Mark your calendars everyone, the manuscript for Road to Antietam is approved and now being setup for print and ebook. It should be available on Amazon mid-August and larger distribution soon thereafter.
Private Christopher Galloway of the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry stood alone in pitch darkness, looking out on what appeared to be an empty field. It was a moonless night, and he couldn’t see anything before him but a flat landscape broken up by darker shapes he hoped were trees or large bushes. Behind him, a woodlot thick with second growth trees separated him from the camp.
Fresh out of training, this was their first night in the field. Christopher had the two-to-four shift for picket duty, which was the worst shift because the enemy could sneak up on you, unseen, and kill you before you could react. Or so he’d heard.
The feelings of isolation and fear reminded him of a hunting trip he’d gone on with his father and brother when he was ten. His first time camping, he did not know how easily he could lose his bearings in the woods at night. It had been a moonless night then as well when he woke needing to pee. Careful not to wake his father or Daniel, he got up and left the camp. When he finished, he turned to go back and realized he didn’t know how to retrace his steps. He froze, afraid of going the wrong way. The longer he stood still, the harder it was to breathe, and the heavier his legs became—taking a step suddenly seemed impossible.
The trees seemed to lean over him as they swayed in the wind, the sound of their rustling leaves like beasts pawing the earth. In his mind, every tree and bush hid a bear, or wolf, or worse-an Indian. It didn’t matter that there hadn’t been a hostile Indian in the area for almost fifty years, or that bears and wolves were nearly extinct. He knew they were out there, waiting to pounce. Christopher turned in circles, looking for any recognizable landscape marker or ferocious attacker. He saw neither.
His father, Jack, found him the next morning, curled up in a fetal position with his thumb in his mouth. Jack carried him back to the camp and set him next to the fire. When he tried to move away to put more wood on the fire, Christopher reached out and grabbed his coattail, shaking his head, his eyes wide and mouth open in a silent scream. Jack sat back down, draped his arm over Christopher’s shoulders, and squeezed him tight against his side.
Daniel built up the fire, cooked breakfast, and set a plate of flapjacks at Christopher’s feet. He sat down next to his brother but didn’t touch him or say anything. He just sat there, poking the fire with a stick.
After several minutes, Christopher’s hunger got the best of him. He crawled out from under his father’s arm, picked up the plate of flapjacks, and wolfed them down.
“There’s my boy,” Jack said, patting him on the back.
“Want some more?” Daniel asked.
Christopher nodded and looked up at his father. “I’m sorry, Da. I went to pee and didn’t know how to get back.”
“No harm done, son. You weren’t far from camp. You shoulda just hollered—one of us would have come got ya.”
“I was afraid,” Christopher whispered.
“Bah, there’s nothing to fear in these woods, son. In fact, with me and your brother about, you have nothing to fear from anything.”
“That’s right,” Daniel said, looking him in the eye. “Nothing as long as I’m around.”
Now, as Christopher stood in the dark field, he knew Daniel was somewhere nearby on the picket line. Their first time in the woods together in years. And, for the first time in years, Christopher remembered what it felt like to be alone and afraid, conjuring up hostiles behind every bush and tree. Only now they weren’t wild animals and Indians, but rebel soldiers.
Despite a chill that settled in as the night progressed, Christopher’s collar was wet with sweat, and he ran his finger under it to dry his neck. He wiped his hands on his jacket several times, but they still seemed damp and slippery, and he feared dropping his rifle.
A breeze came through the trees and set the landscape in motion. Christopher’s grip on his rifle tightened.
The tension combined with the quiet of the night and lack of sleep took their toll and Christopher started to sway, then jerked upright with a start. He tried marching back and forth, but it didn’t help.
Sleep filled his every thought—a sweet surrender from the fatigue, fear, and isolation that enveloped him. But if he slept, he might be killed or captured by the enemy or, if caught, shot by his own side. But worst of all, if they were attacked while he slept, he would be responsible for the destruction of his regiment.
Christopher closed his eyes. Only for a moment.
He smiled as he recalled the train ride from Camp Dennison. The men drank, sang, and bragged non-stop for two days. It was his first taste of alcohol and, once he got past the burning sensation, he found he liked it. It made him feel confident and in control.
In every town, people came out to line the tracks and cheer them on. In Zanesville, the citizens had even prepared a feast for the regiment. They were heroes, revered by all.
It was in Zanesville where he’d met Susan—who, unfortunately, bore the same name as that harpy Daniel wanted to marry. Though they only had a short time together, it was full of passionate affection that brought a tear to Christopher’s eye. When they parted, she’d given him a silk scarf and an apple pie she had baked herself. The last of the pie was consumed with last night’s supper, but the scarf was still in his pocket.
He retrieved the kerchief and ran it through his fingers. Its softness made him think of Susan’s hands in his as the train whistle blew and the drumbeat called him away. He held the cloth to his nose, closed his eyes, and breathed in her scent.
They parted with promises to write, and Christopher said he would stop and visit her on his way back from the war. Susan. Sweet Susan. Susan…His eyes flew open. He didn’t know her last name. How would they correspond if he didn’t have her full name? Angrily, he shoved the scarf back in his pocket.
The realization he’d been stupid enough to leave without getting Susan’s full name gave Christopher a brief charge. His thoughts flew from berating his forgetfulness to doubting Susan’s intentions of ever writing. But soon, even that couldn’t keep his eyelids from drooping and his head from falling down on his chest.
He jerked upright. He would not sleep.
He should have listened to Daniel and slept that afternoon instead of wandering the camp with Ezra, taking in the sights and visiting with the soldiers who’d already been in the field and seen action.
Christopher stamped his feet, shook his head and slapped his cheek. Though against regulations, he unbuttoned the top buttons of his shirt and jacket, hoping the cool air would help keep him alert.
“Well, Chris old boy, your first night in the field,” he said aloud. “Somewhere out there are men willing to kill you on sight. And all you can think of is sleep.”
Then he saw something move. A jolt of electricity shocked his body. All thoughts of sleep disappeared.
What he thought were bushes appeared to be moving. He brought his rifle up to the ready position and leaned forward, squinting to see better. Even after having plenty of time for his eyes to become accustomed to the dark, he still couldn’t make out anything specific in the landscape before him.
There it was again! He was sure now that something had moved. The “bushes” were no longer in the same place.
His rifle was loaded with ball and powder, bayonet fixed, so all it needed was a percussion cap to fire. Christopher reached down, unlatched the cap box on his belt, and reached inside with shaking fingers. He pulled out three caps and dropped one. He tried to put the extra cap back in the box but missed and dropped both the remaining two. Cursing, he reached in again and pulled out a single cap. He brought it up to his rifle, then realized that the hammer was down on the nipple. He had to secure the cap between his fingers before he could pull the hammer back to half cock. In doing so, he dropped that percussion cap.
Christopher looked up to see if whatever was moving had gotten closer. His breath caught in his throat when he realized it had. Whatever-or whoever-it was, it/they had covered half the distance to him while he was fumbling to cap his rifle.
Christopher made sure the rifle hammer was half cocked before pulling out another cap. He pushed it onto the nipple before he could drop it.
He brought the rifle butt up to the crook of his shoulder and raised the barrel until it pointed at the ground about five yards before him.
“HALT! Who comes there?” he cried. His voice cracked on the word halt and he felt his cheeks burn. He sounded like a frightened child.
No response, but now he had no doubt something was out there. The whole landscape appeared to be moving. What he thought were bushes were growing larger as they approached his position.
“HALT!” he repeated. “Who comes”
They charged. The ground shook and he heard metal clanging. In his minds eye, the shapes became a line of rebel soldiers, their canteens and tin cups beating against their sides as they ran. They let loose a mournful cry-almost as if they regretted having to kill him…
When people find out I’ve written a novel, they usually ask me either, “What made you decide to write a novel?” or, “Why the Civil War?” The answer to the first question is easy: It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a teenager. The answer to the second question is: Because I’ve been a history buff and fascinated with the Civil War and everything 1860s for as long as I can remember. But, if I were to be specifically asked, “What inspired you to write Road to Antietam?” the answer would be much more complex.
It all started when I read Antietam: The Soldiers’ Battle, by John Michael Priest. There are hundreds of books written about the battle of Antietam. There are battlefield guides, analytical studies, novels, and even what-if speculation. Almost all of them have one thing in common: they approach the battle from a high level, strategic view. Even most novels focus on the big-picture, either by making generals and politicians the main characters, or putting the main characters in situations where they are privy to major decisions and events.
But, what Priest did was something unique. He gives a chronological accounting of the battle through a series of stories told from the perspective of the common soldier, taken from letters and memoirs. With all those individual stories Priest shows the horrors and insanity of battle experienced by the men who fought on the fields of Antietam. But, by keeping things in chronological order, and providing an outline of what is happening at the beginning of each chapter, he still provides some big-picture perspective.
Not long after reading Priest’s book, I visited Antietam for the first time. Walking those fields and thinking about all those stories I knew I wanted to write a novel about that day. I just had figure out what that would look like.
The seminal Civil War novel of our generation is probably Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels. It seems to be the yardstick against which all other Civil War novels are measured (and usually found wanting) in Amazon reviews. The Killer Angels tells the story of the battle of Gettysburg from the viewpoint of the leaders on both sides. The cast of characters is comprised almost entirely of the actual leaders of both armies.
While I loved the book—and enjoyed Gettysburg, the movie it inspired—I knew that was not the kind of novel I wanted to write. It had already been done several times by Michael Shaara, his son, Jeff Shaara, Ralph Peters, and others.
Even novels not focused on the high command usually have officers as their main character. That way they can still provide the big-picture context through some believable interaction with the high command, or have the flexibility to pursue a secondary storyline, such as a romance.
No, I wanted to tell the story of the common soldier; to take the secondary character in all those other novels and make him the hero of my story. Line officers and regimental commanders would have their scenes where required, but I would relegate the high command to scenery—a distant figure on a horse or in a grand review.
The trouble was, if I took away all that big-picture information, the battle by itself would just be a jumbled mess with little context and no emotional investment to draw in the reader. He or she would need time to bond with the main characters and understand what they were going through. So, instead of a novel just on the battle of Antietam, I decided to tell the story of a single company in a single regiment, with the battle as the climax.
I live in Ohio, so I wanted the regiment to be from Ohio. I’d been re-enacting with the 6th Ohio Volunteer Infantry out of Cincinnati since moving here, but they fought in the western theater and were not at Antietam. But the 8th OVI, formed in the northern part of the state, fought at the Bloody Lane. The eighth’s commander was Franklyn Sawyer, from Norwalk, OH. Sawyer started out the captain of Company D. So, Road to Antietam is the story of Company D of the 8th OVI.
Sawyer is in the book, as are many others, such as Parker Bonnett, Charlie Locker, Ebenezer Bunce, John Reid, Alex Melville, and more. I wanted to include as many men of Company D as I could to give them their due, but I didn’t want to mis-characterize anyone, so I created fictional characters as the protagonists.
Next, I’ll talk about the main characters, Daniel and Christopher Galloway, and my primary source material for many of the events that occur in the book. Like the supporting characters, most of the scenes are based on (or at least inspired by) real events.
From the back of the book:
Tom Hicklin was born and raised in Colorado, and has had a strong interest in American history and the Civil War for as long as he can remember. After studying writing in college, he spent most of his adult life working in accounting or IT. He has since retired from the business world and, when not playing his guitar, is now concentrating on his two great passions—history and writing. He currently lives in Cincinnati with his girlfriend and partner and their two dogs.
That’s me in a nutshell. I grew up in Colorado, and that is where I spent most of my formative years. But I also lived in as varied of locales as Orlando, Florida and Seattle, Washington, before ending up in Cincinnati, Ohio where I worked for seventeen years in IT.
I’m almost sixty, so there is a lot more to the story. But, this site is not about me so much as it is about my work–Road to Antietam and those to follow. And that, dear reader, will be covered in future posts. TEH