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Civil War-era novel character witnesses many events

June 22, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Bob O'Connor is at it again.

The Charles Town resident has published his third Civil War-related historical novel in as many years.

This one, "Catesby: Eyewitness to the Civil War," is about a real-life slave who was one of the hostages held by John Brown during the 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry and his quest to be a free man, O'Connor said.

O'Connor takes Catesby's basic story but places him in well-known events of the Civil War. Catesby didn't actually do all the things he does in the book; O'Connor is not aware of anyone who was at all the Civil War sites he mentions in the story.

O'Connor, 62, said a friend referred to his Catesby the character as the "Forrest Gump" of the Civil War. In the Tom Hanks movie, Gump is present for many historic moments.

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O'Connor makes Catesby the wagon driver for famed Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner, who's taking pictures of fallen soldiers, so Catesby can tell that story.

"I like to do a lot of research and then fill in the blanks, but we don't know exactly what happened. I try to be very authentic and very believable even if I make something up," O'Connor said.

O'Connor knew Catesby was a blacksmith at Willow Grove Hotel, up the road from Cashtown Hotel in Pennsylvania. At the time, Catesby had papers saying he was free, but he technically wasn't, O'Connor said. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee led his troops past the Cashtown Hotel on July 1, 1863, on their way to Gettysburg. O'Connor took that a step further and has Catesby shoeing Lee's horse.

"Lee could have stopped to get horseshoes," said O'Connor, who went to the trouble of finding the house where Catesby lived at the time.

O'Connor said he used as many real people and buildings as he could to make it difficult for readers to know what is true and what's not.

The cover for "Catesby" is "Distant Thunder," a painting by Mort Knstler who is known for his Civil War art. The image shows Lee leading his troops past Cashtown Hotel.

O'Connor is already at work on his fourth historical novel, "A House Divided Against Itself," about brothers fighting on opposite sides of the Civil War.

His first two historical novels were "The Perfect Steel Trap: Harpers Ferry 1859," about abolitionist John Brown, and "The Virginian Who Might Have Saved Lincoln," about Lincoln's bodyguard who grew up in Jefferson County, W.Va.

O'Connor writes Civil War-related stories because it's of particular interest to him and is popular in general.

O'Connor is assistant director of the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau and tourism director for the City of Charles Town.

"Catesby: Eyewitness to the Civil War" costs $13.95 at www.buybooksontheweb.com and $16.95 at www.amazon.com. The book also is available at the Belle Boyd House in Martinsburg, W.Va., the Jefferson County, W.Va., visitors centers in Harpers Ferry and Charles Town, Turn the Page Bookstore Cafe in Boonsboro, and Book Crossing in Brunswick, Md.

To learn more, go to www.boboconnorbooks.com.

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