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John Hough, Jr. Talks About SEEN THE GLORY

On Saturday, February 11th, the “What’s Falmouth Reading?” committee had the pleasure of presenting our author of 2012, John Hough, Jr. speaking about our town wide read Seen the Glory: a novel of the battle of Gettysburg.  John was particularly delighted that on our tenth year of choosing books, we had chosen his, and that he was now in the company of To Kill A Mockingbird and Moby-Dick! Seen the Glory was his first attempt at historical fiction.  He currently is working on a novel based on the battle of Little Big Horn.

He described much of the research that he did on this book, the overwhelming idea of which, he told us, was the inseparability of slavery and the war. Without slavery, the union wouldn’t need saving. Scott Hartwig, Supervisory Historian at Gettysburg National Military Park was of particular help to him as he researched the war. One day John was asking about the light on the battlefield at a particular time to day, and within twenty minutes Mr. Hartwig had gone out onto the battle field, taken photographs of the light, and e-mailed them off to John!

Elisha Smith was the first character that came to John, and Elisha had fought at Gettysburg and come from the Vineyard. (He said he wanted to use a soldier from Falmouth, if it had been historically accurate, but that there were no Falmouth boys who fought at Gettysburg.) He read letters in the National Archives which had been written by Elisha Smith, and felt that Elisha had “maintained an innocence and sweetness”. The first character that he had, Elisha, lead him to the Chandlers and to Rose. “You don’t create characters so much as you find them.”

As to why Rose was Cape Verdean, John said: “It sounds a little Zen, but Rose made herself Cape Verdean.” The Chandlers are from New Bedford, and before they leave New Bedford the doctor takes Rose and the two boys to hear Frederick Douglass speak. “It is the moment, belated, when she saw slavery in all its illogic and evil.” (p. 289)

He also spoke at length about the cover art for both the hardcover edition and the paperback edition. When the hardcover jacket art arrived on his computer he thought it looked great, and forwarded it to Scott Harwig to see what he thought. Immediately Scott wrote back saying he couldn’t possibly use that cover art! The reasons being that the gun was on the wrong shoulder, and the flint lock muzzle wasn’t something they had on Civil War guns. So the publisher was able to flip the image so that the gun was on the correct shoulder, and the artist was able to fix the muzzle. Now when the paperback cover arrived, John once again sent a copy to Scott, and once again was told you can’t use it! Turned out that the publisher had put a photograph of Civil War reenactors on the cover, not real soldiers! Scott assured him that there were hundreds of photographs available of real civil war soldiers.

Elisha Smith is actually buried on the Vineyard in a private graveyard. John and his wife put lilacs on the grave each spring.

The question about why he used italics in the novel was asked. He said it was to set the scenes apart from the narrative. Things that really happened were in the italics, and he wanted that set apart from the boys in the novel. Floyd, however, is fictional, and he too appears in the italics. They were supposed to be a signal to the reader to look at the scene differently, as historical moments.

He also commented that there is a danger of romanticizing the war, and suggested that we don’t romanticize any other war the way we do the Civil War. He suggested we watch Gone With the Wind, and think about what the message is. (We’ll be showing Gone With the Wind as part of our Civil War Film Festival!)

He wanted to end the book on July 4th, but in reality the real Elisha died five days later of tetanus in a hospital, which is how he got back to the Vineyard, and is not buried in the National Cemetery. The majority of Vineyarders, according to John, thought slavery was fine, that was the sentiment. He discovered this as he read through back files of local newspapers.

And just a reminder, the Falmouth Public Library is a Memorial Library, in fact next time you walk into the door on the Main Street side of the building just look up and you’ll see the words etched into the stone “Memorial Library”. In the reading room, next to the fireplace, you can also see the dedication plaque, which reads:

“This building erected by the citizens as a memorial to the soldiers and sailors of the town of Falmouth who during the War of the Rebellion helped to make this a free and united country.”

This is followed by a list of the regiments, and the men who served.

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