Title: Storm in the Valley
Author: Lee Passarella
Genre: Historical Civil War Fiction
Length: 134 pages
Release Date: February 25, 2015
Townsend Philips, a.k.a. Monk Phillips, has soldiering in his blood: his Uncle Lucas, who raised him, was a colonel in the Mexican-American War, and Monk’s older brother John Tyler is a cadet at the famed Virginia Military Institute. With his uncle’s blessing, in the summer of 1861 12-year-old Monk enlists as drummer boy with the 51st Virginia Volunteer Regiment.
Throughout the war, the Phillips brothers despair of ever seeing each other again. Then, in spring of 1864, the 51st faces the task of driving superior Union forces out of the Shenandoah Valley.
On the eve of the Battle of New Market, Monk is overjoyed to find himself unexpectedly reunited with John. But the circumstances that join them are also unexpectedly perilous for both.
AUTHOR INFORMATION & LINKS
Lee Passarella acts as senior literary editor for Atlanta Review magazine and served as editor-in-chief of Coreopsis Books, a poetry-book publisher. He also writes classical music reviews for Audiophile Audition.
Passarella’s poetry has appeared in Chelsea, Cream City Review, Louisville Review, The Formalist, Antietam Review, Journal of the American Medical Association, The Literary Review, Edge City Review, The Wallace Stevens Journal, Snake Nation Review, Umbrella, Slant, Cortland Review, and many other periodicals and ezines. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, and his work has appeared in several anthologies as well.
Swallowed up in Victory, Passarella’s long narrative poem based on the American Civil War, was published by White Mane Books in 2002. It has been praised by poet Andrew Hudgins as a work that is “compelling and engrossing as a novel.” Passarella has published two poetry collections: The Geometry of Loneliness (David Robert Books, 2006) and Redemption (FutureCycle Press, 2014). His poetry chapbook Sight-Reading Schumann was published by Pudding House Publications in 2007.
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Storm in the Valley: The Civil War RevisitedThe American Civil War has been an on-again, off-again (mostly on-again!) interest of mine since I was around the age of my novel’s hero, Townsend Philips. Fifty years ago, the U.S. celebrated the Civil War centennial, and there was a flood of newspaper and magazine articles as well as books about the war, plus the first wave of Civil War reenactments, one of which took place on the athletic field at my high school.
Now, my high school was built a long time after the war, so it couldn’t have been the scene of any Civil War battle or even skirmish. But in those days reenactments took place just about anywhere crowds were sure to form, including stadiums big and small—in other words, far away from the original battle sites. And reenactors were just as casual about the equipment and attire they brought to their ersatz battlegrounds. Blue jeans and work boots were often standard issue, and the weaponry included shotguns and .22 rifles (unloaded, of course).
Since then, Civil War reenacting has grown up; the modern-day reenactor can buy period-authentic uniforms, accoutrements, and rifle muskets that look just like they were made back in the 1860s. I know this because I’ve been reenacting for almost twenty years now. I belong to a Confederate unit, Company A of the 42nd Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment. We also “galvanize,” which means we sometimes put on federal blue and fight as Company B of the 125th Ohio. And when we reenact battles such as Chickamauga, Shiloh, or Atlanta, we do so in terrain near the original battlegrounds. Today, authenticity is the name of the reenactment game.
In the course of my reading and research, I came across another
To tell the story, I went back to the beginning, to the first year of the war, 1861. The older of my two brothers, John Tyler Philips, is headed off to VMI, where he will learn to be a military leader like his Uncle Lucas, who has raised the two boys following the death of their parents. John Tyler’s younger brother, Townsend Philips, has his own plans for joining the military and convinces his uncle to let him join the 51st Virginia Infantry Regiment as a drummer boy. My story follows the course of Townsend Philips’ training and service from 1861 to 1864, from the early Battle of Carnifex Ferry to the Battle of Fort Donelson and finally to the Battle of New Market in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Along the way, Townsend Philips gets a new nickname, Monk, and meets another musician, Bummer Crosse, who becomes his best friend. Together, they lead the soldiers of the 51st Virginia into battle. To Townsend Philips’ surprise, his big brother John Tyler joins him on the field of battle as well.
I’ve endeavored to make my story as realistic as possible, drawing on my years of research and reenacting. However, I wanted to make it a human story as well. I hope you will learn something from the history behind my storytelling, but even more I hope you’ll enjoy the characters and the action of Storm in the Valley.
Storm in the Valley: An Interview with Bummer CrosseInterviewer: Mr. Crosse, it’s very good to meet you. I know you have a distinguished record as a musician in the Confederate army, and I’m sure you have a lot of interesting stories you could tell about your service. Thank you for taking the time to share with us.
Bummer: You’re quite welcome I’m sure. Don’t know about the interestin’ part though. Mebee I’ll have to make something up! But ask away.
Interviewer: I’m sure you’re too modest, Mr. Crosse.
Bummer: You kin jest call me Bummer, Mr. Interviewer.
Interviewer: Thank you, Bummer, I will. And first of all, perhaps you could tell us how you came by that name. You see, in this day and age, “bummer” usually means something that’s not very appealing—for example, “That movie was a real bummer.” But I take it that isn’t the meaning attached to your name.
Bummer: Well, no, it sure ain’t. Can’t say as I know what a movie is, but no, my name don’t have nothing to do with a bad experience or nothing like that. In my day and age, it jest means that a feller is an idler, you know, a vagabond or what have you. I won that name fair and square ’cause when I first got in the army they asked me to do stuff like haul wood and water and such like, and I told ’em I was too sickly or m’ foot hurt or I had to use the sinks, and pretty soon they started calling me Bummer, and it stuck, I guess.
Interviewer: I see. And perhaps you could tell us what “the sinks” are.
Bummer: You don’t know what they are? Well, if you don’t, mebee ya don’t want to know. Let’s see. I’m thinkin’ you might call ’em “the latrine.”
Interviewer: Oh, I see. All right. Well, perhaps we could move on to your experiences in the war. How did you come to join the army?
Bummer: Now I ain’t proud of it, ya understand, but I jined up so’s I wouldn’t get locked up by my danged brother-in-law, Radford. See, I kindly assaulted him in self-defense, but a judge and jury prob’ly wouldn’t look at it that-a-way. So I thought mebee I could hide out in th’ army till I was either growed up or Radford’d died a’ pure orneriness, one or t’other. They told me at the recruitin’ office that I was too young to be a-shootin’ at the Yanks, so they made me a musician. I play the fife, ya know. Anyhow, that’s how I jined the army.
Interviewer: Very interesting. And now maybe you could share with us some of the details of your service.
Bummer: Well, there ain’t any details really. Just a lot of marchin’ and playin’ and carryin’ the wounded off the field and such like. I like the marchin’ and playin’ part—not so much the carryin’ the wounded. That gets to be pretty heavy work after a bit, and then all the moanin’ and complainin’ gets a body down. Why, at Fort Donelson I bet I toted a hundred boys off that field, all shot up, some of ‘em I knowed wouldn’t live till morning. Sad business, it was. But they was some good times too. Like at New Market. My, that was a great day for the 51st—51st Virginia, that is. That’s my outfit. See, I gotta confess t’ you I thought we was goin’ to be th’ ex-51st Virginia.
The Yanks had us outnumbered and could pretty much choose the ground. In other words, had it all sewed up, they did. Or so I thought. ’Cept for two things. First, we had a secret weapon on the Yanks’ side even though they didn’t know it. I’m talkin’ about their Gen’ral Sigel, jest about the sorriest excuse for a officer that you’re likely to run across. And then we had the VMI’s on our side.
That’s the Virginia Military Institute, the cadets, I mean. Gen’ral Breckenridge, he didn’t want to put ’em in the battle, but then he seen that he had to or the deal was up. So he put ’em in, and what do you know? The Yankees fell all over theyselves tryin’ to get the heck outa there. Killed a right good number of ’em, we did, and took loads a prisoners and a cannon or two. Now that was what you’d call a fight!
Interviewer: I imagine it was. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Bummer.
Bummer: I’m sure you’re welcome, Mr. Interviewer. Nice talkin’ to ya.