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Seminole War Fort at Picolata

 

Lydia Hawke  presents:

Exiles
on the St. Johns

Excerpt From Chapter One

Near Sharpsburg, Maryland
September, 1862
   Over time, Jack Farrell had schooled himself to think of his targets as objects rather than men. He was no murderer, just a skilled marksman.
   Fellow skirmishers ran past as he claimed a likely spot. He dropped his haversack and blanket at the bottom of the tree trunk, leaving his canteen and cartridge box on his waist belt. He propped himself against the rough bark and tightened the leg straps anchoring the climber gaffs to his shoes. The nearby crackle of rifle fire, the boom of artillery, and the screech of shells overhead made deadly music.
  He swept his gaze upward, regarding the big oak tree, searching for the best way to scale it. He studied the curve of the branches, gauging the climb to the crotch of the tree, one well sheltered by leaves, still thick in early autumn. The screen could serve him well.
   Jack slung the Enfield musketoon rifle over his shoulder and unwound a length of rope. He looped it around the trunk and started to walk up the tree by sticking the triangular gaffs into the thick bark and pulling himself upward with the rope.
   Slim and tough, supple as a cat, he’d learned to translate his skill at stringing telegraph wires along the Florida railway line into a more harrowing job. He avoided catching the rifle or his equipment in the protruding boughs. He crawled onto a substantial branch, and sitting astride, settled his back against the main trunk. Judging his seat secure, he didn’t need to tie himself to his perch. He shifted to unsling the rifle and cradled it in his arms.
  The gray of his uniform jacket blended in with the shadows cast by the foliage. He stared through the leaves at a battery a couple of hundred yards away. Crack shots from his regiment had been selected to silence those destructive guns. The blue-clad artillery crews swarmed around the cannons, loading them with the exploding shells that had been creating havoc on his side. His job was to disrupt their effectiveness.
  Jack’s Enfield two-bander, equipped with a telescope to help focus on targets and a shorter barrel to make it easier to handle in close quarters, was the most practical rifle the Confederacy had so far found to equip its marksmen. In the hands of a skilled shooter it proved deadly accurate.
   Jack was such an expert.
   He watched the blue-coated soldiers for a moment, studying their placement and movements. The situation required haste but not at the expense of wasting ammunition. He estimated the distance and considered trajectory. Then he lifted the stock to his shoulder and braced for the recoil, taking into account the three-inch space he needed between his eye and the telescope. Too close, and the rifle’s kick would ram his face and give him a black eye. Artillery horses made big, inviting targets, but he hated to kill them. They had not volunteered to pull the caissons for the Union army.
   He singled out an officer who paced behind the cannon, barking out orders, his arm chopping. Jack sighted through the telescope, tracking him with the muzzle of his rifle. He pushed aside a fleeting thought of his Yankee brother. Dan isn’t an artillery officer. He led a little ahead of the center of the man’s body and gently squeezed the trigger.
   The bark of the black powder explosion spewed out the muzzle, sparing his ears. The recoil bumped hard against his shoulder. He peered through the plume of stinking smoke, reloaded and assessed the effect his handiwork had wrought. Handling the muzzle-loader was an awkward process that would have been simpler on the ground, but he was well practiced.
   The blue-coated officer lay on the ground. Two crewmen rushed over to their stricken leader, disrupting the sequence of firing the piece of artillery.
   The crack of a rifle to his right reminded him he was not alone. Could be Bill, one of his messmates. A crewman fell across the barrel of the cannon and slid off.
   It was a painstaking but effective process, keeping the artillerymen busy trying not to get shot. He contributed his part to render the battery harmless, and from the crack of rifle fire on either side, other skirmishers were on the job as well.
   Jack lifted the rifle to his shoulder again and trained his weapon on one of the men who had run to the fallen officer. The Yankee whirled and froze like a pointer, looking in the sharpshooter’s direction. Jack imagined the soldier staring into his eyes. He sighted the stationary target, ready to fire a bullet into the fellow’s chest.
   But the Yankee moved out of the scope’s field. Jack swung the barrel by degrees until he found his target again. The uncooperative prey slipped in and out of view as Jack followed, then disappeared behind a field piece. Jack gave him up as a bad job and picked out an easier mark, a soldier carrying a rammer. Again he squeezed the trigger and felt the jolt. He didn’t see the man fall, but his marksman’s intuition told him the bullet had found its home. As the breeze drifted the smoke away he saw the artillerist had sat down and appeared to sag sideways.
   He could do this all day, reload, aim and fire, occasionally swabbing the barrel to keep it clean, but it was time to move. The smoke from his rifle had given away his position and would bring fire his way.
   He slid the rifle’s sling back over his shoulder and unwound his rope to aid his descent. Then he widened his eyes in alarm. The crew of the first gun had jumped back to the task and had swung the barrel around. This time he stared at the foreshortened piece pointed toward his perch.
   His hunter’s blind had become a trap. Calculating that the drop would harm him less than a cannonball in his gullet, he grabbed a branch and tried to push clear. Something restrained him. He couldn’t get free. His belt, hooked on a broken limb, had him stuck fast.
   Jack swore and reached back to release himself from the jut of wood. From the corner of his eye he saw smoke blossoming from the mouth of the cannon just before he heard the boom. He jerked the belt upward with such violence he skinned his knuckles on the bark. He finally freed himself just as the world exploded in a blast of fire.


Reviews

"Very well researched and written, though I expected nothing less! Exiles on the St. Johns nails the trials of the families caught up in the Civil War. I feel  a friendship for that  Jack Farrell. I can’t wait for Raiders on the St. Johns."

Jim Hilton, actor

Ms. Hawke has pulled back the curtain of time to give us a glimpse of how it may have been for the average person – military and civilian, in the turbulent time of war. As she stated in her foreword, she herself had family who fought the battle for home on the home front. She has a lot to be proud of.

This book exemplifies the trials and tribulations of life for those unfortunate enough to live along the battle lines. Ms. Hawke has done an outstand job bringing these people to life in her most recent novel, Exiles on the St. Johns.

Exiles on the St. Johns delivers to the reader the importance of Florida to the war effort regardless of the fact that very few large battles were fought here. The food for the war effort was sparse. Had Florida fallen completely, there would have been none. The tactics needed to fight the occupation were much different than those of standard battles. J. J. Dickison and his men performed an invaluable service to the Cause. Perhaps the urge to be successful was greater because they were literally fighting for family and property instead of being thousands of miles away. Even though this is a novel of fiction, it is factual of the times and skirmishes that took place over this very contested strip of land. While reading this book, I felt that I was there among the characters feeling their very real fear and when the day was done, their thankfulness at being successful.

If possible, the characters in her book are even more credible than those novels that have preceded this one. You feel like you are beside the characters as they fact the joys, hardships and sorrows in the struggle to survive and to triumph over the hatred of suspicious neighbors and contempt of the invading armies. the average person never lived more than a short distance from their home. To live with the constant fear that the occupying army could at any time force you to leave you home and possessions and deposit you in a distant town with no connections or means to survive would have been terrifying at best; especially for the young adults struggling to take care of siblings.

I appreciated the presence of the black community and its struggles through the conflict in her book. Sadly, as imparted in her novel, most Northerners felt the same way as their Southern counterparts that these men were inferior and only useful for heavy labor. Her freed/slave characters were an example of the many black men did in fact become skilled soldiers and not just a target or shield for the opposing side. In order for this to happen, there had to be white officers who saw beyond the surface and judged the man as a whole person. the character Isaac, the freed black man who worked the land for Jack’s father, personifies all the trials and tribulations faced by people of color. He was a free man but his wife and children were not.

Once again, Ms. Hawke has been able to bring an important part of our history to life in such a way that when you turn the last page, it leaves you hungering for more. I am more than looking forward to reading the sequel, Raiders on the St. Johns, which is to be released in 2010

From Florida Reenactors Online, Lorraine Niepert


Exiles of the St. Johns nailed me! What a great read! Down home action and adventure. Locations and landscape I can relate to. This was another 2 AM read for me...and after the last chapter I wanted more...that nasty Prescott had to go-and then I turned to the back page. Reading the Excerpt I was thrilled to see a forthcoming sequel on the way. Oh the agony of such a long delay, but I am calm with the knowledge that you'll make the demise of Prescott all worth the wait.
Charlie Reich



Above photo by Wes Mayhle

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Other Places

Suspense Fiction by
Lydia C. Filzen

 Silent Witness
Agility Suspense Unleashed


Nonfiction articles by Lydia Filzen frequently appear in:

Civil War News

Clay Today Newspaper

American Roads Travel Ezine


  

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