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Article published in the Scots Guards Magazine 2007 telling how the author of the Crimean War novel, Follow Me to Glory, Will Hutchison, an American, came to write about a young Scottish nobleman, in the British army, in a British war.
During a recent radio interview, the host asked me, “What is a Yank doing writing a novel about British officers in a British war?” I gave the interviewer a stock answer, “The Crimean War has always been a fascination of mine.” It goes much deeper than that simple answer. It is a unique series of events and discoveries over the past several years, one following the other, like dominos. It has been a satisfying journey, for along the way I happily came upon the Scots Guards.
There I was in 2002, a retired American Marine, and a retiring US Federal Law Enforcement Agent; looking to the future. I decided to make writing my third career. It seemed logical that I focus on my passion, which is 19th Century military history, although more than one person asked why I don’t write about my own experiences in war or law enforcement. The answer is I have too many books on history in my head, not yet written.
The first literary effort was an attempt to carve out a non-fiction book to explore the adventures of the dozen or so British officers who were observers on General McClellan’s staff in the American Civil War. They were in Canada, sent by the Queen when there was a real possibility of Britain and the United States going to war. Even before they arrived in Canada, the war drums were silenced, leaving the troops on the Canadian border to face boredom and a cold winter. When General McClellan rendered an invitation, a few intrepid officers went south and joined the Army of the Potomac as observers.
I began my quest with what evidence was available to me in the United States. There were many McClellan documents and his various military reports. In my search, I discovered a series of photographic images taken of the British observers while they were at McClellan’s headquarters in 1862. Unfortunately, no amount of investigation could identify all of them, even with extensive research on both sides of the ocean. This left me with the unsatisfactory prospect of writing an incomplete history. By this time, however, I was hooked, obsessed by the project. The game was afoot, and there was no going back.
I always wanted to try my hand at writing a novel. Why not now? Writing dialogue and creating characters was something new, and exciting. The book would be a fictional tale about a few of these British officers that I was able to identify, and it would not stray far from historical record, to give it balance and credibility.
In the series of photographs, I was drawn to two particular officers, whose faces I saw continually. They wore braided-front frock coats, of the type worn by Foot Guards officers of the period, and even today. At the time of the American Civil War, there were only three such infantry regiments in Queen Victoria’s Guards Brigade, narrowing my search considerably. Satisfied these officers were likely of the Foot Guards, the question was which regiment?
More clues were sifted out of the soft-focused sepia-toned images. Both officers wore visored forage caps of the Foot Guards fashion, with what appeared to be somewhat diamond-shaped badges. One of these caps had a diced cap band, and the other, plain. According to the Regulations for the Dress of the Army 1846, the diced band identified the Scots Fusilier Guards, the badge being the Saint Andrew’s Star.
My research told me the title, Scots Fusilier Guards, was changed in 1877, to the Scots Guards. The other Foot Guards regiments in 1854 were the equally distinguished and prominent Grenadier Guards and Coldstream Guards. The photographs were unclear, but it was plain that the officer without the diced band on his forage cap did not have the Grenadier Guards grenade badge in front. This officer wearing the plain-banded forage cap was first thought to be Coldstream Guards, who’s Star of the Garter badge is also somewhat diamond-shaped.
Officers of the Queen’s own Foot Guards, the elite of British military - what better setting in which to nurture a tale of adventure. This was as far as I could go in the United States. In search of new evidence, I went to London and introduced myself, hat in hand, at Wellington Barracks.
Once I had identified myself as a former warrant officer, and proven my internal fortitude at a small establishment nearby, called The Buckingham, I was allowed to delve into the remarkable Guards archives. I was treated most kindly, and with a generous portion of patience for my lack of knowledge of the ways of the Guards. I went through endless service records and photographs, comparing times, places of service, and faces.
In one photographic image the names ‘Fletcher’ and ‘Neville’ had been printed above the officer’s heads in handwriting of the period. ‘Fletcher,’ who was the officer with diced cap band, was relatively easy to identify as Henry Charles Fletcher. He was, indeed, in the Scots Fusilier Guards, and was posted to Canada at the time of the American Civil War.
In the officer lists of the Coldstream Guards for that time there was no officer named ‘Neville,’ although it was not an uncommon name in the history of the Guards. In fact, there was a ‘Neville’ in the Scots Fusilier Guards. I focused my inquiries there. The more I dug into the Scots Guards archives, the more I learned about this celebrated regiment, and the more I came to know and understand its proud traditions and many deeds of valour.
With the able assistance of the Scots Guards Archivist, we ferreted out Edward Neville, who was in Canada with Fletcher. I found his service record, and compared several photographs taken of him in England with those taken at McClellan’s headquarters. To this day I have no idea why Neville’s cap band was not diced, in accordance with regulations, but it was undeniably him.
After returning to the United States, I developed a fictional character from the combined backgrounds of Fletcher and Neville. I named him Ian David Carlyle, and made him the second son of an Earl, just to complicate his existence, then began to write about his time in Canada and the United States.
In the course of writing the first few chapters, and upon closer examination of the service records, it became clear that these gentlemen would have experienced combat, and emerged as the fine officers they were, six years prior to the American Civil War, in the Crimea. I was compelled to change course again.
I decided to set my first novel in the Crimea – A story about a young Scottish aristocrat coming of age as an officer in the Scots Fusilier Guards, fighting his way through the Crimean War (1854-1856), then bring Ian Carlyle into the American Civil War with McClellan in the sequel.
This began a two-year odyssey of intense research in the United Kingdom and the Ukraine. I voraciously explored Victorian England, devouring the wondrous ambiguities of the British aristocracy of the nineteenth century, the escapades of students at Eton College, the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, and the Horse Guards in London, where Ian was first posted.
I was duty-bound to travel to the battlefields of the Crimean War, in today’s Ukraine, to see and feel them for myself. When a crevasse in the Alma River where Ian conceals himself from raining artillery fire is described in the book, I know that crevasse, because I’ve been there, wet and caked in mud.
It was only after extensive research, and walking the walk of Ian Carlyle, I felt confident enough to put pen to paper. It was only then I believed I could do justice to the memory of the Scots Fusilier Guards officers, non-commissioned officers and other ranks who fought this poorly managed, horrible little war, and came out of it with pride and dignity in themselves and their regiment.
I was honoured to place my main character in this fine regiment. I will always be grateful for the help I received from today’s Scots Guardsmen in completing the work.
Will Hutchison is a graduate of Syracuse University, with twenty-six years as an NCO and officer in the US Army and Marine Corps. Thereafter, he spent twenty years as an agent in Federal law enforcement conducting criminal investigations. He resides in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he pursues his writing and photography, with occasional consulting projects. As an avocation, he has written and lectured on military history internationally for over twenty years. For more information about the author and his latest book, you are invited to visit the author’s web site at www.followmetoglory.com.