It has been my long-time dream to write a book. Now I have published over two dozen and am in the process of writing several more.
Here’s a little background on me. I guess I just blossomed late.
I live in Charles Town, West Virginia, close to most of the sites of these books. I write about the Civil War, so my area of influence is probably somewhere between Gettysburg, PA and Lexington, VA. I have been involved in public speaking for years and years. Since 2006, I have presented or set up over 1,000 times in 23 states and the District of Columbia. I speak at libraries, schools, civic organizations, Civil War Round Tables, book clubs, and to most anyone who will listen. I speak for free to nearby locations and schools but do require a fee and expenses when I have to travel far or stay overnight. (Note — Free programs do not include my historical impersonation of Lincoln’s bodyguard, which requires a fee).
My interest in history goes back to a trip in 1958 to Galesburg, IL where I attended the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Carl Sandburg was the featured speaker. I have worked full time and part time as a newspaper reporter, and at various jobs — many that required writing press releases, news articles, or reports. My first published article was when I was in 7th grade – in an Illinois Historical Society for junior high students.
While Director of Tourism in Washington County, Maryland, I became involved in touring local places like Antietam Battlefield and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. I was hooked. My staff thought I was an expert, but really I knew just enough to get by. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.
Along the way I was privileged to work with Superintendent Rich Rambur at Antietam Battlefield. He allowed me to start two marvelous events at the national park that are still going strong and in their third decade. Those events are the Independence Concert at Antietam Battlefield in July and the Memorial Illumination at Antietam Battlefield in December. Fortunately for me and the community, Rich was an “out of the box thinker” and didn’t get the government manual out and just say “those things aren’t allowed in National Parks”.
I have always collected books on three historical characters — Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth and John Brown. Imagine my surprise when I ended up living in Charles Town, West Virginia — a place John Brown and John Wilkes Booth had both visited in late 1859. That was the inspiration for the first novel “The Perfect Steel Trap Harpers Ferry 1859”. The book has been named a Finalist in the 2006 Best Book Awards by USA Book News.
The inspiration for my second novel “The Virginian Who Might Have Saved Lincoln” was the intrigue of finding a local man, Ward Hill Lamon, who was a close friend of Abraham Lincoln. Most people I talked to had never heard about him. Even though he is mentioned in most non-fiction books about Lincoln (there are 44,781 listed on Amazon.com), no book has ever been written about him. I think it is my charge to bring his name to light. That book is also available as an unabridged audio book – with 5 CDs and a running time of 6:01. The audio book has been given two national awards – it was named runner-up in the National Indie Excellence Awards and was named a finalist in the 2008 Best Book Awards by USA Book News. Since that time I have also found Lamon’s unpublished manuscript at The Huntington Library in California and purchased rights to publish it. The book “The Life of Abraham Lincoln As President” was published in 2010. I did the editing, adding over 1,700 footnotes to his work and an extensive bibliography. That book was also named a finalist in the Indie Book Awards for 2011.
My third novel, “Catesby: Eyewitness to the Civil War” is my favorite book. Catesby has been called “the Forest Gump of the Civil War”. Catesby, a blacksmith and slave to Lewis Washington, great grand-nephew of George Washington, is a real man who I put in real situations so he can tell you what happened there. One of those places he describes is on the wagon driving Alexander Gardner, photographer at Antietam battlefield. Another of those real places is Andersonville Prison. “The Return of Catesby” is the sequel to that book.
My fifth novel is a story that many people know the ending to, but not the beginning to – the Jennie Wade, Culp brothers story of Gettysburg. “A House Divided Against Itself” follows Jack Skelley, Wesley and William Culp through their enlistment and war service before they end up back in Gettysburg. So now, as Paul Harvey would have said “You know the rest of the story.”
My sixth novel “The Amazing Legacy of James E. Hanger, Civil War Soldier” is the story of the first amputee of the Civil War and his life, including the start up of a company. He is to the prosthetics industry what Henry Ford was to the automobile insustry, but is virtually unknown to the average person. Hanger was one of about 75,000 amputations during the war. Hanger Inc. today is 156 years old and is the largest manufacture of orthodics and prosthetics in this country.
My seventh novel “Southern Oasis at Gettysburg” is about the Daniel Lady Farm, the northernmost Confederate hopsital in the American Civil War. The book was completed in 2016. The farm is also the only Confederate site still open on a regular basis to the public. The hospital cared for the wounded of Major General Edward Johnson’s division of the Army of Northern Virginia from fierce fighting at Culp’s Hill.
My eighth novel is “Harriett Lane The Original First Lady of Washington” — the story of the niece of unmarried President James Buchanan, who was Harriett’s uncle. Harriett’s parent had both died by the time she was eleven years old. Harriett’s mother was James Buchanan’s sister.
My ninth novel was published in March 2019 — “Dennis Hart Mahan Military Tactics Instructor at West Point”. In keeping with the idea that I like to write about unknown but significant characters of the American Civil War, Professor Mahan, who taught at the academy for 41 years, certain fits the bill. His influence comes from the fact that he taught military tactics to over nine hundred West Point cadets who fought in the war, including over four hundred fifty generals. In sixty major Civil War battles, a West Point grad commanded one or both armies.
With Professor Mahan’s influence came criticism. He was blamed for many of the early war casualties because he taught the soldiers to fight in lines, as Napoleon had preached. In the book, Mahan defends himself and tells the reader who and what might have also shard some of that blame.
More recent novels include “Recollections of Michael Minnihan of the 105th Illinois Infantry” the story of my great uncle’s war experiences; “Veil of Secrecy Mrs. Slater the Missing Lincoln Conspirator” about a little-known courier of the Confederacy who was tied in with John Wilkes Booth and John Surratt, Jr; “The Greatest Gun of the Ages — Lorenzo Sibert’s 48-shot Repeating Rifle 1861” about an incredible invention that may have shortened the war and perhaps even changed the outcome; “Catesby — The Final Chapter” part three of the Catesby trilogy: and several books of my new trial series of person who never went to trial — “The Trail of John Wilkes Booth” and “The Trial of Jefferson Davis” are the first two.
I have also published five non-fiction books. “The U.S. Colored Troops at Andersonville Prison” is the untold story of 105 black prisoners in that famous Confederate prison. Since then I am also tracking black prisoners at all the other Confederate prisons (there were 51 prisons) and have found over 2,600. A book has been published on that topic too. My book on the formation of the state of West Virginia, “Countdown to West Virginia Statehood” was published in time for the 100th anniversary of that occurrence in June 2013. Another non-fiction book was a tribute to Ranson for their Centennial called “The History of Ranson, WV –1910-2010.”
“The Murphy Farm: Refuge from Racism” is the non-fiction account of a farm that was recently added to the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. General A. P. Hill’s men flanked the Union troops on Bolivar Heights and led to General “Stonewall” Jackson’s capture of over 12,500 men, the largest surrender in the American Civil War.
“The Life of Abraham Lincoln As President” is a book that was originally written in the 1880s by Lincoln’s bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, but was never published. I found the manuscript in 2007 in the Huntington Library in California. I purchased the rights and published the book in 2010 with my footnotes.
I recently published two children’s books, expertly illustrated by Sheena Hisiro. The first is called “I was a Drummer Boy in the American Civil War”. It is the story of the nephew of my great uncle who marched with Sherman’s army in his “March to the Sea” as a member of the 105th Illinois Infantry. My second children’s book, “The Blind Boy Who Helped Save the Union” puts my grandson, Kyle, into a Civil War story. Kyle was born blind and attends the Maryland School for the Blind.
I graduated from Dixon High School in Dixon, Illinois and have a Biology degree (go figure) from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. I live close to my son, Craig, and my daughter, Kelli, and my seven grandchildren.
Besides writing, I also do volunteer work for various organizations and write for several local and region publications. I am also a regular on the radio program “Panhandle Live” on WEPM in Martinsburg
Current books I am working on include a book that will be the prequel of “The Perfect Steel Trap Harpers Ferry 1859” — this story of John Brown’s men, what they were doing in their lives when they met John Brown and how they got became his raiders; and three more of the trial series including “The Trial of Nathan Bedford Forrest”; “The Trial of Colonel Dixon Miles” and the last one, out of my normal Civil War genre — “The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald”.