This Civil War thriller from Wilson (Armada) fails to deliver on the promise of its gripping opening scene at the first battle of Bull Run in July 1861. When hot-headed Yankee Capt. Fitz Dunaway defies the retreat order of his superior, Colonel Pettibone, and rallies his command to repel a Confederate attempt to break through the Union line, Dunaway winds up in the guardhouse for insubordination. Thaddeus Prescott, the U.S. assistant secretary of war, hands Dunaway a way out by offering him a place on President Lincoln's protective detail, but Dunaway's real job is to pose as a malcontent eager to join forces with conspirators seeking to assassinate the president. Unfortunately, the author doesn't supply enough plot twists or psychological depth to compensate for the lack of suspense about the outcome of any design on Lincoln's life in 1861. Readers looking for quality political intrigue and mystery against a Civil War backdrop might turn instead to Owen Parry's Abel Jones series (Rebels in Babylon, etc.). (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
President Lincoln's Spyby Steven Wilson
On the battlefield, Captain Fitz Dunaway is a man of action with a keen, intellectual prowess. But when he humiliates his commanding officer, he finds himself facing a court martial for his maverick behavior
1861. As the Civil War rages on, one man is determined to prove himself on the front lines of battle. But destiny has far greater plans for him. . .
On the battlefield, Captain Fitz Dunaway is a man of action with a keen, intellectual prowess. But when he humiliates his commanding officer, he finds himself facing a court martial for his maverick behavior. Now his only chance to redeem himself is by working as a spy to uncover a plot to assassinate President Lincoln. Searching through gas-lit alleyways for traitors who will embrace him as one of their own, Fitz discovers just how fine the line is between allegiance to your cause--and allegiance to your country. . .
In this rousing novel of loyalty and patriotism, betrayal and scandal, honor and valor, Lincoln scholar and expert Steven Wilson blends meticulous detail with captivating characters, taking readers back to one of America's most defining moments in history.
"The reader can taste the grit and feel the excitement and expectations of a pivotal time in American history. In President Lincoln's Spy, Wilson has given us a time machine." --John Lutz
"Steven Wilson writes a story as vivid and engrossing as the Civil War itself." --Troy Soos
"If Robert Ludlum had written a Civil War novel filled with spies, double-crosses, murders, romances, and battlefield mayhem, it would read like President Lincoln's Spy." --Clint Johnson, author of Pursuit: The Chase, Capture, Persecution and Surprising Release of Confederate President Jefferson Davis
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PRESIDENT LINCOLN'S SPY
By STEVEN WILSON KENSINGTON BOOKS
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One July 21, 1861 The 98th day of the war Near Bull Run Creek, Virginia
Captain Fitz Dunaway studied the ragged line of Confederate infantry trotting across the field a half mile away, the enemy formation obscured by a low cloud of dust beaten out of the hard-baked ground by several hundred feet. They marched into position, their officers-as new to war as their men-laboring to form the column into line. The midday sun, burning and pitiless, glinted off polished bayonets and flashed from the officers' swords. They weren't regulars, Fitz thought, damned short of that to be sure, but his men were just as clumsy-just as new to soldiering as that ragged band in the distance. It made no difference-they would set to killing each other with enthusiasm shortly.
He blew a silent breath through his teeth, licked his dry lips, and turned to his command. Company C stood with the other nine companies of the 95th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, waiting for their chance to face the enemy. He should have had a hundred officers and men in his company; he had seventy-six. Disease, the unseen enemy of any army, had thinned the modest ranks of his command. Mumps, measles, the bloody flux-the curse of soldiers too long in squalid camps waiting for their generals to make sense out of the web of grand strategy. A quarter of his men had been struck down before they faced the Rebels as surely as if they had been shot. And when the shooting started, Fitz calculated, maybe another twenty-five or thirty dead, wounded, or missing.
He sniffed at the irony of it. There was no glory in dysentery and not much on the battlefield when your body is torn open by hot metal.
Fitz's company-front rank kneeling and rear rank at ease, file-closers and officers behind the line-waited. He took a scarred pipe from his mouth and patted the bowl against his palm, knocking free the cold ashes. His mouth tasted of dust, the grit crunching in his teeth. He slipped the pipe into his pocket, decided against lighting it, and walked slowly down the line.
"Don't get anxious, boys," he said. "Be steady. Don't fire until I give the command. Mark your targets." He heard men praying and saw a few cross themselves. Some of you will piss your pants, he thought. There's no shame in that. Fear makes you forget everything-even your bladder. "Make sure to cap your pieces. Slow and easy. Three shots a minute. Remember the drill."
Lieutenant Griffin, a nervous youth with a large nose, ran up to him, his boots slapping the hard ground. Throwing a quick salute, he said, "Captain, the enemy is about to-"
"I know what the enemy is about, Griffin," Fitz said in a low voice, irritated that this child had left his position to point out something as obvious as the fact that the enemy was forming to attack. "I can see as well as you. Now get back to your men."
Griffin, looking like a puppy that had just been whipped, shook his head as if to say: yes, yes, that's exactly right, I should have done that. Fitz watched him trot back along the line-a boy in a blue suit. They were going to see the elephant today-be in battle-for the first time. Fitz glanced up and down his line and walked back to Sergeant Gillette, one of the file-closers.
"No one is to fall back unless I give the order," Fitz said. That was what the file-closers were supposed to do, make sure that no man fled. "Officers and men, you understand," Fitz continued. "No one runs. Keep them in line with your bayonet or the butt of your musket." He began to walk away when he thought better of it. He turned on Gillette. "If that doesn't work, shoot them."
Gillette's eyes widened. "Shoot them, sir? Dead?"
"Dead or otherwise, it makes no difference to me. Just as long as they can't run."
Gillette, his mouth firm, nodded. Fitz returned to the line.
The enemy would advance across the rolling field in a matter of minutes-he could see that their lines were nearly dressed with the regimental flag hanging motionless in the humid air.
The 95th Ohio was on the extreme left of the Union line and they had done nothing all day but lick parched lips and stand in sweat-soaked woolen uniforms that clung to their bodies like a second skin, listening to the sounds of battle coming from the far right. Now the enemy was swinging to its right to find a way to breach the Union line. The Rebels were coming after them.
Fitz looked to the rear. Three companies of the 95th were held in reserve, nearly three hundred yards behind the line. They stood at parade rest, perfect targets for enemy artillery and musketry. Some damned idiot had set them there and wandered off and now they were a solid mass of dark blue on a golden field of parched grass. "Get down, you fools!" Fitz muttered.
The sharp rattling of drums brought him back to the line. The enemy was moving, stepping off nicely to the stark cadence. By this time another Confederate regiment had fallen into line and Fitz watched as a third took its place. The ground shimmered as the enemy advanced-waves of heat distorting the scene so that the enemy was a mirage. Thin clouds of dust floated just above the hot ground: veils ready to descend on dead soldiers.
Fitz worked to bring saliva to his mouth. He swallowed and tried to growl the dryness out of his throat but nothing worked. His mouth demanded water. He fought the urge to take a drink. Not yet, wait until you can't stand the thirst anymore and then take a short pull of the foul water from the wooden canteen.
He checked the caps on his Colt .44, spinning the cylinder to make sure that each chamber, except one, bore a cartridge. He let the hammer down on the empty cylinder, took a deep breath, and waited.
Fitz heard his name being called. One of Colonel Pettibone's staff officers rode up on a thick roan, tossed a salute, and shouted with excitement, "Colonel Pettibone's respects, Captain, and you're to move your company out of line by the left and fall back."
"Fall back? What the devil does that-" Fitz caught himself, and wiped the sweat from his face. "What does Colonel Pettibone mean, fall back? The enemy is advancing. If we turn our backs to them they will be on us like a duck on a june bug."
"It is what the Colonel ordered," the officer said, trying to behave with soldierly aplomb.
Fitz walked up to the officer's horse and twisted his hand into the bridle, pinning the animal in place. "You go back and tell that storekeeper," Fitz said, "that I will not endanger my men by following some asinine order." He pointed across the field. "There is the enemy, sir, and that is where our muskets will be pointed. Just twenty miles to the rear is Washington, sir. And the capital is not prepared to receive visitors."
The young officer started to say something but, seeing the look on Fitz's face, changed his mind. He spurred his horse and rode off.
Captain Jacobs, a big-boned officer who looked like the farmer that he had been less than a month before, jogged up, trying to keep his scabbard from slapping his leg with one hand while pinning his plumed black hat to the back of his head with the other.
"Fitz," he gasped. "I just heard. What am I to do? I don't know the order to turn my men endways and march them off."
"Keep your company where it is," Fitz said. "I think Pettibone has lost his nerve and wants to pull out. Just stay where you are for now. I was ordered to lead the regiment out and I refused the order. The fault lies with me if we don't move." He looked over Jacobs's shoulder to a clump of horsemen riding down on them at a gallop. Pettibone, elbows and knees flapping in the air, led them. The colonel reined up, his face beet red, streaks of sweat streaming down his dust-covered jowls.
"Goddamn you, sir!" he shouted at Fitz, his voice shrill with frustration. "Goddamn you to Hell. I've had enough of your insubordination, Dunaway." He jumped from his horse and drew his sword. He snatched a red bandana from around his neck and wiped his face. "Lead your company off now, sir!"
"Look there, Colonel," Fitz said. "Those boys are coming our way and coming quick. If they smell us falling back it'll be at the double-quick and there'll be hell to pay."
"I will not have my orders ignored!" Pettibone screamed. He turned to the group of aides. "Did I not give the order to fall back? Wasn't that my order? Cannot one of you do as I say?" He glared at Fitz. "This army is defeated, sir. I intend to save my regiment."
"I see no sign of a defeat, Colonel, but by God, if we disengage there will be one. That's for certain. Those boys in front of us are as new to this business as we are. Let us stand and fight."
Pettibone glanced from Fitz to his staff in wild desperation. This was not about tactics or maneuvers, Fitz knew, this was fear. It was in the colonel's eyes, the frantic, wild look of a trapped animal that can smell his own death. Or shame at his own cowardice.
"Goddamn you!" Pettibone shouted and rushed at Fitz.
Fitz jerked his cap from his head, threw it in Pettibone's face, and stepped to one side. As the thick blade of the saber passed inches from his ribs, Fitz brought the barrel of his pistol against the colonel's head. There was a sharp crack and Pettibone sagged with a gasp. He lay at Fitz's feet, a crumpled bundle in a dusty uniform.
"Now listen to me," Fitz shouted to Pettibone's staff before they could react. "This regiment stands its ground! You"-he pointed to an officer-"my compliments to General McDowell. Inform him that a brigade of infantry is attacking us. Tell him that I fully intend to repulse that attack."
The man hesitated.
Fitz aimed his pistol and cocked it. "Ride!" The officer sank his spurs into the horse's flanks and bolted off.
"You, go and tell those idiots to lie down," he motioned to the reserve. "You, and you." Two officers straightened. "I want the first five companies on the right of the line left oblique. Pass the order that we will fire, at my command only, volley by company from the left of the line. The enemy is going to try to roll us up by striking hard on the left and I want a hot fire kept up. One volley and then fire at will."
One of the young officers looked stunned. "Left oblique ...?"
"Have the men turn a bit to their left so that their fire is directed at the enemy," Fitz explained. Young officers get rattled if their blood is up. "My company will fire a volley first and then each succeeding company will fire in turn. Now go, we don't have much time." To Jacobs, who had remained frozen throughout the encounter, Fitz said, "Return to your company. Make sure they fire and keep on firing until I tell you otherwise. You men," he shouted to the remaining mounted officers, "take Colonel Pettibone someplace where he won't be in the way." He detailed one of the men, a sleepyeyed first lieutenant he thought was competent enough to stay with Company C.
"I'll be with the colors at the center of the line," Fitz said.
He ran to the Color Company and drove his sword into the ground next to the regimental colors. "As long as that sword remains," he said to the regimental color sergeant, "so do you."
He watched the enemy line advance. Confederate officers tried to dress the line as it marched, but the ground was broken and the heat was taking its toll on the men. Gaps appeared in the line as soldiers fainted under the broiling sun or simply fell out, too tired to continue.
Sweat rolled down Fitz's forehead and into his eyes. He wiped his face again, rubbing his mustache and the little tuft of beard that hung below his lower lip. His dark eyes flashed with excitement as he unbuttoned the top buttons of his frock coat. This is where he belonged, on the battlefield.
The officer that he had sent off to see McDowell rode up and dismounted.
"The general's compliments, sir," he said, gasping for breath. "You are to hold this line."
Fitz figured the distance to the enemy line-seven hundred yards. "Tell the company commanders," he said to the man. "No one is to fire until I give the order. And then come back here." Fitz gave the line one last look, making sure that the file-closers were properly positioned and that the reserves were out of sight. His eyes narrowed in concentration.
Five hundred yards.
White puffs appeared along the Confederate line and then Fitz heard the flat report of muskets. Too far away-they're wasting ammunition. "No one fires!" he shouted to his men. "The first man to fire without orders gets my boot up his ass." Excitement and fear caused fire discipline to vanish, taking with it a good chance of winning. Control it, Fitz knew. Control the excitement and your men and your own nerves.
More musketry from the enemy, at four hundred yards. Then .577 caliber Minié balls buzzed overhead, the soft lead bullets the size of the last joint of the little finger. They tore into a man's flesh, making a hole about the size of a thumb, and ripped an ugly, black crater about the size of a fist when they exited-if they did. Sometimes they shattered in the bone and sometimes they remained buried deep within the meat, the lead, grime, sweat, and fabric. The flesh putrefied until you could smell your own decay, and with it your death.
Fitz heard a grunt and saw a soldier fall to the ground to his left. The line dressed to fill the gap. Wide eyes in white faces stared at the still form. Blood, bright red against the yellow grass, flowed from under the man's body.
"Eyes to the front," Fitz ordered. The stench of shit filled the air. Someone's bowels had failed him. The young officer Fitz had dispatched to warn the men not to fire until ordered rode up. He crouched low over his saddle, his eyes on the enemy line.
Fitz patted the horse's sleek neck. "Does everyone know what to do?"
"Yes, sir," the officer said, his voice shaking. "I said if they didn't do as you ordered you'd have them shot."
Fitz smiled. "Very good. Now ride back to C Company and tell Lieutenant Griffin that when he sees the national colors dip, he is to fire. Not until then. Understand?"
Fitz slapped the horse's rump and sent the boy on his way.
Three hundred yards.
The enemy line stopped. Fitz heard the faint commands and saw the muskets leveled.
"Oh, God," someone gasped, and then the world exploded.
The volley tore into the 95th Ohio, bits of flesh and blood sprayed in all directions, men cried out in agony, and the air was filled with the high, piercing screams of the wounded.
"Dress the line!" Fitz shouted. "Dress up!"
Men shifted to their right, filling the gaps left by the enemy's fire. White smoke drifted off as Fitz fought to make out the enemy through the cloud that hung low over the battlefield. A sudden fear that Griffin would not be able to see the signal flashed through his mind but it was too late now. The music had started-the dance was on.
The enemy continued to advance but the Union line stood.
Fitz laid his hand on the color sergeant's shoulder. "The colors," he ordered.
The sergeant nodded and lowered the flag. The Union line erupted in fire.
A crash followed by another, and another, thundered down the blue line. Each perfectly timed volley discharged from the regiment spewed destruction into the enemy ranks. The sickening smell of black powder engulfed Fitz as he watched the Confederate line shatter. A massive storm of lead sliced into them from less than two hundred yards away, tearing great chunks out of the neat array.
The volley fire passed from company to company, washing over Fitz like a rolling wave. Now the men were on their own, firing at will-loading, cursing, and screaming-maddened with excitement and fear. The enemy was returning fire, the whine of Minié balls cutting through the air.
Fitz strode up and down the line shouting encouragement over the awful din, forcing men to take their time loading and firing-peering through the white smoke to glimpse the Confederate line. The enemy had to break, they had to. But they did not. They stood, two hundred yards away from the Union line, exchanging volley for volley. Farmers, students, teachers, clerks, merchants, tailors, laborers, blacksmiths, men and boys, not one in a hundred with any experience as soldiers, trying to kill one another under a blazing July sun.
He stopped at B Company and saw a half dozen soldiers clustered near the center of the company line. Fitz pushed his way into the crowd and forced them back into position.
Excerpted from PRESIDENT LINCOLN'S SPY by STEVEN WILSON Copyright © 2008 by Steven Wilson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Steven Wilson is Curator and Assistant Director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, which houses one of the most diverse Lincoln and Civil War collections in the country. Mr. Wilson received his M.A. in Historic Preservation from the University of Tennessee. He oversees all exhibits for the museum and speaks regularly about Lincoln's life and the Civil War era. He lives in Lafollette, Tennessee.
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A fun read. I will be reporting to my book club and expect all will like this book. I am eager to get the next book featuring these characters.
In July 1861, during what later became known by historians as the Battle of Bull Run, Northern Colonel Pettibone calls for a retreat as the rebel forces appear ready to break through his line. Thinking no retreat or surrender, Captain Fitz Dunaway ignores the order and instead leads a counter surge that prevents the Confederate army from breaching the Union lines. Outraged by the defiance of his inferior officer, Pettibone has Dunaway detained in the guardhouse.------------- U.S. Assistant Secretary of War Thaddeus Prescott offers Dunaway a job that will get him out of the jail and allow him to take the risks he seems to relish. Dunaway accepts being part of President Lincoln's protective force, but understands his mission is to uncover who is plotting to kill the leader of the Free States. To do this he must pose as a Lincoln hater so that the conspirators ask him to join the plot to kill the President.---------- PRESIDENT LINCOLN'S SPY is an engaging well written historical fiction thriller that paradoxically suffers from Steven Wilson choosing so well known of a figure and adhering to facts that readers know what will ultimately happen at least to the President. Still Dunaway¿s escapades make for an interesting tale as the hero begins to understand politics has strange bedfellows so not to trust anyone who just might be undercover working for some other side.-------------------- Harriet Klausner