New novel explores the 9th Massachusetts Battery, a Mainer, and guts and glory at Gettysburg

The heroes involved in the July 2, 1863 sacrifice made at Gettysburg by a Massachusetts artillery battery — and the Mainer who ordered the sacrifice — exquisitely come to life in Hold At All Hazards, the latest Civil War novel by former Navy officer and retired business executive David H. Jones.

Civil War historian and author David H. Jones has released the novel titled Hold At All Hazards, an epic account about the 9th Massachusetts Battery gunners who stood and fought (and some died) when ordered to do so at Gettysburg by Freeman McGilvery of Maine. (Courtesy Casemate Publishers)

He blends eyewitness historical accounts with fiction (particularly conversations) in this insightful story about Capt. John Bigelow and the 9th Massachusetts Battery. Bay State Governor John Andrews sends Bigelow to Washington, D.C. to whip the ineptly led battery into shape. He does so by incessantly stressing professionalism and military bearing.

Robert E. Lee’s June 1863 Pennsylvania invasion transfers the 9th Mass Battery to the 1st Volunteer Brigade (Artillery Reserve) commanded by Freeman McGilvery of Maine. The ambitious Captain McGilvery raised the 6th Maine Battery in autumn 1861; now he’s moving up the chain of command and leading his four-battery brigade to Gettysburg.

Among the novel’s leading characters is the 9th Mass Battery’s chief bugler, Charles “Charlie” W. Reed, at first a vocal Bigelow critic and soon a grudging proponent. Reed’s interactions with battery personnel introduce men who, thanks to Jones’s ability to weave personal details into the story, become three-dimensional people.

Jones particularly captures the cool professionalism and standoffishness of McGilvery, a take-charge pre-war sea captain who now brooks no nonsense in his brigade. After Dan Sickles realigns his III Corps on July 2, wide gaps open in his lines, and only artillery can fill those holes as James Longstreet launches his assault.

When his 9th Massachusetts Battery transferred in June 1863 to an artillery brigade commanded by a Mainer, Capt. John Bigelow proudly led his men to Gettysburg. He and the battery unlimbered into immortality on July 2, 1863. (Courtesy David H. Jones)

Avoiding the novelist’s temptation to tweak history, Jones follows the events, units, and specific commanders (North and South) chronologically as McGilvery hustles his brigade into one particular gap east of the Peach Orchard. Confederates smash the Union defenses, and Bigelow and his men withdraw their guns by prolonge until the 9th Mass lads reach the Trostle Farm.

Up rides McGilvery with frightening news: No Yankees defend the spot where Barksdale’s Mississippians are headed on Cemetery Ridge. Bigelow must “hold at all hazards” at the Trostle Farm while McGilvery brings up other batteries to close that gap.

When directed to hold at all hazards, Captain Bigelow recognized the imminent danger and gave the necessary orders to his battery,” Jones said during an interview with Maine at War. “His officers and men were well trained and were not only obedient to orders, but firm in their commitment to duty. By their courage and competence, they dearly bought the time necessary for McGilvery’s thin secondary line of guns to be formed.”

Jones views McGilvery as “a very decisive commander who had the intelligence and gumption to make rapid decisions in perilous circumstances and take immediate action. His tactical brilliance and personal courage were exceptional, and the citizens of Maine have every reason to be quite proud of his historic accomplishments.

Freeman McGilvery of Maine commanded the reserve artillery brigade to which the 9th Massachusetts Battery was assigned. McGilvery ordered the battery to deploy at the Trostle Farm and delay advancing Confederates on July 2, 1863. (Maine State Archives)

Great credit is due to him for helping to save the Army of the Potomac from destruction on July 2, 1863, and he is unquestionably one of the primary unsung heroes of Gettysburg,” Jones said. “I wrote an article that appeared in the August issue of North and South Magazine on this very subject.”

Born in Fairmont, W. Va. (located southwest of Morgantown), Jones grew up there and attended the Kentucky Military Institute and Babson College. He served as a Navy officer, “returned to the family’s department store” in Fairmont, and later served in executive positions with various industries. “I’ve been fully retired since 2015 and have concentrated on my writing,” Jones said.

Why write about history? “I was surrounded by many historical places while growing up in West Virginia that ranged from pre-revolutionary frontier sites to Civil War battlegrounds,” he explained. “American history was my passion, and I pursued it at every opportunity that presented itself.”

His Civil War interest came through “my father, who was born in 1899.” The elder Jones “often spoke about his grandfather, Jacob Eckess, a private in the 10th West Virginia Infantry Regiment.

He wrote down many of the stories that grandfather Eckess related to him … until Jacob’s death in 1927, and these helped to develop my keen interest in Civil War history,” Jones said. “My dad also told me stories about his great grandfather, James Touchstone, who served in the 6th Maryland Infantry Regiment (U.S.).”

An artist sketched the 9th Massachusetts Battery racing across the Gettysburg landscape to unlimber near the Peach Orchard on July 2, 1863. (Library of Congress)

While researching Touchstone and the 6th Maryland, “I discovered the account of the Prentiss brothers of Baltimore,” Jones said. The brothers, Maj. Clifton Prentiss (6th Maryland Infantry) and William Prentiss (1st/2nd Maryland Battalion, Confederate), “chose opposite sides and were mortally wounded yards and moments apart one week” before Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.

Extensively researching the Prentisses led Jones to publish his first Civil War novel, Two Brothers: One North, One South. Ironically, that book led to Hold At All Hazards.

Jones explained that while visiting Gettysburg to sign copies of Two Brothers at the national park’s visitors’ center, “my wife and I took some time to visit favorite locations on the battlefield,” Jones recalled. “A chance discovery that day forever altered my perception of the battlefield.

While visiting Gettysburg National Military Park, David H. Jones and his wife noticed the 9th Massachusetts Battery monument in the Trostle Farm yard. Intrigued by the monument, Jones started researching the battery’s history — and ultimately wrote a novel about the battery’s sacrifice that helped save the day on July 2, 1863. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

An interesting looking monument placed within … a stone wall caught my attention” as the Joneses traveled east on United States Avenue, “and I pulled the car over to investigate,” he said. Honoring Capt. James Bigelow and the 9th Massachusetts Battery, the monument was located on the Abraham Trostle Farm.

Jones noticed the nearby III Corps’ headquarters marker, “and nearby stood a swamp oak tree that was a surviving witness to the battle. I was intrigued by the story of this place, and after returning home I launched what became years of fascinating research and the writing of a new book that has now been released by Casemate Publishers.”

Among other aspects, his research delved deeply into post-war histories and books. In 1888 Sgt. Levi W. Baker released the History of the Ninth Massachusetts Battery, and Bigelow released The Peach Orchard in 1910 and Supplement to Peach Orchard in 1911. David Brett, a 9th Mass cannoneer, wrote many letters that Frank P. Deane later compiled in My Dear Wife; that book “was a valuable source of details that enriched the story,” Jones said.

Charles W. Reed “wrote a large number of letters to his family” and sent along “his superb sketches,” Jones said, and former Gettysburg NMP ranger and historian Eric A. Campbell published the correspondence in A Grand Terrible Drama: From Gettysburg to Petersburg, the Civil War Letters of Charles Wellington Reed. That book greatly aided Jones’s research.

The 9th Massachusetts Battery made a heroic stand at the Trostle Farm at Gettysburg. (BFS)

Hold At All Hazards incorporates many drawings (primarily Reed’s) placed appropriately with the text, not grouped at centerspread. John S. Heiser, another Gettysburg NMP ranger and historian, developed the “four excellent maps” that reveal “the tactical movements and topography” related to July 2, Jones said.

As for the Trostle Farm, Jones has explored it several times. “It’s a remarkable place that is exceptionally well preserved, except for” the War Department building United States Avenue in the 1890s “right through the farm yard where Bigelow’s battery made its heroic stand.”

He recommends that visitors walk south of the NPS road to where Bigelow deployed his six Napoleons “in a quarter circle within the angle of the Trostle stone wall.” Mississippians “appeared just fifty yards away over the slight slope to the front right of the Massachusetts artillerymen.

Experiencing first hand that sight” convinced Jones about “the incredible bravery and exceptional devotion to duty of the soldiers that fought on this hallowed ground.”

Hold At All Hazards makes a great read for Gettysburg fans, and I recommend it for your favorite Civil War buff. The book is available online from Casemate Publishers, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble and can be ordered from most bookstores that do not stock it.

Brian Swartz can be reached at He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at