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Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas During the Civil War

I found this post from the Civil War Trust which does a much better job  than I ever could in describing what Christmas meant for those with loved ones serving in the Civil War armies.

Christmas in Camp, Illustration by Thomas Nast for Harper's Weekly

It can be difficult to relate to the men and women of the Civil War era. Despite the extraordinarily different circumstances in which they found themselves, however, we can connect with our forebears in traditions such as the celebration of Christmas.  By the mid-19th century, most of today’s familiar Christmas trappings – Christmas carols, gift-giving, and tree decoration – were already in place.  Charles Dickens had published “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 and indeed, the Civil War saw the first introductions to the modern image of a jolly and portly Santa Clause through the drawings of Thomas Nast, a German-speaking immigrant. 

Civil War soldiers in camp and their families at home drew comfort from the same sorts of traditions that characterize Christmas today.  Alfred Bellard of the 5th New Jersey noted, “In order to make it look much like Christmas as possible, a small tree was stuck up in front of our tent, decked off with hard tack and pork, in lieu of cakes and oranges, etc.”  John Haley, of the 17th Maine, wrote in his diary on Christmas Eve that, “It is rumored that there are sundry boxes and mysterious parcels over at Stoneman’s Station directed us.  We retire to sleep with feelings akin to those of children expecting Santa Claus.”

In one amusing anecdote, a Confederate prisoner relates how the realities of war intruded in his Christmas celebrations:  “A friend had sent me in a package a bottle of old brandy.  On Christmas morning, I quietly called several comrades up to my bunk to taste the precious fluid of . . . DISAPPOINTMENT!  The bottle had been opened outside, the brady taken and replaced with water . . . and sent in.  I hope the yankee who played that practical joke lived to repent it and was shot before the war ended.”

For many, the holiday was a reminder of the profound melancholy that had settled over the entire nation.  Southern parents warned their children that Santa might not make it through the blockade, and soldiers in bleak winter quarters were reminded, more accurately than ever, of the domestic bliss they had left behind.  Robert Gould Shaw, who would later earn glory as the commander of the 54th Massachusettes, recorded in his diary, “It is Christmas morning and I hope qa happy and merry one for you all, though it looks so stormy for our poor country, one can hardly be in a merry humor.”  On the Confederate home front, Sallie Brock Putnam of Richmond echoed Shaw’s sentiment: “Never before had so sad a Christmas dawned upon us . . . We had neither the heart nor inclination to make the week merry with joyousness when such a sad calamity hovered over us.”  For the people of Fredericksburg, Virginia, which has been battered only a matter of days before Christmas, or Savannah, Georgia, which General Sherman had presented to President Lincoln as a gift, the holiday season brought the war to their very doorsteps.
On the Home Front

Christmas during the Civil war served both as an escape from and a reminder of the awful conflict rending the country in two.  Soldiers looked forward to a day of rest and relative relaxation, but had their moods tempered by the thought of separateion from their loved ones.  At home, families did their best to celebrate the holiday, but wondered when the vacant chair would again be filled.

In spite of the 150 years which separates us from them, I can say from experience on both sides that these feelings seem to be universal for families separated by war, applicable as much now as they were then.

Sean Kevin Gabhann
Books by Sean Kevin Gabhann:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


 "WHEN King Arthur heard of the coming of Guenever and the hundred knights with the Table Round, then King Arthur made great joy for her coming, and that rich present, and said openly, This fair lady is passing welcome unto me, for I have loved her long, and therefore there is nothing so lief to me. And these knights with the Round Table please me more than right great riches."

Le Morte D'Arthur
Sir Thomas Malory 1485

I have been fascinated by the tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table all my life. There are several versions of the tales, but the most complete is the collection that were drawn together in the fifteenth century by a fascinating fellow called Sir Thomas Malory, when he effectively wrote the first English novel  Le Morte D'Arthur. It has the distinction of being one of the first texts to roll off William Caxton's printing press in 1485.

There is a magic about the whole King Arthur saga. The sword in the stone, the great wizard Merlin, the ideal of Camelot, chivalry, the Order of the Round Table and the quest for the Holy Grail, then add the tale of forbidden love between Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot, sprinkle it with human frailties, betrayal, and countless battles, duels, a monster or two and you have the timeless work of genius that is the  legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. 

It is the blueprint for all of those great fantasies that have followed it. The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, even the Harry Potter saga. And Camelot, of course, was associated with the late President JF Kennedy. Shortly after his state funeral, his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy gave an interview to Theodore White, a journalist, for an article to be featured in Life magazine. She compared her husband's presidency with the Camelot of King Arthur. It was a time of hope, when men were gallant, great deeds were done and when the White House was a place graced by writers, poets and artists. Her husband was a heroic figure, like a knight of old. 

I have always been fascinated by the writer of that great book Le Morte D'Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory. But actually, surprisingly little is known about him. We have no contemporary portrait, no personal effects, no artefacts. His memory is enshrined in his great work of 300,000 words. 

There were six men of that name in the fifteenth century who are all contenders, but opinion favours Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel, a manor near Coventry in Warwickshire. I personally like to think that is him, for it is not far from the home of that other giant of literature, William Shakespeare. 

Sir Thomas was not  a knight errant as he loved to depict his knights of the Round Table. He had a darker side and was imprisoned for a series of crimes ranging from attempted murder to theft and possibly even abduction. 

On the other hand we know that he had been a Member of Parliament, a soldier and an adventurer. It was during his spells of imprisonment that he showed himself to be the literary genius that gave us King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. 

It is recorded that he was  a man of singular martial prowess, for he broke out of prison on two occasions. Once, on July 27, 1451 he escaped and swam across the moat at Coleshill prison. On another occasion he broke out of Colchester by using great skill with a variety of weapons, including dagger, sword and langurs-de-boeuf, a type of halberd so named because it had a spiked head the shape of an ox-tongue. 

Mystery and romance surround Sir Thomas Malory and he has intruded into my unconscious writer's mind several times and in several books. In my first western Raw Deal at Pasco Springs he incarnated as Tom Mallory, a gambler, one time lawman and adventurer. He again knocked on  the door of my imagination and came in as the protagonist of The Apothecary's Quest, a medieval single due out on December 8 as an ebook.  

The Apothecary’s Quest: 

An Adventure of the Order of the Black Rose


Apothecary Thomas Smythe has been betrayed by a fellow knight in the Order of the Hospitallers in a foreign war. Home in England once more, Thomas lives out his life as a simple apothecary. When he is summoned to attend Sir Percival Fitzroy, who has been taken ill, Thomas realizes that Lord Fitzroy has been poisoned. 

A trap, set in motion by a craven knight from Thomas’s past, threatens to see him murdered, as well. But can he reach Sir Richard de Vere, a man he suspects may hold the key to the mysterious death of Lord Fitzroy—and will Sir Richard help him? For Lord Fitzroy has entrusted Thomas with a quest for the Order of the Black Rose, a secret society that could accept him as one of their own…or have him slain. 

Thomas is still a knight, at heart—and there is only one honorable thing to do, no matter the cost to himself…




Newbold Revel, Warwickshire, England
 June 1320

“Bless you, Master Smythe! Bless you, sir,” said the woman as she dropped three pennies into his hand before she picked up the small flask of medicine and pot of balsam that he had prepared for her while she waited.
            “You are welcome, Mistress Burke,” Thomas Smythe replied with a smile as he deposited the money in the leather purse that hung from his waist. “That balsam has the finest herbs plucked from the hedgerows around Newbold Revel by myself under the full moon last Sunday. They are infused with its healing power and will soothe the scrofulous rash that your mother suffers from.”
            “That it has already, sir. That first pot almost cleared those horrid blisters on her face and I am sure that this pot will take care of the rest.”
            She stood and pursed her lips as she turned her attention to the small flask of liquid in her hand. “But it is this wonderful medicine that I am most pleased with, Master Smythe.” She suddenly looked over her shoulder to make sure that no one else had sneaked into the shop behind her. She shoved back in place a stray lock of hair that had escaped from her cotton cap and leaned slightly forward to talk in hushed tones.
            “It is a marvel, sir. It has given my husband his manhood back and made him most frolicsome. I have great hopes that before too long we may be blessed with a child of our very own after these five years of marriage, when everyone was thinking that I was barren. And it will be all thanks to your medicine, sir.”
            Without warning, she shot an arm out and hooked it round his neck, pulling him down towards her so that she could plant a kiss on his bearded cheek.
            Thomas immediately straightened and took a pace backwards. Mistress Blake sighed and shrugged her shoulders demurely.
            “I am sorry if I embarrassed you, but I just had to thank you, sir. You are the best apothecary we ever had, you see. Far better than that old faker who almost drowned when they gave him a ducking in the River Avon last summer.”
Thomas winced at the thought.  He had, of course, heard about his unfortunate predecessor’s fate when he first arrived in Newbold Revel, but from all he had heard he thought it most likely that the old man actually had indeed been a charlatan, a rogue who merely professed to having a knowledge of physic when in actuality he had none.
Thomas, on the other hand, knew that his treatment would have been of some help in calming her husband’s fears, and that nature and her own womanly wiles would have done the rest. The truth was that Mistress Mary Burke was a comely young woman, whom many a man would have been proud to share a home and a bed with, yet for some reason her husband had been unable to perform his husbandly duties. As a result, her family and neighbors had thought her barren and unable to produce a child; she had thought herself undesirable and became racked with guilt; and her husband had spent too much time in the taverns of Newbold Revel, supping ale and making the problem tenfold worse. 
            Hence she had come to Thomas Smythe the local apothecary for what she thought was a love potion. It was in fact an extract of pine together with dried and pulverized bullock’s testicles, an extremely useful remedy for making a man’s nether regions congest with blood.
He stroked his thick black beard as he took another backward step from her, for he was ever conscious that many years previously he had taken a vow.
“I fear my profession is almost as dangerous as that of a soldier’s,” he said with a rueful smile. “I would not welcome a turn in the town ducking stool.”
“You’ll never be in any danger, Master Smythe. Anyone can tell that you have a kindness and a goodness about you that marks you out as a healer. We need you to make medicines for us. Let others more suited to warfare be soldiers.”
            When she had gone Thomas stood for a moment rubbing his cheek, which felt as if it was glowing after the touch of her lips. It was a feeling that he remembered from his youth, when he had enjoyed the lifestyle of his rank and reveled in the company of the fairer sex. Yet all that had been before he had gained his spurs and taken his vows.
              Half memories threatened to burst forth from where he had long ago suppressed them and he shrugged them away as he usually did by beating his fist against his left shoulder, where he bore an old sword wound........

Keith Souter is a part time doctor, medical journalist and novelist. He writes westerns as Clay More and crime as Keith Moray. He is the current vice-president of Western Fictioneers. His latest book The Doctor's Bag has just been published by Sundown Press.


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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

#NewRelease -- Memories From Maple Street U.S.A: The Best Christmas Ever -- #Giveaway

What is Christmas all about? Wonderful memories! This collection of stories celebrates the very best and most poignant memories of the past, and is sure to have you laughing and crying right along with the authors who shared their stories in MEMORIES FROM MAPLE STREET, U.S.A.—THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER! 

Who can forget those special Santa gifts that brought such joy to us in our childhood? Those toys we fervently hoped ol’ Santa would bring for us if we were good? Livia J. Washburn, Cheryl Pierson, and Tanya Hanson write about some of those hopes and dreams for that certain gift with a special, personal twist to each story. 

But Christmas memories also sometimes hold a special place in our hearts because of a person that was somehow important in our lives. Authors Sharon Cunningham, Beverly Wells, Carol Huff and Gigi Meyer weave that aspect of Christmas into their beautiful holiday tales, with remembrances of some very special people in their lives—and why Christmas means so much because of them. 

Kathleen Rice Adams pens a sentimental story of a wonderful gift to her mother from her father. And Charlie Steel’s story of hunting for the perfect Christmas tree with his father is sure to make you smile. Jim Landwehr, Tina Holt, and Randy Lee Eickhoff all give us a backward glance at the love and traditions from the past that make Christmas what it is, while Christine Waldman tells a poignant tale of Santa looking for his lost reindeer in the snow. 

This is one wonderful collection of heartfelt stories that you will not want to pass up—and it also makes a great gift for all ages—if you still believe in Santa!

Tell us about your favorite Christmas memory.  We'll be giving away a free ecopy to one lucky person who comments.

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

In Search of an Outlet

Well November flew by and it's time again for my monthly guest post.

When I left off, I mentioned that I knew early on in life that I liked to write. I mentioned that my wife and I became sort of pen-pals before we met and through our writing got to know each other at a deeper level. For years people told me that they loved my letters and those comments always resonated with me that I probably have a knack for writing. But between the demands of trying to build a career and later, the rigors of fatherhood, it seemed I never had time, nor knew what to write even if I did. I did a little personal journalling, but nothing I'd ever want anyone to see.

One of the cooler things to come out of this time in the writing wilderness, were my "kid journals." When our first child was born, a friend gave us a blank journal and she recommended I journal about our kids' lives. I took the task seriously, so made journal entries after significant life events or emotionally memorable moments.

Three years later, when Ben was born, we bought one to track his life too and I have added to that over the years as well. The plan is to give them to them after they graduate from college. I've often said that, regardless of what else I publish or write, these are my two most important books. It's interesting to go back through some of the entries and read what we were going through at the time. Fatherhood was filled with such joy and trial.

After floundering around for years, not knowing how to tap into this love for writing, I finally enrolled in a class offered through the City of Waukesha continuing education program in 2005. It was titled Writing from your Life and it focused on writing memoir and creative nonfiction. We were encouraged to write stories from our past, so I started a couple of short stories about camping and fishing with my brothers. Little did I know these stories would form the groundwork for my book Dirty Shirt, which would be published nine years later.

I'd like to say that class broke my cycle of writing inactivity and everything came easy after that. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case at all. I didn't follow the class up with anything immediate, and eventually fell away from writing entirely, except for journalling. After all, I thought, who wanted to hear stories from my past anyway? There was certainly no market for it, of that I was certain.

At the same time, I couldn't silence the praises people had given me that rolled around in my head. After a year away, I finally contacted my writing instructor and asked her what she thought I should do. She asked me what I wanted from my writing. By the time I'd hung up with her we determined that I should probably take a class somewhere and see where it leads.

Next month I'll talk about how that call, and the action that came out of it, changed my life as a writer forever.

See you next month!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The First Iowa Volunteer Mounted Infantry

Social Media Head Shot Sean K. Gabhann 20150329When preparing the back-story for the characters in the Shiloh Trilogy, I found that I needed to identify a particular fictional Union regiment as the home for Jamie Harper, Josuah Featherstone, Gus Magnusson, Johnny Cooke, and the others.  I wanted to identify a unit which could plausibly have participated in most of Grant’s and Sherman’s major battles not only in the time period covered by the Trilogy, but extending from the earliest battles to the end of major operations in April 1865.
I had the particular good fortune to have chosen Sergeant’s Bluff, Iowa as Harper’s home town.  Using the constraint that Harper would have to join a unit from a state near his home town, this gave me the choice of Iowa, the states of Minnesota and Missouri, and the territories of Nebraska or Dakota.
Of these, Iowa proved to be the best historical choice having provided regiments for nearly all of the major battles in the western theater, from the First Iowa Volunteer Infantry at Wilson’s Creek, to the sixteen regiments of Iowans in the final battle for Sherman’s armies at Bentonville.   In particular, I wanted a unit which could plausibly have participated in the four battles described in the Trilogy: Belmont, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh.

The Civil War Archive TitleUsing Wikipedia as a quick reference source, I discovered that there were just five Union regiments present at Belmont, four from Illinois and the Seventh Iowa Volunteer Infantry.  For a cross-check, I consulted the Regimental Index of The Civil War Archive website operated by Mike Northway.  Based on their regimental history, it seemed that the Seventh Iowa would serve quite well is a means for validating the feasibility of an Iowa unit participating in most of Grant’s and Sherman’s major battles.  Back to Wikipedia and a check of the Union orders-of-battle for the other battles confirmed this.

So, I now knew it was feasible.  But I didn’t want to use the actual Seventh Iowa because I didn’t wish to trivialize the accomplishments of the men who served in that regiment nor did I wish to be constrained by that unit’s known, recorded history and personages.   I also knew that I want at some time in the future to write a prequel which covers the campaign in Missouri during 1861.  So, I looked at the Union order-of-battle of Wilson’s Creek and discovered the First Iowa Volunteer Infantry, a ninety-day unit, whose only major battle was Wilson’s Creek – ten days prior to the unit being mustered out of service in August 1861.

I had my fictional unit.  What if, instead of returning to Iowa, a number of the veterans of the First Iowa re-enlisted for three years and they are permitted to retain their unit lineage?  Some of the officers would need to be changed and I still wanted to avoid using real soldiers' names.

Iowa Genealogy Project Logo
During an internet search, I had the great good fortune to find the Iowa Genealogy Web Project.  In these pages, I found the initial muster rosters for every Iowa unit in the Civil War, provided by Guy Logan.  Now I also had access to thousands of authentic soldiers’ names which I could (and would) manipulate to fill out the roster of fictional Iowans in Harper’s War Stories.

The story of Jamie Harper and the others begins with Harper's Donelson which was published in September 2015.

Harpers Donelson Front Page for Web 20150901
Harper's Donelson: A Novel of Grant's First Campaign

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Prairie Rose Companion

Greetings from the northern prairies of Wisconsin, the land of cheese, bratwurst and beer! My name is Jim Landwehr and this is my first guest blog post for Prairie Rose Publications. When the call was put out to Prairie Sun authors I was excited to be considered and eventually chosen as a participant. I’ve been blogging for about nine years, and have really come to enjoy the feedback I’m getting from followers. My blog is not topical, but rather jumps from subject to subject. I describe it as the noise that’s in my head, which is more truth than fiction.

If you want to check it out, go to:

The focus for my posts to the Prairie Rose blog will be my writing journey. I’ll talk about the people, processes and events that brought me to where I am; a published author of two books and contributions to several magazines, journals and anthologies. My most recent successes were with Sundown Press, an imprint of Prairie Rose Publications. I’ll also try and highlight what I’ve learned along the way and point out some of the challenges I’ve faced.

Because this is my first post, I’ll start by telling you a little about myself. I was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. After my father was murdered in 1967, my mother was left to raise six of us on her own for many years until she remarried. Those single parent years, and the house I grew up in during the seventies, are the source of my next memoir, an as-yet untitled work in progress. They are also the source of two of my entries in the Memories From Maple Street, USA anthologies being offered on Sundown Press. (Leaving Childhood Behind and The Best Christmas Ever.)

I first realized that I loved to write in fourth grade. I used to make short story booklets out of half sheets of paper. Most of the stories were about adventure or disaster, and, for some reason, all of them had a moral. I remember Sister Patricia noticing that I was writing these on my own time and asking if I would mind sharing them in a shared classroom special projects drawer? To me, it was no big deal, but it was really then that I realized that not everyone liked writing as much as me.

My love for writing actually led me to my wife, in a roundabout fashion. When I first moved to Wisconsin in 1985, I was writing letters to my brother Rob, a student at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, New York. As a joke, he told four of his female friends to write me a letter. They did and he included all four of them in one of his letters to me. I replied to all of the young ladies, and only one kept writing back. We got to be pen pals and after a year and a half of writing, Donna paid a visit to Milwaukee. We spent the weekend together, fell in love and, well, the rest is history. We celebrated 25 years together last June.

We have two children, Sarah (20) and Ben (17) who are the source of all my pride and joy. We also have a dog Toby, a cairn terrier who is as stubborn as an old man, and two cats Chester and Isabelle. Unlike my children, these animals are the source of all my carpet and furniture ruination.
Toby at 12 Weeks.

So that is a bit about me and my story. In my next post I hope to share more as well as talk about how I began to take my writing seriously.

Thank you so much for following me. If you’d like more information about my writing, it is all on my Author page at:

See ya next month!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

On Confederates, Conquistadors, Crusaders, Carolingians, and Centurions

Christopher Columbus

As an amateur historian, I sometimes find it disingenuous to ascribe labels of "good" and "evil" to the motivations of people in the past, especially to demonize the heroes of those eras in order to promote political agendas of the present.  

For example, in my novel Harper's Donelson, Lieutenant Jamie Harper fights to restore the Union and is, at best, neutral towards the issue of slavery and a member of Bedford Forrest's staff quotes from the Bible as the justification for slavery.  In the same vein, Katie Malloy is a teen-aged prostitute who, we learn, would rather commit suicide than be forced to lay with a mulatto.  Are these views to be held against them by a modern reader?  I think not. 

Slavery has been part of the human condition since before civilization began and is still with us. The common morality in the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century, the era of Manifest Destiny, justified slavery under the belief that all non-whites were inferior species and not alternate races of the same species. Some religious denominations actually preached this belief from the pulpit. How can we expect the common man of the era to believe differently?

Yes, it is true that there were abolitionists who violently opposed  these views, but they were a minority.  Neither Jamie Harper or Katie Malloy pay attention to the politics of the abolitionists.  They are focused on the travails of their own lives.

So, are Jamie and Katie good or evil?  I believe they are an accurate representation of the values of that age.  They are people of their time.  I won't condemn them for not caring about the evils of slavery based on our twenty-first century values .  They don't live in my century.

The people of the past lived under different belief systems than we do in the present. I find it difficult to believe than most modern persons would behave any differently than they, had they lived among popular ideologies of the past.
Sean Gabhann

What are your thoughts?

Harper's Donelson is available from Amazon, Barnes and Nobel e-store, Smashwords, and Kobo.

Sean Kevin Gabhann is a Vietnam-era combat veteran of the US Navy.  He first became interested in American Civil War history during the centennial celebration and he owns an extensive library of primary and secondary material related to Civil War.  He especially wants to write about campaigns in the West because of a fascination with the careers of U.S Grant and W.T. Sherman.  Gabhann lives in San Diego, California with his wife, four sons, two daughters-in-law, three grandsons, three dogs and a cat named Pepper who sometimes thinks she’s a dog. 


Saturday, October 17, 2015


How often have you been enjoying a book, felt yourself drawn into another age and time, only to have the whole illusion shattered by an expression, an action or a reference to something that you know is of the modern time, but not of the age of the story.

An anachronism is a chronological inconsistency. If you know your subject, they jump out at you and often that will be it as far as your further enjoyment. The credibility of the story is lost and you may end up tossing the story aside. As a writer, especially a writer of historical works like western novels you have to protect yourself against this ailment. And indeed, ailment it is, since once you get used to letting them slip into your writing, you will tend to do it again and again.

Write about what you know
Every writer hears this at the start of their career. I certainly did, but I tended to misinterpret it. As a doctor I thought that it meant that I should write about medicine and surgery. If I wanted to write a crime novel then I should set it in a hospital, or have doctors as the main characters. The thing was that although I worked in medicine I certainly did not want to write solely about medicine. I wanted to write westerns, crime novels and historical stories for youngsters.

After several false starts and the usual rejections, surely the common coin of aspiring writers, it finally clicked with me. I didn't have to deal solely with the things I knew about, but I should use that knowledge in the story. So I wrote westerns and crime stories and used medical facts and descriptions in the tale, but not as the whole tale. I found that gave my writing a sense of authenticity. And I could then drip that authenticity into other areas of the story by good solid research.

And so, my advice is to put plumbing details in if you know about plumbing, or baking if you like to bake, or bungie-jumping, if you are so adventurous as to enjoy hurtling head downwards from tall buildings at great speed. you just t don't have to make it the whole point of the book or story. Think of it as the veneer of authenticity that makes the reader believe that you know your subject.

But check, whatever you do
Although I have a great interest in medical history, I still check if things are plausible in particular times. For example, I know that blood pressure was only starting to be appreciated at the end on the nineteenth century and that sphygmomanometers  (blood pressure measuring machines) only started to be use in the early twentieth century. It is a mistake to have a frontier doctor use one in the 1870s. Similarly, a doctor before the Civil War would not use a binaural stethoscope, that is a stethoscope with two tubes. He would use a single tubal device, like the other doctors of the time.

Two tubes would be wrong

One tube would be right

Get your psychology right
We tend to use words like depression, as if they have always been used. Yet in the nineteenth century the label melancholia would be used more frequently. A doctor would not pronounce about a patent's mental state in terms of ego, for Sigmund Freud did not come up with his model of the ego, id and super-ego until 1923.

This was all very much in my mind when I started out writing a monthly blog for Western Fictioneers. The aim was to write posts that my fellow writers could use to get medical and surgical facts right in their books. Then after some writers asked about whether certain injures could be treated in a certain way, or whether a disease could be fatal, or other things like how long it would take to die of thirst in the desert, it was suggested that a collection of such posts could be a useful resource for western, romantic and historical novelists. The result was my latest book The Doctor's Bag- medicine and surgery of yesteryear. I hope that it will help the writer avoid medical anachronisms in their tales.

As for anachronisms about weapons, clothing, things to eat, well I am continually looking for other posts to keep me right.

Keith Souter is a part time doctor, medical journalist and novelist. He writes westerns as Clay More and crime as Keith Moray. He is the current vice-president of Western Fictioneers. His latest book The Doctor's Bag has just been published by Sundown Press.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

#NewRelease -- THE DOCTOR'S BAG: Medicine and Surgery of Yesteryear by Dr. Keith Souter -- #Giveaway!

Write about what you know - that is the old piece of wisdom handed on to all budding writers. I am a doctor and have pretty well followed that advice throughout my writing career and find that it works for me.  I don’t mean that I only write about medicine and doctors. Apart from my medical and non-fiction writing I write fiction in four genres, but in them all I introduce some medicine or  surgery into the tale. It gives me an opportunity to give my stories some authenticity and credibility in telling what diagnoses and  treatments a doctor might give, or what injuries would be plausible.

When the Western Fictioneers started a blog I volunteered to write a  monthly post on 19th century medicine and surgery. The aim was to tell my fellow western writers about medical and surgical practice and provide information that they could use in their own novels and short stories when a character was shot, wounded or injured. Another aim was to show what things were not plausible, perhaps because certain instruments had not been invented, or because medical discoveries had yet to be made. In a nutshell, how to avoid medical anachronsms in their fiction. 

It has given me much pleasure to help my fellow writers with aspects of medical practice that they needed to include. There are all sorts of questions that crop up when we as writers put our characters into those tight corners. For example, you may want to know how to dig out a bullet or an arrow, or how to deliver a baby. And just why is the husband always sent off to boil some water, or why do you wait expectantly for that slapping noise in the other room before a newborn baby cries.

It was suggested to me that these posts should be collected as  a reference book for writers of historical and western fiction.  It was a suggestion that I could not refuse and I hope that the book may prove useful to my fellow authors.

“Bleed, blister and purge.”
Those words just about sum up the practice of medicine in the early 19th century.
The Doctor’s Bag is a compilation of posts on the medicine and surgery of yesteryear, written by western writer Clay More (under whose hat can be found his alter ego Dr Keith Souter, a medical doctor for almost forty years). The posts show the state of medicine and surgery in the 19th century, by delving into the doctor’s bag to look at what instruments, medicines and techniques were available back then.
In this book you will find information not readily available to writers and readers of historical fiction. You will find out exactly how a doctor would dig out a bullet or arrow, set a broken leg, perform an amputation, or deliver a baby. You will also find out about famous surgeons like Dr George Goodfellow, the surgeon to the Gunfighters as well as learn about snake-oil salesmen, phrenologists and some of the more exotic diseases that folk were subject to. 


Part 1    ARROWS
     Out on the frontier a doctor would have to be prepared to deliver babies, splint and fix broken bones, and dig out arrows and bullets. Tough work, if you then had to go and play poker and drink a little whiskey.
     In many a western a doctor is either called upon to dig out a bullet or arrow. He usually does so with some ease, depositing the missile in a tin bowl with a resounding clunk, a wipe of his brow and the message that “he’ll be all right now, once I patch up the wound.”
     But of course, in real life things are not quite as simple, so in this post I’m going to look at digging out arrows. In a later post we’ll talk about digging out bullets.

Dig it out, Doc!
     One of the best sources of information about arrow wounds in the modern era comes from a paper by Dr Joseph H Bill, an MD and Assistant Surgeon, published in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences, published in 1862. He wrote this paper from his own experience as a surgeon on the frontier. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army.
     He begins by describing how arrows are made, which is really crucial to the understanding of the problems involved with arrow wounds. Basically, the arrow has a shaft and a head. The shaft would vary in size from two to three feet, generally being made from dogwood. The head would be inserted into a slit and lashed to the shaft. The head would be made of iron, glass, obsidian or flint. It would vary in size from half an inch to two and a half inches in length, and about half an inch to three-quarters of an inch in width at the base.
     The lashing was done with tendons, which were tied tightly and allowed  to dry to tighten them further. This is also of importance to our understanding, because once an arrow penetrates the body the tissue fluids and blood would cause the lashing tendon to swell and come loose. Any attempt to pull the arrow out, as people were wont to do, would simply cause the shaft to come out, leaving the potentially lethal arrow-head inside the body. 
     Doctor Bill describes the relative frequency of arrow wounds. Wounds to the upper limbs were the commonest, because you could see an arrow coming and attempt to fend it off, only to sustain a wound, probably hitting and lodging in bone. Then came abdominal wounds, then chest, then lower limbs, then head, and lastly neck. Multiple arrow wounds were common, since a bowman could fire off six arrows per minute and once a person was hit once, they would be easy targets for the second and third.

Native American arrows
     The first thing to be assessed in Doctor Bill’s view was the depth of the arrow. He suggested that the length of the arrow shaft should be measured, so that this measurement could be deducted from the total length of the arrow. Navajo  and Utah arrows were made to two and a half feet. Apache, Comanche, Arrapahoe, Cheyenne, Kiowa and Pawnee arrows were made to two feet and three-quarters.

Treatment of arrow wounds
     In the initial examination  of the wound, with the arrow in situ, he would firstly assess whether the arrowhead was lodged in bone or not. To do this he would…..

Well, I’m sure you get the drift.

If you would like to be entered into a drawing to win a free ecopy of THE DOCTOR'S BAG, be sure and leave a comment.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Growing up is a miraculous time. The journey from the freedom of childhood to the workaday life of becoming an adult is filled with both poignancy and wonder. Fond memories of pedaling bikes through honeysuckle-scented streets with a pack of neighborhood friends and playing “kick the can” and stickball on warm summer evenings alight with fireflies are accompanied by the inevitable loss of people and places dear to the heart—and a seminal moment when we know we’re leaving childhood behind.

These are the stories of a turning point—when the world shifted, and nothing would ever be the same. In this first collection of the MEMORIES FROM MAPLE STREET, U.S.A., series, Sundown Press brings you real-life stories, from the touching to the humorous, the inspirational to the adventurous, and a wonderful group of childhood memories you’ll never forget.

When we came up with the idea for the MEMORIES FROM MAPLE STREET, U.S.A. series here at Sundown Press, we wanted to compile a group of books, each containing a wonderful set of stories. We invited anyone who had a story to share to send it in, and we got a LOT of stories.

This first volume, LEAVING CHILDHOOD BEHIND, was something we believed everyone could relate to in one way or another, since it’s happened to all of us. These stories of caring, loss, and of making a hard decision that may have changed everything, describe a single moment or a period of time that influenced these authors immensely.

We know you will be touched by the poignant, heartfelt moments shared in this volume.
Look for future volumes of MEMORIES FROM MAPLE STREET, U.S.A., both in print and digital formats. These make great gifts for others, and it’s a collection of books you’ll also want for your “keeper” shelf at home.

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MEMORIES FROM MAPLE STREET, U.S.A.—THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER! will be available in December, 2015, with three more titles to follow in 2016:

Friday, September 25, 2015

Harper's Donelson Now Available in Paperback from Amazon.

Just confirmed that Amazon has made available the paperback version of Harper's Donelson.  For some reason, you need to go to SK Gabhann Author's Page at Amazon to order because it does not yet show up in regular searches.

Sean Gabhann

Thursday, September 24, 2015

#New Release - Harper's Donelson by Sean K. Gabhann -- #Giveaway

Sundown Press releases my first ever novel today: Harper’s Donelson and the things going through the author’s head can only be imagined.  H. Donelson started out as the first section of a larger book which I wrote during the summer of 2011.  I had retired the year before and after making the rounds of the various pre-programmed “seniors” activities for six months, I decided that the time had come to pursue a life-long dream of writing about historical subjects. 
How hard could that be? After all, I had been a government engineer for many years and written numerous reports and personnel evaluations.  Novel writing would be the next easy step, right? 
So, just to be sure I knew enough about the writing and publishing world, I began taking a full course load at the UC San Diego Extension in January 2011 in order to cram as much learning as possible.  That summer I wrote the first draft of my wonderful novel: H. Shiloh.
In San Diego, we are fortunate to have a large and very supportive writing community.  During the scholastic year 2011-2012, I would regale my fellow students with the wonderfulness of my plot-heavy, male-oriented first draft.  I soon learned that there existed such things as character development arcs, GMCs, setting, pacing, etc.  So, while I went about incorporating all of this new knowledge into H. Shiloh, the book grew steadily until it became completely unpublishable by any sane organization.
In rapid order, H. Shiloh became two books: H. Donelson and H. Shiloh, then, because almost every woman who read the second chapter of H. Donelson demanded that Katie Molloy’s story be told, the Shiloh Trilogy came to be:  H. Donelson, H. Rescue, and H. Shiloh.  H. Fort Henry emerged from H. Donelson during a late edit and is now a freebie short story at my author’s website:
I am particularly blessed that Sundown Press publishes Harper’s Donelson today.  Meanwhile, I put the finishing touches on H. Rescue.

“The first book of this Civil War trilogy begins in the winter of 1862, as the nation is being ripped apart, with both Federals and Rebels seeing no end in sight and hoping for victory. 
“Lieutenant James Harper, a junior officer in the Union army, aspires to command a company – but faces his dismal future at the hands of an officer who will vindictively do whatever he must to keep Harper at the bottom of the heap.
“Katie Molloy, a young girl who has been sold by her father to the wily owner of a whorehouse, has settled into her new life as a saloon-girl – for the time being. She’s got big plans to get herself out of this predicament, and vows one day she’ll be more than the soldier’s whore.

“Corporal Gustav Magnusson, a young Quaker in Harper’s company, butts heads with Harper from the very beginning. But capture by the enemy forces them to work together to protect their men from sadistic rebel Captain Bell – who wants nothing more than to see his Yankee prisoners dead.
“Will General Grant’s campaign against Fort Donelson open the door for an ex-Federal marshal, a Quaker farmer, and a soiled dove from Iowa to make their mark in the world – if they live through it?

“Three lives intertwine against the backdrop of the battle which made Ulysses S. Grant’s reputation – a living hell where everything familiar fades, and the only thing that matters is surviving – however they can.”

            “Now, do it.” Harper waited while Magnusson signaled the three soldiers to close up and move into the trees: one on the left of the trail, with him and Magnusson, and two on the right. When they were in place with their rifles ready, Harper crept along the tree line beside the trail moving so Magnusson could see him.

The old sensations returned, the excitement of stalking a killer in the night, staying hidden until the last minute. Except this time, he would have only the sight of the enemy to have a victory. How close could he get without being seen? He would take it real damn close.

About half the distance from where he started and twenty yards from the road, Harper watched the shadows solidify into mounted men moving south in a column three riders across. Harper knelt down, drew his pistol from under his overcoat, and pulled the hammer back. When he did so, he noticed his silhouette from the moonlight, dark on the smooth snow.

Crouching low, he shifted so his shadow blended with a nearby tree. From there, he ran in a crouch from tree-to-tree, pausing at each stop before jumping to the next. Still, Harper saw no sign of a flank guard. Finally, he found a holly bush not more than ten feet from the road, still in leaf and sheltered in the shadow of an old oak. From there, he could see the details of the riders.

He had come this close and not encountered any flank guard for the column. The Rebels must be powerful tired to have forgotten to post a guard between themselves and the Federals on the ridge above.

From far away, Katie heard men yelling as her lungs filled with cool air. Warmth surrounded her naked body. Somewhere, a struggle went on, knocking against furniture and walls; it ended with a thud on the floor. Two sets of gentle hands rolled her over to raise her into a sitting position.

“Breathe, Katie. Breathe deep!” Loreena told her from somewhere to her right. Katie did so, opening her eyes.

“Hold your chin up high.” Eleanor sat on her left with her arm across Katie’s back. She cupped Katie’s chin, trying to clear her airway.

Eleanor stroked Katie’s hair. “There we are, chéri. It is all o-vaire.” Eleanor’s hand came away from Katie’s head with blood on it. She showed the blood to Loreena, who held Eleanor’s wrist high so Franklin Bosley could see.

“Take him down to the river,” Bosley told the others.

“Y’all can be just as sick as you want now, deah. It’s all ovah.”
Eleanor pulled the quilt more tightly around Katie’s body and held her in both arms. Eyes filling with tears, Eleanor said, “I’m so sorry, Katie dear. We should have come sooner.”


 Harper set his hat on the snow next to him and crouched lower, closer to the holly bush, until the points of its leaves pricked at his face. He watched the road through its branches while he breathed into his overcoat so condensation would not expose his position. While he watched, he slowed his breathing though his heart still beat furiously.

The horses in the column carried a wide variety of saddles and tack, ranging from full bridles to simple ropes tied around the horse’s muzzle or head. The riders allowed the horses to walk in the cold night but they covered ground swiftly. Some horses dripped water from their shaggy winter coats. Some carried two riders. A number of the ghostly riders rode mules. Harper could smell the wet, rangy animals.

He could not identify the riders’ uniforms with certainty. Like the tack on their horses, they wore a mix of military and civilian coats, cloaks, or slickers, some of it from the Federal army. The riders carried a variety of carbines, shotguns, rifles, muskets, and pistols in holsters attached to their saddles. A few carried swords or sabers. Taken all together, these signs told Harper this was a sizable force of Rebel cavalry.

The riders moved along in near-total silence. They would have appeared to be a column of specters in the moonlight, except for the occasional jangle from a bridle or a squish from a horse’s hoof in the mud. One rider wore the gold-braided “swallows nest” on his sleeve, the mark of a Confederate officer. Harper had his confirmation. These were Confederate cavalry moving south–out of the fortress, into the rear of the Federal lines. Harper allowed himself a brief moment of satisfaction at being right. Now, he needed to bring the information back to the battalion.

Pistol still in his right hand and his hat in the left, Harper inched back from the holly bush, watching to remain in the shadow of the oak tree beside it. Staying low to the ground, he edged around until the tree blocked the view from the road. He searched for the next bit of cover, saw a nearby tree which suited him, and crawled to it, using understory bushes for cover. Soft snow and mud oozed through the knees of his trousers.

He enjoyed this hide-and-seek. Like an Indian brave using a coup-stick, he touched the enemy by observing them and now would escape unscathed.

After ten yards or so, he came to a crouch while trying to determine if he was visible from the road. Too close. He crawled farther along the understory, deeper into the wood. If they saw him from the road, perhaps they would think they saw an animal. When he could not see the road anymore, Harper felt safe to stand in the shadow of the next tree. He looked around for any sign of a Rebel flank guard but saw nothing, so he walked to the next tree, using the slow caution he learned as a marshal.

Now, the night air carried the odor of unwashed humans. He turned to look deeper in the woods, his pistol ready. He sensed, more than saw, multiple dark shapes moving at him before stars exploded in his eyes. The blow to the back of his head drove him to the ground. Two bodies fell on top of him, pinning him in the snow. He jerked the trigger of his pistol, trying to send a warning shot. It fired into the ground, sending up a mound of muddy snow which covered the muzzle flash and smothered the discharge to a muffled thump. Another man yanked the weapon from his hand, leaving him helpless as the wetness of the snow began to seep into his overcoat.

“Lookee heah, boys. We got us a Yankee off-i-sah.”

To help celebrate the arrival of Harper’s Donelson, we are offering a free digital copy to someone who leaves a comment today.  You should leave your contact information when you post so we can deliver the e-book to you. 

Sean Gabhann

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