In honor of the birth of yet another royal baby – a discussion between William Hanlin and General McClellan concerning the French princes on McClellan’s staff – and royalty in America:
. . . the door swung open and three men, two in magnificently tailored uniforms, the other dressed like a private, strode into the room.
McClellan was on his feet in an instant, moved to them with hand extended. He shook hands with them in turn while uttering a string of French greetings.
The result of all that was a taxing of my rusty French and my introduction to three surprising additions to McClellan’s staff – the Prince de Joinville and his nephews, the Duc de Chartes, and the Comte de Paris. Three princes of the House of Orleans.
They left us in heightened moods, a standing invitation to a night at The Willard, sore shoulders from their back slaps, and a sudden desire for foie gras.
“You know, of course, that the Comte de Paris is pretender to the throne?” McClellan said as their powerful boot steps receded down the hallway.
“Sure,” I lied, “and unless you loan him your army when we’re done here, he’ll be the pretender for life.”
“We’ll have to see about that,” he laughed.
“They’d make you a peer,” I observed.
“Well, then, perhaps . . . imagine, Willie, a Prince, a Duke, and a Count on my staff, who would have ever thought it?”
“I don’t know Mac, I think our forefathers fought a war to rid us of titles.”
“You believe that, Willie?” He answered, no longer laughing, “Before you answer, I remind you that you, a Boston Brahmin are addressing a Philadelphia Main-liner.”
“We don’t have titles designating that, do we?”
“Think we need them, Colonel?”
~ from The Falcon, Volume Two of William Hanlin’s Civil War.
Thank you so much for allowing me to read “The Falcon.” I have been reading Civil War fiction for over 50 years, and I can scarcely if ever remember reading a book that did the subject more justice than did Mr. Hicks’ work. “The Falcon” is remarkably good history; indeed, the book is accurate down to the smallest details regarding American life in 1861. It is also an intriguing “whodunit,” weaving an intricate pattern of deception and revelation. Finally, it brings to life characters that are engaging and totally believable. “The Falcon” reminds us that with the nation in peril at the start of the Civil War, thousands of men from across the North came together in common cause to try to save the nation . . . I am confident that anyone who reads his work will come away with a greater understanding and appreciation of the Civil War generation. Please give my compliments to Mr. Hicks, and tell him to keep up the good work! ~ Dr. Donald Elder III
We received that review last night from an American history professor from Eastern New Mexico University. His background is the kind that gave me nightmares – when it comes to reviews – i.e. Civil War expert, edited/published/annotated several collections of Civil War letters through the University of Iowa Press, it goes on.
This, of course, is no reflection on him, it’s a reflection on me. Most assuredly. See, the Hanlin novels (although, come to think of it, especially in light of recent developments, it really is one novel serialized in seven installments), are really about people, and relationships (or lack thereof), stress, horror, sex (or lack thereof), bigotry, religion (or lack thereof), crime and punishment, they just happen to be wrapped around the Civil War. Continue reading
I wrote a little about the Hanlin Novels, their titles, and WWI a few days ago. Well, it goes both ways with the Civil War – William and the war as tethered to the past as they are precusor to the 20th Century. In April 1862 William and the Army of the Potomac besieged Yorktown – in some cases they used trenches and redobts left from Washington and Rochambeau’s seige of Cornwallis.
From The Falcon
We sat before the redoubts of Yorktown, a modern army occupying the same ground our grandfathers and great grandfathers had eighty-one years before. A modern army armed with rifles and artillery that while recognizable to our forefathers on the banks of the York would have astounded them with their range, accuracy, and lethality.
For all that, though, we were just another of history’s great hosts camped before the walls of our enemy, not all that different from the Greeks before Troy.
Now that The Falcon is out, I’ve been asked a few times about the titles of the Hanlin series. I wasn’t going to answer right now – until I read Drew Gilpin Faust’s article yesterday in The Atlantic.
In Two Wars and the Long Twentieth Century she compares the Civil War and World War I, finding that the Civil War was more than just a precursor. It’s a good article, if you have the time it’s more than worth it.
It also gets deep into the heart of what I’m trying to do with William Hanlin’s Civil War – it’s no coincidence that the prologue starts in April 1917 when Woodrow Wilson went before Congress to declare war on Germany.
The Civil War was the first industrialized war . . . which came as quite the shock to everyone involved in it with the possible exception of Herman Melville (later). It started with volunteers, became a war of conscription, hundreds of thousands of troops were introduced to the effectiveness of rifles and rifled artillery.
It was ugly and only got uglier until it ended with the trenches of Petersburg (right) and a landscape that anyone associated with Ypres, Passchendaele (above), and the Somme would recognize in a heartbeat.
Which is why (okay, there’s more but, well, later) I used William Butler Yeat’s poem The Second Coming for the Hanlin Series titles:
The highlighted text are the seven titles of the Hanlin series, all really do have special meaning . . . as I hope is self explainatory for the first book, The Ceremony of Innocence and The Falcon once you recognize George B. McClellan on the cover.
The Falcon, as a few readers guessed before seeing the cover, is George B. McClellan. The falcon cannot hear the falconer, so the poem goes, and it certainly describes McClellan and various and sundry parts of the federal government through 1862.
I had two choices for a cover portrait of McClellan and his horse – a character of sorts himself – Daniel Webster. They’re above and, obviously, startlingly similar. The one on the right was painted in early 1862, the one on the left after the battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.
Both are originals, both painted by Christian Schussele. Beside being a good artist, Christian was apparently a good businessman and excellent judge of marketing trends.
Antietam was perceived as a victory, McClellan the savior of the North, he and it were on the cover of every newspaper and magazine . . . and Christian Schussele had a perfect representation of the idol of the week in his studio. So, out went the tree, in went some ominous war-clouds, in went a wrecked cannon in the lower right hand corner and …. voila! McClellan at Antietam is born while the news is still fresh.
I choose this McClellan for the cover of The Falcon for the irony of it – McClellan was on the actual field of battle at Antietam for a very, very short time – just long enough, in fact, to satisfy – in his mind – his preconceived notions of what had occurred and toss away a very real chance at ending the war that afternoon.
This portrait of McClellan, then, is a fraud on many levels . . . and suits my purposes. By the time readers get through the beginning of A Widening Gyre, I think they’ll see it as well.
In glades they meet skull after skull
Where pine-cones lay–the rusted gun,
Green shoes full of bones, the mouldering coat
And cuddled-up skeleton;
And scores of such. Some start as in dreams,
And comrades lost bemoan:
By the edge of those wilds Stonewall had charged–
But the Year and the Man were gone.
Bones in the Wilderness
When William Hanlin and the men from Connecticut step into the Wilderness on May 5, 1864, they step into an almost impassible snarl of secondary growth – briars, thorns, brambles – under a heavy tangle of budding tree branches. Worse, the armies had fought in the same area almost exactly a year earlier, as Herman Melville points out above, skulls and mouldering coats were scattered everywhere.
Thanks to a great writer and really nice guy, Richard Slotkin for allowing me to blurb his comments about The Ceremony of Innocence on the new cover. So, ah, buy his books too!