This novel was a very long time in coming but was probably inevitable. Like many Southerners of my generation, my childhood was steeped in family stories of ancestors’ activities during the War of Northern Aggression. Northerners don’t seem to share this experience in quite the same way, perhaps because the war was fought, for the most part, in the South. This then is a Southern novel, written from the Southern perspective. It couldn’t have been otherwise.
In a larger sense, however, the story told is universal. Young men going off to war. Unlike those in a similar situation today, they weren’t as well trained, equipped, or fed. Nor were they as likely to survive the experience. But they went in any case, and most of their hopes, fears, and dreams are timeless.
The generation that lived through the war was special. For a brief time their activities were bigger than life itself, made that way by a conflict that transcended any mortal’s ambitions or expectations. Now so remote, they were real. They lived, loved, fought, and died, becoming, in the process, the stuff of everlasting legend. We will truly never see their like again. The war touched them all in ways so profound that those who survived struggled the remainder of their lives to understand what it meant. We can scarcely now, generations later, comprehend its true meaning.
This book is an attempt to reach back and touch them. To portray a world that no longer is. They are all gone now, but don’t be fooled by the relics of the past that were once theirs. There was a time when the leather was supple, the metal untarnished, and the cloth strong and unfaded. Once they were here, and it is sometimes difficult to realize that there was once a time when they too were young. A time when their lives lay before them, and what is now our distant past lay in their future, but it was so. In one sure sense they are all immortal–as long as we remember.
Tom Holloway actually lived and was my uncle. I retrieved his war records from the National Archives. Otherwise, all that survives is a single letter, a badly faded photograph, and some family stories. Sometime during the late 1950s relatives moved and, to my eternal regret, an Aunt tossed an entire packet of Tom’s letters home into the trash. As a result, much of what Tom became in this book had to flow from my imagination. It is my hope that I have done him and the other real-life characters some measure of justice. Artimous, Amos, and Jonas are composites of actual students drawn from letters, diaries, yearbooks, and military records.
General Robert Hatton was real, and events relating to him actually happened and were largely drawn from James Drake’s Life of General Robert Hatton. Tom Holloway and Wiseman Davis did carry his body off the field at Seven Pines as described. The Fite brothers were also actual people, serving as described. In fact, the unpublished memoirs of Colonel John Fite were among my best sources of information on the more interesting events concerning the activities of the Seventh. The scene involving the uncoupled railroad car, the shooting down of the Yankee balloon, the porpoise thought to be a Yankee, and Bill Seely’s race with the mule at Fredericksburg all came from Fite’s memoirs. My debt to the colonel is enormous.
Fergus Harris, Tom’s company commander, was also real. He survived to write a series of articles for the local newspaper, the Lebanon Democrat, shortly after the turn of the century describing the activities of the Seventh Tennessee in Virginia. Many of the experiences he related were incorporated into this narrative. Thanks, Fergus.
Sergeant Eli Small is fictional, but I wish he weren’t. I like that man. The same can be said of my women, Caroline Steuart and Lucinda Martin. I just hope the real Tom did half as well with the women in his life, but I doubt he did. There aren’t nearly enough Carolines or Lucindas out there to go around and never have been.
The descriptions of wartime Richmond come from General Lee’s City by Richard M. Lee and from personal visits to the city and surrounding area. The battle scenes are from descriptions of participants as found in diaries, letters, and a variety of secondary sources. The Official Military Atlas of the Civil War and numerous other maps were used to handle the geography of the conflict.
The major events herein described are mostly a matter of established record. The Seventh Tennessee Regiment was where I describe it, when I describe it. Arriving in the eastern theater of the war too late to participate in the first battle of Bull Run, the men missed little that transpired thereafter. Though the book ends at Gettysburg, the story of the Seventh does not. By the time of Appomattox, there were only forty-seven survivors.
Finally, there is the matter of thanking those who helped with this project. These things are never the result of just one person. The danger is, always, that someone will be left out, so I’ll simply put it this way–thanks to you all. When you read this, I hope you will feel your contribution was worth it.