About “To Make Men Free”
The author calls his book “unfiction.” There are no fictitious events and no fictitious characters (sorry, Rhett and Scarlett). “History is an action/adventure tale,” Croker says, “Generally told with the action and adventure removed. All I do is put it back.”
The reader need never ask, “Did this really happen?” Yes. It did. Jeb Stuart really did stop a reconnaissance mission, throw a dance, leave the dance to fight a battle and return to the dance. Yes. It really did happen.
With over 23,000 killed or wounded, the Battle of Antietam remains the bloodiest single day in American history. Antietam belongs on the same list with Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and D-Day, and yet most Americans have never heard of it. But there is more. The freedom of millions of slaves rested on the outcome of Antietam. Beyond the generals and privates in the field, the reader will also peer into the White House and into the heart of President Abraham Lincoln. He will witness the ugly intrigue of the politics of the day and discover that Lincoln's decision to release the Emancipation Proclamation was neither popular nor easy.
Homework Helper: What was the outcome of the Battle of Antietam?
For more information on the Battle of Antietam, visit the Antietam National Battlefield Park web site.
About “No Greater Courage”
Midway through its second year the Civil War was still not close to resolution. Antietam had claimed 23,000 casualties on a single day in September of 1862, and it was clear that the bloody stalemate was rapidly consuming both sides. With the modest and reluctant Ambrose Burnside now in command of the Union’s Army of the Potomac, the Washington politicians pressured him to deliver a significant victory in Southern territory before the winter set in. Burnside quickly advanced into Virginia toward the city of Fredericksburg. It was a rash gamble that hinged on the element of surprise.
Arriving on the banks of the Rappahannock River, and facing virtually no opposition, the Union army -- the largest army in the world -- is stymied for a lack of bridges. Major Ira Spaulding and raw recruit Billy Blakesley are among those whose job it is to provide them, but mishandled orders, unbroken mules, and the winter storm of the century conspire against the hapless bridge builders, giving Lee time to amass his Confederate army on the opposite banks. The result is a terrible slaughter that will become one of the most infamous battles of the Civil War.
“I have found many of the actual heroes of Fredericksburg,” Croker says, “some famous like Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and others obscure, but no less gallant.”
Two brother pairs are major “characters” in “No Greater Courage.” The McClernan brothers assault Marye’s Heights and the Stevens boys march side-by-side up Prospect Hill. Both sets of brothers Croker met through their descendents – the McClernan’s from a friend, and the Stevens’ from a total stranger on line. “It’s not nearly so much the war of ‘brother against brother,’ as it is the war of ‘brother-alongside-brother.’”
The famous regiments are highlighted as well. The assault of the Irish Brigade is experienced by Private Will McCarter, and that of the Harvard Regiment by Captain Henry Livermore “Little” Abbott, both of whom left us vivid memories of the futile fight.
Of course the cast of characters includes the great men of history as well. You will see the fight form the perspectives of Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and others. It was at Fredericksburg that Lee said, “It is well that war is so terrible – we should grow too fond of it.”
Upon hearing the results, Abraham Lincoln vanished into melancholy for several days. When he was finally pulled back into reality he told a friend, “If there is a place worse than hell – I’m in it.”
Like “To Make Men Free,” “No Greater Courage” is also what Croker calls “unfiction.” “These are the real people folks – doing what they really did.”
© Copyright 2007, Richard Croker. All