The Second Book of Morgan
By Morgan Gates
Part of the upbringing of any good Southern Gentleman is that "One does not brag on himself" a gentleman's reputation should speak for itself! Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in today. In today's world, everyone is tooting their own horns so loudly that such gentlemanly manners no longer apply, I am afraid. So please forgive me Momma and whoever the Patron Saint of Good Manners may be as I announce the publication of my second book. The Long Road Home is a collection of seven Historic Fiction short stories; all are based on actual historical events, all are set in or have some connection to Vicksburg and or Mississippi. All are of the Civil War, or earlier and all involve struggles to survive in one way or another, and inevitably to go home."
I am a storyteller and historian by trade nowadays. Notice I put storyteller first, because if you can't catch a person's attention, then you aren't really transferring any significant amount of information. I've read – or at least tried to read – too many books in the history genre that read like a dictionary or even worse the so and so begat so and so sections of the Bible, and that is a shame! History is, or should be, entertaining! It is after all the story of us! Long before anyone figured out how to draw some abstract symbols on a clay tablet or animal skin and call it a word, people passed their history down by telling stories. Around the campfires, each night the old man (or woman) of the village would tell of some great hero or a catastrophic fight for survival, and knowledge and wisdom were passed on to another generation. That is in essence what I do on my tours, both daytime historic tours and night time ghost tours, ghost tours are really little more than dressed up historical tours (Oops! Maybe I shouldn't have said that, don't tell anyone OK?) Stories on a tour are by necessity rather short "soundbites" is the modern catchphrase I believe. Sometimes; however, the story begs for a more detailed telling. Alternately sometimes you have just a fragment of a story, incomplete, in some way but enough to suggest a more complete version.
Enter writing a Book! A decade ago, when I first started giving historical tours, if you had whipped out your crystal ball and told me I would one day write a book, I would have laughed at you. Yet as time when by I came across those stories that needed more telling than just a short blurb on a dark sidewalk. Haunted Vicksburg Ghost Tours are my bread and butter, so it was natural that my book would be a companion to that tour. It was a long time coming, a story here, a story there, a few false starts a brick wall or two, but with a little help, OK a lot of help, from my partner in time Meshea, my book “A Walk on the Darkside” was published last year. I'm pretty proud of my book, and it sells pretty well on the tours and in bookstores in Vicksburg (Don't worry Stephen King you have nothing to fear). This book had kept my creative juices flowing during many an offseason, but now that it was in print "what next"? WARNING: THE SURGEON GENERAL HAS DETERMINED THAT WRITING CAN BE ADDICTIVE! I began casting about for my next project. Several topics were started and abandoned… Remember the scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone when Harry is getting his first wand and is told … “The wand chooses you Mr. Potter” well apparently that applies to books as well.
Well book two chose me, and things came together much more quickly this time, the first time is always the hardest they say! In truth bits and pieces of this book have been circulating in my head for quite some time as well, but when I put pen to paper (ok fingers to keyboard) this time the word flowed out more readily. So, what is book two you ask? More Ghost Stories, nope not this time! Historical Fiction is my genre this go round!
I have come across a number of fragments of stories, stories not in and of themselves whole! Around these stories, I have woven a fictional whole.
Now that I’ve made my plug, allow me to humbly request that you consider buying a copy of my new book, if you have ever taken one of my tours or regularly follow this blog, I think you will enjoy it. I have included a link below where it can be purchased directly from Lulu, and it should be soon available from other venues in Vicksburg. Thanks, and may your road home be short and your struggles few!
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He’s been working on the Railroad…
By Morgan Gates
As the Union Armies marched across the South, one of their favorite practices was the destroy the Confederacy's rail lines. The American Civil War was the first significant conflict in which railroads had played a major role. Steam-powered transportation via rail was relatively new in the world in the 1860’s, the first public steam railway in the world, had been opened in England only 35 years before. Railroads had however proved invaluable to the war effort of both sides, able to move troops and supplies at previously unheard-of speeds, using imperishable, easily obtainable and readily stockpiled fuels (mostly wood in the south) its main weakness was its fixed tracks. The Union was, of course, quick to recognize this and it became standard practice to destroy southern railways. Putting the rails out of service was easy enough, pry the tacks from their wooden ties and trains could no longer run on them. The problem was how to put them out of service long term? Wooden ties could be burned, but the iron rails were a bit more durable. Remember, this was well before the advent of light but powerful explosives, or even cutting torches. Serviceable wooden ties could be hewn from the nearest woodlot and the rails re lain, especially in an area where slave labor was employed. The rails had to be made useless somehow. The answer was to melt them. The ties were piled up and made into a bonfire the rails lay across them, and when they became red hot they could be bent, the most effective method was to use a handy tree to act a center point to ensure a good angle was applied. Please note: this method would not work with modern steel rails as their melting point is too high. At the time the rails were made of rather poor-quality iron which can become malleable at temperatures as low as 700 degrees. I do not know whose idea this was the first time it was done, but rails bent by such a method became known as "Sherman Neckties" as his men practiced this widely during the Atlanta Campaign. Atlanta, however, was not the first pace it was practiced, it was also done in Mississippi in 1963 and early 1864. In one of the displays in the new Mississippi History Museum in Jackson, there is a severely bent rail, an example of Sherman's handiwork in Mississippi, proof that he was tying his neckties here long before he traveled to Georgia and beyond.
Want to know more about Sherman in Mississippi? Come to the Vicksburg Civil War Symposium July 3-4 2018.
That Other Burg
By Morgan Gates
The American Civil War was the seminal conflict of American History, only the American Revolution that created our country was more important. No American War before or after can compare. Even World War II, massive and bloody as it was could not compare. For it was not fought on our soil and, heaven forbid, it had not worked out the way it did, The United States itself was not in any real sense in danger of conquest. The American Civil War was, in fact, significant on a worldwide scale. Remember since "the shot heard round the world" America had exerted a genuine Ideological influence on the rest of the world. What would have been the effect on the rest of the world if the "The Great Social Experiment" that was the USA had failed only "Four Score and Seven Years" after its inception?
Please remember dear fellow student of history, that a Union victory was not a foregone conclusion especially in the first two years of the War. A string of Confederate victories in 1862 had soured the northern population's opinion of the War. The Republicans had lost control of Congress in the mid-term elections, and the Democrats were agitating to end the War with a peace treaty and bring the boys home and stop the carnage. But in the summer of 1863, a significant Union victory turned the tides of war and public opinion. What was that victory GETTYSBURG you shout! Not so fast I answer… let's consider the facts.
Gettysburg is without a doubt a great battle, the nearly mythical invincibility of Lee lain open to the light of day, he was indeed just a man after all. The incredible losses of the day were unequaled in Western Hemispheric History to this day. But What if Lee had won? Lee would have still had to withdraw and head south again, sooner or later.
No, I would have to argue that the most important Union victory in the bloody Year of 1863, was at THE OTHER BURG! Vicksburg! Union operations against Vicksburg had been in progress since shortly after the fall of New Orleans. U.S. Grant’s operations to capture Vicksburg had been in progress since the winter of 1862. Grant was a stubborn as a mule and tenacious as a bulldog. Handed defeat after defeat by Confederate forces and mother nature. He conducts a series of operations so audacious that even his best friend William T. Sherman is flabbergasted by them! A nighttime run by the U.S. Navy (Grant's idea) past the formidable guns of Vicksburg. An amphibious landing unequaled until D-Day. A 19th-century Blitzkrieg across central Mississippi without a substantial supply line. Two nearly bold if unsuccessful assaults across impossible terrain and a 47-day siege in the heat of a Mississippi summer. This is the turning point Victory of the summer of 1863.
Had Vicksburg held and Lee lost, I think we would be living in a very different world today. Had Vicksburg fallen and Lee won, I doubt if the South could have still won. For the loss of Vicksburg was not just a loss of one town, it was the loss of the Mississippi River, and with it the Trans-Mississippi! So the next time you hear someone tell you that Gettysburg was the turning point of the War, just smile and politely nod your head for you know the truth. It was not Gettysburg but that other burg, VICKSBURG!
Want to learn more about Vicksburg and the War? Make plans now to attend the first annual Vicksburg Civil War Symposium July 3-4.