Sunday, March 1, 2015

Okay, So Why Gatlin?

I've been asked, "Why did you write about Gatlin?" The short answer is because nobody else has. There are myriad biographies about other Civil War generals, North and South, but none about Gatlin, so I figured somebody should write one. However, there is more to it than just that.

Back in 1999 I ran across a thumbnail sketch of Confederate general Richard Caswell Gatlin in a one-volume Civil War encyclopedia and was surprised to read that he was from Kinston and Lenoir County where I now live and where some of my family lines go way back to colonial days. Naturally, I became curious about him, but there was no biography and no one around here had even heard of him. Geez, I thought, that's just not right. So my search for R. C. Gatlin began.

Most of what I found over the years I had to dig out a sentence at a time. Incessant internet searches yielded precious little, a snippet here, a piece there, but nothing longer than two or three paragraphs. I bought all the books I could find and afford on the Black Hawk War, the  Indian Territory, the Seminole Wars, the Mexican War, and surprisingly, for I had never heard of it, the Utah War; and, of course, the Civil War. Gatlin's West Point classmates and his fellow 7th Infantry officers were fodder for authors and some of those mentioned Gatlin. Over the years, I have come to know Gatlin better than probably anyone else alive today, although Gatlin's personal life before and after his military career still presents some unresolved challenges for me.

These days, in the aftermath of tobacco's demise and the disappearance of the textile industry, Kinston and Lenoir County are trying to rebuild their image and economy. A large part of that rebuild centers around Kinston's Civil War experience. Kinston was impacted big time by the Civil War. After the town of New Bern fell and the North Carolina coast was lost to the Yankees, Kinston became the front line of the Confederacy. Then twice in the late 1800s the court houses burned and most of Kinston's early records were lost, along with memories of its history. As its native son, its lifelong sterling ambassador, and its only Confederate general, Gatlin's legend today belongs to Kinston and Lenoir County. I had to get his story into the infosphere. There must be a book about him, there certainly must be. And now there is.

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