Background on “Sultana: The Novel”

Sultana: The Novel opens in early April 1865 inside the Confederate prison at Cahaba, Alabama. The central characters initially are four Union soldiers from Muncie, Indiana — two brothers, their uncle, and a best friend — who had been captured while trying to round up mules. Soon, they are joined by a mute boy who appears almost by magic inside the prison. Within weeks, the war ends, and the men are released, but their travails have only begun. By steamer, rail, and mostly by foot the four “Muncie men,” now five with the boy, and their fellow ex-prisoners are conveyed to Vicksburg, Mississippi, to await passage up river to Camp Chase, in Ohio, where they will be mustered out. Their horrible fortune is to be sent north on the Sultana.

The novel mixes fiction with fact, real figures with imagined ones. For years, I tried to tell this story as a straight history but could never get it right to my satisfaction. Only when I invented these five people could I make the history come alive in my own mind. My hope is that they will bring this great and needless tragedy to life for you, too.

I should add that I am giving this book away free for two reasons: I’m currently writing a look back at the May 4, 1970, shootings at Kent State University and have a clause in my book contract that forbids me from competing for book sales with myself. The only way around that was to wait until several years after that book is available, in early 2016, to publish this one, by which time the 150th anniversary of the Sultana tragedy would be long gone. The other reason, far more pertinent to me, is that I’ve lived with these characters long enough. It’s time to set them and their story free. And to be honest, I have no desire to profit from their suffering.

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