Monday, October 10, 2016

Why I wrote a book about Stonewall Jackson's horse

Seven years ago, shortly before the Civil War sesquicentennial, I wrote a book that was eventually published as Connecticut’s Civil War. It was a guidebook to sites in the state related to Civil War people and events. Given the size pf the state. I initially expected it to be a booklet but quit assembling entries after about 250 pages. Even so, I had to leave some things out.

Among the people who did make the cut: Nathaniel Lyon (the first Union general killed in the war), Joseph Mansfield (the oldest Union general killed in the war), John Sedgwick (among the highest ranking generals on either side killed in the war), Alfred Howe Terry, who at the time of his retirement years after the war held the highest rank of any non-West Pointer in US Army history. Also generals Horatio Wright, Joseph Hawley, and others. The great Confederate cavalry general Joseph Wheeler was the son of two Connecticut natives and himself grew up in the state.

Other Connecticut figures of importance in the Civil War won places in the book: Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, gunmakers Eli Whitney, Samuel Colt, Tyler Henry, Christopher Spencer, Christian Sharps, even Smith and Wesson. All were either Connecticut natives or did some of all of their work in the state.

Then there were gunpowder manufacturer Augustus Hazard, projectile maker Andrew Hotchkiss, ironclad builder Cornelius Bushnell, and many more. Space ran out before I got to one of the most intriguing figures with a Connecticut history: Stonewall Jackson’s favorite warhorse, Little Sorrel.

He certainly qualified for a place in the book. But without a long look at his circumstances I decided that there was insufficient proof that he was, as legend has it, foaled in Connecticut, although the story is surely believed in tiny Somers, where his name is on a sign in front of Town Hall. I thought I would look further for a second edition of Connecticut’s Civil War.

I did look further. The result was that there’s no second edition of that book but there is instead a new book, officially published today: Stonewall Jackson’s Little Sorrel: An Unlikely Hero of the Civil War.  In looking into the little horse’s background, I found a captivating figure, an animal whose persona was so perfectly in tune with that of his rider that each helped create the legend the other enjoyed. Little Sorrel was a well-known figure during the war and became even more famous afterwards. He figures in every Jackson biography, but much of what’s been printed is simply untrue, even in the books of the best of the biographers.

The book is now available at almost all online sources and in many bookstores. It’s a full-length hardcover book but even so, there is some material that I was unable to include. Must be a habit. Over the next few months, I’ll post some of that extra information.

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