am retired after working for the VA Regional Office in St. Petersburg, FL where I was a Rating Specialist (RVSR) on the Appeals Team.
I have a BS in Political Science from Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN, and extensive graduate credits in Political Science from Rutgers University.
An avid reader, I write fiction and non-fiction and have published numerous articles. I am a member of Vietnow, and a contributing editor to their publication.
Currently, I am working on several fiction projects, and a self-help book to aid veterans seeking benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
I live in Sebastian, Fl with my wife, Barbara, and a vivacious Labrador retriever named Mary.
You can eMail Raymond at:
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by Raymond Gustavson
Click Here to Order the Print today!
At the start of the American Civil War, Professor John Ulysses Martin of Clarksville, Tennessee, and his students march off to face the harsh reality of battlefield combat. As his students die one by one, John questions his lofty convictions and, after losing a leg at Antietam, realizes he has made a fool of himself. He concludes that war is nothing more than the butchery of innocents.
During his convalescence at Armory Square Hospital, John makes notes in a pocket Bible of Yankee troops and artillery heading south for an attack on Richmond. Caught spying, he is taken to the Old Capitol Prison to be hanged, but manages a harrowing escape. When he reaches Richmond and turns in his notes, General Hood realizes John’s value to the war effort and rewards him with a perilous assignment: destroy the railroad bridge over the Cumberland River at Clarksville, Tennessee.
Word Count: 102,000
Pages to Print: 342
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A Thirst for War PRINT TODAY!
(ISBN # 978-0-9844521-4-9)
The gallows trapdoor opened and
the Yankee soldier fell to his death, dangled a moment with feet
twitching, and then twisted silently.
The crowd gasped a chorus of
Amens, a preacher stepped forward and read a Bible verse, and then the
soldier was cut down, his hood removed, and his limp body placed on a
stretcher. He was a young boy with flaxen hair, a few sprigs of whiskers
around the mouth, and blood stained hands. A large bruise covered one
side of his face.
"They said he raped and killed
a woman," said a coarse, gap-toothed man standing next to Professor John
"So I've been told," the
professor said. "Things like this happen in war."
"You think they was wrong to
hang him?" the man asked, eying the professor suspiciously. Rumors about
the rapist and an accomplice (who still hadn't been caught) had run
rampant in the village of Clarksville, Tennessee.
"I wasn't at his trial," the
professor said, jostled from behind as the crowd pushed forward. It
wasn't every day they got to see a hanging up close. "And I don't know
any of the facts."
"Well, I was there," the man
said, placing a large workman's hand on the professor's brown coat and
dragging him forward. "Let's get a good look at this son of a bitch the
military found guilty!"
"I don't really want to do
this," John said. His comment was lost—people behind him were talking;
the stale odors of garlic, onions and unwashed bodies assaulting his
senses. Involuntarily, he stumbled forward three steps and found himself
staring down at the rope burns on the boy's neck.
What was it about good,
churchgoing people that made them so desperate to see a dead body? He
glanced upward. Lord, the day was far too beautiful for such depravity.
Propelled by a strong wind, cottony clouds made their way across a
bright winter sky. Then, another scent hit him. It was pungent like the
odor from an outhouse. The stench grew stronger, nauseatingly so. People
began to complain, and then gagged and coughed. In a final tribute to
justice, the soldier's bowels had let loose.
"Stop shoving, you fool!" a
voice bellowed in the hallway outside the classroom.
"Go to hell!" came the booming
reply. Heavy boots and shoes tramped along the wood floor, followed by a
second group pounding up the stairs from the first floor of the
"Take this, you moron!" A body
thudded into a wall. Raucous laughter was followed by more profanity.
"Hurry up, nitwits!" A
crescendo of boots and shoes scurried along the hall. The two groups
were coming closer and closer, the one catching up to the other. "Get
out of the way slowpokes or we'll all be late!"
"Go to hell!"
His hands twitching and his
face flushed with anger, Professor John Ulysses Martin waited before the
lectern in the oak paneled classroom. A dozen Federal-style easy chairs
with soiled doilies on the headrests were arranged in a semi-circle
before him. The chairs were well-worn, with rips and tears from years of
Hanging on the wall to his
right was a portrait of Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United
States and, more importantly, a Southerner. Across from the portrait,
the Ansonia clock on the fireplace mantle showed the time, three minutes
after eleven. The students were late again. As usual. He glanced at a
set of tall windows at the far end of the room. Bracketed by
floor-to-ceiling drapes, the windows looked out onto the common area of
Stewart College and the brown winter lawns crisscrossed by gray
sidewalks extending all the way to College Street.
With a great crunching of
bodies the five young men squeezed through the open door. Cursing and
shouting, they headed for their chairs, bumping into each other and
knocking over a potted plant in a stand. Somebody lurched sideways and
caught the plant before it hit the floor; took an exaggerated series of
false steps, and then sat down, giggling but agitated.
"Let's have some order!"
Professor Martin shouted. He reached over and took hold of the hall
door, gave it a shove, and caught a flashing reflection of himself and
two of the young men in the glass. George Singletary stuck a foot out
and tripped Curley Holland. Curley got up and threw a punch at George
who ducked and cackled with laughter.
"There was a hanging!" Curley
"I know," the professor said,
raising his hand in a gesture of silence. The memory of death came back,
haunted him so that he had to push it to the back of his mind.
"It was that damn Yankee who
killed a farm woman," George Singletary blurted. A murmuring broke out,
metamorphosed into another round of excited conversations.
"Order!" Professor Martin
shouted as he turned around. He pounded a large fist on the lectern.
"Let's have some order so we can begin today's lesson!"
"Yes, professor," they replied
as they settled into their chairs. They removed their winter coats and
draped them over the wings of the chairs. Hats and wool gloves fell to
the threadbare carpet. Finished, they looked up at him, their eyes
bright and wondrous like small children; their faces, by contrast, a
gaggle of sneers and smirks typical of mischievous young men in their
"Gentlemen, now that we've
gotten this hanging business out of the way, I assume you've read
today's assignment?" John Martin opened his tattered copy of Herodotus'
The Histories. His face still crimson with anger, he reached inside his
wool jacket and fingered the long envelope bearing the seal of the
Confederate High Command. Only this morning a Colonel Armistead in
Richmond had informed him his application for military service had been
denied. Professor Martin cursed beneath his breath. What more could go
All his life he'd dreamed of a
career as an army officer, wanted it so badly it gave him chills every
time he thought of it. Then, after receiving his degree in History from
the University of Virginia, he'd readied himself to accept his
commission. He put his financial affairs in order by selling his
textbooks and hand-me-down furniture, and used the money to buy
uniforms, equipment, and a good horse. This morning's letter had hit him
like a blow to the face, and it stung all the more because of its
bluntness. It was as if no one cared. And that really rankled him!
Something else is going to
happen today. I can feel it in my gut, but I'll be damned if I know what
it is or what to do about it!
A recent honors graduate, he
was a tall, lanky man of twenty-two with intelligent blue eyes, wavy
brown hair, and a smattering of freckles concealed by a beard until only
last week. When he spoke his voice resonated with authority. It had to
in order to deal with this wild and raucous group sitting before him.
Resting two large hands on the
lectern before him, he watched the five young students assembled for
Ancient Civilizations class this bright, sunny morning in February 1862.
Due to the rampant war fever in town, these were the only students left,
the school's upperclassmen having enlisted in General Lee's fine army
many months ago.
As Professor of History at
Stewart College in Clarksville, Tennessee, John Martin believed it was
his duty—nay, his calling—to instill the patriotic virtues of duty to
God and country in his students so they would never compromise the
South's honor on the field of battle. But one of his students had called
him an armchair idealist cloistered in an academic fortress. John
scoffed at the idea. His father, James Pettigrew Martin, a hero in the
War of 1848, had planted the seeds of John's political philosophy when
the boy sat on his knee night after night and listened to tales of
derring-do against the Mexican army commanded by Santa Anna. Above the
fireplace in their home hung a saber used in battle. The rust on it, his
father explained, had come from fresh blood, now dried and turned a
reddish-brown with age and memories.
"Gentlemen?" He cracked his
knuckles, working them in a slow, deliberate manner as the usual paper
shuffling and throat clearing subsided.
"What was the assignment?"
James "Curley" Holland called out from his easy chair in the center of
the group. Already a big strapping fellow at nineteen, he loved history,
cigars, and whiskey, traits his father, a pro-slavery Memphis preacher,
detested. Curley had expressed no opinion on the institution of slavery,
although he had expressed to John in confidence he felt his father was
somewhat of a hypocrite: a man couldn't love one's neighbor and
simultaneously believe in slavery. Today, Curley's deep brown eyes
glowed with a mischievous brilliance. For once he looked sober, and John
counted this as a blessing. Hopefully, there would be no more trouble
today. Controlling these rambunctious young men had always been a
problem. With the advent of war, it had become an increasing challenge.
"Herodotus' The Histories, Book
Seven," John answered. He liked Curley because the boy reminded him of
himself at that age: impetuous, irresponsible, and fun loving, all of
which was offset by a keen interest in history. However, Curley's love
of whiskey often sidetracked his academic pursuits.
"We had planned to discuss the
subject of courage," John continued, "and how it applied to King
Leonidas and his men at the tragic battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC."
"Where's that horrible smell
coming from?" Emanuel "Smiley" Riordan turned to Curley who sat next to
him. Son of a local Clarksville farmer who neither owned slaves, nor
believed in the institution of slavery, Smiley was a tall, muscular
fellow with dark brown eyes, flaming red hair, and large callused hands
that played a fiddle with remarkable agility.
"What smell?" John asked. He
rested a hand on the lectern to steady himself because he was lame in
his right leg. Trouble was brewing. Again. Sometimes it started in an
innocuous way, like a wisp of smoke curls under a closed door recognized
too late as a danger.
"Yeah, what smell are we
talking about?" Curley asked, sitting up straight in his chair. He
arched his back.
Smiley leaned toward Curley,
pushed his nose up with his index finger, and snorted like a pig. "Been
wallowing in the sauce, M. Prodigal Son?"
"Not hardly, Mr. Music Man,"
Curley said, frowning. "But it sure smells like there's a hint of
pro-slavery sympathy emanating from your pores. Most likely in the form
of intestinal gas."
"Like hell!" Smiley growled,
his face brightening like an oil lamp turned up high. He was the
levelheaded one in the group, but if pushed too hard he could explode
with the force of gunpowder. "Even though our family owns no slaves, I
believe in slavery because it's the bedrock of our economy, jackass. The
wealth generated by it allows us to finance this war, in case you've
forgotten that simple fact."
"But an economy based on
slavery is a false economy," Wilson Compton interrupted. "Compared
to the massive industrial might of the North, we produce hardly any
weapons or munitions, and we lack their intricate network of railroads
to transport goods and supplies. Consequently, we must buy everything
from Europe—or trade with the North." Wilson, the youngest of John's
students sat next to Smiley. He was a sensitive young artist with a
boyish face and liquid green eyes that mirrored the ever-changing colors
in the landscapes he painted. His sketches had caught the eye of a
Nashville philanthropist who said he painted with the grace and flourish
of the French artist David. As a result, an exciting and promising
career awaited him.
"Ah, go stuff it, Mr. Portrait
Man," Curley said. "We do have a railroad here in Clarksville in case
you haven't noticed." He crumpled a piece of paper into a ball and
tossed it over Smiley's head. The ball landed on top of Wilson's notes.
Scowling, Wilson swept the ball onto the floor.
"Gentlemen, please," John
pleaded. "Let's not get out of control like we did coming into class
He ran a big hand through his
mop of brown hair. Three years older than Curley, he understood the
temptations and passions ruling young men's lives. At the University of
Virginia he had nearly succumbed to these vices. Fortunately, he had
reformed himself in time.
"Right, professor," Curley said
as he looked at Smiley. Pinching his nose between his thumb and
forefinger he spoke nasally. "I apologize."
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