town, this gave me the choice of Iowa, the states of Minnesota and Missouri, and the territories of Nebraska or Dakota.

Of these, Iowa proved to be the best historical choice having provided regiments for nearly all of the major battles in the western theater, from the First Iowa Volunteer Infantry at Wilson’s Creek, to the sixteen regiments of Iowans in the final battle for Sherman’s armies at Bentonville.   In particular, I wanted a unit which could plausibly have participated in the four battles described in the Trilogy: Belmont, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh.

The Civil War Archive TitleUsing Wikipedia as a quick reference source, I discovered that there were just five Union regiments present at Belmont, four from Illinois and the Seventh Iowa Volunteer Infantry.  For a cross-check, I consulted the Regimental Index of The Civil War Archive website operated by Mike Northway.  Based on their regimental history, it seemed that the Seventh Iowa would serve quite well is a means for validating the feasibility of an Iowa unit participating in most of Grant’s and Sherman’s major battles.  Back to Wikipedia and a check of the Union orders-of-battle confirmed this.

So, I now knew it was feasible.  But I didn’t want to use the actual Seventh Iowa because I didn’t wish to be constrained by that unit’s known, recorded history and personages.   I also knew that I want at some time in the future to write a prequel which covers the campaign in Missouri during 1861.  So, I looked at the Union order-of-battle of Wilson’s Creek and discovered the First Iowa Volunteer Infantry, a ninety-day unit, whose only major battle was Wilson’s Creek – ten days prior to the unit being mustered out of service in August 1861.

I had my fictional unit.  What if, instead of returning to Iowa, a number of the veterans of the First Iowa re-enlisted for three years and they are permitted to retain their unit lineage?  Some of the officers would need to be changed and I still wanted to avoid using real soldiers names.

Iowa Genealogy Project LogoDuring an internet search, I had the great good fortune to find the Iowa Genealogy Web Project.  In these pages, I found the initial muster rosters for every Iowa unit in the Civil War provided by Guy Logan.

Now I also had access to thousands of authentic soldiers’ names which I could (and would) manipulate to fill out the roster of fictional Iowans in Harper’s War Stories.


The story of Jamie Harper and the others begins with Harper’s Donelson which was published in September 2015.

Harpers Donelson Front Page for Web 20150901

Harper’s Donelson: A Novel of Grant’s First Campaign


Harper’s Donelson is Published!

Sundown Press released my first ever novel on September 24th: Harper’s Donelson and the this has been a week of heavy follow-up efforts.  H. Donelson started out as the first section of a larger book which I wrote during the summer of 2011. I had retired the year before and after making the rounds of the various pre-programmed “seniors” activities for six months, I decided that the time had come to pursue a life-long dream of writing about historical subjects.

How hard could that be, right?  After all, I had been a government engineer for many years and written numerous reports and personnel evaluations. Novel writing would be the next easy step, right?

So, just to be sure I knew enough about the writing and publishing world, I began taking a full course load at the UC San Diego Extension in January 2011 in order to cram as much learning as possible. That summer I wrote the first draft of my wonderful novel: H. Shiloh.

We are blessed here in San Diego to have a large and very supportive writing community. During the scholastic year 2011-2012, I would regale my fellow students with the wonderfulness of my plot-heavy, male-oriented first draft. I soon learned that there existed such things as character development arcs, setting, pacing, etc. So, while I went about incorporating all of this new knowledge into H. Shiloh, the book grew until it became completely unpublishable by any sane organization.

In rapid order, H. Shiloh became two books: H. Donelson and H. Shiloh. Then, because almost every woman who read the second chapter of H. Donelson demanded that Katie Molloy’s story be told, the Shiloh Trilogy came to be: H. Donelson, H. Rescue, and H. Shiloh. H. Fort Henry emerged from H. Donelson during a late edit and is now a freebie short story at my author’s website:

I am particularly blessed that Sundown Press publishes Harper’s Donelson today, while I put the finishing touches on H. Rescue.

Here is the BLURB:

“The first book of this Civil War trilogy begins in the winter of 1862, as the nation is being ripped apart, with both Federals and Rebels seeing no end in sight and hoping for victory.

“Lieutenant James Harper, a junior officer in the Union army, aspires to command a company – but faces his dismal future at the hands of an officer who will vindictively do whatever he must to keep Harper at the bottom of the heap.

“Katie Molloy, a young girl who has been sold by her father to the wily owner of a whorehouse, has settled into her new life as a saloon-girl – for the time being. She’s got big plans to get herself out of this predicament, and vows one day she’ll be more than the soldier’s whore.

“Corporal Gustav Magnusson, a young Quaker in Harper’s company, butts heads with Harper from the very beginning. But capture by the enemy forces them to work together to protect their men from sadistic rebel Captain Bell – who wants nothing more than to see his Yankee prisoners dead.

“Will General Grant’s campaign against Fort Donelson open the door for an ex-Federal marshal, a Quaker farmer, and a soiled dove from Iowa to make their mark in the world – if they live through it?

“Three lives intertwine against the backdrop of the battle which made Ulysses S. Grant’s reputation – a living hell where everything familiar fades, and the only thing that matters is surviving – however they can.”


Here’s an EXCERPT which you might like:

“Now, do it.” Harper waited while Magnusson signaled the three soldiers to close up and move into the trees: one on the left of the trail, with him and Magnusson, and two on the right. When they were in place with their rifles ready, Harper crept along the tree line beside the trail moving so Magnusson could see him.

The old sensations returned, the excitement of stalking a killer in the night, staying hidden until the last minute. Except this time, he would have only the sight of the enemy to have a victory. How close could he get without being seen? He would take it real damn close.

About half the distance from where he started and twenty yards from the road, Harper watched the shadows solidify into mounted men moving south in a column three riders across. Harper knelt down, drew his pistol from under his overcoat, and pulled the hammer back. When he did so, he noticed his silhouette from the moonlight, dark on the smooth snow.

Crouching low, he shifted so his shadow blended with a nearby tree. From there, he ran in a crouch from tree-to-tree, pausing at each stop before jumping to the next. Still, Harper saw no sign of a flank guard. Finally, he found a holly bush not more than ten feet from the road, still in leaf and sheltered in the shadow of an old oak. From there, he could see the details of the riders.

He had come this close and not encountered any flank guard for the column. The Rebels must be powerful tired to have forgotten to post a guard between themselves and the Federals on the ridge above.




From far away, Katie heard men yelling as her lungs filled with cool air. Warmth surrounded her naked body. Somewhere, a struggle went on, knocking against furniture and walls; it ended with a thud on the floor. Two sets of gentle hands rolled her over to raise her into a sitting position.

“Breathe, Katie. Breathe deep!” Loreena told her from somewhere to her right. Katie did so, opening her eyes.

“Hold your chin up high.” Eleanor sat on her left with her arm across Katie’s back. She cupped Katie’s chin, trying to clear her airway.

Eleanor stroked Katie’s hair. “There we are, chérie. It is all o-vaire.” Eleanor’s hand came away from Katie’s head with blood on it. She showed the blood to Loreena, who held Eleanor’s wrist high so Franklin Bosley could see.

“Take him down to the river,” Bosley told the others.

“Y’all can be just as sick as you want now, deah. It’s all ovah.”

Eleanor pulled the quilt more tightly around Katie’s body and held her in both arms. Eyes filling with tears, Eleanor said, “I’m so sorry, Katie dear. We should have come sooner.”




Harper set his hat on the snow next to him and crouched lower, closer to the holly bush, until the points of its leaves pricked at his face. He watched the road through its branches while he breathed into his overcoat so condensation would not expose his position. While he watched, he slowed his breathing though his heart still beat furiously.

The horses in the column carried a wide variety of saddles and tack, ranging from full bridles to simple ropes tied around the horse’s muzzle or head. The riders allowed the horses to walk in the cold night but they covered ground swiftly. Some horses dripped water from their shaggy winter coats. Some carried two riders. A number of the ghostly riders rode mules. Harper could smell the wet, rangy animals.

He could not identify the riders’ uniforms with certainty. Like the tack on their horses, they wore a mix of military and civilian coats, cloaks, or slickers, some of it from the Federal army. The riders carried a variety of carbines, shotguns, rifles, muskets, and pistols in holsters attached to their saddles. A few carried swords or sabers. Taken all together, these signs told Harper this was a sizable force of Rebel cavalry.

The riders moved along in near-total silence. They would have appeared to be a column of specters in the moonlight, except for the occasional jangle from a bridle or a squish from a horse’s hoof in the mud. One rider wore the gold-braided “swallows nest” on his sleeve, the mark of a Confederate officer. Harper had his confirmation. These were Confederate cavalry moving south–out of the fortress, into the rear of the Federal lines. Harper allowed himself a brief moment of satisfaction at being right. Now, he needed to bring the information back to the battalion.

Pistol still in his right hand and his hat in the left, Harper inched back from the holly bush, watching to remain in the shadow of the oak tree beside it. Staying low to the ground, he edged around until the tree blocked the view from the road. He searched for the next bit of cover, saw a nearby tree which suited him, and crawled to it, using understory bushes for cover. Soft snow and mud oozed through the knees of his trousers.

He enjoyed this hide-and-seek. Like an Indian brave using a coup-stick, he touched the enemy by observing them and now would escape unscathed.

After ten yards or so, he came to a crouch while trying to determine if he was visible from the road. Too close. He crawled farther along the understory, deeper into the wood. If they saw him from the road, perhaps they would think they saw an animal. When he could not see the road anymore, Harper felt safe to stand in the shadow of the next tree. He looked around for any sign of a Rebel flank guard but saw nothing, so he walked to the next tree, using the slow caution he learned as a marshal.

Now, the night air carried the odor of unwashed humans. He turned to look deeper in the woods, his pistol ready. He sensed, more than saw, multiple dark shapes moving at him before stars exploded in his eyes. The blow to the back of his head drove him to the ground. Two bodies fell on top of him, pinning him in the snow. He jerked the trigger of his pistol, trying to send a warning shot. It fired into the ground, sending up a mound of muddy snow which covered the muzzle flash and smothered the discharge to a muffled thump. Another man yanked the weapon from his hand, leaving him helpless as the wetness of the snow began to seep into his overcoat.

“Lookee heah, boys. We got us a Yankee off-i-sah.”


To help celebrate the arrival of Harper’s Donelson, we are offering a free digital copy to someone who leaves a comment today. You should leave your contact information when you post so we can deliver the ebook to you.