‘The music commenced’— Gettysburg turns tide for Union army

One hundred and fifty-two years ago today, “the music commenced” at Gettysburg. The quoted phrase comes from Private Oney F. Sweet, who made reference to the artillery barrages that signaled the beginning of battle.

Confederate General Lee had marched his army from Virginia into Pennsylvania, and the Union forces made a counter move to cut him off. They collided at the small town of Gettysburg.

Sweet and his comrades in Ricketts’ Battery — Battery F of the 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery — were held in reserve that first day of battle. Sweet’s diary entry for July 1 leaves the impression that it was just another day.

Wednesday, July 1, 1863

A cloudy morning, but cleared off near noon. 12 o’clock and we are now in camp. Got two papers. We expected to march but did not.

The following day, his section was ordered into battle and positioned on East Cemetery Hill. His terse diary entries don’t tell the whole story:

Thursday, July 2, 1863

A warm and pleasant day. Marched to Gettysburg. Went into the fight about six o’clock and had a hard fight. Lost about twenty killed and wounded. Myron French, Riggin, Anderson, Miller killed. The Rebels charged on our Battery about dark, but were repulsed. Nead, Given and O. G. Larabee were taken prisoner.

Bodies of dead soldiers, Battle of Gettysburg, 1863.

Bodies of dead soldiers, Battle of Gettysburg, 1863.

Although Sweet doesn’t mention it, he was wounded in one leg and lost his hearing in one ear.

Years later, with the benefit of hindsight, he wrote retrospective pieces about what has become known as the bloodiest and deadliest battle of the U.S. Civil War. He was also quoted in a historical publication and a newspaper.

The History of Franklin and Cero Gordo Counties (Iowa, 1883) cites him as saying he saw twenty-three of his comrades fall around him in as many minutes.


Dead soldier, Battle of Gettysburg, 1863. (Library of Congress)

In a letter published in The National Tribune, April 29, 1909, Sweet wrote: “I pulled the lanyard for every shot from that gun.” In 1931, he told the Long Beach Press-Telegram, that his gun “fired 101 times” during the fighting on July 2.

He also wrote:

The music commenced. . . . If I remember thinking at all it was of mother at home.

The unwritten part of our war is greater than all that has been written. Two soldiers side by side in a hot place in our battles did not see the same things. The generals did not see what the privates saw.

A brigade of rebels known as the Louisiana Tigers had formed in a street of Gettysburg, marched to the edge of town and given that never to be forgotten yell “Yep, Yep, Yep.” The chief of artillery had ordered all the captains of batteries at this point to fight and man the guns as long as they could and make no effort to save the guns as our support, the infantry, in the Baltimore Pike would do the rest. When this racket commenced and our infantry was forced back through us we ceased shelling and prepared to give them grape and cannister.

The men at the Union batteries were outnumbered, but they clung to their guns, and with handspikes, rammers, fence rails, and stones, defended themselves, cheering each other on, and shouting, “Death on our own State soil, rather than give the enemy our guns.” (Bates, 1868)

The Louisiana Tigers, for the first time in the war, were turned back and forced to retreat. The following day the fighting continued until the Confederate army withdrew and returned to Virginia.

Sweet wrote in his diary:

Friday, July 3, 1863

A warm, pleasant day. Heavy fighting all day. Pryne and Christie wounded in the leg. The Rebs were repulsed at every point. General Longstreet wounded and taken prisoner. Very hard fighting all day.

In 1931, speaking to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Oney F. Sweet summed up what, in hindsight, became the turning point of the war:

My first big fight was the second Battle of Bull Run, and there I showed the Johnnies I could beat them in a foot race. In fact, we seemed to make it a practice of running pretty nearly every time we came to grips with the rebels until Gettysburg. After, we didn’t run any more.

The deadly battle had ended, but the war dragged on for more than a year and a half.

In another retrospective piece written for the The National Tribune, Sweet commented on the historical renditions of the battle and the war:

I realize that to average youth, patriotic tho it may be, the historian has brought but dull statistics and hackneyed description. Of the hot-blooded young fellows who fell at my side in private uniforms, the [historians] know as a number killed, while I see again their tanned faces grow blanch and hear their dying cry of farewell to friends about. Of the more famous few, whom school books have pictured and orators have lauded, they may know as heroes, but not as men.

 The complete articles, along with Oney F. Sweet’s previously unpublished letters and diaries, have been recently published in What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters and Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet.

Through his words, we come to know him and his comrades not as heroes, but as men.

For information about the book, visit the official website: http://whattheprivatesaw.com.

You can read more excerpts and news about the book and related events at the book’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Read Book reviews.



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‘Write What You Know’ a Birdie Tweeted

Thought-provoking comments I gleaned from the writerati (i.e., those who believe they know more than the rest of us) . . .

‘Write What You Know’ — Helpful Advice or Idle Cliché?

Most writers have, for reasons of diffidence, or snobbery, or fear of exposure . . . unconsciously censored themselves and thrown out the wheat, mistaking it for nonliterary chaff.

Don’t Write What You Know
Why fiction’s narrative and emotional integrity will always transcend the literal truth

For me, it’s the difference between fiction that matters only to those who know the author and fiction that, well, matters.

Write What You Know, Or Not.

Use what you know to guide you towards what you don’t, and no one will ask too many questions about it later.

Write What You Like: Why “Write What You Know” Is Bad Advice

“Write what you know” is one of the cardinal rules of writing, a tip that’s as widely quoted as “I before E, except after C.” And just like that bit of spelling advice, it’s more often wrong than right.

Should We Write What We Know?

[T]he idea is to investigate the subject till you can write about it with complete confidence and authority. Being a serial expert is actually one of the cool things about the very enterprise of writing: You learn ’em and leave ’em.

And I leave you with these gems:

Bad books on writing and thoughtless English professors solemnly tell beginners to ‘Write What You Know’, which explains why so many mediocre novels are about English professors contemplating adultery.

—Joe Haldeman, American sci-fi writer

[W]rite what you know will always be excellent advice to those who ought not to write at all.

—Gore Vidal, in Thomas Love Peacock: The Novel of Ideas

Happy writing . . .


PS: I became intrigued with this topic after an unthinking person posted on Facebook:  as Mark Twain said – “write what you know about”  — and I questioned whether Twain ever said that. I’m still working on the latter — other than I am certain he would not have ended the statement with “about” — yet another example why one should not end a sentence with an adverb.   ;-)

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“Pulp Fiction”: Lessons in Writing Scenes

pulp_fictionWatched “Pulp Fiction” last night. One weird-ass story (one character comes back from the dead, and not for the faint of heart — classic Quentin Tarantino bloodsplattering).

But it has some great scripting that all writers can learn from — whether writing for print or the projector — especially the scene with Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) eating breakfast at a diner . . .

“PULP FICTION” Script at IMSDb. By Quentin Tarantino & Roger Avary

 INT. COFFEE SHOP – MORNING                Jules and Vincent sit at a booth. . . .


(near the end of the movie, so it’s easiest to find it with a search: CNTL + F)

More on the background of the movie in Vanity Fair . . .

[Linda Chen] knew Tarantino was a “mad genius.” He has said that his first drafts look like “the diaries of a madman,” but Chen says they’re even worse. “His handwriting is atrocious. He’s a functional illiterate. I was averaging about 9,000 grammatical errors per page. After I would correct them, he would try to put back the errors, because he liked them.”

Made for $8.5 million, it earned $214 million worldwide, making it the top-grossing independent film at the time. Roger Ebert called it “the most influential” movie of the 1990s, “so well-written in a scruffy, fanzine way that you want to rub noses in it—the noses of those zombie writers who take ‘screenwriting’ classes that teach them the formulas for ‘hit films.’ ”



Another revealing piece . . .

“Making the Movie on the Page”: Rare 1992 Interview With Quentin Tarantino for ‘Reservoir Dogs’




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Praise for Murder Survivor’s Handbook

Polishing Your Prose:

Nice words for Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources . . .

For more information, visit the website: http://wigeonpublishing.com/books/murder_survivors_handbook_saindon.html

Originally posted on Survivors of Violent Loss:

Murder Survivor's Handbook: Real-life Stories, Tips & Resources

“Words are woefully insufficient to convey the extraordinary value of “Murder Survivor’s Handbook.”  Written for survivors, but exceptionally useful for the professionals and friends who want to assist them, this book is unparallelled in its information about and guidance through the unique experience of traumatic bereavement following a loved one’s murder.  Its focus ranges from the pragmatic (e.g., how to stay safe, what to include in a courtroom survival kit) to the emotional (e.g., tending to your grief, remembering).  Saindon’s “survivor tips” are worth their weight in gold, and make this superb resource a virtual roadmap for all who find themselves navigating the treacherous waters of life after murder.  Clearly written and easy to digest, this book is jam-packed with essential information and, without qualification, is now the go-to book for all homicide survivors and caregivers of all types who help them.  I cannot recommend it highly enough!”

–Therese A…

View original 35 more words

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Decoration Day Honored U.S. Civil War Veterans; Later Became Memorial Day

On May 5, 1868, Major General John A. Logan, the head of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, declared Decoration Day as a time for the nation to honor the U.S. Civil War dead. Logan declared that the day should be observed on May 30 and that the soldiers’ graves be decorated with flowers.

Oney F. Sweet, Civil War Veteran

Oney F. Sweet, Civil War Veteran

The veterans’ organization held the first observance that year at Arlington National Cemetery. Various Washington officials presided over the event, including General and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant. By the end of the 19th century, communities throughout the country staged Decoration Day festivities.

Civil War veteran Oney F. Sweet — featured in What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet — marched in many Decoration Day parades.

His son, Oney Fred Sweet, wrote a poem about the parades; the poem appeared in The National Tribune on May 24, 1906.


Decoration Day.

There’s the chirp of birds in the pinetree tops
And there’s morning dew in the grass.
The streets lined with those who’ve come
To watch the procession pass.
There’s the grand old Flag that floats ahead,
There’s children with flowers of May
There’s daddy hobbling with the “boys”—
’Tis Decoration Day.
No wonder that garden and field and wood
Have given their fairest blooms;
No wonder the petals and leaves leap high
Beside the soldiers’ tombs.
No wonder the village band plays sweet
As they wind along their way;
No wonder the skies are blue above—
’Tis Decoration Day.
But there’s sort of a look in daddy’s face
And the “boys” that go halting by,
As though their thoughts were drifting on
To another earth and sky.
For their minds are back to the youthful time
When they marched as boys away
And they’re pondering ’bout where they’ll all be
Next Decoration Day.

Following World War I, the day became known as Memorial Day in honor of those who had died in all U.S. wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day as a national holiday, which is now celebrated on the last Monday in May.

What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster SweetThis information and poem are excerpted from the recently released book, What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet.


Memorial Day Event

flag_at_winchester_grave_3430On this coming Memorial Day, May 25, 2015, a ceremony will be held at Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego by the local chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans of the U.S. Civil War. It begins at 1:00 p.m. More than 1,200 Civil War veterans are buried at the cemetery.

The featured speaker will be Bill Ketchum, great-grandson of Oney Foster Sweet and a veteran himself. He will honor veterans of all U.S. wars, Union and Confederate, men and women.

The cemetery is located at 3751 Market Street, San Diego, CA 92102, between the I-15 and I-805 freeways.

[Photos and video of the event now online.]

Other events

  • Book presentation and signing, date and time to be announced. Featured speakers: Larry Edwards, editor of What the Private Saw; Gene Armistead, author of Horses and Mules in the Civil War; Pedro Garcia, author of Port Hudson: Last Bastion on the Mississippi and Raising the Northern Blockade: Submarine Warfare in the Civil War; Bill Ketchum, publisher of Trumpets of the Morning. Te Mana Café, 4956 Voltaire St., San Diego, CA 92107 (Ocean Beach), (619) 255-9233. http://www.temanacafe.com
  • Old-Fashioned Independence Day Festival, Saturday, June 27, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Featured speakers: Bill Ketchum, great-grandson of Oney Foster Sweet, and Larry Edwards, editor of What the Private Saw. Location: Rancho San Diego Library, 11555 Via Rancho San Diego, El Cajon, CA 92019, (619) 660-5370. http://www.sdcl.org/locations_RD.html
  • San Diego Civil War Round Table, October 21, 2015, 8 p.m.: Guest speakers: Larry Edwards, editor of What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet, and Bill Ketchum, great-grandson of Oney Foster Sweet. Location: Palisades Presbyterian Church, 6301 Birchwood St, San Diego, CA 92120, in the Allied Gardens area.


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Mother’s Day and the U.S. Civil War

With Mother’s Day just a few days away, I began to wonder about the history of the day purported to honor mothers. Did it exist during the U.S. Civil War? If it did, Oney F. Sweet never mentioned it.

It turns out that the underpinnings of Mother’s Day predate the Civil War. This according to Katharine Lane Antolini, assistant professor of history and gender studies at West Virginia Wesleyan College. She is the author of Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for Control of Mother’s Day (West Virginia University Press, 2014), and she gives presentations about the history of Mother’s Day and the roles women played during the Civil War.

In the 1850s, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a women’s organizer in Virginia, held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality. During the Civil War the groups also tended to wounded soldiers, Union and Confederate.

Jarvis’s daughter Anna carried on the tradition and organized the first official Mother’s Day in 1908—then spent decades defending it from commercialization. (And we can see today how well that worked out.)

What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters & Diaries of Oney Foster SweetWhile I cogitated on this, it struck me that almost all of the letters in What the Private Saw are letters that Oney F. Sweet wrote to his mother, Caroline Foster Sweet. Only one letter is addressed to his father, and that is somewhat business-like.

Following the war, Oney wrote a retrospective piece, and in it he said:

At Antietam when the minnie balls were coming pretty thick out of a corn field I was putting a shell into the gun. [John Given] was ready to ram it. He said, “Sweet, do you hear them calling you cousin?” I don’t believe I even smiled then as the bullets were pretty thick. If I remember thinking at all it was of mother at home.

This is not to say that he didn’t write to his father on other occasions, just as he wrote to his sister Sarah and brother Willie. Perhaps those letters, if they existed, were lost.

Nevertheless, as a 19-year-old gone off to war, Oney appears to have written primarily to his mother. He wanted her to know that he was safe, how he was getting along, and the details of the battles in which he fought. He also informed her of the fate and condition of the packages she had sent to him, and he requested items from her, in one instance asking her to make a shirt for him, and to send him a “housewife” (sewing kit) so he could mend his torn and worn clothing.

I have no doubt that this symbolizes such relationships over the centuries, when a son — and today a daughter — goes off to a war from which he or she may not return alive.

That, in part, is why Oney F. Sweet’s words transcend the Civil War to become a timeless human story and give us an opportunity to reflect on such horrific events and the toll they take, not only on the battlefield, but back home.

trumpets of the morning - marian julia sweetOney’s daughter Marian also seems to have given some thought to this. She wrote a novel about a man who went off to fight in the Civil War, leaving his family behind. She drew from her father’s letters and diaries, and perhaps Julia’s grandmother Caroline told her about her own fears and worries while her son Oney fought in the war for nearly four years.

That book, Trumpets of the Morning, serves as a companion to What the Private Saw, and is available at Amazon.com.

To mothers everywhere, I wish you a happy Mother’s Day, and let’s not forget its traditional, noncommercial roots.



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Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources by Connie Saindon, MFTCongratulations Connie Saindon and Wigeon Publishing on your IBPA Gold Award . . .

Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources has received a prestigious Gold Award in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin book awards competition sponsored by the Independent Book Publishers Association.

The nonfiction book, authored by Connie Saindon, MFT, and published by Wigeon Publishing (2014), took top honors in the Self-Help category. IBPA officials announced the winners on April 10 during a ceremony held in conjunction with the organization’s Publishing University in Austin, Texas.

Read the full announcement: Murder Survivor’s Handbook Win’s IBPA’s Benjamin Franklin Gold Award


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