Michael Mendoza, author of Glorious Reality of War, agreed to answer some questions for me. I hope you enjoy reading the answers as much as I did.
Could you tell us a bit about how you found the letter from C. W. Rickard?
In the 1990s I owned a second-hand/antique store. A 95-year-old friend of my wife’s family, Alice Bowersock, passed away. The couple who inherited her house in the Mission Hills area of San Diego called me and asked if I would take all her stuff out of the house so they could sell it. It was a small house but chock full of great antiques and collectibles. In the crawl space under the house were boxes of stuff that belonged to her father. He was C.W. Rickard. His entire life laid there in boxes stashed in the crawl space. As I went through those cardboard boxes, I encountered history from the personal level. He told his story.
When I began to examine the treasures in those boxes, I found a seventeen page, typed, legal sized letter C.W. Rickard had written to his grown daughter in the 1920s. The letter began with his childhood move from Ohio to Iowa and concluded with his return home. It included the letter rehearsed in the end of my book from Captain Smith.
Were there any other mementos of his from the Civil War that you found?
There were some items from the war that included buttons from his uniform and a participation pin. He also had a photo of the Brevet Colonel W.W. Wilde and U.S. Grant. But those artifacts are very few. However, the treasures were not limited to the Civil War. I have letters from as early from the 1840s. He left behind his paperwork from years as a member of the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) which was a veterans association much like the VFW today. He also left documents like his Civil War pension paperwork which I found interesting. However, the most interesting document was a second letter he wrote describing his life after the Civil War. Once he left the military he couldn’t stay home and wrote that he set out “to seek his fortune.” His adventures included working with the railroad in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona along with a former soldier, J.P. Bowersock. He moved to South America to work for the railroads in Peru when his friend was killed in a railroad accident. Eventually he became the consulate for the American embassy in Peru. I have the documents conferring on him the position of American Consulate.
How much of the story is fiction and how much of it is truth?
The story is a tapestry of fact and fiction woven together to tell a story using the first hand account of C.W. Rickard’s recollection of his experiences and the research I have done on the Civil War. The major events and battles are as historically accurate as I could keep them. For example, the flotilla passing Vicksburg is historical, but the conversations on board were how I imagined it might have felt on board. They sat as helpless as sitting ducks as the big guns of Vicksburg pounded them. Another example was the incident at the Shaifer house actually happened, but I introduced the characters from C.W. Rickard’s outfit, 24th Iowa Infantry, Company G, as the soldiers who fired on General Green.
Another incident that demonstrates the blend of fact and fiction is the chapter on the Battle of Champion Hill. The events of the battle are accurate and C.W. Rickard gave his account of his participation, including being so worn out that he simply collapsed. Then he recounted a single incident, included in my book, of U.S. Grant riding up to him and asking, “Are you wounded, Bub?” His record of the encounter with Grant is the only historical document where this can be found. I believe it adds to our collective historical knowledge of General Grant, if even in some small way. C.W. Rickard’s letter recounts the event and I added the story line of what happened in his mind. Of course, I also added the line “With God all things are possible” because it added to my story line.
If you would like your own copy of Glorious Reality of War, I have provided an Amazon link for you below.