Storm Coming - A novel of the Civil War in western Virginia

Breaking from my normal technical writing, I decided two years ago to write a history about the exploits of Alexander J. Swaney, one of my two paternal great-grandfathers, who fought in the Union cavalry during the American Civil War. His military records stored at the National Archives indicated he had been an orderly for General Buford from August 1862 until Buford died in December 1863. After Buford's death he became an orderly for General Wesley Merritt, who took over command of Buford's division after his death.

From the start I had many questions that needed answers. Swaney was born in southwestern Pennsylvania on a farm near the small village of Smithfield in Fayette County. Smithfield was only about six miles away from Morgantown, Virginia and a couple of miles from where I was born. His military records indicated he joined the First Virginia Cavalry regiment in September in Morgntown. The only First Virginia Cavalry I knew of at the time was formed in Winchester, Virginia, in July 1861, under the command of Colonel James Ewell Brown (J.E.B.) Stuart. So had Swaney joined the Confederacy, I wondered? If so, why did he later join the Union cavalry under General John Buford?

As I began to dig deeper I discovered the inspiring story of the formation of the State of West Virginia. I became aware that the western Virginians (those counties in and west of the Allegheny Mountains) had a long list of grievances with the eastern counties of Virginia.The westerners had grown to depend on trading with the Pennsylvanians and the Ohioians and used the river system to trade with many other states. They developed a labor system in which citizens became the workers and builders. They had few slaves. The easterners, on the other hand, had many slaves to work the cotton and tobacco fields on which the easterners depended for their livelihood. There were more easterners than westerners and so the easterners managed to get their way when it came to politics and taxes.

So when Virginia Governor Letcher in early 1861 called for a convention of the state delegates to debate the issue of secession, the western delegates who mostly favored staying with the Union were eventually outnumbered by the eastern delegates who mostly favored joining the Confederacy.
In spite of these political conflicts between east and west, the first vote of the Virginia delegates was strongly against secession. It wasn't until South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter and Lincoln called for 75,000 state militiamen to put down the rebellion that the vote of the delegates swung the other way.
Swaney and his family feared an attack from Virginia, just as western Virginians feared an attack from Pennsylvania and Ohio. The western Virginians wanted to stay in the Union and the Pennsylvanians and Ohioans wanted to help them to stay in the Union.

When Swaney joined the First Virginia Cavalry in Morgantown, it was a "loyal" (for the Union) Virginia cavalry formed of citizens from western Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, to fight off any attempts by eastern Virginians to force the westerners into submission. A civil war between the west and east parts of Virginia erupted.

How to tell this little-known story was the next big problem. Around the time of my initial research, Carol, my wife and a professional book editor, gave me two historical novels by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen titled Valley Forge and To Try Men's Souls (about Washington's Delaware River crossing). I found the historical novels much more interesting than strictly historical books. Historical novels place you in the scenes and you get the story from listening to the conversations between the characters. In the nonfiction history books, the author tells you the story.

I decided to adopt the Gingrich/Forstchen approach to telling the story of Swaney's adventures from his point of view. Along the way many other characters jump in and tell things from their points of view. You will get into the heads of Major Generals McClellan and Robert E. Lee, who were major players in the Virginia mini-civil war along with many other characters. I hope you like my book and would appreciate any feedback.

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Thanks, Jack W. Lewis


  1. I purchased your book at amazon for my kindle. I am 76 yrs old and can say I don't think I have ever enjoyed reading a book as much as this one. I learned so much history about my state. Sometimes I could see in my mind and feel the things those men were going thru. You are a very gifted writer. Have you completed the second book? Where can I purchase it? Thank you if you have time for a reply. My name is Virginia Cole Nary and I live in Beckley, WV. I was born and raised in Raleigh Co. Daddy was a coal miner.


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