J.D.R. Hawkins

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

Archive for the month “May, 2015”

Sioux Falls and the Civil War

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Last week, my husband and I attended a presentation hosted by the Minnehaha County Historical Society in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The program was held at the Old Courthouse Museum, and discussed “Civil War Veterans of Minnehaha County.” All of these veterans fought for the Union, and most were from the Midwest. Twenty veterans were highlighted, and most were founding fathers of Sioux Falls.

Bill Hoskins, director of the Siouxland Heritage Museums and a member of the 13th U.S. Infantry Regiment, Company D, was the speaker. According to Mr. Hoskins, there are 347 documented veterans of the Civil War who are buried in 18 cemeteries in the county. Five percent were held as prisoners of war in Andersonville, Georgia, Camp Floyd, Texas, and Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. There are only 55 Confederate soldiers who are buried in the Dakotas.

Over the course of the war, the Union army grew from 10,000 soldiers to over one million. Some were mustered out in the summer of 1866 in my hometown of Sioux City, Iowa. After the war, many veterans participated in westward expansion through the Homestead Act. According to Mr. Hoskins, ex-Confederates were not allowed to participate. Many Confederates who were held captive at Rock Island Prison Camp in Illinois stayed in the Dakotas to fight Indians after they took the oath.

Fort Dakota was built on the banks of the Big Sioux River in June, 1865, where Sioux Falls is now. Two hundred and twenty-one men were members of the G.A.R. in Minnehaha County, and seventy percent were farmers. Some had various professions at the same time, such as doctors and fire chiefs. They promoted veterans’ affairs, and many were members of the Mason’s. These men helped shape South Dakota into what it is today.

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Honoring Veterans on Memorial Day

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Memorial Day is once again here, and signifies the start of summer. Although most of us think of it as an extra-long weekend to go swimming, eat barbecue, and enjoy the sun (or rain, as the case may be), we should keep in mind what the holiday is really all about, and give honor to those veterans around us. WWII vets are fast disappearing, so we should give them an especially heartfelt “thank you” if we have the opportunity.

Below are a couple of articles that discuss the importance of this national holiday. The first is at:
http://www.dailyemerald.com/mobile/opinion/memorial-day-memories-humbling-1.1484467
and is especially poignant coming from a veteran himself (although he gets his facts wrong about the origin of Memorial Day, which actually started in the South following the Civil War.

The second is at:
http://www.dallasblog.com/201005241006566/guest-viewpoint/memorial-day-matters.html

Why I Write About the Civil War

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Frequently, when I’m at book signings and speaking engagements, I am asked why I chose to write about the Civil War. To me, this is one of the most captivating times in U.S. history. I was never into history when I was in school, but over the years, I have developed an interest in certain aspects of world and American history, as well as genealogy. Perhaps this is part of becoming more mature, but curiosity has compelled me to search out my ancestors and find out just where, exactly, I came from.

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The same goes for writing about the War Between the States. I have always been interested in the Victorian era, especially after living in Colorado for 25 years and seeing the old mountain and mining towns that still exist. Some even have residents who live like people did in the late 1800’s. Of course, there’s Cripple Creek, Black Hawk, Central City, and Glenwood Springs, where Doc Holliday is buried. These places have always fascinated me, and they still do.

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While living in Colorado, I had the opportunity to visit Gettysburg. I had never seen a Civil War battlefield before, so when I did, you can imagine how awestruck I was. It impressed me so much that I was inspired to write my first novel, A Beckoning Hellfire. From there, the book expanded to a series. After I wrote three books in the Renegade Series, I went back and wrote the prequel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie.

A Beautiful Glittering Lie Cover Art

Now I am in the process of editing the third book in the series. I have also written a nonfiction book about Confederate warhorses. Unfortunately, the publisher for that book had to close up shop and file for bankruptcy during the same month that the book was supposed to be published. So needless to say, I am looking for a new publisher. (If you know of any, please send them my way!)

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While researching my first novel, I came upon some information about my husband’s family. After a genealogy search, we learned that his great-great grandfather was a Cherokee interpreter who fought under General Nathan Bedford Forrest. It just goes to show what you can discover when you start digging!

Annual Pilgrimages

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One of my favorite things about living in the South was attending pilgrimages. Several take place in Mississippi each year, including Natchez, Aberdeen, and Holy Springs. These events typically occur during the month of April. It is an amazing experience to participate in one of these pilgrimages and see what it was like to live in the antebellum South. Pilgrimages attract people from all over the world.

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My own personal experience included serving as a docent at one of the beautiful mansions in Holly Springs. This small town was spared when Union General Grant decided it was too pretty to burn. One of the majestic homes served as his headquarters during his invasion into Mississippi leading up to the Battles of Iuka and Corinth in 1862.

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As a tour guide, I had the privilege of learning about one of the spectacular houses in Holly Springs, including its previous owners. Holly Springs is a favorite location for those wishing to see a glimpse of the past as displayed in the grand old mansions. Most of the homes, built in the 1850’s, have been restored to their original grandeur. Besides the home tour, a special service is held in the cemetery to honor fallen Confederate soldiers who are buried there, and a tour of slave shacks is also included.

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Magnolias and moonlit nights add to the romance, as do belles dressed in ball gowns and horse-drawn carriages parading through the streets. Pilgrimages are an excellent way to experience the past while living in the present, and see what true Southern beauty represents.

The Last Great Battle

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One hundred and fifty years ago, on May 12-13, 1865, the final skirmish of the Civil War took place at Palmito Ranch, Texas. Two days earlier, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured in Georgia, which ensured that the once noble Confederacy was now all but deceased.

On May 11, 1865, Union Colonel Theodore H. Barrett set out on an expedition with 250 soldiers of the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment and 50 men of the 2nd Texas Cavalry Regiment under Lt. Col. David Branson. Their mission was to attack Rebel outposts and camps on the Rio Grande, going against an agreement that had been struck in March 1865. On May 12 at approximately 8:30 a.m., people on the Mexican side of the river informed the Confederates that Union troops were invading. Branson attacked, scattering the Rebels. At 3:00 p.m., the Confederates retaliated, forcing the Federals to retire to White’s Ranch.

On the morning of May 13, Branson received assistance from Barrett. A skirmish ensued from White’s Ranch to Palmito Ranch. At 4:00 p.m., a sizeable Confederate cavalry force led by Col. John S. “Rip” Ford, approached, and the Federals formed a line. After being pounded by Rebel artillery, Barrett and his men retreated. It was the last battle of the Civil War, and ironically, it was a Southern victory.

Time for Reenacting!

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Now that spring is here, Civil War reenactments are starting up around the country. This weekend, the reenactment of the Battle of Gainesville will take place in Alabama. The event will be held May 8-10, and will include a cavalry battle.

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Attending a reenactment is an excellent way to discover living history and see what Civil War soldiers went through. The people who do reenacting take their hobby very seriously, and some even characterize people who actually lived, like their ancestors. Of course, there are reenactors who play the parts of famous generals and other officers, and sometimes, Abraham Lincoln shows up, too.

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A typical reenactment includes several battles, period dress, rows of sutlers’ (shop owners) tents, weaponry, and Civil War medicine. They also usually include a ball complete with ladies in beautiful gowns, a ladies’ tea, and a period church service on Sunday morning. But the real excitement is in watching the battles themselves. The reenactors make them as believable as possible, and the rumble, boom, crack and smoke of the artillery and gunfire is exhilarating.

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Racehorses and the Civil War

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Many racehorses were used during the Civil War. My new book, Horses in Gray, discusses this topic. At the start of the war, Southern gentry thought that thoroughbreds would outperform other breeds, and thus assure victory for the Confederacy. Southern soldiers brought their steeds with them, and most were nimble, well-bred stock from Virginia and Kentucky. However, it didn’t take long for both armies to figure out that thoroughbreds were too flighty and unpredictable under gunfire, so they switched primarily to Morgans, Percherons, and Saddlebreds, and used various other breeds as well.

Thoroughbreds were mostly ridden by commanding officers after that, to give them the appearance of dignity and nobility. General Grant’s horse, Cincinnati, was a descendant of Lexington, a record-breaking thoroughbred. Grant was supposedly offered $10,000 in gold for Cincinnati, but he declined the offer. President Lincoln rode the horse on occasion, and reportedly enjoyed riding him very much. After Grant was elected president, Cincinnati went with him to the White House.

General Lee’s horse, Traveller, also had royal racing blood in his veins. His lineage stretched back to English racehorses; from Diomed, to Sir Archy, to Grey Eagle, which was Traveller’s sire. Grey Eagle was a famous, full-blooded thoroughbred, and set many records. Traveller’s dam was a half-bred grade mare named Flora. After the war, Traveller accompanied Lee to Washington and Lee University in Alexandria, Virginia, where Lee served as president. The general gave rides to the town’s children on Traveller, and everyone could set their timepieces to the punctuality Lee displayed when riding Traveller through town.

On this date in 1973, Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby. It was the first of Secretariat’s Triple Crown victories. It should be interesting to see how American Pharoah, last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby winner, does in his two upcoming Triple Crown races. Thoroughbred racing was a very popular sport in this country since its birth, and fortunately, still is today.

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