Albertville history nut and writer Tony Ziebol always found himself disappointed when he watched or read a piece of historical fiction, but later learned only a small portion of the story was historically accurate. So when he set out to write his own novel, he made it his mission to bring as much real life into the story as possible.
Fifteen years of research later, that book was published this spring. The novel is called “The Angel of Marye’s Heights: the True Story of Richard Kirkland,” and it details the military service of a young Confederate soldier, Kirkland, who risked his life to bring comfort to suffering Union soldiers who lay wounded on the battlefield after the Battle of Fredericksburg in Dec. 1862.
Ziebol stumbled upon the story of Kirkland while touring Civil War battlefields while vacationing in Virginia. In Fredericksburg, he happened upon a statue honoring Kirkland and his actions, which sparked a desire to learn more and write about the young Confederate soldier.
“It was just a very unique story,” Ziebol said. “It’s not just about war and blood and guts. It’s about so much more than that: compassion, about being able to keep your humanity after years of fighting in battles. He just seemed like an extraordinary individual.”
After researching Kirkland and his regiment more, Ziebol became even more fascinated by the story, as he found that Kirkland’s regiment had served in all the biggest battles of the Civil War and even in the most iconic locations within those battlefields.
Ziebol’s novel begins just prior to when the governor of South Carolina announces that the state will secede from the Union, and follows Kirkland and his regiment through all of their battles up until Kirkland’s death during the Battle of Chickamauga in Sept. 1863. Ziebol said the story of his death was just as significant as his Fredericksburg heroics because he sacrificed himself to save a couple of his comrades.
Learning about the war required several trips out east over the course of 15 years, from Pennsylvania to South Carolina.
“I quickly found I was in over my head,” he said. “I really had to become a student of the Civil War first.”
Ziebol spent a lot of time reading the diaries of the servicemen and roaming around on the South Carolina plantation that Kirkland grew up on. By the time it was finished, historian Mac Wyckoff of the National Park Service said he could not find one factual error in Ziebol’s entire novel. In fact, Ziebol has learned so much that he has recently been invited to speak on the subject several times at different historical commemorations and roundtables.
“I wanted to tell the story of the common soldier of the Civil War,” Ziebol said. “There have been a lot of books written about Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and Lincoln, but I wanted to tell the story of what it was like on a day-to-day basis for the common soldier.”
Ziebol said his book can be found anywhere online, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The e-reader edition of his book just came out and is currently sold exclusively through Amazon.
Next, Ziebol will focus his attention on the opposite side of the same war, as he plans to begin a new novel focusing on the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Gettysburg.