John is treating us to a story about his family today at the Dew. After you read this, click on the link at the bottom at go read the Dew's review of his new book, The Reservoir!
Does every Southern writer have a family Civil War story?
My new novel, The Reservoir, is a mystery based on a true crime story set in Richmond two decades after the Civil War. People have asked me about my connection to Richmond, and I usually tell them that I had no real ties to the city before I starting researching the novel, other than a great curiosity to find out more. But the truth is that one of the most enduring of my family’s stories comes right out of Richmond.
My great-grandfather was wounded in 1865 at Fort Stedman during the Petersburg campaign. Alson Gray Thompson fought with the North Carolina 6th Infantry, and was part of Robert E. Lee’s final major charge, when the Confederates launched an all-out assault on the Union lines on March 25. It was earlier in the Petersburg campaign that a mine blew up a Confederate battery, leaving an impressive, still-visible crater; the action was featured in Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. The later attack on Fort Stedman was every bit as deadly.
In the pre-dawn hours, my great-grandfather and his fellow soldiers marched through a ravine and then up toward the dirt-and-log fort. They then let loose the blood-curdling rebel yell and came charging with red battle flags and blazing guns. They seized the fort, but then, once the Union forces got organized, things didn’t go so well. Lee’s objective was to push the enemy back long enough to give him breathing room for a retreat. He ended up losing 4,000 men, one of whom was my great-grandfather, who took a bullet in the neck.
Thompson was taken to a temporary field hospital and from there to a hospital in Richmond, 25 miles north. He was in Richmond during the capital’s dramatic, fiery fall on April 2. Not being able to escape, he was captured and transferred to a prison camp at Point Lookout, Maryland. There he languished for two months with the bullet still lodged under his tongue. In June he swore an oath of allegiance to the United States and made his way home to his wife and farm.
My great-grandfather was lucky: He survived with his limbs intact, and the Minie ball became a family relic. He was able to work the land again and to help raise seven children, one of whom, my grandfather, would go to France in 1917 to fight in another great war. He fought as a U.S. soldier, just as his son, my father, would fight as a U.S. sailor in World War II. But those are other stories.
John Milliken Thompson
Read the Dew's Review of John's book HERE.