THE INCOMPARABLE LIEUTENANT HICKS – Part 4

This is Part 4 of my ongoing series of excerpts from Borden Hicks’ personal account in Glimpses of the Nation’s Struggle. Borden Hicks was a humorous young officer in the 11th Michigan Volunteer Infantry during the American Civil War. The 11th Michigan is the regiment chronicled in my upcoming novel, The Edge of Hell. I’ve included some photos from my research trip to the battlefield back in the ’90s.

 

We did not arrive on this battlefield till about 4 p.m., September 19th, having been engaged at Crawfish Springs for the day previous to this. We charged on the field near Widow Glen’s house [see my footnote], and drove the Confederates beyond the position our troops occupied.

 

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Position of the 11th Michigan in the Brotherton Field*

 

At dusk we threw up a line of works, and sent one company out as skirmishers, then the balance layed [sic] down on their arms for rest. It was so cold that it was impossible to sleep, and we got very little rest. I was informed by one of the residents of the battlefield that ice formed that night. This was told to me some thirty years after the war, and his memory might not have been good, but it certainly was very cold, especially for men who had just loaned their blankets to Longstreet’s men.

 

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Brotherton Field

 

On the morning of the 20th, urgent calls came from General Thomas on our left, for reinforcements, and our brigades was [sic] to take our place in the line. Our colonel, noticing that no troops had occupied our place and that the Johnnies were making for the works that we had just left, ordered us about, and it was a foot race for 20 or 30 rods, to see which would get there first. Whether we were nearest or the swiftest sprinters, I do not know, but we got there. In a few moments the order was repeated, this time so imperative that we had to go, and leave the gap in our lines, over which there has been so much controversy in history, as to who was to blame for this break in our lines, thus giving the enemy an entering wedge in our works. I have often speculated on what might have been the result of this important battle if our brigade had been allowed to remain, and hold this line, and thus prevent the Johnnies from gaining an entrance to our lines, and drive our right wing from the field of conflict.

We took up a new position in Kelly’s Field, just to the left of the road, where we concealed ourselves in the underbrush, and awaited the oncoming of the Confederates, who were now flushed with victories. When within two or three rods of our line, we opened fire on them, their front rank went down, the rear rank was nearly put out of business, and we captured nearly all of the balance, including General D.W. Adams, who was in command of the rebel forces making this charge. Our regiment captured General Adams, yet there are no less than six regiments who claim the honor of having captured him, but as the best proof I had his sword, other members of our regiment had his field glasses and revolvers, belt and so forth. I carried his sword on the charge we now made to the McDonald field, going into this charge with a sword in each hand, and looking as savage as a meat ax. Here we took many more prisoners. General Thomas, that grand old man and the hero of Chickamauga, was forming a new line on Snodgrass, or Horse Shoe Ridge, the intrepid defense of which was to save our army from utter defeat and route, and give us Chattanooga and give General Thomas the name of “Rock of Chickamauga” and the nation’s gratitude. We were ordered to fall back and take position on the ridge.

We arrived on the hill at twelve noon. The enemy was making for this point at the same time, as the key to our position. A fearful contest was now waged for the possession of this ridge, which is recorded in history as one of the most desperate and determined struggles that occurred during the Civil War. After the first repulse of the enemy, our lines were reformed, and we got together rails and logs, and made our position more defenseable. Here the command of the company was turned over to me, and I retained it for the balance of our term of service. Some five or six charges were made on our position during the afternoon by General Longstreet’s seasoned veterans. The slope in our front was strewn with the enemy’s dead, so thick that you could almost walk on them. Our men’s faces were black with powder smoke, their tongues fairly hung out for want of water. We replenished our supplies of ammunition and water by going among the bodies of the Johnnies during the lull between charges. About 6 p.m., they succeeded in planting a stand of colors at the toe of the ridge which we had to face for some time till our colonel [Colonel William Stoughton], who was now in command of the brigade, brought up the 18th Ohio, and with this added force of about 250 men, we charged and drove the Johnnies who were so gallantly defending them, from the ridge, and our work for the day was done.

 

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11th Michigan’s position on Snodgrass Hill with statue of Colonel Stoughton in the background, looking toward the enemy.

 

About 10 p.m., we received word to quietly leave the battlefield and fall back to Chattanooga. This was the first intimation that we had received that the battle had gone against us. About midnight, we stacked our arms at Rossville just beyond Rossville Gap. There our quartermaster sergeant met us with needed supplies, and what was better than even something to eat, letters from the loved ones at home, for we had not received any mail from home since the commencement of the campaign. After preparing our midnight meal and drinking freely of the clear cold water from the creek, we lay down on our arms to get a much needed rest.

We were routed out at four in the morning to form a part of the rearguard defense of Rossville Gap. Our regiment was posted across the highway, with our flanks well protected by the other regiments who were detailed for this purpose. During the day, several spirited attacks were made on our position, but all of them were repulsed with loss to the enemy. I well remember in one of these attacks that we were momentarily thrown into a panic and started pell-mell for the rear. It was my duty as company commander to run as fast as possible and get ahead of the men, so as to allay their fears. I overtook one of my men and chided him for running from the enemy. He looked up at me very innocently and said, “Captain, what are you running for?”

At 4 a.m., on the 22nd of September, we quietly withdrew our battery and brigade, and marched to Chattanooga four or five miles away. As we passed inside of the defenses of Chattanooga, the rebels sent their farewell compliments after us in the shape of some six-pound solid shot, and as they came rolling along the ground, our men were tempted to play ball, but gave it up on more mature thought.

*Footnote: the brigade’s actual position at this point in the battle was the Brotherton field, not Widow Glen’s. They passed Widow Glen’s on the way to the Brotherton position.

Next time: the Siege of Chattanooga

For more reading on the battle of Chickamauga, I highly recommend Peter Cozzens’s book This Terrible Sound. One of Keith Rocco’s illustrations in the book is of fighting between the 11th Michigan and the 2nd Alabama Battalion on Snodgrass Hill. The monument to the 11th Michigan on Snodgrass Hill is topped by a statue of Colonel William Stoughton, who took command of the brigade on Snodgrass after Colonel Timothy Stanley was wounded.

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GET READY FOR FREEBIE FRIDAY!!

Tomorrow, June 23, will be Freebie Friday as I run my first promotion to celebrate the re-release of the first book in the Jack Mallory Chronicles, The Prodigal.

For one day only, you can get a free copy of the e-book exclusively through Amazon.com. Follow this link after midnight tonight and download yours.

Don’t have a Kindle? No problem. Just visit your favorite app store and download the free Kindle app for your mobile device.

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AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR KAREN DEAN BENSON

Many, many years ago, I had a wonderful critique partner by the name of Karen Dean. We would meet at her house, read our works-in-progress, critique, talk and laugh. Over time, we lost track of each other. Then, like so many people in today’s world of the internet and social media, we found one another again through Facebook.

I was pleased to learn that Karen’s two wonderful historical novels that I had read portions of during our old critique sessions had been published, along with a third novel that was just released this year in her Ladies of Mischief series. So I want to introduce Karen and her novels to my readers through this interview. I’m so glad Karen and I have reconnected. She is a wonderful person, full of life, and that quality shines through in her writing.

Karen Benson

When did you first start writing? Were you an avid reader as a child?

During my troubled childhood, I buried myself in reading. I would ride my bike to the library every Saturday, sit on the window ledge, and read a book (fit for an eight-year-old or whatever my age was), put the book back, and take out the next one until the librarian told me it was time to go home. My reading eventually morphed into, “Hey, I could do this.”

I put out a newspaper in our neighborhood, and though I can’t remember what I wrote, I apparently revealed a lot of the strife in our home. When my mother became aware of what I was doing, that ended that.

As a mom, I wrote to do something with my brain, exercised it with all kinds of short essays on the behavior of my children. Five sons wrestling on the living room floor as my one daughter played with her Barbies. I typed like a mad woman in the closet.

Eventually, as my children went off to school, I came out of the closet and set up a desk in our bedroom. By the way, at that stage of my writing, I used a Royal Portable, and had to weight the top down with books so it wouldn’t bounce across the desk.

By the time I finished my first novel-length manuscript, it had morphed into 160,000 words. Roughly six hundred pages.

What drew you to historical fiction in particular? Do you read other genres besides historical fiction?

In 1972, a neighbor gave me a book–The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Well, I stooped low enough to hide behind a willow tree as the kids screamed for me. And I confess [to] locking myself in the bathroom, pleading sickness to my husband, because I could not put that book down. It transported me to another time and place.

I have always loved history. For me, it’s the beauty of the dress, the subtle innuendo with behavior. I am drawn to the elegance of a prior time. And I knew I could mold the people into the drama I created. Not only do I enjoy reading about history, I equally enjoy biographies.

I am a fanatical researcher. And I purchase old used books from all the English-speaking world. They give me the nuance and flavor of the times I want to embed in my tales.

When I use the research I need, and mix it with my imagination, I get to dance in a ballroom, ride a wild horse, sneak around a mansion and eavesdrop, discover old bones. It’s a lot of fun when you think one hundred years or more ago…

Tell us a bit about your series and what drew you to writing about these three women.

It was a lark to begin with. I wrote about Renn Arelia Sheridan at a time when I was overburdened with five teenagers and a tot; this was my escape. I love her for giving me a place to go in 1788 northern England, a sail on a Spanish galleon, then a castle in northern Spain. Her antics were a real escape for me. I wasn’t thinking publishing; I was trying to stay sane.

After the loss of my children’s father, my widowed mother moved in with me, and really encouraged me to write something else. Thus arrived Chenoa Sandoval in 1830, at Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel/Monterey, known then as Mexican territory. The time of the dons, if you will. I finished at about 115,000 words, and put it in a box for safekeeping.

I joined a group of writers who wanted to put an anthology together and asked me to write something short. Ha! I couldn’t think of anything short. But then I had the idea to write about Chenoa as an old woman in her late 60s, sitting on her veranda overlooking the Pacific and thinking about her remarkable life.

The publisher loved the story so much, she asked if I had written any lengthy fiction. I told her about the two boxes I had, sent them to her (digitally, of course). A month later she sent me a three-book contract, which I signed, and she asked me to come up with a title for the series.

It seemed these two young women shared an infinity for murder, mayhem, mystery and romance, so out of that came Ladies of Mischief. Now all I had to do was write a third book–Aisling O’Quinn, who is born on a ‘coffin ship’ out of Ireland, is raised in the slum tenement Five Points in Manhattan, and forced to board an orphan train.

Do you personally identify with your heroines? Did your own daughter influence your characters’ personalities?

It is said, “Write what you know.” And that is as close to answering this question as I’m going to get.

You mentioned an Irish series of books in an early conversation. Tell us a bit about them and what your vision is.

When I finished the research for Aisling’s family background in [the Midlands of] Ireland, I knew I had to write a series about the grand ol’ sod. But first we had to visit Ireland. I’ve traveled a lot of our world and gone back to a few places a couple of times, [and] I have to say I could live in Ireland.

It was beautiful, serene, inviting…simply grand. We traveled the entire [circumference]; I visited every single used bookstore and a lot of regular ones. The month after we got home, about fifty books were delivered. I spent this past winter reading most of these books, gathering my research for this new series: The Village of Hawthorn Lough, set in County Waterford, Ireland, 1799-1800s. This series will have characters that continue into the next book.

Please tell my readers a bit about yourself–what do you like to do outside of writing?

I graduated from Northwood [University], married, and lived along the banks of the Au Sable in Grayling, Michigan, for years.

Between diapering my first child and kissing the sixth off to college, [being] widowed twice, and caring for an ill mother, I wrote and read. It clearly was/is my passion. I have many dear friends, and all these adult children and their spouses, and grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, so we have football games, wrestling matches, dance recitals, soccer, high school/college graduations, birthdays, guitar recitals. I am sure I am forgetting something here.

I like to say we divide our time between golf courses in Florida and Michigan. My husband, Charlie, likes to golf. Yes, dear Charlie is my third and last husband. I made him sign a 30-year contract that he would stick around for a long time. He croaked out, “My gosh, woman, I’ll be 90.” I just smiled and said, “Sign on the dotted line.”


You can connect with Karen online at her website, karendeanbenson.com and on Facebook.

 

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LAST STOP ON MY BLOG HOP

I’ve been blog hopping to promote the 2nd edition release of The Prodigal, and the last stop is today at author Kim Rendfeld’s blog. Check out my article on her site via this link, and while you’re there, check out Kim’s two historical novels. I’ve read them both and encourage you to do the same.

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BLOG HOP STOP #4

Today I’m being hosted by author J.M. Aucoin, with a short article called You Don’t Know Jack. I give a bit of a lighthearted introduction to the three main characters in my Jack Mallory novels to celebrate the second edition of the first book in the series, The Prodigal.

While you’re at J.M. Aucoin’s site, check out his writing as well. Action/adventure in the tradition of the Musketeers, as well as piratical stories.

 

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THIRD STOP ON THE BLOG HOP

Author Matthew Willis interviewed me on his blog. You can read the interview here. And keep your eyes out for Matthew’s upcoming novels about William the Conqueror!

 

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SECOND STOP ON MY BLOG HOP

Tinney Heath, author of A Thing Done (an excellent read, btw), hosted me earlier this week on her blog. I share a bit more about the research behind The Prodigal. Please stop by Tinney’s website (she just returned from another research trip to Italy), and check out her writing as well. Enjoy!

Historical Fiction Research blog

Drayton

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