October 09, 2013GUILDHALL, Vt. — Art McGrath, the editor of all three northern New Hampshire Salmon Press newspapers, has published the first in what is promised to be a series of action novels.
McGrath writes in the first-person by adopting the persona of Pierre Burns, who fought for Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, rising to the rank of general. Burns' mother was a Frenchwoman who insisted that her American-born son was fluent in her native tongue and his father a Jacobite whose family fled Scotland after the clans were defeated at Culloden.
"The Bedford," a 16-gun merchant ship on which Burns had served for a year as third mate, was burned and sunk in May 1804 by an English frigate, reinforcing Burns passionate hatred of the English. The 24-year-old American and nine of his shipmates landed safely on the northwest coast of France where French soldiers were unexpectedly present.
Burns was taken up by General Michel Ney, known later as Marshal Ney, who was on site inspecting coastal fortifications.
As the two men ride through peaceful-looking farmland with small villages in the distance, McGrath deftly provides enough historical background so that readers are in their comfort zone.
"Of course, I knew things were not as calm as they seemed," Burns says. "Those steeples belonged to churches that quite possibly no longer had priests in them. They might have been killed or fled for their lives during the (French) Revolution, when thousands of priests and nuns were guillotined during the Terror.
"Like many Americans, I both admired and was repulsed by the Revolution. We [in America] had gone through our own revolution, but it was not as violent as France's. Their resentment was much deeper than ours had been…. We changed governments but they changed their society. When Napoleon Bonaparte had come into power as First Consul four years earlier, he curbed the excesses of the Revolution, allowing the churches to reopen and the clergy to return, while solidifying the gains ordinary people had made."
Ney explains to Burns that France plans to invade England from the nearby port of Boulogne, where 200,000 men are training, learning close order drills and quick firing techniques.
Burns tells Ney why he hates the English so passionately. "My father was killed by the English," Burns tells the general, adding that he was only a year old at the time. "Not just shot, but brutally murdered and scalped by Tories and British soldiers with Tarleton's Raiders."
Ney offers Burns a commission in the French Army as a full lieutenant, which he quickly decides to accept.
That's how Burns becomes a swashbuckling French officer who engages in duels and an exciting military life, making the "The Emperor's American" a page-turner that includes Napoleon's coronation and, ultimately, his decision not to try to conquer England after Russia and Austria attack France from the east.
Napoleon declares, "This army, the greatest Europe has ever seen, is no longer the Army of England; it is now called the Grande Armée."
Burns writes on August 27, 1805, at Montreuil, France, "Two days later, not long past dawn, I sat astride 'Fleur' near Ney and the rest of the staff watching thousands of troops march by, muskets gleaming in the sun. In two days the camps that had been the soldiers' homes for two years — many of them essentially small cities — had been dismantled. Soldiers were told to travel light, anything extraneous was packed away to be stored in depots…. The men were in excellent spirits, many cheering Ney as they passed. Finally they were doing something, going towards battle…. They had confidence in Napoleon and themselves…."
Ney calls out, "Let's go, Messieurs, immortality waits."
This first volume concludes, "The Grande Armée marched east and I marched with it."
McGrath, who served on active duty for four years in the Marines, writes in a short autobiographical note that he grew up fascinated by "all things Napoleonic," even changing the course of history with his toy soldiers by having Napoleon the victor at Waterloo. McGrath, a re-enactor who is a member of the Brigade Napoleon and 3me regiment infanterie de linge very much hopes to be among the thousands who will attend the bicentennial commemoration of the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 2015, in Belgium.
"The Emperor's American" is published by Fireship Press and is available directly through www.FireshipPress.com as well as at amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, the Village Book Store or can be ordered through any local bookseller. It is also available at the Littleton Public Library.