Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
The Union versus the Confederacy. A gunboat pilot versus a business owner. Two protagonists offering a new perspective of the inner battles of the Civil War.
Such is the work of Kendall Gott with his two new novels, “Steamboat Seasons and Backwater Battles: A Riverboat Pilot on the Western Rivers in the Civil War” and “Ride to Oblivion: The Sterling Price Raid Into Missouri, 1864,” which demonstrate a longtime interest in the conflict deemed the United States’ bloodiest war.
“(My Civil War interest) started when I was 11 years old in the Boy Scouts. We went to the Land Between the Lakes National (Recreation Area in Golden Pond, Ky.),” Gott said. “While we were there for summer camp, which was a week or 10 days, the Scout leader took us to Fort Donaldson to walk around and visit, and I think that was probably the spark that did it.
“I was 11 years old, easily impressionable,” he said. “Seeing the cannons on the river, seeing the cannonballs was all it took.”
Gott enlisted in the Army in 1978 and retired as a major in 1999. He served as the senior historian of the former Combat Studies Institute, now Army University Press, from 2004 to 2018. Over the years, he has written several academic studies, but these were his first novels.
“The history behind them is just as rigorous as an academic writing, but I found that novels are a lot more fun because you can put in your own stories,” Gott said. “It was a nice break from the normal writing I’ve done in the past. You use your own voice inflexions and your own imagination to tell the story.
“Civil War has been written about so much. There is so much out there. Another reason I didn’t do an academic study is you look around, and it’s all been done,” he said. “Novels are a way to avoid saying the same thing everyone else is saying, covering the same battles that have been covered over and over, but fiction releases that. You can tell the story again in a completely different way.”
Gott said the idea came together when he retired, writing “Steamboat Seasons and Backwater Battles” in six months and “Ride to Oblivion” in seven.
“I certainly read when I wasn’t working, but there were times that I knew I really just couldn’t put thought to paper,” Gott said. “But when I retired, I was finally able to spend the time and the mental energy to do this.
“I treated it like this was my job. I woke up in the morning, checked the news, then I’d go to my office, and I was either reading, taking notes or typing. On neither of these did I have a complete outline from start to finish,” he said. “I had a general idea, and I found that just getting that started, those first few paragraphs, those were the agonizing things. I didn’t want to start out too flamboyant, but, on the other hand, I didn’t want to start out like the academic type, dry as a bone. You need something in between that grabs the attention but not be too cheesy about it.”
Both pieces are historical novels with several references to key leaders on each side of the war and battles that took place.
“If there is a battle in here, it is the battle,” Gott said. “It is on the same dates, the players are the same, but in this case with novels, it is through the eyes of the protagonist.
“I hope (readers) get a perspective of a guy actually on the ground. Not the lofty aspirations and desires of the generals,” he said. “This is a perspective of what I would think most people on the battlefield would have seen and felt. …That’s what you normally don’t see in the academic-type literary work.”
In order to keep the protagonists of each novel from interfering with historical accuracy, Gott made a creative decision.
“They don’t have a name,” Gott said. “It was intentional.”
“Steamboat Seasons and Backwater Battles,” which was published in October 2019, follows a young man who starts off as a young farmer and climbs his way up through Victorian society while working on a steamboat, which eventually leads to him being contracted by the U.S. Navy as part of the war effort.
“This is his journey starting off at the bottom and rising his way all the way up to captain to reach his goal and his objectives,” Gott said. “That’s really the story of the protagonist is his struggles, his trials, his tribulations to reach his goal. The war itself is a backdrop for that.”
“Ride to Oblivion,” which was published in February 2020, follows a shopkeeper from Nevada, Mo., who decides to join the Confederate States Army and eventually joins the staff of Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, a senior Confederate officer, as he makes a 1,500-mile journey across the war-broken South.
“He blames a lot of things and a lot of people for the loss of his arm, the loss of his business, and he really wants to be a killer,” Gott said. “That 1,500-mile journey is a journey of finding forgiveness for all the things that have been done to him.”
Both novels, which were published by Covenant Books, are available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle edition, Barnes and Noble in paperback or Nook Book, and other online book sellers.
“I didn’t write these to make money. These are fun,” Gott said. “It would be nice if they were at least read and received out there. I would be more gratified with people just reading (the books) and find some fun and interest out of them.”