Reader Questions for “Rough Enough” set #9, Chapter #6: How do you attack across these kinds of defenses?

2011 Gigi, Sierras, home, shell reatkes of Oct 132

On April 1, 1965, Richard Clow describes a part of one of the charges on probably Fort Mahone, often described as one of the strongest built forts on the Confederate line around Petersburg.

“We could hear each charge they made. The rebs would run with a kind of yelp like so many hounds and our boys would would rush on cheer and shout which could be heard for many miles around.”

A part of the charge would have been over open ground. But once the charge got close to the fort, they faced walls of abatis and fraises which consisted of sharpened brush and stakes respectively, in front of mud filled steep walled ditches.

The picture above only show a small portion of a defensive pattern outside a fort. Here you can see an approximation of the shape of Union Fort Steadman with those walls and trenches with cannon peeking out. A formidable obstacle.

2011 Gigi, Sierras, home, shell reatkes of Oct 158

The men looking out over the cannons had a different view.  Their flanks had obstakles over which the enemy had to climb or skirt, and their cannons peered right through various portals in the for to strafe the enemy as they came forward.  In seeing these on the battlefield of Petersburg, you realize why the battles became blood baths. 2011 Gigi, Sierras, home, shell reatkes of Oct 134

2011 Gigi, Sierras, home, shell reatkes of Oct 135

It is small wonder that Richard Clow in a later letter note that, “The streams flowed red…”

How do attack such defenses without loosing 1000 or 5000 men?

Reader Questions for “Rough Enough,” Set #8, Chapter #5: What Happens When Soldiers get too Accostumed to the Death and Destruction of War? Did These Men Develop PTSD Type Symptoms?

The brain of a person who is associated with the long term violence and death of warfare has to either come to terms with that situation and rationalize some of the things that they see, or they begin to go crazy.  This is seen as why soldiers returning from the front lines can have a hard time communicating what they experienced, saw, or did when relating to their non-combatant friends and families.

Consider the following point:

A. We hear Richard Clow trying to depersonalize the other side and ‘laugh it off’ in Chapter 4 when he notes, “It looks so funny to see the ditches full of dead Johneys (his spelling) as they call them.”

B. Several weeks later, around March 12,  we begin to hear some different things in Richard’s letters:

1.  He recognizes that he is in a vulnerable spot at Fort Alexander Hays on te front lines when he says, “…it is a rather weak place compared to the others (meaning the other forts) and we expect they will make a break here if they do anywhere.”

2. He recognizes that he is not immortal and invincible when he becomes careless on picket duty when sniping at the other side and was nearly killed, “…how the balls did sing around the pit was a caution. One struck the pit just a few inches above my head and fell down in some water. I fired 75 rounds of ammunition that night and it was then they fired at the flash of my gun.”

3. He realizes that the other guys, the Confederates, are also human beings who have human emotions, “…the rebels that come into our lines are dressed in gray uniforms all torn to pieces and they look very worn and discouraged.”

4. There is an almost cavalier attitude at times about death and the dead remains of the Confederate soldiers, “We go into the woods here and kick about solid shot and shell and skulls as many as we take a notion to.”

With these kinds of phrases being sent home in letters, it is probable that what the men were exposed to was significantly worse and these thoughts were putting things into a warrior perspective which may have not been healthy once they got back to civilization in Boston after the end of the war.

The documentation of the period would indicate that there may very well have been a number of men who developed what we today call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Unfortunately, except for a few keenly observant doctors of the time, for the most part battle fatigue was simply treated with rest, a few good meals and then back to the front lines.

What kinds of similarities do you find in today’s combat descriptions of men on the front lines when they suddenly realize that war is not all that the folks back home who glamorize and glorify it would have you believe?

Reader Questions for “Rough Enough” Set #7 – Chapter #4: Can You Empathize with Richard Clow on This Passage?

Here’s a passage from “Rough Enough,” my Civil War book detailing Richard Clow’s Enlistment, Training, Combat, Reenlistment for the Frontier, Indian Conflicts, Marriage, Life on the farm, Mining for Deadwood Gold and moving on to Oregon.

Do you empathize with this section of his letter dated Feb. 23, 1865 on board the Steamship De Molay?

    “I had rather a hard time on board the boat. They put 350 of us in the after hold. It was dark as pitch almost and only one small hole to get out by. There was just room for us all to stand up in it and when it came to lie down in it we were five tier deep and if you wanted to get out from the back of the crud you would have to crawl over all the rest of them and they would put a knife into you. A great many were served this way. I came through all right though.”

For me, although I can never truly understand the living “hell” that those men went through, it does bring back memories of two awful, yet very memorable   passages across the Atlantic: one in the Spring of 1960 (March),  and the other in the Fall of 1960  (October) aboard the Dutch Ship Maasdam and the German Ship Seven Seas respectively.

Our only source of escape from seasickness (the illness itself, the smell of the illness and the messes of puke left everywhere)  during the five days of storms on each of those 7 day voyages was to wake up, grab your clothes and get out into the cold and the rain on deck. Then nip into the dining room, wolf your food and get back out on deck again before you know what came up all over the place.

By standing in the rear of the ship out of the direct wind and rain and watching the horizon and waves we managed to hold things together, eat a couple more meals and wait until dark. Then it was a mad dash to the bunk in a tiny cabin with six of us in it and fall asleep to the rocking and not get sick. If you went into the toilet, you had to literally scream to prevent yourself from gagging due to the smell and shut your eyes while sitting on the can to prevent yourself from seeing the mess all around you.

The crew couldn’t keep up with the upchucks!

The only enjoyment during the day, once we got into the storms was to brave the wind and icy rain and follow the safety rope handrails to the open foredeck near the bow where a three foot high sheet metal rail stood fast against the storm.

There we would stand, faces into the wind, squinting our eyes, laughing, and watching the bow of the ship bury itself into the depths of a giant wave.      Then, watching as the bow rose up towards the sky and the ship plowed over the mighty crest, a wall of water was thrown back towards us. Across the decks it came rushing,  reaching higher than our heads. With grins like the fools we were at ages 16 and 11, my brother and I would wait until the last possible moment when the wall of water was almost upon us.

Then with shrieks of laughter we would duck down into the protective hollow behind the wall as the water roared and crashed into the wall and above our heads, leaving us unscathed. With fire in our eyes we would repeat the adventure for hours until a poorly timed duck soaked us to the skin or a passing crew member shepherded us back to safety with a warning.

Back to the acid stinking air of the hold, back to thoughts of seasickness and back to dreams of doing it again tomorrow.

So, You’ve heard from me.  How do you relate to Richard Clow’s experience?

Reader Questions for “Rough Enough” set #6, Chapter #3 : Being Cheated out of the recruitment bounties?

How do you entice people to join up to fight a war that has suddenly become a blood bath and everyone knows it?

That became a question for both the Union and Confederate Armies and their governments.  One of the solutions was to pay an additional bounty or enlistment bonus to the new recruits who were willing to take on a three year enlistment in the Union Army and a one year enlistment in the Confederate Army.

Richard Clow’s Letter home on Feb, 5, 1865 states what he thinks he heard from the recruiter.

“I am a soldier once more…. The bounty we were to receive was $125 cash and $425 next Tuesday/ $200 next payment and our $16 per month  or, if not, we could have $1220 and take it by installments making it so that if we were discharged before our time was up we would lose a good part of it…So I thought I would make sure of it. I am in for three years….”

On Feb. 11th, 1865  Richard Writes  again, this time with a bit different amount,

“I send this money being part of the $20 which I received of my (bounty?) one hundred 80 more coming. You will keep a look out for some money. I do not know whether it will go by express or by mail, by mail I think the paymaster is to send it. I gave into his charge…..”

On Feb. 15, 1865 writing in response to a letter from home Richard says:

“You need not feel alarmed about my bounty for I am looking out to make all I can. If they will cheat me what will they do to those poor ignorant ….?”

SO WHAT HAPPENED?  It appears Richard got the wrong info. or was cheated out of a lot of bounty. How do you interpret what he wrote home?

How does this philosophy work today?  Would a $100.00 bonus tempt you? $1,000.00? $10,000.00?  How does a bonus have to compare to the living wage and average annual salary of non-skilled and/or skilled workers in order to get them to enlist?

Do we still have “Bounty Jumpers” today who try to take the money and run? What is the penalty now versus what happened in the 1860’s?

What happened to the bounty that began at $100.00 during the first year of the Civil War by the time we get to 1864 and 1865?

What does our military pay today for an enlistment or reenlistment bounty to retain key members of the armed forces?  Is this a logical use of money when one considers training costs for a new replacement?

Reader Questions for “Rough Enough” #5: for Chapter 2- Equipment Provision and Bounties to later Volunteers in the Union Army.

As you read through the second chapter of  Rough Enough it is important to remember that the military has treated it’s volunteers quite differently over the ages. This treatment has to do with enlistment periods as well as equipment provided.

In 1776 the War of Revolution Era, virtually every soldier in the First Continental Army started off as a volunteer and had to initially provide everything all the way from weaponry to clothing and at times even food. The period of service was often for as long as the volunteer had the feeling that he was involved in a cause that he was able to believe in and could give up enough time from the family farm or business in order to take up arms and be a soldier.  If planting time came on the farm and a farmer needed to go home and plant crops, he just went home.

By the time of the American Civil War, or War of Rebellion as it was often called by the Union soldiers; there was a standing Army for the United States with issuance of uniforms, weapons and equipment for the regulars.  The terms of service also in writing with a contracted commitment by the soldier to serve for a defined period of time.

Now let’s move to the last portion of the Civil War.  What do you see as the causes behind that fact that Richard Clow and others were asked to provide their own bedding, mattresses, boots and even winter clothing?  What was going on that made this a necessity for the later volunteers in the Union Army, whereas it wasn’t so at the beginning of the war?

In addition, how had the system of paying an enlistment bounty changed during the Civil War? What were the reasons for this change? Why would you pay an enlistment bounty for an infantry soldier but not for an engineer?

What is the difference in the thinking behind giving a bounty in the Civil War and the thinking today about giving bounties for enlistment and reenlistment?

Why Amazon thinks you’re Stupid (Opinion Piece) reblog from Ionia Martin

Why Amazon thinks you’re Stupid (Opinion Piece).

Although I’m an author and am fortunate enough to have about ten very good reviews on Amazon for my book, Rough Enough, I certainly believe that cutting off a review just because it is from someone’s relative if a bit simple minded.  The gamesmanship of the persons who review others to make them feel happy about a book that may be mediocre is a mystery to me.  I have reviewed a number of books on Amazon, GoodReads and other places because I like the book.  Even in the case where I find a flaw, such as in James Rollins’ book Amazonia, I still rate it as I feel it is deserving and in tha case of that book, it was a jolly good read!  I still have some weird dreams about his descriptions of the Yanomamo Indian (read Jivaro Indian for you ancients) methodology of shrinking human heads. I remember a friend who’s family actually had a real one back in the 50’s (I wonder what happened to that!).

So, yes, I agree with Ionia on her blog.  Let them print what they write and let the reader read carefully and you will discern the truth for yourself.

Oregon Farmer’s Wheat Contaminated by Genetically Engineered Wheat. It could be “Blowin’ in the Winds!”

Below, I’ve an urgent note from the U. S. Government’s Center for Food Safety in Washington D.C.

This is something to cogitate deeply on while stirring the rolled oats on the stove for breakfast. I certainly hope you are aware of what is happening with genetic engineering and people and your food supply. I call it genetic tampering with the genomes of life.

The article below is a very good reason to wonder and worry about just what’s  “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Monsanto seems to have possibly accidentally let loose one of their pollination experiments from Pandora’s box, or, it has just escaped by accident on the “winds,” from them or some farmer in another state, or, it has been purposely spread by bio-saboteurs, or maybe some pollen just blew off the foot of some poor migrating goose after it had some grain for dinner in a genetically modified field, miles and miles away, or,……..

Well, Whatever…..the genetic genie got out of the box and of course the goose and the wind  are not going to be made responsible so the farmer who somehow inadvertently ended up with a patented gene in his field could get sued for violation of patent law by the owner who happens to have beaucoup bucks and seems to take on any and all violators.

Is this what freedom means in America? Is it “OK” to just muck around with the genomes of life and then patent them? Who says you can own the genes for corn? This genetic ownership Hogwash is being upheld by our court system to the detriment of a lot of farmers around the globe. Some of the genes are doomsday genes that cause a plant to not be able to produce viable seed and then they are sold to farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin American who depend on being able to harvest seed in order to survive.

It is time for some genetic legislation to limit the indiscriminate tampering with the genomes coding for people, our food supply, disease agents and life in general.

The non-regulated messing with genetic genomes could move the Doomsday Clock a few minutes more towards midnight.  It’s time to write to your legislators and have them, and informed scientists in the field detail the kinds of responsibilities that individuals and corporations who tamper with the genetics of life must follow and what the consequences are for releasing these into the environment with no responsibility for “clean-up!”

Subject: Oregon Farmer Contaminated by Monsanto GE Wheat
Oregon Farmer Contaminated by Monsanto GE Wheat

You may have read the news last week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that unapproved, genetically engineered (GE) wheat was found contaminating an Oregon farmer’s field.  The GE wheat, known as Roundup Ready, was developed by the Monsanto Company to withstand direct application of Roundup (glyphosate) herbicide.

This is the same Roundup Ready variety Monsanto tested from 1998-2005, but there has not been a field trial in Oregon since 2001, so it remains unexplained how the GE variety ended up there.  After a decade of field trials, Monsanto abandoned its efforts to introduce the GE wheat in 2004 in the face of intense opposition from consumers, farmers, wheat millers and food companies, led by CFS and others.  Now, U.S. farmers’ worst nightmare may be coming true: already some export contracts with Japan and South Korea have been suspended due to this contamination event, and more may be on the way.

CFS will do everything we can to right this outrageous wrong and ensure it does not happen again or spread further, but in order to do so we need your help!

If you can answer yes to any of the following questions, we want to hear from you:

– Are you a farmer and do you grow White Wheat?
– Do you or your business sell White Wheat?
– Do you have any other information about this contamination event that you think would be helpful to us?

If so, please contact us as soon as possible at

Thank you for everything you do,
Center for Food Safety

Center for Food Safety
660 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, #302
Washington DC 20003
phone (202) 547-9359 | fax (202) 547-9429
Contact Us:

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Book Review: Amazonia by James Rollins: A Snake Flaw in Chapter 1!

Amazonia by James Rollins, is really quite a good adventure novel with the enthralling story that reveals the truth behind the numerous disappearances of individuals and expeditions in the Central Amazon Jungles bordering Peru, Brazil and Ecuador.

This portion of Amazonia is the home of the Yanomamo tribe, a fierce people who have found that the best way to guard their way of life is to deal with intruders in various unpleasant ways. Their brutality dates all the way back into the times of Francisco Pizarro who had one of his underlings overseeing the extraction of gold along a tributary of the Amazon.  When the overseer got to vociferous with his greed for gold the Yanamomo warriors simply captured him, staked him out of the ground, forced open his mouth and filled it and his throat with molten gold!

So yes, James Rollins has done his research on the area and has written a really great jungle adventure.  I enjoyed reading it and rate it a 4 and 1/2 on stars. Read it, you’ll like it!

Here’s the rub!

it seems that we all carry in our bones an instinctive fear of snakes.  The larger the better and of course getting the best of one of the big buggers is a great tale to tell.  But in order to do so, we have to not drift into complete fantasy about the relative strength of a thirty or more foot python or anaconda and what they can do to a person who is trapped within the coils of a constrictor of that size.

Let’s take a small sized boa, python or anaconda, say four feet long, who has just had a nice live chicken placed in his cage. The chicken runs around a bit pecking the ground and then stops and freezes as it recognizes an ancient enemy, the snake.

Both creatures freeze and you can see the tension in their muscles build as the snake prepares for it’s strike and the chicken readies itself to jump, fly or run in an attempt to escape. When the strike comes, it is faster than the wink of an eye and the chicken never has a chance to even move before the mouth fastens onto the head or neck and the coils swirl around enveloping the entire chicken in a matter of a second. 

At this point, as you are shaking your head in disbelief at the speed of the snake, you begin to see it’s body going through a kneading motion that flows along the coils. As the coils tighten, the bones within the chicken’s chest can be heard popping like little breaking sticks and in a matter of thirty seconds the chicken is essentially dead and only needs to be held until the reflexes of the snake tell it that it is time to take the head in it’s mouth and slowly and rhythmically work it’s way up over the body, ultimately ingesting the entire chicken. At this point only a lump in the snake’s body remains to indicate that there was once a chicken present.

So let’s now look at Rollin’s description step by step:1. Our protagonist, Nathan, hears the screams of a child.  (Ok, probable at the moment of the strike and the enfolding of the small Indian girl within the coils.)  2. Nathan pushes through the foliage and sees the girl enfolded within the coils of the 40ft anaconda. (A bit improbable as a snake this size would do to a small human what it does to a capybara or wild pig or deer and that is, completely enfold it within it’s coils so perhaps an arm might still stick out.) 3. As he approaches, the snake pulls the girl under the water and our hero goes in and finally spotting the outstretched hand of the girl grasps it and it squeezes back. (Oops! The snake has now had this young thing enveloped for at least thirty seconds and has probably already exerted enough pressure to break her ribs, collar bone and pop the blood vessels in her eyeballs and brain. 4. Suddenly the snake lets go of the girl with its mouth, rears up, and snaps like a vice on his arm and before he can hit it with his machete, he is twisted and dragged under the water himself and he feels the squeeze of 400 pounds of flesh around his chest. (Ok, I’ll give you this that for some reason the snake knew it was about to be attacked, let go of the girls and tried to go after the attacker who is now in deep do-do because he is being crushed by those same coils.) 5. Our hero shoves the anaconda’s bulk off his legs and gasps one breath as he comes to the surface. (No way at this point in the game guys, any air you let out will never be taken back in because those coils are just going to keep contracting, so this is where the ribs on our hero go snake, crackle and pop!) 6. Still forcibly fighting back, Nathan manages a choke hold on the snake, squeezing enough to get the beast to release him and throw him out of the water onto the beach. (Have you every had a size sixteen inch neck in your hands? How long can do you think you can maintain your grip on this monster while you are dying? My own experience with the neck of an eight foot black mamba was that once he got his coils around my arm and started pulling, it was touch and go as to whether i would be able to hang on and not let the sucker pull out and bite me!) 7. Our hero is free and goes to the rescue of the young girl …..

Ok, Enough Rick, it’s a novel, it’s fiction and adventure, and the guy has got to triumph over this evil so he can go on and take on bigger things. And face it, it’s a jolly good novel and I’ll read more of James Rollins’ books so keep them coming!

Just do your snake research guys! If you want a bit more realistic description of what happens when a full grown man runs into a giant python in the depths of the Okavango Swamp, read pp. 158 – 160 in my book Kalahari. Meditate on it for a while and it should give you nightmares!

Oh! Lay off, Rick, You know it’s only adventure fiction….



Reader Questions for “Rough Enough” #4: What was it like starting off in the Army – then and now?

Richard Clow’s first enlistment at age 17 was a one hundred day gig at Camp Meigs in Readville, Mass. which began on August 18, 1864.  This sounds somewhat like the Reserves training of the 1960’s to me; the volunteer receiving three months of indoctrination and training with the 22nd Massachusetts Infantry followed by having the option of either extending and going on active duty, or of going home and waiting to be called in case there was a real crisis.

As you read through chapter 2, think about each of these following questions and write your own opinions as they may differ from my own interpretations of Richard Clow’s words.

1. What does Richard’s first letter say to you as you read it in the opening words of Chapter 2 and look between the lines to figure out how he is getting along? Is he enjoying the training, company, and life int the barracks?

2. What does it say about the training and life in the barracks for the first three weeks to know that he has already worn out his boot and  doesn’t have enough warm blankets, a vest or a mattress to sleep on?

3. When we think of “winning” a war, it can have several different meanings as to the actual outcome depending on which side you belong to. What do you see as the real hope of the South in fighting this war? Do they want to be totally free of the North? What terms of agreement would the South want if  they were negotiating a truce and how would these terms differ from those desired by the North? What does winning a total victory mean for the South and what does it mean for the North?

Why Richard Headley Clow is my Favorite Civil War Personality

My favorite personality for the Civil War is a private named Richard Headley Clow who was at the front lines of Petersburg from Feb. 1865 through April, 1865 and then went on to Appomattox.

My reasons for this are the following: 1. Richard Clow wrote a series of thirteen letters to his sister Agnes Clow who was in Boston, while he was in training, at his embarkation, and while going on patrols and assalting the bastion of defences around Petersburg, VA. Thus I can read his actual words and understand how a young seventeen year old boy decided to enlist and how he learned the hazardous ropes of the game of war while pulling picket duty and sneaking around Confederate defenses on the front lines. 2. I am still, after six years of work on my book, “Rough Enough” amazed that a seventeen year old would have the audacity to fill out his enlistment papers with the direct lies of age: nineteen (it was actually seventeen), residence: Rhode Island (he was actually born in Nova Scotia, Canada and at the time of his enlistment resided with his older sister, Agnes, in Boston, and inreality was running away from a rather posh life that he had lived into the depths of the dregs of humanity at war. 3. I have always been intrigued by his references in his letters to the girl he left behind, Reina, who disappears into the mists of history. 4. I love the way Richard describes some of the minute details of his surroundings, to include the facts of berry picking, the flocks of ducks, the sunken hulks in the James River and the meeting up with his brother at the Grand Review after the war.

As if these were not enough, I am intrigued by the personality of a young man, who, having been through terrifying experiences in battle, returns home briefly and then reenlists to join the 13th infantry on the frontiers of Montana and the Dakotas to fight Indians. His letter and brief diary make it apparent that he endured immense hardships, was able to triumph over these and the deaths of friends and family members to go on to become a successful gold miner and dairy farmer in Deadwood, S.D. and then once again take off on the “wild goose chase” with his young wife and children to sheep ranch in Idaho, gold mine, farm and run a hotel in Oregon, and eventually die of old age in Eugene, Oregon.

Richard Clow’s personality through history is a guiding light to me as I pursue my own “wild goose chase around the planet.

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