J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

A Beautiful Glittering Lie Excerpt

As promised, I have posted an excerpt from my new novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie. This segment takes place just after the main characters, Hiram Summers and Bud Samuels, go through the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run) …

 

It was now two o’clock. All of a sudden, General Bee rode up on his steed, excitably waving his sword.

“What body of troops is this?” he hollered at them.

“Why General, don’t you know your own troops? We’re what remains of the Fourth Alabama!” Enoch Campbell exclaimed.

The general appeared calm but perturbed. “This is all of my brigade I can find,” he stated to the soldiers. “Will you follow me back to where the firin’ is goin’ on?”

“Aye, sir!” yelled Hiram, at first not recognizing his own voice.

“To the death!” added George Anderson.

Bee immediately set the men into action, leading them forward into the fray. On the other side of the ravine awaited a brigade of Virginians commanded by General Thomas Jackson, who sat stoically upon his steed.

General Bee brought him to the men’s attention, and said, “Let us go and support Jackson! See he stands like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!”

As the regiment moved left, an artillery battery cut through their ranks. Bee and his army veered right, while the rest of the regiment moved forward into the woods.

Mayhem prevailed. The men were unable to distinguish friend from foe. Forced to fall back, they retired in a hurricane of bullets to await further orders. Hiram and Bud trailed behind, and as they retreated, Hiram overheard Bee address Jackson.

“General, they’re pushin’ us back!”

Jackson replied calmly, his blue eyes barely visible from beneath his forage cap, “Well, sir, we shall give them the bayonet.”

General Bee ordered his men to retreat to a nearby hill. The Rebels fell behind it, and fortified the hill. Suddenly, the field began to grow quiet, except for the frantic wails of injured soldiers. To the Alabamians relief, the Federals were retreating. With one hand, Hiram withdrew his pocket watch, and wiped sweat from his brow with the other. Clicking the timepiece open, he saw that it was nearly five o’clock. The battle had gone on for seven hours.

Bud glanced over at him, sweat trickling down his darkened face, leaving streaked rivulets, but said nothing.

The Yankees fled northeast toward Washington, and in their chaos, became more panic-stricken, until their escape became a rout. The 4th Alabama, however, could only observe from a distance, since their exhaustion captivated them.

“Has anyone seen my cousin?” asked William Rivers in a daze.

Bud wiped the sweat from his face with his shirt sleeve. “I saw him over yonder,” he said to the young man, his voice hoarse from breathing smoke. He stopped William by clasping onto his arm. “I don’t     recommend you go over there,” he said quietly. “He’s in a bad way.”

William glared at him for a moment, contemplating his words, but then hurried off.

The men were requested to return to the field and gather the fallen. It wasn’t long before Hiram wished he had been assigned to a less gruesome task. All across the field, swarming flies swirled about strewn body parts, broken soldiers cried out in pain, and the wounded, both men and horses alike, writhed in agony as gathering buzzards slowly circled overhead. A white clapboard house that had been at the center of the commotion was now splattered with bullet holes, the wooden sideboards shattered from gunfire. Hiram passed his canteen from one thirsty casualty to the next until it was drained, and still they cried out for more. Finally, an ambulance arrived. Litter-bearers carried off the wounded. Colonel Jones was discovered where he had fallen, and was transported to a nearby hospital at Orange Court House.

Hiram came upon James Alexander. His cousin, William Rivers, was kneeling beside him, holding a white cloth to his cousin’s wounded stomach, which was quickly becoming soaked with bright red blood.

“Can you help me?” William pleaded, his voice quivering as he neared tears.

Unsure of what to do, Hiram could only stare in piteous distress. James reached up, took hold of his cousin’s arm, and smiled.

“It’s all right, Will,” he said. “I don’t feel a thing.” Suddenly, he gasped, spurting blood from his mouth. A final sigh escaped him. He grew silent, and his eyes glazed over.

William began to cry. Hiram could see he was struggling to contain himself, so he offered to help him up, but William refused. Finally, Bud came along, and insisted. Slowly, William rose to his feet, dropped the bloody rag, and allowed Bud to escort him away. Hiram remorsefully followed, glancing at James’ lifeless body over his shoulder while they stumbled off. It was too easy for him to picture his own son lying there, lifeless on the darkening earth. Biting his lower lip, he expelled the ghastly thought from his mind as sunset approached.

Noticing another young casualty, he drew closer, recognizing him to be George Anderson, the young diarist. All the horror of what had happened started sinking in. Unable to contain his emotions, sobs escaped him while he walked off to join his surviving comrades.

Later in the day, President Davis rode at a gallop past the regiment on his way to the front. At sundown, the men found their way back, and rested in their bivouac, reflecting on the day’s events. They felt miserable about their performance, because they had turned their backs to the Yankees and retreated. The camp died down, with only the sounds of chirping crickets in the distance.

“I never expected to see anything like that,” Bud quietly said.

“Neither did I,” agreed Hiram in solemn realization.

“But it was jist like the vision I dreamt,” elaborated Bud, “as if it was foretold.”

Hiram was still so shaken that finding appropriate words was difficult. “I saw that young feller, George, lyin’ there dead,” he finally muttered.

Bud only nodded. The campfire flickered across his face.

“It was right strange,” Hiram finally said, breaking the foreboding silence. “Last summer, I read about a meteor shower that happened over the Hudson River. They were sayin’ it was a sign of what was to come.” He glanced at his comrade, who lay motionless beside him. “I laughed it off at the time.”

Bud turned his head, and glared at him. Both agreed without saying as much. It had been their first introduction into Hell, their baptism of fire.

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First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) 151st Anniversary

Tomorrow marks a significant anniversary in the history of the War Between the States. On July 21, 1861, the first major battle of the Civil War took place. It was a Sunday, and the elite from nearby Washington D.C. came to watch the fight, bringing with them picnic baskets to nearby Manassas Junction (Bull Run Creek) in Virginia.

Both Confederate and Union armies were unseasoned and ill-prepared for a battle of such proportion, but once Confederate troops received reinforcements, they overpowered the Yankees, sending them running back to Washington (the battle later became known as “The Great Skedaddle.” Wealthy congressmen, senators, and their families had to leave their picnics in haste when their spectator sport became a very terrifying experience. Their carriages became clogged on the road back to Washington, and some of the Northern legislators were captured.

During the course of the battle, General Bernard Bee, who was leading the 4th Alabama, noticed Thomas Jackson sitting still on his steed, Little Sorrel, regardless of the shells exploding around him. “See he stands like a stone wall!” General Bee told his troops. “Rally behind the Virginians!” Jackson received his famous nickname on his wife, Mary Anna’s, birthday. 

Not long afterward, General Bee was mortally wounded. Although the Confederates were victorious, a total of 460 Union and 387 Confederate soldiers were killed. The battle was a sobering experience for both sides, who realized that the war would be much longer and bloodier than originally anticipated.

My new novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie, describes the battle that took place, as seen through the eyes of two soldiers who fought with the 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment. I will post excerpts of this chapter next week, so stay tuned!

54th Massachusetts

Morgan Freeman rocks. He is one of my favorite actors, and he has been in so many awesome movies that they are too numerous to mention. Another favorite actor of mine is Matthew Broderick. What do these two have in common, you might ask? They starred together in a film entitled “Glory.” This movie depicted the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, which consisted primarily of African American soldiers. It was one of the first official black units of the Union Army during the Civil War, and has gone down in history.

 

Tomorrow is the 149th anniversary of the 54th’s famous attack on Ft. Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina. The battle ended in tragedy, as most of the 54th was destroyed by Confederate defenders. Their commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, was also killed, and was buried in a mass grave along with his comrades. Two hundred and seventy two soldiers were casualties of the battle. Regardless of the high number of casualties, the battle inspired many more African Americans to enlist and fight for preservation of the Union.

 

“Glory” was released in 1989 (a very good year), and is still one of my favorite movies. It also features Denzel Washington, who was a newbie at the time. In my opinion, Matthew Broderick bears a striking resemblance to Colonel Shaw, and the performances of every actor are phenomenal. It is an inspiring depiction of a profound and controversial time in American history. If you haven’t yet seen it, I encourage you to do so.

Happy Birthday General Forrest

Today is the anniversary of General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s birthday. In honor of the astounding, yet controversial Civil War general, local Sons of Confederate Veterans camps and chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy gather at Nathan Bedford Forrest Park to celebrate. This year was no exception.

The park is located in downtown Memphis, about one block from the famous Sun Studios, where Elvis Presley recorded his first hit. A magnificent statue of Forrest atop his steed, King Phillip, is in the center of the park. The general and his wife are buried beneath it, as is their grandson, who was a hero in WWII. General and Mrs. Forrest were originally buried at Elmwood Cemetery, but they were moved when the park was opened.

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The ceremony was attended by a crowd of around 150 reenactors and spectators. The guest speaker was Past-Commander-in-Chief Chuck McMichael. A flag ceremony, wreath ceremony, and musket salute followed. A new granite marker was also dedicated for the park.

Afterward, everyone enjoyed watermelon provided by the SCV. Fortunately, the heat wasn’t bad this year, and the rain held off.

Gettysburg and the Definition of “Shoddy”

One of the most infamous battles of the Civil War took place in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 1-3, 1863. Several factors came into play, determining the location of this decisive battle. While General Lee led his Confederate army into enemy territory in an attempt to intimidate Union troops, invade the north, and impede upon Washington, the Rebel army was also in desperate need of shoes. It just so happens that there was a shoe factory in Gettysburg. So hence, the Confederates came in search of shoes, and yet found so much more – most likely what they realized they didn’t bargain for.

The Civil War introduced mass production to America. Northern cities began constructing various clothing items, Bibles, and ammunition in mass quantities to supply the Union army. Within months of the war’s start, manufacturing was changed forever. Child labor was commonplace, as were sewing factories, where women worked from 12-16 hours a day. Because there was such a high demand for these products, the advent of “shoddy” commenced.

Uniforms supplied to the Federal army were rapidly stitched together in a frantic attempt to keep up with the War Department’s demand to supply troops. In 1861, 75,000 men volunteered to fight for the Union army, but the War Department only had enough uniforms for 13,000. Even though the infantry wore out shoes faster than what could be manufactured at the beginning of the war, within months, clothing companies found ways to keep up with demand, and managed to supply the Union army until the end of the war. This was far superior to that of the Confederacy, which was unable to supply its troops with clothing. Therefore, many new recruits enlisted wearing only their own homespun garments.

Independence Day

Here’s wishing everyone a happy 4th of July. It was on this occasion in 1863 that two very important events played out, changing the outcome of the Civil War: Gettysburg and Vicksburg. The battle of Gettysburg, after three days of heavy fighting, ended on July 4th, with both sides thinking they were victorious. It was realized later that the Confederate army had actually suffered a defeat: the first major loss of the war. And at Vicksburg, Mississippi, Union General Grant succeeded in taking the town after a month-long siege, thus securing the Mississippi River for Federal use.

For years, the South refused to celebrate this national holiday  because of the outcome of these battles, as well as the way the South was treated after the war. Southerners believed that they were fighting their “second war for independence,” and refused to bow down to a unified central government.

Our ancestors sacrificed home and health to secure our freedom. This 4th of July, let’s honor those who so loved, cherished, and believed in our country that they laid down their lives unselfishly. God bless America!

Hot Air Ballooning

June 17 marked another interesting anniversary in regard to the Civil War. On that date in 1861, Thaddeus Lowe demonstrated the hot air balloon to President Abraham Lincoln. His plan was to use it as a reconnaissance tool to spy on the Confederate army. He came up with the plan when, in April, his balloon accidentally landed in South Carolina on a flight from Cincinnati, Ohio.

On June 5, 1783, the first documented hot air balloon flight took place. It was conducted by the Montgolfier brothers from Annonay, France. Three months later, on September 19, 1783, the first hot air balloon to fly with passengers took place in Versailles. Those brave souls rode in a basket suspended beneath the balloon. A year later, on June 24, 1784, a thirteen-year-old boy named Edward Warren was the first American to ride in a hot air balloon. This event took place in Baltimore.

Both the Confederate and Union armies used hot air balloons to spy on each other. Balloons were able to climb up to 5,000 feet. The Union balloon corp, consisting of five balloons, only lasted until the fall of 1861, when it was disbanded. Another interesting fact: George Armstrong Custer, who obtained fame during the War Between the States as the youngest man to achieve the status of general, and later met his demise at Little Big Horn, was one of the first test pilots for the newly-established reconnaissance operations using hot air balloons.

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