New book tells tales of brother vs. brother in Civil War

November 28, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Bob O'Connor
File photo

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — The cover of Charles Town author Bob O’Connor’s latest book — “A House Divided Against Itself” — shows two soldiers, Union and Confederate, casually talking over coffee.

Knowing the book is about brothers who fought on opposite sides of the Civil War, one could incorrectly assume that the cover depicts them meeting on some battlefield.

The brothers, two of the book’s four main characters, were John Wesley Culp, who fought for the Confederacy, and his older brother, William Culp, who joined the Union Army. They grew up in Gettysburg, Pa., where both worked for a local carriage maker. John Wesley moved to Shepherdstown, then to Virginia, to work for a carriage maker there before the war.

John Wesley joined the Shepherdstown militia, which became attached to the Second Virginia Infantry. William belonged to a Gettysburg militia that became part of the 87th Pennsylvania.

According to O’Connor’s meticulous research, through more than 90 letters plus records from the National Archives and the Army War College, the brothers’ units fought against each other in two battles in the Shenandoah Valley between 1861 and 1863.

While their units joined in battle, the brothers never met during the war, O’Connor said.

The book’s other main characters, also from Gettysburg, were Johnston “Jack” Skelly Jr., John Wesley’s best friend since childhood, who joined the Union Army, and Mary Virginia Wade, Jack’s girlfriend.

Only one of the four survived the war.

The inspiration for “A House Divided Against Itself” came from a lecture O’Connor heard about the Culp brothers at a Martinsburg, W.Va., Rotary Club meeting given by James C. Price, Shepherdstown’s Historian Laureate.

“Every character in the book is real,” O’Connor said. “It’s a historical novel based on a true story.

“It is historical fiction, but it is also mostly true,” O’Connor says on the book’s back cover.

As a way of introducing the characters, O’Connor begins the story by devoting an entire chapter to each one. He covers the war from the spring of 1861 to the Battle of Gettysburg where the story ends.

Self-published, “A House Divided…” covers 230 pages. It sells for $14.95 and can be bought at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, at the Antietam National Battlefield gift shop and online at

O’Connor’s books have received four nominations in national book competitions.

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