In the spring of 1927, ambitious cub reporter Calvin Hogue covers a family reunion in the Florida Panhandle. He learns two Malburn brothers fought on opposing sides during the Civil War, and encourages them to tell their stories. Before the night is over, Calvin realizes he has a far greater story than a run-of-the-mill family reunion.
Thus begins the first of many sessions with the Malburn brothers. The saga unfolds in their own words with wit, wisdom and sometimes, sadness. Before long the brothers are confronting troubled pasts and conjuring up ghosts laid buried throughout the long post-war years. Calvin is swept along by the harrowing eyewitness account of our nation’s most trying era, through bloody battles, personal trials and losses, and the mutual love of a beautiful young woman.
The South surrenders, but the peace is far from won. Trouble stalks the Malburns in post-war Florida. Amid the violent days of Reconstruction, Daniel and Elijah face continuing conflict, family turmoil and heart-wrenching tragedy as they struggle toward a hard-earned and costly reconciliation.
Book One follows the exploits of Daniel Malburn and the 6th FL Infantry through the battles of Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain/Missionary Ridge. While working at the salt works along St. Andrew Bay, Elijah is taken prisoner by Union forces. Faced with imprisonment, he reluctantly chooses to join the 2nd US FL Cavalry as a scout, only to learn he must lead a destructive raid on the Econfina Valley—his lifelong home.
Book Two, the sequel to Of Blood and Brothers, will be released in March of 2014. The story of the Malburn brothers, Daniel and Elijah, picks up where Book One in the series ends.
About the Author
E. Michael Helms is a USMC combat veteran. His memoir of the Vietnam War, The Proud Bastards, has been called “As powerful and compelling a battlefield memoir as any ever written . . . a modern military classic,” and has been in-print for most of the past 20 years. His work has also appeared in the books: Semper Fi: Stories of U.S. Marines from Boot Camp to Battle (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003); Soldier’s Heart: Survivors’ Views of Combat Trauma (The Sidran Press, 1995); and Two Score and Ten: The Third Marine Division History (Turner Publishing, 1992).
Read an Excerpt
Of Blood and BrothersPart One
By E. Michael Helms
Koehler BooksCopyright © 2013 E. Michael Helms
All right reserved.
Calvin Hogue—Malburn Reunion—May 1927
I first heard of the Malburn brothers late one Friday afternoon in the spring of nineteen twenty-seven. I was a year out of college and working as a reporter for the St. Andrew Pilot, owned and operated by my uncle, Hawley Wells. It was after five when he summoned me to his office. I walked through the open doorway and stood in front of his desk. The office reeked of stale tobacco. Dust particles swirled in the sunlight streaming through the high windows. A tall floor lamp spilled light across the cluttered desktop and onto the worn hardwood floor.
Uncle Hawley sat hunched over his desk scribbling on a yellow legal pad. As usual, there was a well-chewed Cuban cigar clenched in the corner of his mouth. I bided my time, listening to the scratching of pen against paper and the rhythmic hum of the ceiling fan. I was hesitant to interrupt him. His blustery temper was legendary among the Pilot’s staff. Finally I gathered my courage and cleared my throat.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
He didn’t answer or look up, just kept writing and mumbling to himself.
“Sir, Mister Dinkins said you wanted to see me?” I glanced at the wall clock behind his desk. There was less than an hour to get home and wash up, pick up my girlfriend and drive to City Hall. Covering the city commission meeting was a new assignment and I was determined to do an exemplary job. I wanted to prove to my uncle that this cub reporter he’d hired as a favor to his baby sister was capable of handling more than local sports, farm news and garden club socials.
The fact that my girl, Jenny Cotton, worked as a stenographer at the county courthouse didn’t hurt matters either. The way I saw it, with Jenny’s flawless note-taking combined with my writing talent, the esteemed publisher and editor-in-chief would have no choice but to recognize budding genius when he saw it, nepotism be hanged.
Uncle Hawley wrote a few more lines, then laid the pen down and rocked back in his chair. He stared at me for a moment as if I were a perfect stranger, and then took off the ink-stained visor he habitually wore at the office. He wiped a hand across his brow, brushing back imaginary strands of long-lost hair.
“What is it?” he said, the cigar bobbing up and down.
“Mister Dinkins said you wanted to see me.” I was beginning to sound like a stuck Victrola.
“Dinkins, yes.” He glanced down at the yellow pad, then looked up, took the cigar from his mouth and pointed it at me.
“You cover the game this afternoon?”
“Yes sir, ready for print.”
“Well who the hell won, boy?”
“We did, four to one,” I said, ‘we’ meaning Uncle Hawley’s alma mater, Harrison High.
He slapped the desktop. “By damn, that’s good news!” Uncle Hawley was a baseball fanatic of some magnitude. He’d once dreamed of playing in the Majors, but never made it further than Class D in the now defunct Tri-States League. He grinned and stuck the cigar back in his mouth. “Up by two games in the conference. We beat Holmes County next week, we’re going to State.”
“Yes sir,” I said, feigning enthusiasm. I found most organized sports boring. Fly fishing was my passion, a pastime largely unheard of here in the warm waters of the Deep South. “If the Hurricanes play like they did today, they’re a cinch.” Uncle Hawley just sat there grinning, so I made a show of pulling my watch from my pocket and examining it. “I need to be at City Hall in a half hour, sir. You wanted to see me?”
His grin receded into a familiar scowl as he dug through one of the stacks on his desk. “Ah.” He pulled a wrinkled sheet of paper from the pile, stared at it a moment and then looked up. “Got a job for you tomorrow. I was going to put Dinkins on it, but his missus is a week past due already.”
“Tomorrow? But tomorrow is Saturday, sir. I’ve already—”
“Listen up, boy,” he said, waving the paper like a semaphore. “The news waits for no man. Now, you want to be a journalist or were you just wasting your time and your daddy’s hard-earned money at that fancy university?”
My ears burned as I reached for the note. Tomorrow’s matinee at the Ritz was out of the question now, most likely the beach bonfire, too. Good thing my girlfriend Jenny was the understanding sort. I glanced at the note scrawled in Uncle Hawley’s heavy hand: Malburn brothers, North and South, Econfina, Saturday noon May 28.
I read it again, trying to decipher just what my assignment was. I dreaded asking for more information. When it came to conducting business, Hawley Wells was a man of few words. He expected the hired help to read his mind and carry out his will explicitly.
“Well get going, boy,” Uncle Hawley said. “The commissioners’ll be done with business and halfway to the speakeasy before you even get there. And see Dinkins on your way out,” he called as I hurried through the doorway. “He’ll fill you in.”
* * *
It was well past noon Saturday by the time I reached Bennet, a shabby little settlement some twenty miles north of Harrison. The map Harold Dinkins had drawn was easy enough to follow, but I hadn’t counted on being delayed by a road construction gang and a ferry captain who refused to cross Bear Creek until some farmer friend showed up with a truckload of new potatoes.
I drove past weathered buildings and scattered farm houses until I came to a large rickety barn with a rusting Barbasol sign nailed to the gable. I stopped and checked the directions again, then turned my prized ’twenty-five Model-T roadster—a graduation gift from my parents—onto a sandy rut that intersected Bennet Road. The car lurched and bounced along the twisting downhill trail through dense stands of scrub oak and longleaf pine toward Econfina Creek. The chassis bottomed out a few times, but that didn’t concern me nearly as much as the branches on either side that clawed the length of my freshly polished pride and joy. I cursed myself for ever taking this blasted job, and Uncle Hawley for giving it to me. I swore at the splattered love bugs smeared across the windshield, the dust and heat and general discomfort of the Florida panhandle countryside. I vowed I’d move back home to the amiable hills of southern Pennsylvania—with or without Jenny—before the oppressive swelter of another gulf coast summer set in.
A mile or so later the road mercifully leveled out and the sandy ruts gave way to washboard clay. Just ahead was Porter’s Bridge, a rickety looking affair fashioned from railroad ties and rough-hewn planking. I stopped the car and got out for a closer inspection. The structure obviously predated Henry Ford, and I wondered if it was safe even for light wagon or buggy traffic. While contemplating whether or not to risk a crossing, I noticed several vehicles parked in a clearing on the far bank. Well, if that many cars and trucks made it safely across, I reasoned, I suppose I could too.
I got back in the roadster, pedaled into first gear and aligned the front tires with the weathered boards. Offering a silent prayer, I eased forward. The bridge vibrated a little but seemed stable enough. Halfway across a troubling thought occurred to me: maybe those other vehicles had come from that side of the creek.
I felt like Moses at the Red Sea when I finally reached the far bank. I hadn’t dared risk so much as a sidelong glance during the perilous crossing, so I stopped for a minute to view the countryside. Despite my recent outburst directed at West Florida and its multitudinous shortcomings, I had to concede that Mister Dinkins was right—it was a beautiful setting for a family reunion. The sun-dappled Econfina flowed clear and swift between fern-blanketed limestone banks. Live oaks shaded the picnic area with sprawling, moss-draped branches. Through breaks in the trees I saw people sitting around tables and strolling about the grounds.
According to a reunion handbill Mister Dinkins gave me, the Malburn clan had gathered here yearly during the last weekend in May since eighteen sixty-six:
For it was on the 28th of May, 1866, that Daniel, eldest son of James and Clara Malburn, completed his long and arduous journey home from a Yankee prison camp. Word spread quickly throughout the Econfina Valley about the miraculous return of this son long thought dead. Family and friends gathered posthaste to celebrate Daniel’s safe and fortuitous homecoming.
That a family reunion had persevered for sixty years was newsworthy in itself, but what really piqued my curiosity was that Daniel’s younger brother, Elijah, had reportedly fought for the North. My own grandfathers had also found themselves on opposite sides during that most agonizing epic in our nation’s history.
I was eager to learn how the Malburn brothers had conducted themselves when they faced one another at that initial reunion some six decades past. Had the fraternal bond been irreparably breached? How had this brother-against-brother quandary affected their immediate family? Were the Malburns still a house divided, or had all been long ago forgiven? What of their friends, neighbors, the generations that followed? What had prompted Elijah Malburn, a son of Florida and the South, to join the Union army in the first place?
From what scant information Mister Dinkins had gathered, there were conflicting stories about what actually occurred. I had so many questions, and only—or so I then thought—a few precious hours to glean the answers from these venerable gentlemen who, though begot from common loins, had once been mortal enemies.
Excerpted from Of Blood and Brothers by E. Michael Helms Copyright © 2013 by E. Michael Helms. 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am not a historian. I slept through most of the history classes I ever took. Through books like "Of Blood and Brothers" I have become very interested in American History and ashamed of my thickheadedness as a student. What a great story of the Florida Panhandle and the part it played in the Civil War. Thanks Mike Helms I understand now how important it was. I can't wait for the movie/TV series!!!!
OF BLOOD AND BROTHERS BY E MICHAEL HELMS was one of the best historical fiction accounts of the Civil War I've read to date! Reading the books(I received book one and two) was like stepping back to the battlefield with the brothers and reliving the life and the death of their friends, their "pards" The author took the Civil War to a different level by telling it from first one brother then another from the side of the Union to the side of the Confederate, brother against brother family divided . I highly recommend OF BLOOD AND BROTHERS to anyone who either loves history, historical fiction or the Civil War I received this book(s) from goodreads in exchange for a review
This book is a "page turner". Mr Helms has interwoven the intrigue with the horrors faced by the both the soldiers of both the Army of Northern Aggression and the Confederates. Book Two is a must read!
The war between the North and the South tore families and friends apart, as political and personal beliefs became a thing to stand up for, to fight for, willingly or not. When two brothers find themselves fighting on opposite sides, they were carving out their won jagged piece of history, trying to survive, not realizing that many years later a young reporter would be assigned to capture their stories at a family reunion. Of Blood and Brothers by E. Michael Helms is a journey back to one of the darkest times in American history, as seen through the eyes of Daniel and Elijah Malburn, two brothers with very different perspectives of that time. With great attention paid to detail, Mr. Helms has crafted brutally realistic scenes of war and its toll on humanity. The smell of gunpowder, the sounds of shots fired, the raw emotion of the moment is captured in his words. There was fear so real, it felt as if it had a life of its own, like another character in this tale. Honoring the factual side while weaving fiction around and throughout, I have to say this is one book that will stay with me for a long time to come, remembering the feelings of hurt, betrayal and love for country, family and the South. For history buffs, this is a must read! I received a review copy as part of the E. Michael Helms OF BLOOD AND BROTHERS Virtual Book Tour & Giveaway stopping at Tome Tender December 21-22, 2013.
Helms masterfully crafts a tale of two southern brothers who fought on opposite sides during the Civil War. He brings them both to life with distinct voices and personalities. The dialect was easy to read and understand, and seemed realistic for the time period. I found them to be likeable characters, and was immediately drawn into their story. The battle scenes are historically accurate and realistic without being excessive. The personal stories of the two brothers are told at times with charm, humor, wisdom, and sadness as they relate their memories of deep conflicting relationships, love, pain, and heartache. Helms’s excellent writing drew me in from the first chapter, and kept me intrigued all the way through. He has a gift for showing the reader the scenes, and bringing the characters alive. His use of dialogue and narrative gave me a real sense of the South and the era. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and would highly recommend it. I’m looking forward to reading not only Book Two, but other books by Helms.
Of Blood and Brothers was an engrossing read that I finished very quickly. Once I was engaged in the characters and the storyline I did not want it to end. I can't wait to read the second book!
Mike has written another very good book. I read it in two nites to try to find out what was going to happen next. Gripping. It takes you to the terrible Battle of Chicamauga to find out what that battle was like for one Florida brother who fought for the south. Later we learn that the other brother fought for the north albeit unwillingly. Well done in the description of the battle and the suffering of the innocents. Can't wait for the 2nd one..As a Marine in Vietnam Mike learned how armies fought. It may have been 100 years later, but many things stay the same. He weaves some of Vietnam into the story to make it richer. A must read. Doc. Hill
This is an interesting story of how two brothers ended up fighting on different sides during the Civil War. All this is told over time to a newspaper reporter starting at the Malburn family reunion. The author writes a powerful account with chilling detail of some of the battles fought during the war. I did have a bit of trouble with the way the novel was written but came to believe the author intentionally used poor grammar and this writing style to authenticate the story from the two men. Overall, I enjoyed the book and look forward to the next novel in the series. I received a copy of this book as a goodreads giveaway in exchange for my honest review.
Calvin Hogue, a reporter for the St. Andrew Pilot, is given an assignment to cover the Malburn family reunion, and the unique story of the two brothers that fought on opposite sides during the Civil War. Daniel and Elijah Malburn have very different stories to tell, of the War itself, and of their part in it. As Calvin meets with them, a complicated story of family, love, and betrayal emerges. As I closed the pages of this book I was deeply saddened. Of Blood and Brothers is a powerful novel that gives the reader a glimpse into the Civil War, its time period, and its people, while covering the delicate politics of the era, such as slavery and secession with disarming humility. This is an expertly written novel full of history and southern influence. Depictions of battle are graphic and realistic without being overwhelming, and the southern voice of the characters, and manner of speech are impeccable. Elijah and Daniel felt real to me. I became totally engrossed in the storyline, and could only find one fault: I have to wait until next March to find out what happens next. 5 out of 5 stars! *A physical copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Of Blood and Brothers is a captivating story of a family torn apart by the Civil War, a war that truly forced friend against friend, father against son and brother against brother. Initially mysterious and increasingly emotional, Of Blood and Brothers will immediately lure you in with the promise of exploring deeply conflicted family relationships and revealing the unfortunate circumstances that nearly tore a family asunder. This story never lets you down. E. Michael Helms, a combat veteran himself, beautifully scripts the story of the Malburn family and successfully evokes all of the pain and heartache you would expect to feel under such distressing circumstances. This particular journey follows the lives of brothers Daniel and Elijah Malburn, beloved brothers who fought as enemies during one of America’s most trying times. Their story is uncovered when, in 1927, a young reporter named Calvin Hogue is assigned to cover the Malburn family reunion. It is there that the depth and heartache of the Malburn family history is revealed. After interviewing Daniel and Elijah, Hogue learns that Elijah became a prisoner of the Union army after he was captured while working in the salt mines. After his capture Elijah, facing imprisonment, reluctantly agrees to work as a Union scout and lead a raid on his hometown of Econfina Valley. It was a crushing yet inevitable decision. Elijah’s turmoil and guilt over his decision is portrayed perfectly by Helms and the reader connects with Elijah’s conflict on a deeply emotional level. All aspects of this book are deeply emotional, historically accurate and southern without being cliché or offensive. Helms knowledge of the Civil War and the impact of war on the emotional and mental health of veterans is genuine and heartfelt. The details of the war are realistic without being overly dramatic. The emotional toll the war takes on both Daniel and Elijah is agonizing yet factual and honest. The brothers are broken men, not just by the Civil War but also by personal trials, betrayal and the mutual love of a beautiful woman. It appears as though these brothers are simply destined to oppose each other in battle in all things whether it be for country, for pride or for love. It is challenging to pick a side in this war of brothers. Daniel and Elijah are well-developed characters both with admirable qualities and tragic flaws. They each have lived the life they were forced to live given the circumstances, regret mistakes made before, during and after the war and are quite complex despite their simple southern nature. Each brother seeks redemption and reconciliation but a tragic past stands in their way and continues to divide the family even after the war has ended. Can the past be overcome? It’s a question that lives on well beyond Book One of this southern historical novel. A deeply complex story full of anguish, ambition and the desire for atonement, Of Blood and Brothers is a book worth reading. It is a remarkable journey through one of the most challenging times in America’s history. It is the story of a family divided by secrets and tragedy who are desperately seeking to be reunited. If Book One is any indication this is going to be a must-read series. Review by Ashley LaMar
In 1927 Calvin Hogue, a new reporter is on assignment to cover the Malburn family reunion. There he learns two of the brothers fought on opposite sides of the civil war. He interviews both of the brothers Daniel and Elijah. The family is from the panhandle of Florida and after the war problems arise and brothers are divided. He finds out that Elijah , while working the salt mines is taken prisoner and forced to work for the Union. It is not an easy task for him, since he has to invade territory that was once his home. Well written, with graphic detail, told from three points of view, the reader gets the actual feel of what it was like during that era and in the war. Book one leaves off with the reader wanting to know more, and it does have Chapter one of Book two at the end. I look forward to reading more from E. Michael Helms