Notes On the Writing

Author’s Note: Honor Comes A Pilgrim Gray

The book is a work of fiction built partly off prison diary compilations kept by US Civil War veteran Captain John G.B.(Gregory Bishop) Adams and from his memories throughout the war far after he won his Medal Of Honor in 1862, in 1899, published by Wright, Potter Printing Co in the form of “reminscences.”

The notes and memories were worked into a loose string of events standing out to him within his war experience from 1861-1865. The published material was titled Reminiscenses of the Nineteenth Massachusetts Regiment  By CAPT. John G.B. Adams. The publisher was a state government printer that operated from 1648-2007, which might have defrayed the costs for Adams, as he was employed as the Sergeant At Arms in the Massachusetts state house near this time and so, was a state employee. Adams received his medal on December 16, 1896, 34 years after his citation for heroic action at Fredericksburg.

Reminiscences is dense, mostly notational only, and unedited, loosely following happenstance series’ of events that stood out to Adams across the 45 battles and skirmishes the 19th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry endured over, as Adams put it, “four long, weary years.” He claims he doesn’t speak for all the men in the regiment and indeed, being first badly wounded at Gettysburg, and then in various captive/on the run states for many months till war’s end, he wasn’t in every action. Of particular note is his extended times alternately escaping and enduring Confederate officer prisons, which for him lasted nearly 10 months. What is noteworthy is that, unlike many other regiments who paid professional ghostwriters to scribe sententious Victorian hagiographies, Reminiscences was straight from the heart, brief (c. 140 pages) and from sharp memory of one in the “working class” regiments participating in that war, the brunt of such regiments having fought out the hard parts and won the difficult actions (as usually is the case with Americans at war). Some of the historical events he records are shocking, even for today’s readers. Adams did  speak, somewhat, for the men who perished or transferred to the 19th, apparently voted in as one of the Civil War’s “Fightingest.” It was just as well: he was one of its few survivors of it from beginning to end, private to captain. Out of 800, just around 100 lived in some fashion after the war to witness the uneasy peace. As the Adjutant-General wrote in 1865 of the 19th: “in six (of its total of 45 engagements) it…lost from one-third to five-sixths of its men” (noted by Adams in the text).

Adams wrote, 

I sincerely hope the publicaton of this volume will inspire other comrades and that from the memories thus evoked some one may gather further material whereby the deeds of the men who so bravely followed the flags of the State and Nation…may be preserved.

The few who survived had treated the war like a tough job to get through; they never met for the July 4th 1865 parade.

I had planned to write a story someday based on these Reminiscences as early as 1970, when John’s compilation could be pulled straight down off the stacks in the history section of my hometime library. It helped form a lasting bond between me and that working town community (Peabody Ma.) visiting the graves of some of the fallen he mentioned in his text, and my own continuous grappling with history, of which I became a vetted and published biographer (science history). By the time I approached the subject seriously in 2006 to begin sketching Honor Comes A Pilgrim Gray as my first fiction work using historical biography, only one (precious and hard-to-get-to-examine) copy of  “Captain Jack’s” reminiscences existed near (not in) my hometown Peabody’s library and, by freak happenstance, came upon parts of it on the web, getting a .PDF copy from a librarian in Queensland, Australia. She’d read the memoir and published parts of it on Internet, moved as she was by the section on Gettysburg. How did she get such a rare book, moved so far from its source? As she related, an American army general in World War 2 wished to make a cultural exchange by presenting Australia with books on American history!

To novel-ize the story for a wider audience, a romance was invented involving multifarious male and female characters in the Bronte/Austin style, with Hawthorne and Poe thrown in to give it an American twist. The large back story of the “big picture” of the war involving Lincoln, Grant, Lee and all the others is, personally, my stronger suit, and is as strictly-held to the actual history as got from the writers below as was possible for a vetted historical researcher to achieve.

But as usual, the interpretation of what some of the characters thought and how they interacted was left to my imagination. I tried not to stray far from the facts.

Books directly used to create main and back stories  (essays, articles scholarly or otherwise, indirect sources not counted)

Thirty seven books / memoirs (37) were researched / read in six categories across 20 + years for enabling the novel’s back story.


Abraham Lincoln and the Union, by Oscar and Lilian Handlin

Abraham Lincoln In His Own Words, ed. Maureen Harrison and Steve Gilbert

Lincoln At Gettysburg, by Gary Wills

Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln As Commander In Chief, by James McPherson

Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years, by Carl Sandburg

Grant (and Grant/Lee):

The Generals: Ulysseus S, Grant and Robert E. Lee, by Nancy and Dwight Anderson

The Mask Of Command (“Grant and Unheroic Leadership”) by John Keegan

Grant, by William S. McFeely

Grant (Great General Series, U.S. War College) by John Mosier (ed. General Wesley Clark

Grant Takes Command, by Bruce Catton (based on painstaking research by Lloyd Lewis)

Grant Moves South, by Bruce Catton (Ditto)

Captain Sam Grant, by Lloyd Lewis

Ulysses S. Grant, Memoirs


Reading The Man: A Portrait Of Robert E. Less Through His Private Letters, by Elizabeth Brown Pryor

Lee: The Last Years, by Charles B. Flood

Civil War – specific (history non fiction):

Reminiscences of the Nineteenth Massachusetts Regiment, by CAPT. John G.B. Adams 

The Civil War (Volumes 1-3) by Shelby Foote

For Cause and Comrades, by James McPherson

They Who Fought Here, by Bell I. Wiley and Hirst D. Mulhollen

Mother May You Never See The Sights I Have Seen: The 57th Massachusetts Veteran Volunteers in the Last Year Of the Civil War, by Warren Wilkerson (Master’s thesis)

Reflections On the Civil War, by Bruce Catton

Conceived in Liberty, by Mark Perry

The Passing Of the Armies, by Joshua Chamberlain

Rebel Private Front and Rear, by William A. Fletcher

Walt Whitman (relevant Civil War selections)

Hospital Sketches, by Louisa May Alcott

Civil War: General Studies:

A History Of the American People, by Paul Johnston

A History Of Warfare, by John Keegan

Warpaths: Travels Of A Military Historian In North America, by John Keegan

Classics Of Civil War Fiction, Ed. David Madden and Peggy Bach

Civil War Fiction:

Andersonville, by McKinlay Kantor

Raintree County, by Ross Lockridge Jr.

The Confessions Of Nat Turner, by William Styron

The Wave, by Evelyn Scott

The Long Roll, by Mary Johnston (Jackson’s movements in the Shenandoah)

The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara


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