Camp Coffee, Civil War style

Camp Coffee

Excerpt from They Met at Shiloh:

Scenes from Army life (library of Congress)

Revile shook Philip from his slumber in the morning chill. Huddling his arms to his chest, he lay motionless. Grunts, groans, and coughs multiplied as his comrades awoke to the fading darkness of early morning. The crackling of cook fires and smell of char replaced the once quiet of the morning fields. Resigned to being awake, Philip rubbed his eyes and sat up in his bed roll. Pushing his night cap back from his eyes and forehead, he sat for a few moments more as the clouds of sleep slowly lifted. The flickering fires cast momentary flashes of orange and red upon the tree line a few rods away, making the figures in the distance look like demons.

Philip curled his legs Indian style and drew the blanket up to his chest. Next to him, Sammy crawled out of his blanket and stood, his face drawn and eyes but mere slivers behind squinted eye lids. To his left, Mule lay motionless and huddled under his blanket.

“Mule, wake up,” Sammy croaked softly.

Philip stared at the heap for a moment and marveled at Mule’s ability to sleep through the growing clamor.

“Mule, get up,” Sammy repeated louder. “Philip, nudge him.”

Philip turned to the Mule’s form and said, “Hey, Mule. Up.”

“You know that never works. Ya’ gotta nudge ’em,” Johnny said as he sat up in his bed roll next to Mule.

“C’mon, Mule. Revile, wake up. Time to get up, Mule.” Philip shook what he thought was a shoulder, and a grunt sounded from the lump of blanket.

Mule suddenly swept the blanket off and sat up with a dumbfounded expression painted on his features. “Mornin’ already?”

“Better get moving. We probably got an hour afore we got to form,” Sammy said while he stretched and sat down to pull his brogans on.

“Who’s makin’ Kaffe?” Mule grunted and ran his thick stubby fingers through a matted lump of hair.

“It’s Philip’s turn for mess. Better get him a-goin’,” Johnny said. He brought out his tin cup.

“Ja, Kaffe.” Mule thrust his cup into Philip’s face, shaking it.

“Ok, I’m going.” Philip grabbed the cup and let it drop on the ground as he struggled out of the blanket and to his feet. “Give me the cups.”

Johnny’s cup landed by Philip’s foot. Quickly slipping his brogans on, he made his way to the company cook fire and filled the cups with water. Philip dug through his haversack to retrieve a muslin bag and loosed the string enough to form a spout. After sprinkling the crushed coffee beans onto the surface of each cup, he set them in a row around the coals. The fire pit was ringed with cups and soldiers chatting. Philip settled down at the fire’s edge and nibbled on a brick of hardtack. Staring into the fire, he imagined they were perdition’s flames, and the suddenness of the thought caused him to wonder at the irony of using them to heat the coffee.

On occasion, he had tried to teach a lesson on Hell, of its flames, pain, and thirst. Those were his worst sermons for he lacked the oratory passion to make Hell seem like Hell and not some fantastic place of the imagination. The dance of the flames also brought to his mind thoughts of war and the fires of passion that burned in the early days. Each flame flickered for a moment, and then shrank back into the coals, only to birth another.

The parishioners in his circuit had little interest in Hell and Satan and anything else that had to do with the mysteries of the spiritual realms. He couldn’t help but to teach on those topics, regardless. He knew that if he did not ponder their effects, he, too, would become complacent in his faith.

The growing sectional conflict brought out questions of war and what was the pious, spiritual response. These were questions that he could not answer even for himself. Instead, he taught respect for authority as given by God and prayed for wisdom. Leaving this all behind was a relief, for he no longer needed wrestle with answers that met ecclesiastical requirements. The flames consumed him as they did the wood that slowly disintegrated into glowing coals of red and white. In the same way, flames consumed the nation and families that composed his circuit. Their hearts burned with indignation at the affronts caused by the rebel states and against the administration for its excesses in wielding power. Few, if any, that he was specifically aware of worried about the darkies or even mentioned the issue in conversation. His own thoughts were just as vague, and he had given little thought toward it until the regiment encountered the first sad columns of contrabands in Kentucky. Seeing only ignorant and pathetic forms under ill-fitting clothing, Philip tried to move himself to the righteous indignation he thought he should feel.
He pitied their plight and the sometimes dumb and numb expressions of the oppressed. Yet, he also saw smiles and expectation in them, a reverie in camp and a willingness to show graciousness for any small kindness shown them. They carried their world upon their backs and followed the army, hoping for protection and salvation. Often, they were turned back and looked upon as a nuisance. Starving and penniless, the runaways and liberated slaves presented a reality that shook Philip to the core. For good or for ill, the status of the black man was in the balance, and no one realized that more than the slave himself.

The eastern horizon brightened slowly and cast its lightening shades of blue westward. Slowly the surface of the cups stirred with bubbles rising to the surface. Soon, they were ready to drink. Deftly pulling each one from the coals, he set them down on the fire’s edge and doused the surface with cold water to settle the coffee grounds to the bottom.

“Ah, coffee,” Sammy walked to the fire and said. He bent down to grasp his cup.
“Are we ready?” Philip asked.

“Yeah, I rolled your blanket and put it on your straps. You just need to pack your things into the sack. Your traps are set by the pack.”

Johnny grunted as he set himself next to Philip and grabbed his cup. “You got any more apricots?”
Philip dug into his haversack and tossed Johnny the bag. Mule was the last to join them, and soon each was cooling the surface of his cup and chewing hardtack. Philip handed around a bag of cooked salt pork he had prepared the evening before. The strips were greasy and chewy but would suffice for a little intake of meat until they could cook again that evening.

His mess duties finished, Philip grabbed his cup and went back to his pack. Sammy had rolled his blanket up, and it fit onto the top of his pack properly. He always had trouble getting it rolled right himself. After exchanging his night cap for his forage cap, he grabbed his testament and quickly thumbed the pages to the Book of Isaiah. He hadn’t read much in that book before the war, nor had he taught on it. Reading it now gave him comfort as he compared Judah and her call to repentance with the rebellion. Who was the guilty party? Who was the faithless? He had no idea, only a faint hope that the North was not.

Not just for reenacting, though this can serve as a nice recipe for early war scenarios before the blessed advent of Essence of Coffee (condensed coffee sludge invented as a means of getting coffee to Union armies, packaged in tin containers and easily prepared by adding a spoonful to hot water) but also for hikers, campers, wilderness survival (coffee is a necessity).20111229-090925.jpg

For the truly adventurous, take green coffee beans. They can be stored indefinitely and will not sour. Roasting them over a griddle produces a strong coffee, but it takes practice to get the beans roasted evenly and produces a unique flavorful brew.


If you are roasting them yourself, have something handy to crush and grind them with. I’ve tried it with a rifle butt before, it can be done but takes awhile. A muslin bag can also be bounded with something blunt, keeps the grains from spilling everywhere and can be transported easily.

2 tablespoons full of ground coffee (handful if you like)
1 tin cup with water
1 fire with hot coals

Simply put the cup next to or on some coals and sprinkle your coffee on top and allow water to come to a boil. Beans will steep nicely. Once hot enough, remove from fire and add some cold water to surface. This will settle the grounds to the bottom and you will have a nice, rich cup of coffee. Add sugar to taste and use a brick of Hardtack to skim the surface of any grounds that refused to sink.

No grinder, no heavy or large coffee pot, no electricity required and one authentic cup of coffee, a soldier’s best friend!

Writing Militarily

Sometimes a good story can miss the mark when we lack the minutia of details that can transport the reader or give our plot realism. Sometimes these details are elusive unless time has been spent living the life we wish to portray. Although a brief article on civil war or military parlance can’t make up for having lived it, I will outlay some things that I hope will be helpful in creating realistic scenes, dialogue, plots, and character arcs.

I have always been a military history buff, the American Civil War being my favorite area of research but most periods of wars have drawn my interest. I’ve also been both a Civil War and WWII reenactor for over ten years.

One thing, no matter what period one is writing about, it was probably an era of conflict. What we see in movies and television is often inaccurate or cliché. Until the Second World War introduced a large and permanent standing army, our wars were fought by volunteer armies raised from state levees and disbanded as soon as peace was achieved. This brings the type of movie character we are familiar with, the fatherly sergeant, the young and inexperienced privates, into conflict with a very real dynamic that existed between soldiers and the command structure used at the time. For the Civil War time period, picking one or two published journals like Hardtack and Coffee by John Billings or Company Aytch by Samuel Watkins will give you an idea of soldier life. Another great resource is The Life of Billy Yank and The Life of Johnny Reb by Bell Irvin Wiley.
Do not assume that the army organization and functionality has remained static. Organization and how armies were used changed with tactics and wars. Here’s a quick guide to the basic elements of an army unit. These exist in any branch of the army (cavalry, artillery).

For Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican American War, Civil War, and Spanish American War the basic element was the company. The reason for this is that fire is massed in a tight formation, two ranks. The smallest element in the company was the comrades in arms, a group of four men who made up a skirmish group.

The next formation up was the battalion, a grouping of companies under the second in command of a regiment. It is rare that this unit is separated from the regiment but a battalion could be sent off on a small mission where it is not expected to run into much resistance. Picket (a string of vedettes along a long line like on a river bank separating forces or spread out along a line of miles whose purpose is to be an early warning for the larger force behind it) and garrison duty would be the only reason a battalion might be separated from their regiment.

The primary unit of all of these time periods was the regiment, made up of 10 companies that march, bivouac, and fight together. Volunteer regiments (as opposed to regular army regiments) were raised by the states and federalized for national service. They retained their state designation and the governor of each state had the power to grant commissioned officers. Volunteers were raised from each county in the state, sometimes from specific counties in the state and the volunteers being formed into companies from those who volunteered from that county, so that one served with men one knew already. This was a consistent practice up to WWII. Officers and noncommissioned officers would be elected after the formation of each company or the captaincy of each company would be commissioned by the governor and other commissioned officers by the same process. When writing about soldiers in these time periods, it was the regiment that held their allegiance most and governed their daily lives.

The next unit of note was the brigade, made up of between three to four regiments. When reading about these various wars and battles, one often runs into the brigade being mentioned most as tactics governed the movements of brigade sized units about the battlefield.
The third and fourth unit was the division (made up of three to four brigades) and the corps (made up of three to four divisions). These are forces made up of thousands of men and controlled by the commander of the army.

The last organization is the army, a grouping together in a geographical theater of operations (a term meaning anything from a state to a region to an entire continent). An army was usually comprised of a variety of organizational schemes. For instance, as the civil war progressed and the need to control the vast armies grew, army commanders used a variety of methods to group regiments and brigades together. Up until 1862 the largest designation was the division or, as at Fredericksburg, Right, Center, and Left Grand Divisions made up of several divisions. After the Union disaster of Fredericksburg, Corps were formed and Union armies kept these designations and organization for the duration of the war. The Confederate forces used different means of organizing itself and never adopted the Corps structure.

Writing Militarily, how to write with the pre WWI military in mind

Writing Militarily, Pt. 2 Indian Wars to WWI

Kindle Select from Amazon


Kindle Select, what’s an Indie author to do?

If there’s a blog topic of choice this week for writers, it would be the new select program at Amazon. The information is all over the KDP website and the KDP author forums. It has been going for over a week now. If you’re not on a side yet, you soon will be.

The upside? Another way to reach the consumer.

The downside? An exclusive arrangement with KDP for e-book distribution.

Let’s be honest, Amazon and KDP drive the e-book revolution. It is their market to have and to hold, till death do they part. If you sell titles at all on multiple devices (multiple distribution channels) it is at least 75% to 90% of your sales. The other platforms neither have the reach or the market in devices (thanks to the Kindle Fire that gap will only widen).

So, adding your title or titles to select is going to do very little to your bottom line and may even increase it. It will drastically put the heat on their competitors, and this is one of the gripes coming from authors who, for very good reason, do not want to put all their eggs in one basket. That is probably the logical answer, the emotional one being freedom. If there is to be a primary, visceral reaction to this, it is the question of freedom and what the system is doing to the rankings of those who are not in. Rankings have suddenly skyrocketed (in the wrong direction for many) as everyone who opted in took advantage of the free promotions and there are lots of questions being asked about how this affects rankings. The upshot is that your free book will rank with the other freebies and go back to the paid ranking where it left off. Some are seeing positive numbers after the fact and others aren’t. The end result, as with all marketing is make your plans and know what it is that you wish to accomplish.

This leads to the other great deal for the indie author, the ability to offer a free promotion for up to five days every ninety days. This costs the author nothing at all and will even benefit them from the Amazon slush fund to be shared out among all who participate? This is probably the best perk in the system, second to the Amazon Prime lending library giving you one lend per month with no due date (for those prime members who own a Kindle).

For indie authors, freedom is the very reason we have taken this road. We want the control over every aspect of our creativity and the reward that our hard work produced. The Select agreement still palls in comparison with the normal exclusivity contracts one signs with a traditional publisher when you give them the rights. You will own the rights, but not the ability to sell in other e-book distribution channels.

The buzz is pretty strong with emotions running high; Select acolytes spreading the gospel vs. those who refuse to surrender any freedom at all. The latter, seeing their rankings dissolve, are understandably frustrated at the change and becoming more so. Those who are benefitting from the new exposure are also admittedly wondering what the big deal is with everyone else not in. In the middle are all of those, like me, trying to evaluate what is right for us. I don’t myself agree with the thought that Amazon is doing something illegal and against anti-trust laws, but that remains to be seen.

As I mentioned, Amazon Prime members can “borrow” your book as part of their membership, a very unique way of exposure. Lends may not lead to purchases, but word of mouth is what we thrive on for sales. Like this program or not, Amazon has added another avenue for indie authors to make money and compete with the Big Six published authors.

If you are in, what have you found? If you are not, why not. If you won’t, what are the issues for you?

Addendum, 12/23/11

It’s been a week and more information has become available from those authors who have jumped aboard the Kindle Select train. The following thread has some information on how one author garnered an impressive number of free downloads:,96561.0.html

From feedback here and on the other Kindle boards, the results from Select seem to be a positive boost in exposure for the Indie. If you already have work up on the other ebook distribution channels I would take a long, hard look at the sales data before pulling your work from them. Money on the table is still money on the table.

Another word about the negative hype regarding this program. I read an interview with the CEO of Smashwords regarding the Select program. Honestly, why even ask him? Of course he’s going to say that what Amazon is doing is bad, horrible, anti-competitive, bordering on monopolistic, yadda yadda yadda. I would expect that from any one of the CEOs of the other distribution channels.

Would you expect to hear the CEO of Random House lambast one of his competitors if they filched one of his cash cows? Perhaps. Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo – these are distributors not publishers. They deal with everyone. I think the hype surrounding this is a tad overblown. Only time will tell if its impact on indie publishing is real or imagined.

Update 12/30/11
Read and understand what the exclusivity clause means,97561.0.html

From a strict interpretation of the contract, the meaning is for any distribution of the agreed upon content that could include excerpts published on other blogs, full digital media sent to a reviewer (if the content did not originate with KDP, you have just distributed an electronic version of your work to someone else outside of the agreement), excerpts published on your own blog, excerpts and teasers published on other distributors web pages. Exclusive means what it says.

I actually hadn’t even considered an excerpt as applying. I thought it would only mean I agree to not sell the work from any other distributor. But, giving a print book away isn’t giving the means to reproduce it away, it is just a product of the process. A .pdf or .mobi file IS the means to reproduce and selectively distribute the same content. People need to carefully read the fine print.

The penalty? Amazon will withhold the lending royalties for the period covered or limit royalties in retrospect if you willingly flout the contract. How can they? You said exclusive, didn’t you? You agreed to it.

Caveat Emptor; buyer beware.

What Inspires me

Byrne’s Mississippi Battery, Shiloh National Battlefield Military Park. copyright Jennifer Bryant 2011

What inspires me? Many things have in the past.

Julia Cameron inspired me to keep going and to recognize that the editor and critic are dark parts of myself that need to be controlled, just as the creative part of myself needs to be freed from control. I control it with a heavy hand but give free reign to the editor. Somehow that is natural to the point of being creatively blocked. We learn it from the criticism of parents and our friends and it has to be unlearned through painful practice, like the muscles learn to run each extra foot further than they have strength for. Her gospel frees the creative soul from the pit of creative darkness. It has mentored me through the days where I would have given up on completing They Met at Shiloh. I believe she is a universalist when it comes to faith, believing that there is a God but perhaps not the God that I know and Christ who allows me to know him, but she has nailed it as far as truth, that we are best when we are under faith and not works, that there is a spirit who whispers to us the stories we tell. I do not quibble with questions of her christianity or not, she isn’t speaking a gospel of what saves us but what saves our creative souls and that I can follow as it points me back to the owner of that creativity, even Christ.

Many things are inspiring me now.

My wife inspires me to press on, encouraged me to quit the national guard after 15 years and pick up the old book again. She isn’t just a fan, she’s a partner with me as we both try to adopt and adapt to what it means to be self employed (a hobby as Dave Ramsey would call anything that doesn’t make money yet) but has not just dutifully followed me but joined me by my side, taking care of what I am an avowed idiot with; money.

I would not soon trust myself with our finances because I am too single minded of purpose. I see something and decide that I want it. If we have money in the bank, cost is no object! Thankfully, she has taken it on herself to manage our household in this regard and I have to say is now encumbering herself with yet one more thing that has to be managed, a growing book selling business. She has withstood much from me over the years and still does, I can be irascible and moody when something is puzzling me or when I am getting impatient for an outcome. I can only thank God that she still loves me when I am on a terror.

The Official Records of the Rebellion inspires me. I have found more than just a few incidents recorded on these dusty (now digitized pages) to lead to scenes and fancies for my characters to behold. I write about individuals who are part of organizations, regiments and brigades. I’m interested in the soldier’s experience as they react and interact with one another and with the specter of wounds and death each time they put on their traps and take a line of march. When I am researching a unit and what it did, going back a month or so before a battle I look up that unit or its leader in the official records and find little tidbits of daily activities to include in my narrative and often if I’m stuck, I go to these pages to just get an official glimpse of what it was like to have marched along with these soldiers. These are bereft of emotions, being communique’s and battle reports, telegrams and such, but they often fill in some of the gaps.

@sarahwitenhafer has been an inspiration for me. We write in the same genre and I’ve known her since 1989. I’ve been following her own progress as she was further ahead than I have been in both publication and marketing. I’m still floundering around at the moment, but keeping tabs on her progress has kept me going. She has a manner that is winning and has found a way to inspire others and a grow a fan base.

Another is @jakonrath who has experienced a renaissance of sorts in e-publishing and is inspiring hundreds if not thousands to follow his lead and shake off the shackles of the traditional publishing world for the freedom of self publishing. The success seen by those two, and a host of others, thanks to Amazon and Kindle, have opened the doors for the revolution to happen in the publishing world. Good or bad, it is happening and making unknown authors a living as the consumer chooses who to keep buying books from, not the publishers. You can say whatever about the lack of gate keeping going on and why or why not that is a bad thing, but in my experience, gate keeping is a defensive strategy by those inside the gate. It assumes a zero sum game for a limited pool of resources. E-publishing has changed all of this in a big way thanks to Amazon.

Inspiration, like exercise, takes training as we relearn to react to the world as we did when we were children and not encumbered by cares, worries, economies, and family. We were fed and clothed and sheltered so that aside from chores to do and rules to obey we were freed from the things that distract us.

We played and usually with whatever we had on hand. I used to use a music stand, one of those foldable wire stands for a machine gun. It could be an MP40, the German sub-machine gun or it could be a British Bren Gun.

We had our toy figures from Star Wars or GI Joe and the hallway would become our battle ground. Cardboard boxes became whatever the imagination would allow for. We didn’t care that it really didn’t look like a tank, or a house, or whatever because our imaginations filled in the gaps.

Creativity is as natural for a child as becoming blocked by the cares of this world come to adults. Christ told his disciples that the Kingdom of God was made for such as these, children that surrounded him one day. One can imagine what that scene might have looked like, the adults trying to control the situation and the children trying to chaos it.

He said if one did not approach the throne of the most high God as a child, one would never enter into the gates. Why is that? Exactly why it takes a child to be creative, because the child has to trust the authority over it, be protected by it, be drawn to its love, and aside from the rebellion that is born in us, all we as children laid our cares down at His feet. As we create or struggle to be creative again as adults, we approach the throne as children again no longer as independent beings but as dependent.

Taming the wild horses

Can you see the allure of the traditionally published author? Do they sit around all day and do nothing but write or attend book premier parties complete with champagne and good looking people clamoring for a look at you? Now I can. After all the hard work it is easy to just want to write and not market.

Going it alone means going it alone. One can die in obscurity with dignity intact much easier than flaming out for all the world to see a la (insert latest celeb flameout). No one wants obscurity but no one wants to flounder around in discouragement either.

Putting together a long range plan has been tough. I think long term but not in minute detail sometimes. I want to do everything at once because it feels like I’m doing something when in fact I’m not doing much at all. If you can get something by an agent and happen to sell it to a house, they do all of this for you and take their cut. Taking charge of your own destiny has been scary. No one to blame but myself but no time frame to live up to either. The wild horses are constrained by the need to be the business leader of the enterprise. The creative hat comes off and the planning and calculating hat comes on. I don’t know if it is easier for some to do, it has not been easy for me to do.

The process as a whole has been straightforward enough. Editor supplies final document, upload it to Create Space and KDP, walk through the menus, set the price, choose the distribution channels and behold, it’s up for sale! After that? Where to begin!

No one knows about it and will not until you figure out how to reach them. Amazon has done for self publishing what Apple has done for digital media. POD and other printers have been around for years. Self publishing has been around since the printing press. But, the power of distribution has not always been available. Now, it is making the possibility of making money without the traditional process that much more attainable. Honestly, I was on this route before Amazon and its Kindle and its ebook distribution revolution was in full swing. I am gratified that I actually have a chance at reaching more people and of actually making some money on the effort, but the choice to go self publishing was made long before.

Without the benefit of a marketing department or a publicist, you have to spend more of your time fronting your work than otherwise. You get to keep what you make in a large part, but one can only decide for themselves if the trade off is worth it or not. I cannot say either way at the moment as the process is only just beginning.

The 150th of Shiloh is in April of 2012 and I plan on attending the reenactment and looking to meet some bookstore owners and park historians in person with copies of the book and media materials. This will be the first big push at some of the trappings of the traditional market. Until I reach out I do not have any idea if the effort will pan out. There are roadblocks to this. Getting a bookstore to sell your work is almost a universal pan if it is self published, so getting into the book distribution channels is a must if you want to approach libraries and bookstores. But, I hope to capitalize on the event and some of the smaller bookstores who can make their own local choices on books they carry (each NPS bookstore can choose what it sells) and on doing educational monologues with signings. I won’t know until I try.

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