Category Archives: The Battles

Visiting Shiloh National Battlefield

Scattered throughout Shiloh National Cemetery are plaques with portions of the poem:  Bivouac of the Dead by Theodore O’Hara.  Here is the opening stanza:

The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last Tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.

It is a most appropriate ode to not only the cemetery at Shiloh, but the entire battlefield.  I spent last weekend visiting Shiloh and going over the battlefield.  Over the next month I will be posting video clips from my visit there, but the first clip is at the cemetery:

The battle of Shiloh is the climactic scene of Duty, Honor, Country a Novel of West Point & the Civil War.  In fact, somewhere in the land that became the cemetery, on the first night of the battle, Ulysses S. Grant sat under an oak tree in the rain, contemplating whether to withdraw after horrendous losses that day, or fight on the next day.  Also, somewhere on that land, was a wood cabin where surgeons plied their bloody trade and a scene in that cabin changes the course of history.

At its conclusion, Shiloh produced more casualties in two days than all previous American Wars combined.  Walking over this hallowed ground was humbling.  I walked the entire length of the Sunken Road (which really isn’t sunken) that as the front edge of the Hornet’s Nest, where Union troops repelled eleven Confederate assaults.  Until 62 cannon were lined hub to hub, producing the greatest artillery barrage ever seen on the continent and the Union line was broken.

I walked around tiny Bloody Pond, just behind the sunken road, where casualties from both sides crawled, desperate for water on a hot April day.  I stood at the spot where General Albert Sidney Johnston was shot, still the highest ranking American officer ever to be killed in combat.

All of this is quite strange for a place called Shiloh, which means ‘place of peace’.

Brother on Brother: First Bull Run

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

Seneca had his cane in one hand, saber in the other and was screaming insanely.  He tripped over a body, scrambled to his feet and kept going up the hill.  The Union guns were less than a hundred feet away.

The two Union batteries erupted.

Seneca was aware he was flying through the air.  Everything moved slowly.  Seneca saw a private hurtling back next to him, head missing, blood spurting out the carotid arteries from a still beating heart.

Seneca hit the ground on his back.  He blinked dirt out of his eyes and stared blankly up at the blue sky for a moment.  He raised his empty hands.  His cane and saber were gone.  That was the first cognizant thought that passed through his mind.

He grasped for the pistol, determined to rejoin the fight.  His holster was empty.  Seneca cursed and looked for it.

His left leg was gone from knee down.

Then the pain reached his brain and he screamed.

*****

The volley of canister had decimated the Confederate lines, but they were too many and too close.  There was no time to reload or limber up the guns to retreat.  The wave of soldiers over-ran the two batteries.

From the flank, Rumble threw the Henry to his shoulder.  He saw a General yelling orders, waving a sword wildly about.  Rumble fired three rounds as fast as he could lever in the bullets and pull the trigger.

The first one shivered the General in the saddle, the second knocked him back a bit, and the third sent him tumbling to the ground.

The assault broke, rebels running to the rear in disarray, but the guns had been over-run and spiked, putting them out of action.

More Union troops came charging over the top over Matthews Hill behind Rumble and down into the low ground in front of Henry House Hill.  Right into a scathing volley from the solid line of Confederates who were holding the position there.  The Union officers tried to rally their men, but southern artillery was now supporting the rebel infantry and the assault wavered.

Rumble ran forward.  He found the General he had shot.  A Confederate lieutenant was trying to stem the flow of blood from his commander’s stomach.  The lieutenant didn’t stop his efforts, even seeing Rumble approach with the Henry at the ready.

“Who is it?” Rumble asked, but then he recognized the wounded man.  Class of ’45 and one Rumble had tested with York’s jump.  He’d stood fast.

“Barnie?  Barnie Bee?”

General Bee looked up.  “Master of the Horse!  Did you see Jackson?  Stood fast.  Didn’t support me.  I had to order my men to halt.  To halt, damn it!  Why didn’t Jackson follow me?”

“He’s holding the line, General.  He did the right thing.”

Bee raised his body off the ground and cried out in a command voice:  “Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer.  Rally behind Stonewall Jackson and the Virginians, boys!”

Then he collapsed.

“Take him,” Rumble said to the lieutenant.  “Take him back to your surgeons.”

The lieutenant looked at him in surprise.  “We aint got no surgeon with the regiment.  Just some old country doc.”

The lieutenant grabbed a couple of scared privates and got them to put General Bee into a blanket.  They hurried away with him as the volume of the battle increased, the Union forces in the low ground unable to maintain their charge, Jackson’s Virginians holding the high ground in front of them, pouring hot lead into the Yankees.

The Confederate left was saved.

Rumble picked his way back among the bodies littering the ground, Henry at the ready.  He passed by a dead man, mouth open in a final scream that had not found voice.  A man in gray was crawling, facedown, clawing at the dirt with his hands, leaving a smear of blood from a severed leg behind him.

“Easy, soldier,” Rumble said, uncertain if he was Union or Rebel, not that it mattered in his condition.

Rumble grabbed the man’s shoulder and turned him over.

“Brother!”

Duty, Honor, Country

12 April 2011 is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.  The official start, when Fort Sumter was fired upon.  It ‘s also the date my first book on the Civil War:  DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY, will be published.

However, the seeds of the Civil War were planted well before 12 April 1861, with the founding of the country.  Our story, though, starts in 1840, in Benny Havens tavern, just outside post limits of the United States Military Academy.  With William Tecumseh Sherman, a classmate, a plebe, and Benny Havens’ daughter coming together in a crucible of honor and loyalty.   And on post, in the West Point stables, where Ulysses S. Grant and a classmate are preparing to saddle the Hell-Beast, a horse with which Grant would eventually set an academy record, and both make fateful decisions that will change the course of their lives and history.

The key to this series is a simple fact I had to memorize as a plebe at West Point:

Who commanded the major battles of the Civil War? —— There were 60 important battles of the War. In 55 of them, graduates commanded on both sides; in the remaining 5, a graduate commanded one of the opposing sides.

That struck me as utterly fascinating and disturbing on a core level.  After all, how did men who went to the same Academy, who swore the same oath of allegiance, end up fighting each other?  In addition, it made me wonder if perhaps the war lasted so long and was the bloodiest in our history until World War II, because the leaders on both sides had all been trained in the same place?

So I decided to take a handful of fictional character and insert them into history, to rub elbows with those who would become great and those who would become infamous.  And have them live through events, both epic and personal.

The story ranges from West Point; to a plantation in Natchez, the richest city in the United States where cotton was king; to the only mutiny in the United States Navy; to St.  Louis where Kit Carson is preparing to depart on a famous expedition to the west with Fremont that would eventually bring California into the Union; to Mexico, where the United States Army suffered its highest casualty rate to this day and brought most of the western United States into the Union; to the founding of the Naval Academy; to John Brown’s hanging; to the firing on Fort Sumter; through First Bull  Run; the first battle of ironclads, the Monitor and Virginia; and culminating in the epic battle of Shiloh, where the United States had more casualties in one battle than in all previous wars combined and the face of warfare changed forever.

And that’s leaving out many more events that arc the story.  My handful of fictional characters are swept up by the tide of history and their factual contemporaries, and sometimes are more than swept up as they are the significant unknowns, the people who changed history but weren’t recorded by it.

This is history told both epic and personal so we can understand intellectually what happened, but more importantly feel the heart-wrenching struggle of duty, honor, country and loyalty coming into collision.

This first book will be followed by more books, taking our characters through the Civil War and beyond, into the Plains Wars and further.

As they say at West Point:  Much of the history we teach, was made by people we taught.

Coming 12 April 2011.

I hope you enjoy!

Bob Mayer

USMA ‘81

Infantry and U.S. Special Forces

PS:  If you want to read my latest novel, about a modern day West Point graduate, coming out of a covert unit and serving as a Federal liaison to a local police department who gets involved in a murder and counter-terrorist operation, check out Chasing The Ghost in eBook (only. 99) or print.

And, coming on the 4th of July, 185 years to the date after his death, The Jefferson Allegiance, a modern thriller where the pieces of the Jefferson Cipher must be found to found and put together to uncover the the Jefferson Allegiance, a document from the Founding Fathers, that in the wrong hands, could destroy the country.