'The Calm and the Strife': Real Gettysburg characters inspire novel by father and son
Son-and-father team David J. Sloat and John W. Sloat release their first novel
February 24, 2013 5:00 AM
John W. Sloat and his son David J. Sloat have written a Civil War novel, "The Calm and the Strife," which culminates at the Battle of Gettysburg.
By Tom Barnes Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Son-and-father team David J. Sloat and John W. Sloat have chosen a good time to release their first novel -- a historical fiction set in Gettysburg and northern Virginia at the time of the Civil War that involves the only civilian killed during the famed battle.
"The Calm and the Strife" details the growing conflict between the North and South. It opens in 1856 and leads up to the three-day battle fought at Gettysburg in July 1863.
The novel was published in November, in anticipation of the battle's 150th anniversary that will be marked with much fanfare July 1-3.
This is the first book for David Sloat of Cranberry. He's a former documentary filmmaker and marketing executive who now is information technology director for a Texas-based environmental services firm.
His father, who livies in New Castle, is a retired clergyman who worked for 40 years at Presbyterian churches in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The Rev. Sloat has written several fiction and nonfiction books.
"My father has always been fascinated with history," David said. "Our summer vacations always included a stop at a battlefield, which always bored me to tears. But a lot of the information sunk in."
As a filmmaker, David had worked on history projects for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the USS Constitution Museum.
The novel is told through two main characters -- John Wesley Culp and Virginia "Ginnie" Wade. They were real people who grew up in Gettysburg, though some details of their lives and all the dialogue are fictional. The family names of Culp and Wade are still well known in the Gettysburg area.
Due to an error in an early newspaper account, the authors said, Ginnie Wade has gone down in history as "Jennie" Wade. She was the only civilian killed during the battle, the victim of a Southern sniper's bullet.
"She died under the circumstances described in the book" the authors say in an afterword.
The Culp family owned property southeast of Gettysburg's central square. The land, called Culp's Hill, became part of the so-called "fishhook" that formed the Union military lines on the second and third days of the battle.
In the novel, Culp, who is unhappy in his hometown of Gettysburg because he doesn't fit in, eventually moves south to Shepherdstown in what was then northern Virginia (and is now West Virginia).
He likes the people in Virginia and joins a military group there. After several Southern states secede and the war starts in April 1861, Culp joins the Confederate forces and ends up fighting against the North, even though he was born in Pennsylvania.
Much of the novel deals with Culp's love for Wade, which continues even though he has moved South.
The father and son first got the idea for the book in the mid-1990s, when David was working on films in New York City and John was an active pastor.
"One of us suggested meeting midway between us at Gettysburg to discuss possible stories," David said.
In doing research, he added, "We found a story that interested us. We tried to find as much real information about the characters as we could, to make the story as realistic as possible."
They traveled along the Shenandoah mountain route in northern Virginia where famous Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall'' Jackson had fought before he was killed in the spring of 1863. Culp, in the story, serves in Jackson's brigade. David also did research in Manassas, Va., the scene of an early Civil War battle.
The book also mentions Andrew Curtin, who was Pennsylvania governor in the early 1860s, and how he assembled Pennsylvania soldiers in Harrisburg and sent them to Washington, D.C., to protect the nation's capital against a possible Confederate attack.
David said he and his father "had many long discussions about truth and fiction and how to stay true to history, but make a story that would read well.
"Some of the discussions were heated," he said, but both authors like the way the story turned out.
David said he took his own children to Gettysburg last year. "They rolled their eyes and complained, but in the end I think they enjoyed it. That is how history works, no?"
The novel is distributed by CCB Publishing, which works with self-published authors, and costs $15.95.