Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Anti-Hero

Adam Badeau was a pretty good writer, a New York theater critic before the Civil War and the author of several books afterward. During the war, he became a staff officer to an obscure general and was seriously wounded in Louisiana in 1863. He recovered at the home of his friend, the famous actor Edwin Booth, in company with Booth's brother and fellow actor John Wilkes, the future assassin, while the New York City draft riots raged outside.
Then Badeau got a job on Grant's staff, and for the next couple of decades derived most of his income from the federal government in jobs arranged by Grant. Then -- as the Grants saw it -- while helping the general prepare his Memoirs, he betrayed him and the whole family at their hour of greatest need.
Despite the aforementioned limitations of biography, someone should write one of Badeau. Meanwhile, I couldn't get rid of him even after Grant did, and he winds up with the final word in The Last Circle of Ulysses Grant.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Minor Characters

Harriet Maxwell Converse, a friend of Ely Parker, and the author of the book whose title page is shown above, throws a dinner party in Chapter 12 of The Last Circle of Ulysses Grant.
Among the guests are some of the major characters in the novel, but also some, like Converse herself, who only appear in that chapter.
In the latter category is Josephine Shaw Lowell, the widow and sister of two famous Civil War colonels, both killed in action. She went on to become a significant social reformer, and is memorialized  by a fountain which can still be seen in Bryant Park, Manhattan, behind the New York Public Library.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Let Us Have Peace

It wasn't just a political slogan for a Reconstruction politician, the phrase also appeared near the end of Grant's Memoirs and his life: "Let us have peace." He meant it. In the absence of Abraham Lincoln, it turned out not to be possible in the 19th century both to pacify the former Confederates and protect their freed slaves, but Grant tried harder than anyone else to do that.
He was more successful abroad, avoiding war with Spain, Britain and every other country. Like Presidents Washington and Eisenhower, his knowledge of war made him determined to avoid new ones.
While the Little Big Horn campaign of 1876 made a mockery of Grant's peace policy with the American Indians, the policy had been to a considerable extent successful during the decade following the Civil War. Part of the credit goes to the man in the photo, Ely Parker, a Tonowanda Seneca from Western New York, who became friends with Grant in Illinois in 1860. He served in the Army with Grant during and after the war, then becoming commissioner of Indian Affairs. A somewhat chastened Parker is a key character in The Last Circle of Ulysses Grant.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Limits of Biography

.Since I've already written one Civil War era biography and am currently working on another (of James Montgomery), why is my newly published book a historical novel?
One reason can be seen in the eyes of the guy in the photo, the young Civil War general Francis Herron.
After writing the biography (of General Gordon Granger) I was looking for another subject, and considered writing a nonfiction account of immigrant soldiers.
I also looked around for people, like Granger, who had had interesting careers but about whom no one else had had a biography published. Which led me to Herron.
But when I stumbled on an account of the Battle of Prairie Grove relating how Herron had killed one of his own soldiers there, to turn around panicked cavalrymen who were fleeing from the fighting, I realized I would not be able to give a satisfactory account of how he came to feel about what he had done, because there would likely be no record.
So he became a major character in the novel (The Last Circle of Ulysses Grant).

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Immigrant Soldiers

St. Patrick's Day is a good occasion to consider the career of Thomas Sweeny, an Irish immigrant who joined the US Army and was wounded more than once in the Mexican War, losing his right arm. Staying in the Army, he became a general in the Civil War, under Grant's command at the Battle of Fort Donelson. Then at Shiloh, defending against the surprise attack which produced the first mass-casualty battle of the war, Sweeny was wounded again three times while his brigade stood its ground.
He served in the war until 1864, when his career was temporarily derailed because of his brawling with a superior officer.
One of the (many) extraordinary things about the Civil War is the number of immigrants who rose to high military rank. While most like Sweeny were in the Union army, probably the greatest immigrant general was another Irishman from County Cork, Patrick Cleburne, who fought for the Confederacy (despite being willing to free slaves toward the end of the war).
Sweeny appears as a character in several chapters of The Last Circle of Ulysses Grant, along with the Polish immigrant colonel Włodzimierz Bonawentura Krzyżanowski, who led a successful night attack at Gettysburg against the Louisiana Tigers.
The subject of Cleburne briefly crops up in in the novel, and other immigrant soldiers mentioned include the Irishman Thomas Meagher, the Germans Gustave Kammerling and Peter Osterhaus, and the Hungarian Alexander Asboth.
And, as previously mentioned, the Russian immigrant Union general John Turchin and his wife Nadine, like Sweeny and Kryzanowski, appear as characters in the book.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Ron Chernow biography

There is usually some considerable delay between finishing a book and seeing it in print, unless you are either a well known writer or someone paying to get it published. Neither condition applies to me and my new novel about the end of Grant's life.

So I did not, in writing the book, get the benefit of reading Ron Chernow's biography of Ulysses S. Grant which was published last year. Having now read it, I was pleased to see Chernow sharing some of my own views, e.g. acknowledging the significance of Grant's drinking problem (which some of his defenders refuse to admit). I was also pleased to see him portrayed as a standard, not particularly devout Methodist, rather than the agnostic or even atheist which some of his modern admirers purport to see. And Chernow made me understand why Grant felt betrayed by Elihu Washburne in 1880.
I differ from Chernow's apparent view that Grant was an artistic Philistine, and wish he had written more about the president's efforts to avoid war with the American Indians and with Spain over Cuba.

As for the last months of Grant's life, the focus of my book, I detected one error in Chernow's (page 952), in which "a lock of Jesse's hair" was actually Buck's (i.e. Jesse's older brother).

All in all, it's a good entry in what is turning into a golden age of Grant biographies. But if Lin-Manuel Miranda is looking to write another musical based on American history, I reckon this time the book he needs is not Chernow's but mine.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Two Russian princesses

Although one of Grant's granddaughters, Julia, grew up to become a Russian princess, and does appear as a minor character in my new novel, she is not the subject of this post.
No, the lady pictured is Nadine Turchin, or Princess Nadezhda L'vova, whom I hadn't planned on writing about, but who wound up pretty much taking over Chapter 15. She, like her husband John Turchin, was a Russian immigrant to the United States. Contrary to all regulations, she went with him into the field when he became a Union general during the Civil War, and even issued orders on occasion to his troops.
You can read more about the lady in this post by Maggie MacLean from the Civil War Women blog. 

New book pages(s), new blog

Mostly to publicize a newly published book, I am starting up this author page/blog.
I hope to provide regular content to those interested in the American Civil War, which is for the most part the theme of my first three books.
Those books are the new novel published by Square Circle Press, The Last Circle of Ulysses Grant, the 2013 biography published by Casemate, General Gordon Granger: The Savior of Chickamauga and the Man Behind "Juneteenth", and a biography I am currently writing of James Montgomery, the Kansas abolitionist and Civil War colonel. After that, I hope my books will branch out beyond the Civil War.
I am planning to link this blog to a new Facebook page, where people can comment on posts, and to a new author page on Amazon, and possibly to other sites. I appreciate anyone else linking, reviewing and sharing.

NPR Adds Editor's Note to Juneteenth Story

 NPR National Correspondent John Burnett this morning added an editor's note to his June 20 story about General Gordon Granger and June...