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Company K at Shiloh "6th" [12th] Il Infantry

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Major Joseph Kirkland wrote a Civil War novel published in 1891 in Chicago: The Captain of Company K. The first link below gives the background of the author and of the novel. The second link is to a copy of the book. Kirkwood actually served with the 12th Illinois with McClellen and left the service when McClellen was relieved. The 12th ended up in Tennesee at Shiloh and then with Sherman. Kirkwood's description of Shiloh is decent historical fiction as he remained a friend of many participants. The book is worth a glance just for Hugh Capper's pen and ink drawings. Kirkwood writes in the voice of a central Illinois farmer. The book belongs in the collection of "Shiloh in literature" - perhaps not on the same top shelf with the works of Bierce, Houston and others.



Shiloh Hugh Capper.JPG

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One of the wonderful aspects of historical fiction lies in the fact that as long as the surrounding story is plausible, a writer can take his characters in any direction he desires. The Captain of Company K is not only plausible, but it further benefits from its author, Joseph Kirkland, having been a Lieutenant in the 90-day 12th Illinois Infantry (the same regiment that included Augustus Chetlain, John McArthur... and a cameo appearance by U.S. Grant.) The fictional 6th Illinois showcases the challenge of recruiting complete regiments; the "popularity contests" that determined the regiment's officers (competent officers?); and reviews the age-old struggle during times of war to turn a mob into a fighting unit (converting "free citizens" into soldiers.) Along the way, the reader learns a thing or two about military drill (and a few unwritten tactics of command); is presented with probably the most accurate depiction of wartime Cairo Illinois; and is treated to a not implausible interaction with U.S. Grant.

One skirmish (important for introducing basic military tactics) and two battles are featured; interestingly, the 6th Illinois occupies the same ground at Fort Donelson as did the real-life 12th Illinois in February 1862. And at Shiloh... you'll have to read for yourself, and determine how closely Kirkland hits the mark.

The two main characters, Will Fargeon and "Mac" McClintock are junior officers involved in a student/mentor relationship (which is duplicated in military forces across the world, even today, most often as a junior officer/senior sergeant (apprentice/master) association.) Will Fargeon has a love interest named Sara (often referred to as Sally) and Sara has a sister named Lydia (who has a secret love interest in the 6th Illinois.) Several enlisted men and officers of the 6th Illinois Infantry are introduced, and their lives successfully followed (interests, activities, personalities) with probably the most noteworthy being Mexican War veteran (and long-time associate of Mac) Mark Looney... who suffers from a pronounced harelip.

You know the story of Shiloh. Here is an opportunity to read one of the few historical novels that features that battle (and compare what we know today with what was known in 1891.) Thanks to Rbn3 for making the access possible.





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