Charles Town author finishes latest Civil War work

Bob O'Connor's fifth novel, "The Return of Catesby," is the story of a slave who was born in Jefferson County

December 26, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Bob O'Connor has just finished his fifth novel, "The Return of Catesby," the story of a slave who was born in Jefferson County.
By Richard F. Belisle, Staff Writer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — The American Civil War has been very good for a Charles Town author who, in the last six years, has been researching the area’s history for material for historical novels based on real people and real situations connected with that conflict.

Bob O’Connor has just finished his fifth novel, “The Return of Catesby,” the story of a slave who was born in Jefferson County.

The latest is a sequel to “Catesby: Eyewitness to the Civil War,” which O’Connor published in 2008. The new book comes out in January.

Catesby was born at Beall Air Mansion, a Washington family home owned by Col. Lewis Washington, great-grandnephew of George Washington, O’Connor said.

“Catesby was trained as a blacksmith at Beall Air, so his value as a slave went up,” O’Connor said. “He was sold to a man in Keedysville before the war. In 1863, he escaped through the Underground Railroad to Cashtown, Pa., near Gettysburg.”


The first book followed Catesby through the Civil War, including his service as a soldier in the Union Army, his capture by Confederates in 1864 and experiences as a prisoner of war at the infamous Andersonville Prison.

The sequel picks up with Catesby after the war, and tells of his testimony as a witness at the trial of Henry Wirtz, the warden at Andersonville.

Catesby eventually was hired as the first black teacher at Storer College in Harpers Ferry, O’Connor said.

“Some people think Storer College admitted colored students only, but there were no race restrictions there,” he said.

O’Connor makes his living writing books and freelance articles for newspapers and other publications.

He was a reporter for The Herald-Mail in the early 1970s, first as a stringer in the sports department, and later full time in the company’s Chambersburg, Pa., bureau.

O’Connor always has a book in the hopper. The next one will be a compilation of his newspaper articles on West Virginia’s fight for statehood in 1863.

Seven of his eight published works were centered around the Civil War. In 2010, he edited “The Life of Abraham Lincoln as President,” a manuscript written by Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln’s bodyguard. In 2009, O’Connor published “U.S. Colored Troops at Andersonville Prison.”

Also in 2010, he was commissioned by the city of Ranson to write the city’s history to commemorate its 100th anniversary.

O’Connor stays busy promoting his works at book signings.

“I’ve been to 90 since the first of the year,” he said.

He said he has sold more than 1,000 books each year since his first one, “The Perfect Steel Trap,” about John Brown’s raid in Harpers Ferry, was published in 2006.

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