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Inquiry about a writing project

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  • M. E. Heatherington
    Dear Group: This is a long note, but I hope you will want to read it anyway. I am asking for advice. My project is a novel based on B. H. Grierson’s
    Message 1 of 2 , May 13, 2000
      Dear Group:

      This is a long note, but I hope you will want to read it anyway. I am
      asking for advice.

      My project is a novel based on B. H. Grierson�s April-May 1863 cavalry raid
      through Mississippi. Since it�s fiction, I�m not planning a Michael
      Shaara-style approach, but I want to avoid Margaret Mitchell�s shallow
      offensiveness. Think, as modern analogues, of Charles Frazier, Harry
      Turtledove, or John Jakes (without, I hope, the clunky writing).

      The protagonist, named Barton Willoughby, is a giddy young beau fresh out of
      Yale, aglow with Scott�s heroic posturing, cheerful, charming, but callow.
      He will of course acquire experience, and become disillusioned about the
      supposed glamour of cavalry warfare; but along the way, he -- and, I hope,
      his readers -- will have a cracking good time with this most dashing and
      important, as Grant called it, of Union cavalry raids.

      Here�s what I�ve done to prepare for the historical aspects of the book:

      -I�ve read D. Brown, the Leckies, Underwood, Bearss, and Starr. I�ve read
      most of the usual modern overviews (e.g., Catton, Foote, Nevins) and the
      contemporary military theorists (e.g., Hardee, Jomini, Cooke). I�ve read
      Grant�s and Sherman�s memoirs. I�ve read Harriet Beecher Stowe. I�ve even
      read as much of Walter Scott as I can stand.

      -I�ve recently driven Grierson�s routes from La Grange to Baton Rouge,
      guided by Brown, the June �93 issue of "Blue & Gray" magazine, and a 1938
      WPA guide to Mississippi. I�ve walked all of the encounter sites on the

      -I�ve tried to do/experience as much authentic, or authentically re-created,
      stuff as I can:
      o I�ve been to local CW re-enactments.
      o I know how to ride, how to shoot an Enfield and a Navy Colt, and how to
      make a few hacks with a cavalry saber -- none of these very well.
      o I�ve listened to tapes of CW-era music, including bugle calls.
      o Not voluntarily, I�ve been shot myself, with serious results.
      o I�ve worn an officer�s hat and coat and an enlisted man�s jacket, shirt,
      pants, cap, and gear: haversack, canteen, weapons, etc.
      o I�ve been on 10-mile hikes, in the summer, with a 50-pound pack on my
      o I�ve slept in a bedroll on the ground, with a saddle for my pillow, but
      just once, thanks.
      o I�ve eaten hardtack and drunk boiled coffee (also just once).

      If you�re willing, I�d like to ask for your considered assistance.
      Specifically, what else do you think I should do to get this right and keep
      gross unintentional errors from sneaking up on Willoughby? And is there
      some additional reading I should tackle?
      Whatever your response, let me say here that I have already benefited from
      reading your discussions of Western-theater issues, and I am grateful for
      your advice.

      Sincerely yours,


      Madelon E. Heatherington

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