Tearing down the Confederate statues

 

I remember as a child riding through Southern towns with my parents, and always searching for the statue of the Confederate soldier. When I was very young, my father had pointed them out to me and told me on road trips to look out for them.

To me, the statue was a tangible and expected memorial to the history of the War of the Rebellion, the war my father studied in the books sitting the table beside his chair; a war my great-great grandfathers fought in. The statues, to my young imagination, were a representation of my great-great grandfathers, one of whom donated his arm at Vicksburg to the cause of liberty.

I craved the statues of soldiers rather than a plain obelisk bearing only names, because in the faces of those statues I saw the faces of the dead in the old photographs from my father’s books. I frequently would lie on the floor and look at those picture in the books and try to imagine the lives of the corpses scattered on the recent battlefield; I would try to imagine who they had been and what they had lost.

The South was thoroughly beaten in the war. Sherman cut a swath through Georgia and the Carolinas, destroying property the entire way. The Army of the Potomac, and not much less the Army of Northern Virginia, ravaged the Virginia countryside. Veterans returning home near the battlegrounds in Virginia easily got lost as they found themselves in a landscape that in no way resembled the homes they had left in 1861. The men felled entire forests in service to their respective armies. Towns and homes and farms – all the familiar landmarks – were leveled.

Nearly all the battles fought happened in the seceded Southern states. Gettysburg and Antietam being the primary exceptions, the biggest fighting of the war occurred in Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi.

Like any beaten nation, the states that comprised the Confederacy suffered long after life in the Northern states returned to normal.

The Southern states were occupied and governed, at least initially, in the way that any victor would occupy and govern the land of a beaten foe.

Many efforts were made for swift reconciliation, and for some, that swift reconciliation came. Many of the South’s leaders went on to occupy elected office in the states or even the federal government. Others commanded black troops in service to the United States government.

But deep wounds festered in the South.

Politically and economically the South would not recover for two generations or more. Much of the South suffered in poverty for decades after the war. The blame, or much of it, can be laid not at the feet of the conquering Yankees, but at the feet of the Southern politicians who discovered that their political power was sustained by a weak and poor population. But so long as the Southern black was poorer than the Southern white, Southern politicians could be guaranteed reelection. Deepening the divisions of race to deflect attention from the solidarity of poverty was good business for white politicians.

Of course, the boll weevil and store credit played no small part in rural Southern poverty, but economics has a multi-faceted nature.

As the Confederate veterans aged, it became proper that they – and those who did not age – would be memorialized.

It does not require a vivid imagination to understand the motivations. Men and women who lost friends, cousins, brothers, sought to honor them. The sons and daughters of the aging Confederate veterans took up collections to raise statues to their fathers.

They did not erect statues to honor nameless and faceless heroes of the past, but to honor the people they knew and the people they lost.

In some instances, surely, the statues went up at the expense of the taxpayer and likely as not these were cynical (and successful) appeals for votes. Undoubtedly these statues also were intended as a defiant gesture against the Yankee government when Southern Democrats regained political control. That the statues were also intended as a message to freed slaves and their sons and daughters should not be ignored. That very defiance to the Yankee government told another tale to Southern blacks, a Jim Crow tale, and a warning of continued political oppression.

And so the question we must ask ourselves is whether it is right to continue to honor these Confederate dead, knowing as we do that their memorials in public places were often erected with the dual intention of telegraphing a message of defiance and oppression.

As much as some might want these statues to be lasting symbols of heritage and culture, the sad fact is that for many of our neighbors and our fellow Southerners, these statues are a constant reminder that their heritage at one time was the oppression of a people who equaled under the law only three-fifths of a man.

I cannot help but reach the conclusion that these statues should be removed from public squares and parks. I hate this, because for me personally these statues represent a tangible connection to the not-so-distant past, a past that thoroughly obsesses me.

But knowing that the statues hold a very opposite meaning for so many of my fellow Southerners, and believing that their view of these statues cannot be reconciled with mine, I see no way forward where everyone can be made satisfied and these statues left in place.

But it should not be the work of angry mobs, nor of politicians craving to garner the same cynical votes they craved a century ago.

The solution should come from the very people who erected the statues in the first place.

The Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy, the ones to whom the statues represent heritage and culture, should be given first right of refusal to receive back the statues they bought. And they should then mount the statues in private parks, or in museums or donate them to the Civil War Trust to put on battlefields where it might make sense.

And in places where these statues were erected by governments and not by private organizations, paid for by taxpayers, the Civil War Trust should be given the statues to put in appropriate places.

Whatever else these statues might have been, they are now forever a part of our history, a history that is complicated and often means vastly different things at the same time. The statues themselves are a part of our history beyond just what they represent. And history should not be lost nor ignored. But the place these statues occupy in our present should not be the places they presently occupy.

Public places – government places – must be places of equal access, and having statues of Confederate soldiers standing guard at courthouses and town squares is an inappropriate use of public property.

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Two years in the making, “In the Rush” is now available

My wife, and first reader, Jean models the Kindle version of “Jackson Speed In the Rush.”

I wrote the first Jackson Speed novel in 28 days. It was a mad dash of late nights, early mornings, writing at the dinner table. My wife Jean thought I had lost my mind, and she worried she had lost her husband.

Over the years I’ve started and never finished a lot of novels. Back in the mid-1990s I was writing a novel I was really excited about. I spent months writing the novel. It was an enormous tome. I don’t know for sure, but if I had to guess, it was probably around 150,000 words (by way of comparison, most of the Jackson Speed novels are fewer than 100,000) and it was not even close to being finished.

Then I lost interest and quit writing.

And I’ve done that a lot with different ideas I had for novels. For many years, I didn’t even try any more.

But when I first had the idea for the Jackson Speed novels, it was like an epiphany. I can’t describe how excited I was about the concept, and I was just desperate to get the story written. And I was worried that if I stopped long enough to take a breath I would lose my momentum, and poor Ol’ Speedy would go the way of all the other novels I’d ever started.

So I wrote feverishly and didn’t stop to take a breath.

It was a weird month.

I’m not saying that writing El Teneria in 28 days made it a better book, but I finished it. And published it.

Five years later, I’m really pleased to announce that I’ve now published the sixth book in the Jackson Speed series.

Jackson Speed In the Rush was two years in the writing.

It was not the feverish, non-stop writing marathon that El Teneria was.

When I first envisioned Jackson Speed – that morning I had the epiphany – there were four very specific books I planned to write about Jackson Speed’s life. I knew there would be (or could be) many others, but I had four specific episodes in mind.

In the Rush is the last of those four.

I knew I wanted to start Speed in the Mexican-American War. I knew I wanted him to be a Pinkerton spy saving Lincoln from the Baltimore plotters. I knew I wanted to put him at the Battle of Gettysburg. And I knew I wanted to send him to California as a Forty-Niner.

I also generally knew the story before I ever started writing it.

It’s hard for me to say, then, why this particular book took so long for me to write. One reason might be that I had to do more research for this novel than I have for the others.

Prior to writing Jackson Speed, my knowledge of the American Civil War was already vast. I’d read countless books on the subject, visited battlefields, watched documentaries. I am, obviously, what they call a “history buff,” and before Jackson Speed was ever an idea in my mind I had already done the bulk of the research for any novels set during the Civil War.

But In the Rush takes up episodes in history that were less familiar to me. My knowledge of the California Gold Rush and the Cherokee’s early days in Oklahoma was only surface knowledge. When I wrote Orange Turnpike and High Tide, ever bit of research material I needed was already on my book shelf in my office. But for In the Rush, I had to buy or borrow several books, and I spent countless hours on the Internet doing research.

In the Rush is slightly longer than High Tide, which up to now was the longest of the Jackson Speed books.

In the Rush is almost like two novels in one, with two distinct and separate stories being told. So readers may come away feeling like they’ve just read two novels.

If you’ve enjoyed the previous Jackson Speed novels, I don’t think you’ll find anything disappointing about Book 6 of the series. If you haven’t enjoyed previous Jackson Speed novels, you’ll like this one even less because it is a little bit longer.

And if you haven’t read the previous Jackson Speed novels, what are you even doing reading this? – Get yourself over to Amazon and start reading them!

So, if you’re ready for Book 6 of the Jackson Speed Memoirs, click here to get the Kindle version.

Sherman jokes are indeed too soon

Cump Sherman

With the fire and collapse of a section of bridge on I-85 yesterday, there’s been a lot of posting about William Tecumseh Sherman in the last 24 hours.

Sherman makes an appearance in the soon-to-be-released “Jackson Speed in the Rush.” Sherman biographers will know that the Yankee general made famous for burning Atlanta on his March to the Sea will know that in 1848-49 the young Lieutenant William Tecumseh Sherman was in California and played a small role in the California Gold Rush.

I learned some interesting things about Sherman during my research, not least of which is that his friends all called him “Cump,” a shortened version of his middle name.

I’ve seen lots of jokes floating around Facebook about Sherman and the burning of Atlanta. My favorite is the photo of Sherman with the caption: “Police have released this photograph of a suspect in the I-85 fire.” Invariably, someone will post: “Too soon.”

But I think it’s important to remember that for many people, these jokes are “too soon.” My personal authority on the Old South has many times reminded me that when Sherman and those damn Yankees marched through Georgia they devastated lives and property, and generations later some have not forgotten. In fact, my personal authority on the Old South has told me how he used to hear stories from the old-timers (who got it from older-timers) of how the Yankee soldiers entertained themselves.

It was common back in the old days that peacocks roamed the streets in some small Southern towns. Some people kept them as pets and allowed them to roam at will. In fact, I used to live down the road from someone who had a couple of peacocks as pets, and they were constantly coming into the yard, honking and aggravating my dog.

My friend and Old South authority said that when Sherman came through, the Yankee soldiers entertained themselves by shooting these peacocks for sport.

“They shot the peafowl,” he says, and the generational sorrow is thick in his voice.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t be able to have their fun on Facebook or that there’s not some humor to the joke that Cump Sherman set the fire that shut down I-85, but don’t dismiss those who say it is “too soon” as idle jokers. Some wounds take hundreds of years to heal, and Sherman’s gash across the face of Georgia is still a raw scar.

They shot the peafowl.

Researching travel in the 1800s

Toll house and toll road from the 1800s.

Toll house and toll road from the 1800s.

As I research and write the Jackson Speed Memoirs, one of the things that really fascinates me is the transportation of the era.

Anyone familiar with the books will know that typically the books unravel along a physical journey, and Speed rarely finishes a book in the same place he started it. So I end up spending a lot of time figuring out how a 19th Century scoundrel would get from here to there.

Transportation in the 19th Century was a crazy slow mixture of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and determination.

For instance, in the earliest days of train travel, it was not uncommon to have a bolt in the floor of the train car come loose from the vibrations and shoot into the air. Train passengers were sometimes injured by these flying bolts. And those early trains did not have cushioned seats, so passengers bumped and jerked over rails while sitting on flat wood benches or chairs. I imagine train depots probably presented a comical sight of stiff-backed travelers trying to stretch out the kinks.

The very first trains, going back to the early 1800s, consisted of nothing more than stagecoaches hooked to an engine.

Water, of course, was hugely important to travel. The rivers truly were our first highways.

I once came across some information about a river that I frequently travel in my canoe. The Oconee River, which runs from north of Athens, Ga., to South Georgia where it helps form the Altamaha River and goes out to the Atlantic, is a narrow river full of shoals and sandbars, and once or twice a month I can be found in my canoe paddling the Oconee around Athens.

In the early 1800s, the Oconee had significant boat traffic from the sea up to Dublin, Georgia. Above Dublin, the Oconee passes through Milledgeville (which was the antebellum state capital).

For more than a decade, every spring, tens of thousands of dollars and countless man hours were wasted trying to clear the Oconee of obstacles from Dublin to Milledgeville so that boat traffic could move up to the state capital. Typically in a season they would only be able to float a small handful of ships up river. The river north of Dublin was just too shallow for boats. They would dredge the sand and clear deadfall and even blast rocks, but the work would only clear the river long enough to allow a few boats to get to Milledgeville.

In Indiana there was an even bigger boondoggle in the making.

In the mid-1830s the Indiana general assembly passed a bill allocating $3.5 million to the construction of the Indiana Central Canal. Intended to run 296 miles from the Wabash and Erie Canal to the Ohio River, only 9 miles were ever completed (near Indianapolis) and another two dozen miles were dug. The project nearly bankrupted the state.

In the 1900s, the completed portion of the canal at Indianapolis was used to provide drinking water for the city, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

In researching the Jackson Speed novels, I dig pretty deep into the history of transportation, and I am constantly amazed by what I learn. Mostly, I am amazed at the ingenuity of the human race.

In Jackson Speed and the Fugitive Slaves, Speed flees slave hunters aboard a flat boat.

Big rivers – the Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, and others – were littered with these flat boats. They were large barges built almost like house boats, and farmers would pack these boats with livestock and produce and float them down the rivers (Abraham Lincoln once floated a flat boat down the Mississippi).

Typically when they arrived where they were going, these farmers would sell their boats and walk home. Sometimes the boats would be dismantled and the lumber used to construct homes or barns. Sometimes people would live on the boats on the river. Sometimes they would hitch the boats to steamships and carry them back upstream.

Especially in the novels set prior to the Civil War, my ability to get Speed from one place to another is very limited. I have several period maps I use that show the rail lines in the 1840s and 1850s, and the railroads of the day were a bizarre mishmash of ties and rails. Particularly as a line was being constructed, it was possible to arrive halfway along your journey only to discover that to complete your trip you would have to find some other mode of travel because the tracks had not yet been laid all the way to your destination. Speed encountered this particular dilemma when he arrived in Chattanooga in Fugitive Slaves.

But of course there was always some other way. A canal, a steamship, a stagecoach, or a horse would get you where you needed to go.

Another aspect of travel at the time that interests me is that most of the roads of the early- to mid-1800s were toll roads that were privately owned. While toll bridges proved to be successful private ventures – because evading the toll was quite a challenge when crossing a river – toll roads were less successful as private ventures. Toll jumpers, known as “shunpikers,” were common, and the roads were often chartered by the government with lots of regulations. People who lived within a mile of the tollhouse were not to be charged; people on normal family business were not to be charged; people going to and from church were not to be charged.

Between the no-charges and the shunpikers, private toll roads struggled to make money.

By the early 1900s, local and state governments were taking over roadways and the private toll roads were soon to be a thing of the past.

The history of travel in the United States is fascinating to me, and it’s easy for me to get lost in the research as I try to move Jackson Speed from one place to another without benefit of interstates, cars driving 75 mph or airplanes.

In some of the novels, such as Jackson Speed and the Fugitive Slaves, the physical journey the characters make is as important as to the story as anything, but in other novels, the travel is merely a necessary part of the story. In Fugitive Slaves, I spent hours and hours researching roadways, river and train travel of 1853.

In the novel I’m currently writing, Jackson Speed in the Rush, Speed makes one of the biggest journeys in the history of our nation – the Overland trip to California. I spent a massive amount of time researching the trip, but the novel is not about that journey and it only takes up a chapter of the book.

I think my fascination with early travel stems from a family story I heard many years ago. There is a letter that survived from when my Peecher ancestors moved from Virginia to the Midwest in the early 1800s (before the war). In the letter, one of the women making the journey wrote of traveling over the Appalachian Mountains, and she noted that one evening as they camped they were able to see across the valley to the spot where they had camped the previous night. It was a long, slow process to travel any distance.

And while I certainly don’t lament the advances and improved efficiency of travel from those days in the 1800s when Jackson Speed was traipsing about, I do find a certain nostalgia in the slower, simpler modes of travel of 150 years ago.

Speed’s English ancestry

Allan Pinkerton, America's first detective, was born in Scotland. The Pinkerton in the Speed novels is a Partick Thistle fan.

Allan Pinkerton, America’s first detective, was born in Scotland. The Pinkerton in the Speed novels is a Partick Thistle fan.

I’ve written before that the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser provided much of the inspiration for Jackson Speed, and there is no question that the Jackson Speed books are similar to the Harry Flashman novels.

The character type – the roving rascal, the womanizing coward, the historical bully – is inspired by Fraser’s Flashman. I also employed the same tool of holding out the novels as “found” memoirs. It is a fact, too, that Jackson Speed was dreamt up while I was re-reading Flashman (for the third time) and reading Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative.

But the deeper I get into writing the Speed novels, the less I think I rely on Flashman and the more Speed has become his own person. I’ll admit, when I wrote the first Speed novel, “El Teneria,” the voice speaking to me in my head was more Flashman than Speed.

But I’ve found, particularly with “Orange Turnpike” and “High Tide” and now as I write the fifth Speed novel, that the voice I hear in my head is Speed’s voice.

It helps, too, that having written him through Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, I think Speed is more American now than he was in “El Teneria.”

Let me explain: Even though I live in rural Georgia, a British accent is a commonplace thing for me. I know several guys who are English and living here. I play soccer with them all the time. I watch English Premier League soccer and Scottish Premiership soccer, so the announcers all have English or Scottish accents. I follow on Twitter and Facebook many fans of the Scottish soccer team Partick Thistle, and I read their tweets and posts every Saturday morning. And because we’re all Partick Thistle fans, I get to read a lot of cussing, so much so, that I even gripe and moan and complain with a Scottish accent these days (liberally laced with “fook” and “pish” and “shite”).

I watch Top Gear and, at least when I wrote “El Teneria,” I watched a lot of Doctor Who and even Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.

So, I may speak with a Southern drawl and I may be surrounded by Southern accents here in rural Georgia, but I am still constantly exposed to various British accents.

And because Jackson Speed was so heavily influenced by Harry Flashman, I think Speed started life with more of an English influence than I ever intended.

But the more I write (and gain confidence in my own character and my own writing), the less Flashman influences Speed. My character has grown into his own. And he’s developed his own voice, with a properly Southern accent. It helps, too, that he’s been through some very American experiences and been hanging out with very American people. I mean, how can you keep your English influences when you count among your friends people like Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee?

Without question, Jackson Speed traces his lineage back to England, and his ancestors are Harry Flashman and the guys from Top Gear and Premier League announcers, but I think he is now fully and completely American and, more importantly, Southern.

Nevertheless, I continue to owe a debt of gratitude to my fellow Partick Thistle fans on Twitter and Facebook (and the Scottish sitcom “Still Game”), and they will continue to find their way into the Jackson Speed books. I get my Allan Pinkerton dialect from Partick Thistle fans. Pinkerton, of course, pre-dates Partick Thistle’s founding, but I am confident America’s first detective would have been a Thistle supporter.

The fifth book is coming along very well now. Speed is currently hanging out in Indian Territory with Stand Watie, but he will soon be making his way west to encounter Joaquin Murieta.

Jackson Speed proves too risque for teenagers

whitman leaves of grass

Last night my oldest son and I were shooting some video for another project, and he had the idea of shooting video of me reading from one of my novels.

I thought immediately of one of my favorite scenes from a Jackson Speed book – the Baltimore ball in “Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs” where Speedy is attempting seduce a Baltimore Belle by reading poetry to her. The book at hand is Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. So Speed picks it up and begins to read aloud to a gathering of ladies.

It is outrageously funny to me that Speed, a Pinkerton agent attempting to save president-elect Abraham Lincoln from the vicious gang of assassins, the secessionist Blood Tubs, is using the poetry of abolitionist Walt Whitman to woo these Baltimore belles.

The scene makes me laugh every time I think about it.

But not everyone thinks it’s funny.

When I first started writing the Jackson Speed novels, my sons were young enough that my wife would not let them read my books because of the sexual content. I’ve never thought the books were particularly graphic, but I admit my sensibilities are a little more jaded than some.

The boys, now older, will agree that the content of my novels is no more graphic than the latest Eric Church song, but because the books were written by their father, they are completely freaked out by even the hint of sexual innuendo that came from their dad’s imagination.

So my sons have never read any of my novels.

And when Harrison looked over my shoulder at what I was going to read for the video last night, he completely freaked out. He caught a line that made him more than a little uneasy. He’s 19-years-old, but he went running from the house and dragged his 14-year-old brother with him.

What Harrison doesn’t know is that the offending line was not from his father but instead came from Walt Whitman.

If you are familiar with Leaves of Grass, you’ll know that the thing would make Hugh Hefner blush. When it was first published in 1855, Whitman was working for the Department of the Interior. Interior Secretary James Harlan fired Whitman after reading it. In 1882, Boston’s District Attorney threatened Whitman with local statutes against obscenity. Whitman’s publisher even dropped the book at one point.

I probably will not produce or upload the video. Something about teenagers running from the house shakes my confidence. But if you think you can handle erotic poetry from the 1850s and you see the humor in a Southern Pinkerton agent wooing secessionist women with abolitionist poetry, maybe you should give Jackson Speed a read.

Maybe I’ll try to find a tamer scene from one of the books to read for a video, one that won’t assault my sons’ fragile sensibilities. Maybe the scene where the Blood Tubs torture the army spy.

Great launch for Jackson Speed at the High Tide

Jackson Speed at the High Tide: Volume IV of the Jackson Speed Memoirs

Jackson Speed at the High Tide: Volume IV of the Jackson Speed Memoirs

In the past three years I’ve launched eight books or short stories – four Jackson Speed novels, a couple of Moses Calhoun short stories, Iron Curling Ale and Four Things My Wife Hates About Mornings.

The launch of Jackson Speed at the High Tide has been the best so far.

The book went live on Amazon as a Kindle ebook last week and I made no announcement at the time. I was waiting for the paperback to be live before I started any promotions. Nevertheless, within a couple of hours of the book going live, someone in the United Kingdom bought one of the books!

If you think that doesn’t make me feel like the John Grisham of the War Between the States, then you are dramatically underestimating the value of the sale of one $3 ebook.

I’m still not sure exactly how so many people in the United Kingdom found the Jackson Speed books, but every time I get a royalty check in British pounds I am so grateful to my English speaking cousins.

Sales for High Tide have been surprisingly good these first few days, and I’m trying very hard to improve my marketing efforts. My hope is there may be some folks coming to see Jackson Speed for the first time.

If that’s you, I’ll offer a little background: Jackson Speed was born in the spring of 2013 while I reading Shelby Foote’s “The Civil War: A Narrative.” By a happy coincidence, I was splitting time between two books that May, Foote’s Civil War book and George MacDonald Fraser’s first Flashman novel. This was my third or fourth time reading Flashman.

I came across a passage – not more than a paragraph or two – where Foote described the efforts of the famous private detective Allen Pinkerton and “a female spy” who saved Abraham Lincoln’s life from an assassination plot prior to Lincoln taking office. Foote named the group planning the assassination as the “Blood Tubs.”

My imagination exploded. It was Fraser’s influence on me that did it. In an instant, I saw the entirety of Jackson Speed’s life form in my mind, and that morning I started writing the first Jackson Speed novel. That one was Jackson Speed: The Hero of El Teneria, and I introduced the lecherous young coward from the Mexican-American War in that book. It was followed up by the book that inspired the series – Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs.

Volume III of the Jackson Speed Memoirs (Jackson Speed on the Orange Turnpike) leads directly into Volume IV – the latest in the series.

If you’re new to Jackson Speed, my intention was to write a series where you could pick up any book and start from there, and you certainly do not have to read them in the order they were written.

I suppose the books are popular in the United Kingdom because of the Flashman influence. It must be that the Brits just love a cowardly, lecherous scoundrel. No shame in that. I love them, too.

I’m pleased to say, though, that my domestic sales have picked up quite a bit over the past few months, and now that Jackson Speed at the High Tide is done and dusted, I’m working on Volume V – Jackson Speed in the Rush! This one will go back in time in Speed’s life, and readers will discover how he made his fortune in the California Gold Rush of ’49.

Texas Ranger, Forty-Niner, Pinkerton Detective, Yankee spy, Confederate officer, Wild West Gunslinger … Jackson Speed may be all these things, but if you read his memoirs you discover that he’s also a cowardly adventurer, a rascal, and a womanizer.

As one reader stated in a review, “The history is true and the fiction is fun!”

So check out the Jackson Speed novels if you like your heroes to be cowardly, and if you enjoy what you read, I’d love to hear from you!