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: http://harperswarstories.com.
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.”___________________________________________
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