Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Maryland battlefield at Antietam (or Sharpsburg, to the Confederates) where, on September 17, 1862, the bloodiest single-day battle of the Civil War took place. At the conclusion of the day’s fighting, over 22,000 combined casualties were incurred. The battle pitted Confederate General Robert E. Lee against Union General George B. McClellan in what became a standstill by the end of the battle. The fighting took place in a cornfield, at a bridge crossing, and at a sunken road worn down by years of wagon traffic. The carnage was horrific all across the battle area, but it was at this bloody lane that best illustrated to me the slaughter that occurred at Antietam.

The fighting began at Bloody Lane with Confederates firing into successive Union lines of attack with devastating results. By the time the Union soldiers finally flanked the embattled Confederates, the road was so thick with bodies that it would have been possible to walk its length without setting foot on the ground. Colonel John B. Gordon, commanding a Confederate regiment, suffered five serious wounds, one to his face. Gordon would recover and eventually lead an entire Corps near the end of the war. The Union suffered 3,000 casualties, the Confederates 2,600. The fight lasted from 9:30 am until 1:00 pm. When the last of the Confederates finally peeled away from Bloody Lane, the exhausted Federals no longer had the momentum to pursue.

Here is a description of my main character in my novel That Deadly Space, Conor Rafferty, awakening in a converted hospital in Sharpsburg:

Conor awakened several hours later in a house in Sharpsburg that was being utilized as a field hospital. A doctor saw him attempt to sit up and walked over to check on him.
“I’m Doctor Whitmire, one of the regimental surgeons. Your wounds have been dressed, Captain, and your wrist has been immobilized. You should be fine in due course.”
“Did you have to amputate anything?” Conor asked as he began taking an inventory of his extremities.
“No, nothing that wasn’t already missing,” he said with a point toward his hand, which was heavily bandaged. “You were only minutes away from expiring due to blood loss. And no, we didn’t take your arm or leg off, and your scalp wound was sufficiently minor that we didn’t take your head off.”
“Sufficiently minor. All right, then,” Conor said, feeling the bandage on his head. “With all due respect, Doctor, I find your humor so sufficiently minor that you’ll forgive me if I don’t laugh myself into a coma. Do you have any word from the field on the outcome?”
“It’s stopped. Appears to be a stalemate, and a damned bloody one, at that. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“Where is Colonel Gordon? Do you have any word on his condition?”
“I haven’t seen him here. I don’t know where he is.”
The surgeon then heard his name called and abruptly left.

By 5:30 pm, the battle was over. The wounded were treated in makeshift hospitals throughout the region. Wounded Confederates who could not be transported by wagon back across the Potomac into Virginia were left to the mercy of the Union doctors. McClellan did not pursue the battered Confederates, angering President Lincoln, who would soon replace him. Lincoln, incidentally, used the standoff as enough of a victory to issue his Emancipation Proclamation. The United States’ war aims thus changed from preserving the Union to preserving the Union and freeing the slaves.

Antietam, thus, was a battle of major importance.

The title of this blog post also happens to coincide with the title of my new Kindle eBook. The book is a collection of twenty-two articles I have written over the past several years on the subject of communications. I came across many exceptional communicators during my time in the U.S. Marine Corps, and afterward in positions of responsibility with companies like Coca-Cola Enterprises, Genuine Parts, and GE. I learned much about communications skills by observing men and women of exceptional ability. I also observed that many people struggle as communicators. It is to this group that this book is intended.

There may be areas that take you outside your comfort zone, such as public speaking, presentations, or contentious areas that might involve some level of conflict. Don’t be discouraged. Most of us have at least some fear of standing in front of a group and speaking; or writing and then verbally presenting (and perhaps defending) a plan or paper; or delivering a less-than-stellar but nonetheless honest performance review to a potentially cantankerous employee. Just remember that repeated practice will make you better and more comfortable. Stand up in front of the group with confidence and enthusiasm. Deliver your well-written plan with your strong verbal skills, perhaps with a bit of humor spliced into just the right places. Be honest and sincere with that cantankerous employee, and always respectful. Think of it as becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Progress will follow.

Since I am a writer and speaker, I come at the subject of communications from both a written and verbal perspective. I do not consider one as superior to the other; rather, to do both effectively and skillfully should always be the goal. Moreover, once you are able to do both effectively, you will find that being adept at writing can assist in the preparation of verbal presentations or messages.

So, this book is my offer of assistance to those who deem their communications skills in need of improvement. These suggestions and concepts have worked for me, and my reasoning is that if it worked for me, it could work for you.

Keep in mind that communications skills are transferrable. They go where you go. Whether you change jobs or careers, you keep those skills in your skills portfolio. Also, remember that those skills need polishing. Don’t let the rust grow. Keep practicing and improving. You will see the results, as will others.

How to Become a Successful Communicator is now available. Click on the link to visit the Amazon page.

 

The removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces in several Southeast cities has sparked a vigorous debate. At its crux is the efficacy of paying homage to soldiers who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and with it the Confederacy’s association with slavery.

I will add my two-cents worth, but first a bit of disclosure: I’m a Southerner whose ancestors fought on the side of the Confederacy. I’m also an American who proudly served this nation as a United States Marine. And I’m a novelist whose latest book, That Deadly Space, A Civil War Novel, makes this debate especially interesting to me.

Several years ago there was a heated debate over the Confederate flag, and its image as part of the design of several state flags in the South, including Georgia, my own state. In historical terms, the Confederate flag was a battle flag, but in a more contemporary context it has often been used as a sign of defiance, an in-your-face symbol that can easily be understood to have racial overtones. I get that. I fully understand the need to remove such divisive symbols from state flags, and I was pleased to see Georgia remove the image of the Confederate flag from our state flag to its present form.

Monuments, on the other hand, were erected not in defiance, but as a way of honoring soldiers. And not just famous generals, but in many cases and in many town squares, honoring common soldiers—scared, homesick, brave young men who did their duty as best they could. The Civil War changed this country forever and established what we are as a nation, and what we are not. The Confederacy was defeated, slavery was abolished, and the Union was preserved. That is our history. So, if all of the monuments honoring Confederate soldiers are removed, then what has really been accomplished? Would it make us any less divided? How much bitterness would be mollified, how much created? And, importantly, where does it all end?

The Civil War period, both the good and the bad, was a chaotic, bloody four-year chapter in a young nation’s story. Pushing it out of sight does not change it. Attempting to re-write it likewise does not alter it. Failing to teach it, all of it, in the name of political correctness, is disgraceful. And removing monuments to soldiers 152 years after the last shots were fired seems of a piece with the efforts of some to rename buildings and dishonor other historical American figures with an assumption, I suppose, that in doing so, paradise will suddenly break out.

Hundreds of thousands of people protested the Vietnam War as being oppressive or immoral or racist, even to a point of cursing at and spitting on returning veterans. Many of the protestors viewed the war as criminal. Will there therefore be a movement to have the Wall in Washington D.C. dismantled and the names of 58,000 American servicemembers tossed aside?

Good luck with that.

It would be impossible to learn the full span of American history if parts of that history are deemed by some as too toxic or too politically incorrect, and end up as either blank pages in history books or revised to represent a version that has little historical accuracy or context. That would not be helpful. Leave the monuments. Teach the history, all of it. Give the vast majority of the American people credit for being strong enough to see the full sweep of the nation’s history without becoming convulsive. This nation has survived a revolution, a civil war, a depression, world wars, regional wars, and 9/11. It can deal with Southern monuments to Southern soldiers.

 

In researching certain particulars of the Battle of Gettysburg for my new novel, That Deadly Space, I came across a familiar figure who might very well have been the most consequential Union officer on the field during those historic three days in July, 1863. General Winfield Scott Hancock was that familiar figure. A battle-tested veteran of Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, Hancock’s performance had earlier been described by General George McClellan as “superb.”

On the first day at Gettysburg, Hancock assumed temporary command of the Union I, II, III and XI Corps after General John Reynolds had been killed in action. While in command of the entire left wing of the Army of the Potomac, Hancock provided critically needed leadership while skillfully deploying his troops along the high ground at Cemetery Hill. He set in motion the “fishhook” position that spanned from Culp’s and Cemetery Hills to the Round Tops, and then recommended to the overall commander, General George Meade, that the fight should be made on the excellent defensive ground at Gettysburg.

On the third day, Hancock’s II Corps absorbed the brunt of the massive Confederate assault known as Pickett’s Charge. Hancock’s courageous personal example, even under heavy artillery fire, was inspirational to his soldiers. Again and again, Hancock was superb. When told by a subordinate that he was risking his life by calmly riding among his troops, Hancock was said to have replied, “There are times when a corps commander’s life does not count.” Hancock’s leadership did much to gain the Union victory, but not without cost. Hancock was seriously wounded in the thigh and refused to be evacuated from the field until the battle had been decided. He would be bothered by that wound for the duration of the war. In a strange twist of fate, Confederate General Lewis Armistead, a dear friend, was also wounded in the assault and died two days later. The two close friends, on opposite sides of that deadly struggle, were less than one-hundred yards apart when both were struck down.

The statue of the mounted Hancock at Cemetery Hill is impressive, all the more when the thoughts of Hancock’s uplifting presence among the dispirited Union troops on that hard first day are remembered. A marker also shows the location where Hancock was wounded on the third day. His presence can still be felt on the field at Gettysburg, even with the passage of 154 years. Winfield Scott Hancock is unquestionably one of the finest military officers this nation has produced.

He was, and still is, Hancock the Superb.

 

Are we a society that no longer has heroes? Have we become so indifferent and cynical that men and women doing heroic things are seldom reported and hardly noticed, and consequently neither celebrated nor emulated? Are we now too sophisticated to become caught up in something so yesterday as a “hero,” while news coverage goes to thugs who shut down a campus speaker and perhaps even destroy property, all while behaving in ways that they themselves consider virtuous and courageous?

So, where did our heroes go?

Admittedly, it’s a stretch to find public officials nowadays in politics or academia whose actions would qualify as heroic. Our Hollywood celebrity culture provides an endless supply of shallow, egocentric, sparsely talented individuals who provide us not only with the fruits of their “craft,” but with their standard, spineless lecturing as their enlightened gift to the rest of us, the great unwashed.

The sporting world has become so soiled with cheating, pampered, self-absorbed athletes and coaches, and so driven by college and professional organizations that devalue longstanding virtues like loyalty and integrity, that past sports giants like Tom Landry, John Wooden, and Vince Lombardi would likely turn away in disgust. In addition, the corporate world has had its share of arrogant industry titans who have lied, bilked, and bullied their way to lifetime riches with astonishing collateral damage to their companies, customers, and stockholders.

There have been eighteen Medals of Honor awarded to American service members during the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and two more for service in Somalia. How many Americans have seen television or print media coverage of these men? How many Americans have seen the photos and heard the stories of all twenty? Or perhaps even two or three? Is this confirmation that we no longer have any heroes?

No, I don’t believe so.

Heroes are still among us. U.S. Airways pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landing his stricken airplane safely in the Hudson River is one of them. So are the 343 New York City firefighters who climbed up those smoky stairwells and perished on that hard, dark September 11th day at the World Trade Center. There was 75 firehouses in New York in which at least one member was killed. Were these not heroes? Or the three young American service members who prevented a terrorist attack on a Paris train?

Americans still pull their fellow citizens from rain-swollen rivers. Single moms hold jobs, raise kids, and sometimes even go back to school. Dads teach their children about faithfulness, kindness, and sacrifice. Cancer patients, both young and old, fight back against their disease, often against overwhelming odds, and still give much of themselves to their families, churches, and communities. They are heroes, all. We are still a nation that needs it heroes, even without the high profile, to provide us with examples to follow, to cause us to remember our past, to give us reason for hope and encouragement.

I am a proud former U.S. Marine who marvels at the story of Corporal Kyle Carpenter, USMC, one of the twenty Medal of Honor awardees referenced above. In Afghanistan in 2010, Corporal Carpenter moved toward an enemy grenade to shield his fellow Marines from the blast. Kyle suffered extensive facial and limb damage and underwent multiple surgeries, not to mention enduring enough physical pain to last multiple lifetimes. And I couldn’t possibly comprehend the mental agony he has also bravely endured. After a three-year hospitalization and a medical retirement, Kyle became a college student. He is a survivor, a fighter, and an inspiration. He is a Marine, by God, in the very best way. And he is a hero.

So, it’s a fact that all the heroes didn’t get up and leave. They’re still here. Just like always.

Look around and I’ll bet you can find one. And when you do, thank them for staying.

For more on Kyle and other Medal of Honor recipients, follow this link.

 

 

My interest in the Civil War began in earnest in elementary school in Atlanta, a city with a strong Civil War association. I also developed a particular attraction to Gone with the Wind—first the movie, then the book. After all, Tara was the fictional plantation just outside Atlanta, and GWTW author and Pulitzer Prize winner Margaret Mitchell lived and worked (and later tragically died) in Atlanta. Additionally, on the property of the Atlanta Zoo was the Cyclorama, a large 360-degree painting depicting the Battle of Atlanta in astonishing detail. Twenty miles to the northwest, there was Kennesaw Mountain where the Confederate army attempted to slow the inexorable Union army campaign that had Atlanta in its sights. So, Atlanta had the battlefields, the paintings, and the historical markers from the real, and Gone with the Wind from the imagined.

As a teenager, my mother was among the estimated 300,000 fascinated onlookers who, on Friday, December 15, 1939, stood in the cold and awaited the arrival of Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, and other celebs for the world premiere of GWTW. Twenty years later, the movie returned to the same Loew’s Grand Theater, this time with only a smattering of the original fanfare. It was then that I, as a boy, attended a showing of the film with my mother and grandmother, both of whom seemed to spend much of the movie in tears. The poignant scene of the thousands of Confederate wounded lying in the streets of Atlanta didn’t cause me to join in the crying, but it stayed in my memory as a reminder that war is cruel, ugly, and tragic. More than anything else, that scene is why I remember GWTW the movie.

A bit of irony here: Atlanta’s Loew’s Grand Theater was heavily damaged by fire in 1978, as was much of the same surrounding area in the summer of 1864 during that most unpleasant visit by Union Gen. W. T. Sherman.

Later, I became interested in GWTW the book. I learned about the life of Margaret Mitchell, how she developed the story and characters, and how she handled the remarkable success her novel achieved. In 2014, a Harris Poll found GWTW to be the second favorite book of American readers, second only to the Bible. More than 30 million copies have been printed worldwide. Ms. Mitchell wrote one novel, sold tens of millions of copies, was awarded a Pulitzer, and thereafter lived the life of a celebrity. As a fellow novelist, about the only way in which I can compare myself to Margaret Mitchell is in our common hometown of Atlanta. And while I have recently released a Civil War novel of my own, the chances of That Deadly Space overtaking Gone with the Wind are roughly equivalent to my making the Braves and then winning a major league batting title. But that’s okay. My book’s chances for success are not dependent upon a comparison to GWTW.

With all her accomplishments, however, things didn’t end well for Ms. Mitchell. A speeding automobile struck her as she crossed Peachtree Street at 13th Street in Atlanta with her husband, John Marsh, while on her way to see a movie on the evening of August 11, 1949. She died at Grady Hospital five days later without ever regaining consciousness. Ms. Mitchell was 48 years old at the time of her death.

The Atlanta of Margaret Mitchell’s day is very different from the Atlanta of today. And there are few if any signs of the Atlanta of Margaret Mitchell’s imagination. Still, the connection of Atlanta, Gone with the Wind, and Ms. Mitchell will remain through the ages.

 

 

 

 

 

Full disclosure here—I’m a history buff from the South. Certainly I’m not the only one who has wondered how history might have turned had the Civil War ended in a stalemate, which for the South would have been tantamount to victory. Improbable though it may have been, just suppose for a moment that it did happen, and with these possible consequences:

  • Robert E. Lee would be elected the second President of the Confederate States of America. Lee would issue his own Emancipation Proclamation and end slavery before slavery ended the Confederacy. Lee would see slavery as the immoral condition it is, not to mention that as long as an economic model of slave labor was maintained, the South would lose its trading partners in Europe, the USA, and much of the rest of the mercantile world.
  • Lee would lead the effort to reunite the country and add Yankee capital and industrial expertise into a transformation of the Southern economy.
  • President Lee would suffer a fatal heart attack less than a year into his administration, throwing the Confederate government into chaos.
  • Mexico, seeing an opportunity, would invade Texas and be soundly defeated in just under an hour. Texas would then annex Mexico and declare itself the Republic of Texas.
  • France, seeing an opportunity, would invade New Orleans. Louisiana would appeal to nearby Texas, who would intercede on Louisiana’s behalf. France would then be soundly defeated in a little over an hour. Texas would thereafter annex Louisiana.
  • Spain, seeing an opportunity, would launch an invasion of Florida from its base in Cuba.
  • Great Britain, seeing an opportunity, would invade coastal Georgia. British troops would claim Savannah, Georgia, and commence their own version of Sherman’s March, but in reverse.
  • Florida and Georgia would then appeal for help from the Confederate government. The Confederate government would become paralyzed with uncertainty and discord.
  • Italy, seeing an opportunity, would attempt an invasion of North Carolina. The flotilla would become lost and seize Bermuda instead.
  • Bermuda would appeal first to the British, who are bogged down in Georgia, and then to the Confederacy for help. The Confederate government would become further paralyzed with uncertainty and discord.
  • The bewildered Confederacy would finally appeal to the USA for help. The USA would issue its unconditional terms: Reunion as one nation, the United States of America, with the USA’s national flag, nation anthem, and national currency. And positively no grits permitted in Northern restaurants.
  • The Confederate government would reluctantly agree.
  • The newly augmented USA military would soundly defeat the Spanish and British in Florida and Georgia in a little under a week.
  • Using ships made in Mexico at a lower cost, the Republic of Texas Navy would then sail to Bermuda, expel the Italians, and annex the island.
  • During negotiations, the USA and the Republic of Texas would quarrel over the terms of reunion, specifically the national flag.
  • The Republic of Texas would eventually agree to give back Mexico, Louisiana, and Bermuda (and by that time, California) and rejoin the Union immediately prior to the outbreak of World War I.
  • Bermuda would become known for its pizza parlors and barbeque joints.
  • All would end well.

Yeah, right. Cheers.

(Note: My new Civil War historical novel, That Deadly Space, is available at this Amazon link.)

The Civil War still matters to a great many Americans, even with the passage of more than 150 years since Robert E. Lee’s surrender to U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in April, 1865. An estimated 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died during the conflict, giving their last full measure of devotion in a war whose cost in lives and property was unimaginable at the start. The death toll went on to claim 2% of the population, which in today’s terms would equate to six-million battlefield dead.

So why does the war still matter?

Civil War historian Shelby Foote said that before the war, our representatives referred to the country as “these” United States, but afterwards it became “the” United States. The war established who we are as a nation, and what we are. Likewise, it established what we are not. Millions of immigrants flooded to America based upon the values that the nation nurtures and embodies. Freedom. Opportunity. Self-determination. Self-sufficiency. They still come. They become Americans. In addition, they learn about the connection of the Civil War to the freedom of all citizens.

Slavery was abolished, and the South’s economic model of a slave economy was forever eradicated. President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a 273-word masterpiece that ranks as one of the nation’s most important speeches, referred to the “unfinished work” that would be needed to guarantee “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from this earth.” That work remains unfinished with regard to race relations, even though significant progress has been made. Our journey as a nation and as a people continues, albeit imperfectly and sometimes slowly.

At the brutal war’s end, Lincoln and Grant extended generous surrender terms to the defeated Confederates—an important first step in unifying the country. Years later, the U.S. was magnanimous toward the defeated Axis nations at the conclusion of World War II, very much akin to the standard established at the end of the Civil War. Thus, Germany and Japan became important post-war allies as a result.

There is still great interest in the war, from the well-preserved battlefields to the many fascinating figures of the era. Leaders and commanders such as Lincoln, Lee, Grant, Jackson, Sherman, and Forrest are still written and read about widely. Clara Barton and Belle Boyd are also appealing characters. Such Civil War topics as infantry tactics, weaponry, logistics, communications, and medicine are still studied by historians and military professionals.

Since 1865, this nation has freed the slaves, produced the American Century, won two world wars, birthed the Greatest Generation, cured diseases, become the “shining city upon a hill,” and landed men on the moon. Our history, like our present, is far from perfect, but America’s greatness is unquestionably linked to the sacrifice of those 620,000 men in bringing the nation to the place it now occupies.

Yes, the Civil War still matters.

And always will.

Gerald Gillis is the award-winning author of the Civil War historical novel That Deadly Space.

That Deadly Space, my new historical novel concerning the Civil War, is now available in paperback and Kindle with this Amazon link.

Below is a brief description of That Deadly Space:

The Civil War has begun in earnest. Conor Rafferty joins the Confederate army as a young infantry officer against the wishes of his father who, in his Irish anger, is adamantly opposed to a war with the North. Conor soon finds himself in many of the war’s most consequential battles, leading from the front and risking all inside that deadly space. He serves with distinction in General Robert E. Lee’s celebrated Army of Northern Virginia as it seeks the crowning victory that will end the war and stop the carnage. Along the way, Conor becomes a protégé of fellow Georgian John B. Gordon who eventually rises to command a Confederate army corps. At the conclusion of each chapter, the narrative transitions to the now aged Conor who answers the probing questions of his grandson Aaron, himself a captain in the U.S. Army and scheduled for duty in Europe during World War I. The grandfather and grandson thus spend a week together—a week of sharing, learning, and bonding. That Deadly Space is a compelling tale that portrays the drama, heroism, romance, and tragedy of the Civil War.

For the Civil War aficionados among you, you may recognize the Don Troiani cover. I was delighted to be able to use it with this novel.

For those of you who are intent upon purchasing That Deadly Space, I say thank you. And for those who have supported me in the past with my other novels, a heartfelt thank you, as well. As always, book reviews posted on Amazon are always appreciated by authors, this one included.

Good reading!

Gerald