March 2003  
  Centreville author takes readers to Battle of Shiloh
When many in this region think of the Civil War, they conjure up images of battles in Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville or Gettysburg.
But instead of taking the beaten path, Centreville author Tim Johnston gives readers a different perspective in his book "The Boys from Kalamazoo."
First, the book is historical fiction. And, second, he shows the battle not as it was fought in Virginia or nearby, but in Tennessee.
Opening with the Battle of Shiloh, fought April 6-7, 1862, in western Tennessee, Johnston tells the story of James Lockett, the eldest son of a farming family in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Through flashback, Johnston describes how this boy on the verge of becoming a man came to fight in the ninth most costly (in terms of casualties) battle of the Civil War.
At the time, the battle's 23,741 casualties (13,047 Union and 10,694 Confederate) were more than all other previous American wars combined.
According to "The Atlas of the Civil War" by James M. McPherson, the battle was nearly a complete surprise attack on Union forces by Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston (no relation to Tim Johnston).
Gen. Ulysses Grant and the Union Army of West Tennessee were planning an invasion along the Tennessee River to seize the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, the Confederacy's only east-west all-weather supply route that linked the lower Mississippi valley to cities on the Confederacy's east coast.
On the first day of battle, the 40,000 Confederate troops seemed to be heading toward victory despite the death of Gen. Johnston.
But, as McPherson wrote, the Confederate Army was not able to break through a Union stronghold dubbed "The Hornet's Nest" where Union forces fought and held their ground for seven hours until reinforcements arrived on the second day, carrying the Union to victory.
A native of Michigan, Johnston said he was always interested in the Civil War. That interest grew when he visited the Shiloh battlegrounds and when he saw the "Hornet's Nest" for himself.
"I realized there were a lot of good stories to be told," Johnston said, noting that he was taken by the power of the battleground.
"The courage on both sides, it grabs you," he said. Through his words, Johnston attempts to capture how close to a complete surprise the battle was for Grant and how different the outcome of the war could have been had the Union lost the battle.
This is not the first novel Johnston has written, though it is the first he has published. He already has written a sequel to this book.
When he is not writing, Johnston works for Exxon Mobil and spends time with his wife, Wendy, and his 2-year-old twin daughters, Sophia and Rebecca.
Johnston said he took great pains to keep the novel historically accurate. Ironically, he said, the parts of the book that seem the most fantastic, such as the chase on a railroad handcart, are fact, not fiction.
To help readers with the historical background, Johnston includes a section at the back of the book to discuss its historical relevance and notes:
"While the Kalamazoo Sharpshooters are fictional (based loosely on units with fanciful names like the Coldwater Cadets, Jackson Grays and Michigan Hussars), Birge's Western Sharpshooters did exist and experienced much of what the Kalamazoo Sharpshooters experienced."
The novel is available at area Barnes & Noble and can be ordered from most other book stores and from
A book signing is set for Saturday, March 8, from noon to 2 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 8117 Sudley Road in Manassas. For more information, call 703-393-0910.
by Jennifer Cooper
Original URL:

January 2003  
  Civil War novel rings true
T. J. Johnston's new Civil War novel, The Boys From Kalamazoo, (Burd Street Press, Beidel Printing House, Inc., 63 W. Burd Street, Shippensburg, PA 17257-0152; $29.95), proves the old adage, "Don't choose a book by its cover."
This Civil War story is much better than its Nancy Drew-like cover implies. Johnston follows the fortunes of four young men from Kalamazoo County who respond to the call by Congressman Charles Vincent to form a company to be called the Kalamazoo Sharpshooters.
After receiving perfunctory military training, the company is shipped to St. Louis, where it joins a force assigned to search out and destroy Confederate guerilla fighters. The company stains its reputation when it breaks down and runs in its first encounter with the enemy. The unit moves on to take part in the siege of Fort Donelson and later takes heavy casualties in Grant's defeat at Shiloh.
The fictitious Sharpshooters' roles are combined with the experiences of the real Western Sharpshooters. Johnston has fashioned a story that Civil War buffs and re-enactors will relish. The author, who lives in Centerville, Va., is already at work on the second novel in this promising series; one that will eventually resemble Sharpe's wartime adventures on PBS's Masterpiece Theater.
by John Messer
Original URL:

January 2003  
  The Fiction Shelf
Set in 1862 during the American Civil War, The Boys from Kalamazoo by t. J. Johnston is a fictional account of the famous Kalamazoo Sharpshooters. Lending a vibrant freshness to a yesteryear world of American history peopled with the heroes, villains, ordinary soldiers, and citizenry who fought and died in the toils and turmoils of a bloody civil war, The Boys From Kalamazoo is entertaining, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and quite vivid in its portrayal of a war-torn America.
Original URL:
Home   Books   About the Author
  Press   Links