A Beckoning Hellfire, written by the talented J.D.R. Hawkins, transports us inside the heartland of the Great Civil Battle, revealing the brutal reality as a trooper. The story has an interesting starting point. On New Year’s Eve in 1862, David Summers, the protagonist, discovers that the Union Troops murdered his dad. In a moment of wrath and a desire for vengeance, David takes the heroic step and enters the Confederate Military, intending to get revenge. But, it is not as easy as it sounds. Hawkins kept the readers engaged till the end with her extraordinary skills. It is a must-read for everyone!
Using the backdrop of the Civil War, the author gives a harsh picture of the war horrors. The book shows how men in the field turn completely barbaric, looting the dead, and striving hard to survive in the wilderness. The story is dark and sad and brings out the emotion of pity. It is well written and shows excellent research to create the feel of nineteenth-century America.
A Beckoning Hellfire is book two in a trilogy that focuses on a family in Alabama during the American Civil War, sometimes known as the War Between the States. This is a behind the scenes look at the way the conflict affected southerners who were not big plantation holders or slave owners. There are some exceptionally realistic battlefield scenes, as well as examination of the field hospitals. Mass grave burials, as well as an examination of the toll that the conflict took on both man and horse. This war, which often divided families and called personal moral codes into question, was one of the first where photography was used to record the grim scenes on the battlefield, rather than an artists rendition. Echoes from this war and the circumstances surrounding it echo through U.S. politics and social attitudes today. This book is a reminder of the human lives that were deeply affected at the time.
A Beautiful Glittering Lie: A Novel of the Civil War by J.D.R. Hawkins Westwood Books Publishing
book review by Kat Kennedy
“It’s the end of all things as we know them.”
At the beginning of the Civil War, Hiram Summers, a north Alabama farmer and father of three, enlists in the Confederate Army. When Hiram and his best friend, Bud, join the Fourth Alabama Infantry Regiment to fight in a war that many believe will last only a short time, he leaves his wife, Caroline, daughters (Rena and Josie), and son, David, to take care of the family farm. As the surviving son in the family, David realizes the enormity of this responsibility. “He came to the realization that he was now responsible for protecting his family, tending to the farm, and taking his father’s place as head of the household.” Both Hiram and his family soon discover the horrors of war both in battle and on the home front.
This award-winning novel is well-researched, and the inclusion of historical battles and speeches give it authenticity. As readers follow the story of the Summers family, they are transported to both battlefield and family farm in an emotional narrative. Hawkins’ gift for storytelling is evident in each chapter. Her description of the battlefield and its horrors of war are so compelling that readers can almost smell the gunpowder. “Men dropped around him like flies, the thud of bullets sinking into them before their bodies exploded with blood.” Not only are the author’s descriptions of the devastation of battle intriguing, her attention to detail when relating the dangers faced by those on the home front is impeccable. “Two riders approached up the lane. It was still too dark for her to make out who they were. She rushed over to the gun rack, took down the shotgun, and walked out the front door to the porch.”
The novel explores the theme of friendship and brotherhood through both the relationship between Hiram and Bud as well as the one between David and Jake. The way in which Hiram and Bud look out for each other on the battlefield is a testament to the love the two soldiers have for each other. “Hiram stopped to catch his breath, watching the smoke clear. He looked around for Bud until he finally saw him walking toward him.” David and Jake also share a close bond, which is evident not only in their banter but also in the way they engage with each other during a trip to Huntsville to check out the location of Northern troops. “David jolted awake, realizing it was daybreak. Chilled to the bone, he shivered as he stood, and went outside. Jake was nowhere to be seen. Alarmed by his absence, he looked in every direction… Jake! Answer me, damn it!”
With its descriptive narrative, it is no surprise that this novel is the recipient of awards. The work won the John Esten Cooke Fiction Award and the B.R.A.G. Medallion. History buffs will appreciate the attention to detail and the inclusion of actual speeches, battles, and Civil War-era songs. The continuing story of the Summers family can be found in the next two books of the series, A Beckoning Hellfire and A Rebel Among Us, which are also award-winning novels. This is a very good thing because the current book is a novel that engages the reader and leaves one eager to read the next one.
The narration of this book is excellent. It is plain to see that the author has an intense fascination with the American Civil War. Her descriptions of people, animals and places make you feel as though you are there with them. As a non-American I found it a little difficult to keep up with where all the places are (my copy didn’t have a map in the cover, which would have been helpful!) and the names of all the generals were lost on me. I found it a little confusing with the many names of the different sides at first, having never studied American history. However, once I got going I found it easy enough to work out. The book shows the civil war through the eyes of an ordinary Southern family, which is an interesting perspective and does not glamourise the war at all. It is a working class family’s story, which makes it easy to relate to. Be prepared to read the rest of the series – the ending leaves you wanting more!
Although not the genre of book I would normally read I was given the opportunity to read and review this book by the author through Voracious Readers. Looking for something different I jumped at the chance and was glad I did. Hawkins writes in such a way that the reader feels they are part of the story. A novel written about America’s battle between the North and the South the closest I’d come to reading anything around this period was Gone With the Wind so it’s definitely not my normal style. However I saw every battle scene clearly felt every emotion and experience expressed by Bud, Hiram, David, Jake and their families, friends and comrades. I found myself praying for Bud and Hiram’s safe return, internally yelling warnings at the boys, and reaching for tissues when Sally was stolen and Hiram didn’t return as planned. A great book well written and one I’d highly recommend
The work follows how the lives of a family from a small town in Alabama are affected by the Civil War. I usually steer clear of historical fiction revolving around wars because they’re all battles or overly romanticized. The author of this work does an excellent job at finding a balance; this is one of the most realistic works of fiction I’ve read concerning the Civil War. The author did her research. The characters are also well-written and aren’t static, making the work engaging. I received a complimentary copy of this work through Voracious Readers Only in exchange for my honest opinion.
I’d like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season! Please keep in mind all of our military personnel who are overseas and missing their families this Christmas. One of my favorite songs is “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” which was written by a soldier during WWII. Listening to it makes me cry every time!
The holidays can be a difficult time of year for some, as the following excerpt demonstrates. Losing a loved one during this time of year is especially painful, and sometimes lonely. I think the first Christmas after a loved one passes away is the hardest. I know from experience, since I just lost my mom last year.
The following excerpt is the opening chapter from my book, A Beckoning Hellfire. It takes place on Christmas Eve, 1862. What should be a joyous time has turned into tragedy. While we celebrate the birth of our Lord, let’s also keep in mind the hardships that many have experienced during Christmas.
But what a cruel thing is war. To separate and destroy families and friends and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world. To fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world¼My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men.
—Robert E. Lee, letter to his wife, December 25, 1862
“Here it is! Come quick!”
David sauntered across the dead grass toward his little sister. Amused by the way she was jumping up and down like a nervous flea, he couldn’t help but grin. Obviously, she was too excited to care that her petticoats were showing from under the brown coat and green calico dress she wore, or that her long auburn hair had broken free from its bondage as her bonnet slid from her head and dangled down her back.
“Which one, Josie?” he asked, stifling a snicker.
She planted her feet and pointed to a small yellow pine near a cluster of sweet gum and ash trees. “Right here!” she exclaimed.
Glancing down at the sapling, he gave her a crooked smile. “Well, that’s a mighty fine tree, but ain’t it kinda scrawny?” He estimated the pine to be three feet tall at most.
Josie frowned at her older brother, who had one eyebrow cocked from under his slouch hat. His hands were tucked into his brown trousers, and his linen shirt hung loosely on his tall, lanky frame. “No,” she said, “ it’s jist right. We’ll string some corn on it, hang some nuts and berries on it, and it’ll look right smart in the corner of the front room.”
With a shrug, he said, “All right. If you reckon this is the one.”
She nodded, her bright blue eyes reflecting her elation.
David relished the moment, for he knew Christmas was her favorite holiday. He had only heightened her anticipation on the way out to the woodlot by reminding her what would happen that evening, how Santa would be stopping by later when she was sound asleep. Of course, he had no explanation as to how eight tiny reindeer could pull a sleigh all the way to Alabama. Josie promptly informed him that she wasn’t a child any longer. She was all of thirteen, and didn’t believe in those farfetched stories anymore, but he knew better. She would be lying in her bed tonight, listening and waiting.
“Well, go on now, cut it down!” Josie insisted.
He put his thumb and forefinger to his lips and gave a high, shrill whistle. Noticing how the gray sky was growing darker, he looked over at the edge of the clearing where they stood and saw the underbrush rustle. Suddenly, two hound dogs bounded out of the trees, followed by a gangly young stallion.
“Come on, Renegade. Over here,” he called out to the colt, who responded by cantering to him.
Josie giggled at the sight. “Your dumb horse thinks he’s a dog!”
“He ain’t dumb. I’ll wager he’s a lick smarter than you are, li’l sister,” David teased.
The horse blew and stomped his front hoof.
“Why, that’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of. And not only is he dumb, he looks right silly, too. He can’t decide if he should be spotted or palomino!”
David observed his horse for a moment. Renegade’s face was piebald. His dark chestnut coat was highlighted with white spots and patches concentrating on his underbelly, and his mane and tail were light flaxen. He had white socks up to his knees. His unusual eyes were brownish green. David remembered how he had heard that a horse with strange-colored eyes like Renegade’s was considered sacred and chosen by the Cherokee Indians. Several people had noticed the strange coincidence, and his other sister, Rena, also frequently commented that he and his horse had the same colored eyes.
“I reckon he knows what he is,” David remarked. “Besides, he’s unusual, and that makes him unique.”
“Oh, he’s unique all right,” Josie said, giggling again. She pulled her hair back from her face and replaced her bonnet.
David untied a saw from a leather strap attached to Renegade’s saddle. He knelt down, quickly sawed through the little tree’s trunk, picked it up, and tied it across the saddle’s seat. His two black and tan dogs sniffed around the tree’s sawed off stump. Suddenly, they both lifted their noses into the air with their ears pricked. They bolted across the open clearing, baying at an unseen curiosity as they disappeared into the woods.
“Caleb! Si!” David hollered after the two hounds. “Well, there they go,” he observed wryly. “All right, Renegade, take it on home.” He patted his horse on the shoulder.
Renegade nickered softly, shook his head, and trotted off in the same direction as the two hounds.
Josie gasped. “Look, David! It’s startin’ to snow!” She tilted her head back and stuck out her tongue, trying to catch snowflakes on it.
“Come on, you do it, too,” she coaxed him.
He obliged his little sister by imitating her.
Josie laughed, spinning around with her arms extended while snow fell silently down around them.
“Oh!” David clasped his hand to his face. “One fell in my eye!”
He couldn’t help but smile, although he was careful not to let her see, and snorted to cover up his delight. “Well, I’m right glad you think it’s so funny.” He looked at her, trying to keep a straight face. “Come on, Josie girl. We’d best be gittin’ on back.”
He allowed her to go ahead of him as they started on the bridle path that cut through the woods.
“Let’s sing Christmas carols!” she said. “That new one we heard last year. Jingle Bells!”
“You start,” he prompted.
“Dashin’ through the snow…”
He joined in. Their voices grew stronger in unison.
“In a one-horse open sleigh…”
They came to an empty field, and trudged through, stepping over mud puddles while they continued singing.
“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…”
Their house stood quaintly at the far end of the field. Smoke circled from its two chimneys, dissolving into the gray sky. The sweet smell of burning hickory reached out, inviting them closer. From a distance, the structure appeared to be two separate cabins sitting side by side, but upon closer observation, one could see that they were connected by a covered breezeway. Each section contained two rooms and a fireplace. A wide flat porch on the front of the split log building served as an entryway. The tin roof, which seemed to expel heat in the summertime, also managed to repel snow during winter months.
The cold, damp air encroached upon brother and sister. As they sang, their breath escaped, floated out across the fields, and vanished in phantom gusts.
“Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!”
On the last note, Josie’s voice jumped an octave. They laughed at their grand finale and walked around to the front of the house, where Renegade was waiting patiently for the tree to be removed from his saddle. A buckskin horse stood beside him.
“Whose horse is that?” Josie asked.
“It looks like Bud Samuels’ horse.”
David and Josie looked at each other, wide-eyed. “Pa!” they both exclaimed.
Josie sprang onto the porch, burst through the front door, and went inside while David untied the small yellow pine. He set it aside, pulled the saddle from Renegade’s back, and removed his bridle.
“Go on into the barn, Renie,” he said. “Or you’ll be one big ole snowball in a minute.”
The colt blew and trotted around the side of the house.
David carried his tack into the breezeway. He placed it on a horizontal board, which was supported by a plank on each end. Collecting the tree, he heard the sound of Bud’s voice coming from inside.
“I had some trouble gettin’ here,” Bud was saying as he entered. “But I convinced the Home Guard to follow me home so’s I could show them my furlough paper.”
David produced the tiny tree. “I know it’s small,” he said with a grin, “but Josie insisted, and…” The sight that befell him inexplicably filled him with dread. His smile faded. He looked around at the faces before him and let the tree fall onto the wooden floor. Warmth from the fireplace did nothing to relieve the chill that grasped him. “What is it?” he asked.
“Come in, darlin’, and close the door,” his mother said from her high-backed chair, which sat near the empty corner they had readied for the Christmas tree. Her brown skirt encircled her like a puddle. Her dark brown hair, streaked recently with gray, was parted in the middle and contained in a white cotton hair net. She clenched her hands in her lap, and her lips were pursed. The flickering firelight accentuated the grooves on her face, which, for some reason, David had never noticed before. After closing the door behind him, he looked at Rena, who was sitting beside the hearth. She vacantly stared back, her violet eyes welling up with tears.
“Rena?” he asked her.
She looked away and hugged Josie, who had taken the chair beside her.
David walked across the room to their neighbor, Bud.
“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Samuels,” he said, shaking the man’s hand. “How’s Pa? Is he comin’ home for Christmas, like he wrote?”
“Have a seat, David.” Bud’s eyes filled with concern. He scratched his straggly, graying beard.
Obeying the command, David slowly sank into a chair, keeping his eyes fixed on Bud’s face.
“I’m afraid I have bad news.” Bud cleared his throat, then slowly, deliberately said, “Your father’s been killed at Fredericksburg.” He looked down at the floor. “A little over a week ago. I know he was lookin’ forward to seein’ y’all. I’m…immensely sorry.”
He pulled a folded piece of yellowed paper from his coat pocket. The gray coat was torn and tattered in places, not at all like the beautiful piece of clothing that had been provided to him nearly two years earlier. His trousers and the kepi he held in his hand were weathered, too.
“Miss Carolyn, Hiram wanted me to give you this here letter…in the event of his death.” He solemnly handed her the note.
Squeezing her eyes shut, Carolyn held it to her mouth. Tears streamed down her weathered face. “Thank you, Bud,” she finally said. “You’ve been a good friend to my Hiram. I know he appreciated you dearly.”
Bud nodded. “Please let the missus or me know if there’s anything we can do,” he offered, and walked toward the door.
“I surely will.” Carolyn wearily stood, followed him to the door, and walked him out.
Bud placed his kepi on his head, untied his horse, mounted, and galloped off down the lane. The rhythm of hoof beats faded.
Turning from the doorway, Carolyn somberly gazed at her children. Her two daughters came across the room to hug her. The three of them burst into tears. Carolyn gazed at her son, who was sitting motionless across the room, his handsome young face drained of color, his hazel eyes growing a darker brown.
“David,” she said, her voice filled with the sorrow that had now overtaken the room.
He looked over at her, his face blank with grief-stricken shock. Finding no comfort in her anguished expression, he glanced up at the ornately-carved mantle clock, the one his father had given to her as a wedding gift. It read ten minutes past five. Beside it sat a framed tintype of his father, adorned in Confederate glory, ready to march off to victory, but now he was never to return. David’s eyes wandered, and he noticed things he’d taken for granted before: the raised oval portrait of his paternal grandmother on the wall, the paintings of flowers his mother liked so well that hung on the opposite wall, the fieldstone fireplace that his father had built, and the pine furniture that had been there ever since he could remember. Somehow, all of it seemed irrelevant.
Moving numbly, he rose and walked across the room to pick up the little tree he had dropped earlier. A tiny pool of water remained where it had fallen. He carried the tree outside, leaving a trail of moisture that splattered onto the floorboards. The cold winter air, uncluttered with snow, barely whispered, its breath deathly quiet and still. Dusk was rapidly approaching.
David hurled the tree as hard as he could. It landed with a rustled thud out in the yard. Without pausing, he walked into the breezeway past his mother and sisters and grabbed a kerosene lantern. He carried it outside, lit it, and threw it at the pine. The glass shattered upon impact. Kerosene trickled out onto the tiny branches and within seconds, flames engulfed the little tree. He stoically watched tongues of fire consume the sapling. Slowly, he turned to face his mother and sisters, who were standing on the porch, watching him while they wept.
“I reckon we won’t be celebratin’ Christmas after all,” he said, his voice raspy with distress.
Impending darkness engulfed his heart. Feeling the need for solitude, he walked around the house toward the barn, vaguely hearing his mother call out to him. The sky opened, releasing icy rain. He stomped past the pigpen and the chicken coop. Upon reaching the old wooden barn, he went inside and blinked several times before his eyes adjusted to his dim surroundings. He caught glimpses of shadows dancing off the walls and up around the rafters. A pungent combination of dry, clean hay and musty wood enveloped him. The rain rattled down upon the barn’s tin roof and sounded like a thousand tiny drums. Three cows studied him with soft brown eyes. One mooed a welcome as he walked past them.
Sidestepping bales of hay stacked near the stall door, David paused to shake off cold drops of moisture that clung to his shirt and ran his hand over the top of his head, wiping the rain from his dark brown hair. A large Percheron, standing in the stall next to Renegade, gazed at David with his ears pricked.
“Hey, Joe Boy,” David said softly to the tall white gelding.
The draft horse sniffled at David’s pockets but seemed to lose interest and shuffled to the other end of his stall when David didn’t offer a treat like he usually did. Renegade looked up from his fodder and nickered softly. David walked over and gently stroked his muzzle. “I’m sorry I put you through all that trouble of bringin’ home a tree.” Anguish and anger welled up inside him. Searing-hot tears streamed down his cheeks. His hatred seethed. His grief was overwhelming, and he could hold it back no longer. Sobs escaped him. He grasped onto his horse’s mane, burying his face in Renegade’s neck. The colt stood quietly, seemingly to console him.
My publisher has been pushing to get top reviews for my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, in hopes of spring boarding it to the #1 status on Amazon. I would like to share some of these with you in the next few weeks.
Author/singer/songwriter JDR Hawkins writes novels and articles for newspapers, magazines, e-zines and blogs about the Civil War from the Confederate perspective. Her RENEGADE Series is rapidly winning multiple awards and to date there are three volumes – A REBEL AMONG US, A BEAUTIFUL GLITTERING LIE, and this volume – A BECKONING HELLFIRE. These novels relate the story of a family from northern Alabama who experience immeasurable pain when their lives are dramatically changed by the war.
At this particular time in our history, when questions are being raised about the validity of statues and memorabilia of the Civil War, creating heated discussions and confrontations, this book offers a fresh view of the Civil War from the Southern, and Confederate, stance. For a more complete picture of that historical event, Hawkins has created a fictional revisit to that mid 1800s time and her writing is inviting, from the first lines: “Here it is! Come Quick!” David sauntered across the dead grass toward his little sister. Amused by the way she was jumping up and down like a nervous flea, he couldn’t help but grin. Obviously, she was too excited to care that her petticoats were showing from under the brown coat and green calico dress she wore, or that her long auburn hair had broken free from its bondage as her bonnet slid from her head and dangled down her back.’ Approaching her novel from the family standpoint allows everyone entry to better understand the Confederate vantage.
Along those lines, the plot progresses as follows: ‘During the bloody American Civil War, the stark reality of death leads one young man on a course of revenge that takes him from his quiet farm in northern Alabama to the horrific battlefields of Virginia and Pennsylvania. On Christmas Eve 1862, David Summers hears the dreaded news: his father has perished at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Reeling with grief and thoughts of vengeance, David enlists and sets off for Richmond to join the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. But once in the cavalry, David’s life changes drastically, and his dream of glamorous chivalry becomes nothing but a cold, cruel existence of pain and suffering. He is hurled into one battle after another, and his desire for revenge wanes when he experiences first-hand the catastrophes of war.’
This is a timely novel that will hopefully add new dimensions of thinking about the Civil War and its persistent scars.
In honor of the reinternments of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife last weekend, I wanted to feature this story about the general’s beloved horse, King Philip. This horse is represented in the equestrian statue that was removed from Forrest Park in Memphis and will soon be relocated atop the general’s grave. I wrote about King Philip in my nonfiction book, Horses in Gray.
ASK RUFUS: KING PHILIP, NOT FOR SALE AT ANY PRICE By: Rufus Ward There were many famous generals and horses that came out of the Civil War. Among the most noted was Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his favorite horse, King Philip. In their 1866 history of Forrest’s campaigns, General Thomas Jordan and J. P. Pryor wrote of King Philip this; “conspicuous iron gray gelding…(was)…sluggish on ordinary occasions, became superbly excited in battle, and was as quick to detect the presence of a blue coat as any Confederate soldier, and was as ready to make battle, which he did, by laying back his ears and rushing at the offending object with open mouth.”
Growing up off of Military Road in Columbus, my grandmother told me that the horseshoes I would occasionally find were from the stables that had been located behind the old Col. T.C. Billups home which had burned during the 1880s. Little then did I realize whose shoes they might have been. One of the more famous warhorses in American history was General Forrest’s King Philip. Few, though, realize that King Philip was a Columbus horse.
The earliest account of where Forrest got King Philip stated that the horse was a veteran of the Vicksburg campaign and a gift from the citizens of Columbus. As a child, I recall my uncle T. C. Billups IV telling me the story of how Forrest got the horse. He related that after being wounded on one occasion, Forrest was recovering at the Billups house in Columbus. While there “Forrest admired a fine saddle horse and asked to purchase the horse, ‘King Philip”.
Billups replied, “General, I could not sell him at any cost.”
On the day he was leaving to rejoin his troops, Forrest called for his horse to be brought around. Instead, it was King Philip, the horse he had admired, that was led to him. Col. Billups presented the horse to Forrest as a gift. When he departed, Forrest left his crutch with his name carved in the side at the Billups home.
As my interest in history developed, I began to track the origin of many of the stories I had heard as a child. The story of King Philip was one of them. The family still had Forrest’s crutch, however, I wondered about the story as Col. Billups had been in his late 50s during the Civil War and did not serve in the military. That raised a question about the Vicksburg Campaign connection with the horse. I soon found the answer.
One of Billups’ sons, T. C., was a lieutenant in the 6th Mississippi Cavalry and served under Forrest. Another son, John, was Captain in the 43rd Mississippi Regiment and had been captured at Vicksburg and paroled back to Columbus in July 1863. The earliest mention of Forrest riding King Philip into battle that I found was in February 1864. That answered the Vicksburg question. I then sought the earliest family account of the story. I found it being told by Mary Billups, John’s daughter, who was born in 1874 and recalled the story in 1936 that she would have heard from her father. Her account was the story I had been told by my uncle.
In addition, I learned that at the suggestion of Forrest, the Billups family had commissioned an artist friend of Forrest, Nicola Marschall, to come to Columbus and paint portraits in the mid-1870s. Marschall painted at least nine Billups portraits while in Columbus. Growing up, I never realized that the horseshoes I found came from the stables that had once been the home of a big gelding, iron gray horse that became one of America’s most famous warhorses. Danyon McCarroll
(Article courtesy of the Jeff Davis Legion, Official Publication of the Mississippi Division Sons of Confederate Veterans, vol. 23, issue no. 8, August 2021)
I recently received another review for my novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie. Thank you so much, Pamela Loose, for your flattering review!
Review of A Beautiful Glittering Lie
This is a well written story with vivid descriptions of the lives of Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War. The comparison between their lives and those of the people left behind is fascinating.
Just for fun, and because this is the last week of Confederate Heritage Month, I thought I’d share some teasers that were made up for me by a previous publisher. The book is now out with Westwood Books Publishing, LLC. I hope you enjoy them. Let me know what you think!