It seems fitting to follow Diane C. McPhail’s interview about the writing of The Abolitionist’s Daughter with Robert Kofman, author of General Meade: A Novel of the Civil War. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts on writing, Robert.
Why did you choose to write historical fiction? I’ve had a lifetime passion for history and seriously considered pursuing a doctorate before opting for law school. When I retired after a forty-year legal career my first trip was to the Gettysburg battlefield. I had been to Gettysburg before but never for more than two days. On this trip, I spent a week immersing myself in the great battle. Prior to the visit I reread Michael Sharra’s brilliant novel Killer Angels and was again awed by how he brought the battle of Gettysburg to life. That week in Gettysburg planted a seed in my mind that I could pursue a second career as a writer of historical fiction. I decided to start with a novel set in the Civil War.
What drew you to the world of this particular novel? During my research, I read The Life and Letters of General George Gordon Meade which contains hundreds of letters Meade wrote to his beloved wife Margaret. His letters offer exceptional insights into the turbulent politics and dysfunctional leadership that swirled around the Union’s largest fighting force, the Army of the Potomac “AOP”. I realized there was a dramatic story that could be told through Meade’s eyes. Known as the Old Snapping Turtle for his fierce temper, Meade fought in every AOP battle as that star-crossed army confronted its arch nemesis, Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Lincoln made Meade Commanding General of the AOP just three days before the Battle of Gettysburg. Meade was the AOP’s fourth commander in eight months [the three preceding commanders had been sacked by Lincoln for their inability to beat Lee]. At Gettysburg, Meade defeated the seemingly invincible Lee in the largest, bloodiest and most dramatic battle of the war. After the Battle of Gettysburg Meade was subjected to a vicious smear campaign that falsely claimed he had wanted to retreat, had poorly managed the army and disaster was avoided only because of the brilliant work of his subordinates. The effort to disparage Meade was led by a General he had offended, Dan Sickles. That former Congressman had gained fame before the war for having murdered his wife’s lover and been acquitted in the first case recognizing the defense of temporary insanity. Great efforts were made in Congress and the press to have Lincoln sack the Victor of Gettysburg but Lincoln never did and Meade was still leading the AOP when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House.
Can you tell us how you did your research and any surprises you discovered along the way? I read historical works on every battle Meade fought in, visited the battlefields on multiple occasions and attended a Civil War reenactment in Gettysburg. I contacted the General Meade Society in Philadelphia and communicated with its President, Professor Andrew Waskie. He cordially invited me to visit Philadelphia which I accepted. During that visit, Andy gave me a tour of the City’s Grand Army of the Republic Museum and I attended the annual celebration of Meade’s life that is held on his birthday, December 31. I read numerous biographies on all the historical figures including Meade, Lee, Lincoln, members of his cabinet and all the Union generals [and many of their subordinates]. The vicious politics of Washington was on display in many books including those on the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War which investigated Meade based on Sickles allegations of his generalship at Gettysburg. I researched Lincoln’s prodigious output of jokes and yarns and the President recounts many of his humorous stories the book.
One surprise was the importance of the 1840’s Mexican War in forming lasting bonds of friendship between so many of the key officers on both sides of the conflict. Meade, Grant, Lee and many others fought together in Mexico. Those close ties allowed senior officers of the Union and Confederate armies to promote reconciliation and begin the healing process that would reunite the country after four years of bloodshed that saw 600,000 soldiers perish.
Which authors have inspired your writing? Can you tell us why? Great historical fiction transports the reader on a journey to a different time and place and educates while often provoking serious thinking about parallels to modern society. Two of the best that I admire are James Michener and Ken Follett. Michener explores civilizations and captures the clashes of cultures in many of his works. I feel like I’m in a graduate history course when I’m reading one of his books. I have always been fascinated with the Second World War and loved Follett’s first book, Eye of the Needle, a fictional story of a Nazi spy being pursued by British intelligence. Follett has written many fine novels since and, similar to Michener, captures history with a broad canvas.
Three writers inspired me in writing about the Civil War, Michael Sharra, his son Jeff Sharra and Ralph Peters. They are the standard setters in Civil War military fiction.
What is your writing process? I do extensive research and prepare a timeline of events to be covered before beginning to write. I work eight to twelve hours a day until I produce a first draft. Thereafter I do revisions until I am satisfied that I have written a good story that flows smoothly and moves crisply.
What is the subject of your next novel? I have begun researching for a novel set in the European theater of World War II. Similar to General Meade it will include leading political and military leaders such as Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, Dwight Eisenhower, Bernard Montgomery, and Charles De Gaulle.
Many thanks, Robert. I love novels that show the complexities and tragedies of war. Your next one reminds me of Citizens of London by Lynne Olson.
General Meade: A Novel of the Civil War by Robert Kofman ~~ As the Civil War rages on, President Lincoln desperately seeks a commander to defeat the seemingly invincible Confederate general, Robert E. Lee, whose army has invaded Pennsylvania. Lincoln turns to the Old Snapping Turtle, General George Meade—a courageous man with remarkable integrity and a fiery temper—to save the Union during its greatest time of need. Just three days later, Meade confronts Lee’s troops at Gettysburg, resulting in the bloodiest and most dramatic battle of the war. Delivering a glorious victory, General Meade vanquishes the Confederate Army, forcing a retreat south. But for Meade, the battle is far from over. At first heralded as a hero who turned the tide of the war, he falls victim to a nefarious smear campaign that threatens to ruin his reputation and his career. The general is forced to muster all his strength to persevere against an onslaught of political attacks, all while leading the Army of the Potomac and serving his superiors: General Ulysses S. Grant and President Lincoln. A compelling work of historical fiction, General Meade: A Novel of the Civil War paints an engrossing picture of an unsung American hero. Filled with primary sources, including letters written by Meade himself, the narrative uses firsthand accounts to reveal fascinating details of life in a nation dangerously divided.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.