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.

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

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

 

Excerpted from That Deadly Space. Conor is wounded and assisted by two soldiers on the second day of the Battle of the Wilderness.

Darkness was only minutes away, and the Confederate attack had succeeded as well as General Gordon could have wished. There was still gunfire coming from the right, but now it seemed more concentrated at a specific point than along the entirety of the battle line.

Two young soldiers from Conor’s regiment came running toward him. “We’re gonna get you to the rear, sir.”

Conor reached his arms around their shoulders as they lifted him several inches off the ground. They started slowly back into the thicket at the only pace the pesky undergrowth would permit. Twice the man on the right of Conor tripped and fell, causing the three of them to end up in a pile and prompting cursing tirades from both the young men on either side. As hard as they cursed one another, as vile as the names were they called each other, there was no anger involved. Conor was at least relieved that they weren’t intent upon killing one another and thus leaving him in the weeds.

“I haven’t heard some of those words in a long while. Where’d you boys learn to cuss like that?” Conor remarked after the second spill.

“From him, sir,” said the one on the right, motioning with his head toward the one on the left.

“From my ole granny, sir,” said the one on the left.

Dear God, I love my soldiers, Conor thought with as much amusement as his pain would allow. Amusement aside, he had truly come to love his soldiers with a deep, unbreakable, everlasting affection, a bond so intense and complex that he wondered if he would ever again experience anything like it. What he had seen them do in battle time after time had so often amazed him that he vowed never to take their valor for granted. When he had seen them exhausted and hungry and yet offering him some of the food or coffee they had scrounged, he had been humbled. When he saw them lying wounded or dead in the field or in the hospital, he would try not to dwell on it so he could continue to function, but he hurt for them. Mightily. Every single one of them.

Now that they were cursing one another for dropping him when they had been assigned to assist him, he loved them all the more.

It was dark when they finally reached the hospital tent. “We got Lieutenant Colonel Rafferty here,” one of the duo of bearers announced in a loud voice with a surge of newly discovered authority. “He’s gonna need some immediate attention, gentlemen.”

 

Excerpted from That Deadly Space. Just prior to the Battle of Chancellorsville, Conor happens upon one of the Confederacy’s most notorious commanders.

Conor rode Shannon to a slight rise to the north of the brigade position that overlooked the division encampment. She responded naturally and handled well as they galloped to the crest of the hill. Escaping Conor’s notice at first was another solitary rider positioned atop the rise, but when he drew closer he instantly recognized General Stonewall Jackson. General Jackson cut an impressive figure in his gray uniform, faded forage cap, white gloves, and black, knee-length boots. The sunlight caused him to squint, revealing the crow’s feet in the corners of his eyes. His field glasses were on one side, his sabre dangling at his other side as he sat on his horse and surveyed the throngs of tents and campfires of the Confederate forces arrayed to his front. He seemed fixed in deep concentration, sitting upright and perfectly still, and he barely noticed Conor when he approached.

“I’m sorry to intrude, General Jackson,” Conor said when the general finally turned and looked at him. “I’ll take my leave, sir. My apologies.”

Conor turned Shannon and started away.

“Have we met before, Major?” the general called.

“We have, sir, at First Manassas,” Conor answered, turning back. “I approached you and passed along a request to cover the withdrawals of Colonel Bartow and General Bee. I was on Colonel Bartow’s staff before I assumed command of B Company.”

The general nodded. “Brave men, honorable men.”

“That they were, sir. It was an honor to serve with Colonel Bartow.”

“So what have you done since that day, Major?”

“I was wounded at Seven Pines, General, and when I got back I commanded a company in the Maryland Campaign with General Gordon’s Sixth Alabama. After that I spent five months in a Richmond hospital after encountering what seemed like an endless number of Yankees at the sunken road at Sharpsburg.”

General Jackson smiled slightly. “There were enough Yankees to go around, yes indeed.”

“And I just joined General Gordon’s Brigade staff last night, sir.”

General Jackson stared at Conor for a brief moment, though it seemed much longer. His bright blue eyes seemed to penetrate all the way through Conor’s skull and out the other side. Conor said nothing, his only noise being the sound of a loud swallow. Stonewall Jackson finally nodded, patted his horse’s neck and said, “God be with you, sir,” before riding off. Conor sat atop Shannon and watched as the famous general slowly made his way back to the encampment.

Excerpted from That Deadly Space. In the aftermath of the Southern victory at First Manassas, Confederate Lieutenant Conor Rafferty, the novel’s main character, comes upon a wounded Union officer:          

The wounded were being moved to a makeshift regimental hospital behind the ridgeline. Many of the lesser wounded were walking or being assisted by others as they made their way to the tents for treatment. Ambulance wagons were collecting the more seriously injured.

Conor came upon a wounded Federal officer, lying on his back with his head propped against his dead horse. He was drifting in and out of awareness, his face as pale as a granite slab. He appeared to be in his late-thirties, dark-haired, bearded, and heavyset. His right arm just below the shoulder had been badly mangled by bullets and his left wrist had also been hit, partially severing his hand. He was among several dead Federal soldiers which Conor took to be troops of his own regiment.

“Can I offer you a drink of water, Colonel?”

“I’d be much obliged,” he said in a tired voice.

Conor pressed his own canteen to the man’s dry mouth and poured until he received an appreciative nod in return.

The colonel moaned slightly and shifted to his left, his acute pain apparent, his blood loss excessive and still seeping. He turned his head and spoke to his horse. “Sorry about this, Flatbush. Hell of a way to end the day, huh ole fella?”

“We’ll collect you up and any of your wounded and get you to our regimental surgeon soon,” Conor said after he had also taken a drink from the canteen. “It seems the rest of your army has skedaddled back to where they came from.”

The colonel let out a loud sigh. “It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.”

“You might want to keep that to yourself, sir. There are plenty of us here who have a different view.”

Conor noticed the finely crafted Colt Model 1860 pistol on the ground near the Union officer’s feet. He leaned forward and took hold of the pistol, giving it an admiring glance and wiping the dirt off the barrel. He then took the old, well-traveled Starr revolver he had bought from another lieutenant in camp, and shoved it inside his belt, in the back. “Apologies, sir, but this will have to go with me,” he said as he placed the Colt in his hip holster.

“It’ll go with you only because I can’t pick it up and shoot you in the damned forehead, Lieutenant.”

Conor noticed the two cigars in the colonel’s front uniform pocket, and when he leaned forward to claim them the Federal officer turned slightly to avoid his hand.

“Well since you’re unable to shoot me in the damned forehead, sir, these will also have to go with me,” Conor said, reaching around him and claiming the cigars.

Conor then eyed the colonel’s fine leather boots.

“You’re an officer, son. For crissakes start behaving like one,” the colonel said brusquely.

Conor stared at the man for a moment and then realized with chilling, absolute certainty that only minutes before this Yankee officer would have killed him without hesitation or remorse, and with the same pistol that was now in his own possession. Despite the colonel’s evident pain and the gray clamminess of his features, his face became stern, unblinking, like that of a schoolmaster eyeing an errant pupil.

“You’re quite right, sir,” Conor finally said, slipping one of the cigars back into the colonel’s pocket.

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Once again it is the occasion of the U.S. Marine Corps’ birthday, and I often think about this officer when I consider the Corps’ rich heritage. His name was Michael P. Ryan. In 1973, I was about to complete my obligation to the Marines and would soon leave Okinawa to return home to my wife and two young sons in Atlanta. By chance, I happened to be in the Officers Club one night when Gen Ryan, the Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force, dropped by as a guest of our Battalion Commander. I introduced myself to Gen. Ryan and informed him that I would soon rotate home and separate from the Marine Corps.

Gen. Ryan graciously thanked me for my service. I noticed the Navy Cross medal he wore, the highest decoration the Naval Service can award for combat valor, second only to the Medal of Honor. In addition, I remembered from my study of Marine Corps history that he had served with great distinction at the bloody World War II battle of Tarawa in November 1943.

“General,” I asked, “what’s the one thing you remember most from Tarawa?”

Gen. Ryan replied without hesitation, “The salute.”

The battle of Tarawa was the first U.S. offensive in Central Pacific. To get to Japan, the Americans needed to take the Marianas; to take the Marianas, the U.S. needed to take the Marshalls; and to take the Marshalls, it was necessary to take Betio, on the western side of Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands.

Tarawa was the first U.S. invasion that was opposed at the landing beaches. Planners had expected a rising tide to provide a five-foot depth over the reef, but the depth was only three feet. The Higgins boats ferrying the Marines from ship to shore needed four feet of depth. Consequently, Marines had to wade ashore under murderous fire, greatly slowing their progress. “Situation in doubt” was communicated to the top U.S. commanders.

Casualties in first waves were shocking. It was a scene of utter chaos and destruction. Still, the young Marines kept advancing.

Then-Maj. Mike Ryan landed his company to the west of the main landing areas where he consolidated the stragglers from units that had been obliterated on the beaches. Suddenly, out of the smoke comes an old staff sergeant, dragging a wounded hip, who sought out Maj. Ryan and asked what he could do to assist. When Maj. Ryan explained the situation and suggested a leadership role for the sergeant, the man straightened, voiced a resolute “aye-aye, sir,” and gave a crisp Marine Corps salute.

The attack was a success and provided pressure on the enemy’s right flank, which eventually broke. The battle turned on Maj. Ryan’s audacious gallantry and inspiring leadership. The Japanese commander had said before the battle that it would take a million Marines a hundred years to take Tarawa. It took Maj. Mike Ryan, a shot-up old staff sergeant, and 5,000 other leathernecks 76 hours.

Mike Ryan never saw the old NCO after the battle, so he never knew whether the man had survived the battle or the war. He only knew that, of the tens of thousands of salutes he received in a long and distinguished military career, the sergeant’s salute at Tarawa was the one he cherished the most.

On this the 241st birthday of the Marine Corps, I salute the Marines of the past who made our Corps into the finest fighting organization in the world. And I salute the Marines of the present who have maintained those core values of honor, courage, and commitment.

Semper Fi.

 

denny crane

I herewith support the election of Denny Crane, Esq., for President of the United States. Consider the following:

Fact: Except for the Mad Cow, Denny is in overall good health.

Pro: Good health is a prerequisite for being president.

Con: Denny Crane may not always remember what he said. But c’mon, which is worse: not remembering or remembering what you just said is patently false?

 

Fact: Denny co-founded and is a named partner in the successful law firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt.

Pro: He understands the private sector and the legal system.

Con: There are already too many lawyers (and law professors) in Washington. True, but c’mon, Denny’s an outsider. A real outsider.

 

Fact: Denny Crane has been married and divorced 9 times.

Pro: As is obvious, he strongly supports traditional marriage.

Con: He may be viewed as an unreliable partner. But c’mon, Denny’s a little impulsive, that’s all. Who among us???

 

Fact: Denny’s an unwavering advocate of the Second Amendment.

Pro: Denny Crane carries. He was a Marine sniper. Or was it a pilot? He can’t remember which.

Con: Guns kill people. But c’mon, that’s sort of the point, right? Climate change won’t kill the terrorists.

 

Fact: Denny’s a winner.

Pro:  His courtroom record where he was the first chair is 6,043- 0. He’s unbeaten.

Con: Incessant bragging about being a winner might not get a candidate any votes.

 

Fact: Denny Crane is viewed by some as being an aging buffoon.

Pro: How many aging buffoons are 6,043-0?

Con: None. Take a look around Washington and tell me what you see.

 

Fact: Denny enjoys a cigar and a drink.

Pro: See the above about Denny’s overall good health.

Con: It upsets the proponents of the Nanny State. What should he do then? Have a super-sized soda and chew some khat? Nope, not cool either. Well screw it, then. Pour, light, puff.

 

Alan Shore: “You ever wonder if you and I are la-la?”

Denny: “Don’t be ridiculous. We’re flamingos. And good ones.”

 

Denny Crane. I rest my case.

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The GOP presidential candidates accuse one another of lying with nearly the same frequency as star pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws a curveball for a strike. One gets the impression that Dr. Ben Carson seems to be the only truthful person among the entire lot. One is also left to wonder if Dr. Carson’s lackluster performance could have been improved by telling a few whoppers along the way, perhaps claiming that it was he, not Al Gore, who really invented the internet; or that it was he, not Chuck Yeager, who broke the sound barrier in level flight. Oh, and just for the record, methinks it would be easier to accuse someone of lying than to hit a Clayton Kershaw breaking ball (or fastball or changeup or anything else).

Of course, on the Democrat side, referring to Hillary Clinton as a liar would be akin to pointing out that diving headlong into a two-foot pool from a ten-foot platform might be hazardous. Uh, duh. What else ya’ got? I can only guess that Hillary is a product of her environment. Her husband lied to the American public, to a grand jury, and to her, yet he was elected twice, same as the politician who told the country’s citizens that if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Twice, those two were elected! I don’t believe my flabber has ever been so gasted as with those two events.

And now comes the Trump emergence. He seems neither a Conservative nor a Republican to me, yet his sizable slice of the electorate seems unaffected by some of his pronouncements that align more closely with Democrats. Proponents of smaller government, free markets, and individual freedom find some comfort with Trump, but only some. Many of his followers have shown their disdain of the stodgy Republican establishment by raising their middle fingers, and my sense is that many more are waiting for the right moment to do likewise. Trump didn’t start this movement, the Tea Party did, but he has accurately identified it and skillfully crafted his message to appeal to it, much like a businessperson exploiting an underdeveloped market (did you see how I did that with the businessperson thing?).

Peggy Noonan writes in the February 27, 2016 Wall Street Journal of the protected and the unprotected. The protected make policy, send their kids to private schools, and have power or access to it. They have money, influence, connections, and thus are insulated. The protected are protected from the world they have created. Donald Trump lives in that world.

And then there are the unprotected, who have little influence, modest means, and live in a rough world created in large measure by the protected. Their kids attend the (sometimes awful) public schools, serve in the military, and pay their bills as best they can. Now they are starting to push back against the establishment, against the protected. The political voice that seems to resonate the loudest with them? Yep, Donald Trump

Who knows what will happen. I certainly don’t. But, like you, I’ll be watching with interest.

And that, my friends, is the truth.