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Apr 282015
 

originally published April 27, 2015  Opinionator, New York Times

As John Wilkes Booth stepped into President Lincoln’s booth at Ford’s Theater on the evening of April 14, 1865, Union prisoners of war were heading home on foot and by rail, free from Andersonville, Cahaba and other prisons. Several thousand men had been brought to a transit camp at Vicksburg, Miss., where they awaited transport along the Mississippi River.

Eleven days later, 2,100 of those soldiers, many sick, many barefoot, boarded the wooden side-wheeler steamboat Sultana. The ship was built to carry 375 passengers; that day it steamed north with 2,427, including civilian men, women and children along with the soldiers.

At 2 a.m., when the ship was just seven miles upriver from Memphis, three of its four boilers exploded. Nearly 1,800 people, mostly Union soldiers, died in what remains the worst maritime disaster in American history – worse, even, than the Titanic – and one of the largest military losses of life in a single day.

Those who were not killed outright by the explosion died in the crush to abandon the ship, or drowned in the river below. The water was still chilly with winter runoff, and many of those who made it into the water died of hypothermia. One survivor, Daniel Allen, testified in 1892:

I pressed toward the bow, passing many wounded sufferers, who piteously begged to be thrown overboard. I saw men, while attempting to escape, pitch down through the hatchway that was full of blue curling flames, or rush wildly from the vessel to death and destruction in the turbid waters below. I clambered upon the hurricane deck and with calmness and self-possession assisted others to escape.”

Many of those who did survive were horribly burned. About 700 made it to a hospital in Memphis, where 200 died of their injuries.

The country was caught up in the celebration over the war’s end and the mourning over Lincoln, and while the disaster made the front pages, it quickly fell from the public’s mind. Hearings were conducted, but few were punished. Only one officer, a captain who had ordered the men onto the overcrowded boat, was found guilty, but his verdict was overturned.

The Sultana docked at Helena, Ark., just before it sank on April 27, 1865.Credit Library of Congress

The Sultana itself was lost, and discovered only in 1982, when archaeologists uncovered fragments 30 feet below a soybean field along the banks of the Mississippi – the river having shifted course over the ensuing century. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 6:37 am
Dec 112014
 

originally published in the Knoxville News Sentinel (Nov 30, 2014)

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving, proclaimed a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln, and on Nov. 19 we marked the 151st anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. As we approach the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, I am mindful of the many ways Americans have always missed the war.
In the several decades after the war, men, women and children saw more and more of the artists’ and finally the photographers’ scenes, and read the memoirs of the generals and officers, and heard the memorial speeches, and perhaps read the 128 volumes of “The Official Records of Union and Confederates Armies.”
Americans stored them up, mulled them over, and then began the long forgetting, made more painful in the South by the punitive Reconstruction that Lincoln had planned to avoid. And still, each and all missed the war, because it all sifts down finally to little more than fragments found on the field.
Then over the years, into the next century, into the hands of Americans came more and more of the common man’s accounts, views from the battlefields, the hospitals, the prisons. And more and more came the perspectives from the home front, the refugee’s, the widow’s, the spy’s, the mother’s, the nurse’s perspectives.
And still, pervading all those testimonials is that nagging apprehensiveness that drove Lincoln to the telegraph office, feeling that he was missing the war.
But what of the historians and the biographers, trailing along behind, collecting, arranging, filling in background? The fragments have insisted on remaining fragments. With so much missing, the whole, the vision of the whole, has remained unachieved.
Americans missed the war that most shaped America’s destiny by remaining mesmerized by the fragments they picked up, isolated handfuls of facts about battles and leaders mostly. The public, from generation to generation, remained obsessed with the role of ancestors or with the look of artifacts, those literal fragments — swords, guns, bullets, uniforms, flags — found on the field.
In the two hours he wandered the battlefield that morning in Gettysburg, Lincoln witnessed scavengers thrilled to pick up, possess and count the value of fragments.
Americans have been immersed in seemingly endless talk, an endless stream of books, endless novels and poems that repeat and repeat and repeat the same things, as if damned to seek knowledge, understanding and perhaps even the vision in the self-same icons, tokens, runes and ruins.
The painful paradox is that both the men who fought and all people who have read about the battles missed the war. For the war is not only the details of battles such as Gettysburg and the simultaneous battle of Vicksburg, but a deeper exploration of the meaning of the whole war that would reveal itself in each individual American from the day of Lincoln’s address to this very day.
Americans have failed to make the nature of this war and its lessons part of their everyday lives as they deal with America’s problems. Let our vision henceforth be not to celebrate the war as an interesting time in history but to meditate on the war as a motive and prelude to action.
Let us look at the war through every conceivable perspective. Implore nurses, lawyers, physicians, journalists, dentists, teachers, merchants, laborers of every type, scientists of every type, engineers, geographers, secretaries, politicians, architects, women, ethnic groups to look at the war from their points of view and meditate on, talk about and publish their visions.
“The great task remaining before us” — to use Lincoln’s words — is to achieve at long last an understanding of the war commensurate with its lasting effects: the dark problems and bright prospects for America that came out of the war. Let us examine all aspects of the war in such a way as to pursue solutions to the problems that remain with us today — violence, racism and mistrust of government.
David Madden, a novelist and Civil War historian, is a native of Knoxville who lives in Black Mountain, N.C.

 Posted by at 6:20 am
Nov 202014
 

The Last Bizarre Tale, a new collection by Knoxville native David Madden, serves the dual purpose of introducing its prolific author to new readers and offering a summa to his long, impressive career. Sixty years of sustained productivity merits our respect, and the fact that so many of the tales carry the unmistakable sheen of a well-made story provokes admiration. The book demonstrates the protean nature of Madden’s gifts: his tales run the gamut of literary styles and genres, each entry marked with the stamp of its author’s ingenuity…  [Read more at Chapter 16]

 Posted by at 6:38 am
Sep 012014
 

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – David Madden will return to Knoxville to speak about his most recent book-length publication, a collection of stories titled “The Last Bizarre Tale,” at the September program of the Knoxville Writers’ Guild.

The event, which will be open to the public, begins at 7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 4, at the Laurel Theater, at the corner of Laurel Avenue and 16th Street in Fort Sanders. A $2 donation is requested at the door. The building is handicapped accessible. Additional parking is available at Redeemer Church of Knoxville, 1642 Highland Ave. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 9:23 am
Sep 012014
 

The Last Bizarre Take - Latest novel by David Madden

Available now at Amazon

Listen to David Madden read A Secondary Character from The Last Bizarre Tale.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

THE LAST BIZARRE TALE: STORIES

A DEMON IN MY VIEW
THE SINGER
SECOND LOOK
A SECONDARY CHARACTER
SEVEN FROZEN STARLINGS
A WALK WITH THOMAS JEFFERSON AT POPLAR FOREST
JAMES AGEE NEVER LIVED IN THIS HOUSE
A PIECE OF THE SKY
LIGHTS
THE MASTER’S THESIS
THE INVISIBLE GIRL
THE LAST BIZARRE TALE
A HUMAN INTEREST DEATH
SHE ALWAYS HAD A WILL OF HER OWN
BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION
WHO KILLED HARPO MARX?
HURRY UP, PLEASE, IT’S TIME
WANTED: GHOST WRITER
A HUMAN INTEREST DEATH
LYING IN WAIT
THE HEADLESS GIRL’S MOTHEROVER THE CLIFF
THE RETREIVER

 

 

 Posted by at 9:18 am
Feb 092014
 

SilentWeStoodSilent We Stood

by Henry Chappell

A Novel of the Underground Railroad in Texas

Publisher: Texas Tech University Press
Retail Price: $29.95
Issue: Winter 2014
ISBN: 9780896728325

Henry Chappell, author of Blood Kin and The Callings, fresh uses of the Western genre, has based Silent We Stood on actual events, which he describes in a preface. On Sunday, July 8, 1860, twenty-five establishments around the town square in Dallas burned. The fire was later determined to have started in the kindling box of a drug store, but suspicion that some whites among the 775 citizens were conducting an underground railroad and long-festering fear of an insurrection among the 1700 slaves in the county put the blame on three, and they were hanged. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 11:32 am
Jan 312014
 

Southern Festival of Books Panel Discussion (video)

Panel members discussed the daily lives of Civil War soldiers. Mr. Rosen talked about his book The Jewish Confederates, published by University of South Carolina Press. Mr. Groce talked about his book Mountain Rebels: East Tennessee Confederates and the Civil War, 1860-1870, published by University of Tennessee Press. David Madden talked about the book he edited Beyond the Battlefield: The Ordinary Life and Extraordinary Times of the Civil War Soldier, published by Touchstone Books. After their remarks the panel answered questions from audience members.

 Posted by at 8:09 am