CHARLES TOWN – Charles Town author Bob O’Connor returns to familiar ground for his newest novel, “The Return of Catesby.”
The book – a sequel to his 2008 work, “Catesby: Eyewitness to the Civil War” – focuses on a former slave as he navigates post-Civil War America.
As with many of his novels, O’Connor employs what he calls historical fiction, taking what little is known about an actual person and then filling in some of the what-might-have-beens.
“The tale is based on Catesby’s journals, papers and letters,” explains O’Connor, who describes “Catesby: Eyewitness to the Civil War” as his own favorite book. “Those who have read that book will find this book equally captivating. I had intended all along to write a sequel.”
His first “Catesby” book recounted Catesby’s birth at Beall Air, a Charles Town-area mansion owned by Col. Lewis Washington, a great-grandnephew of George Washington. The young slave was trained as a blacksmith and later was sold to a Keedysville, Md., resident just before the start of the Civil War.
Midway through the war, Catesby escaped through the Underground Railroad and joined the Union Army. Captured by the Confederates in 1864, Catesby experienced the horrors of Georgia’s Andersonville prison.
In O’Connor’s sequel, the reader learns what happens to Catesby after the war, including his testimony at the military tribunal of Henry Wirtz, the Swiss-born warden at Andersonville who would die on the gallows at age 41 in D.C. The site of his execution is where the U.S. Supreme Court building stands today.
Much of O’Connor’s new book takes place at Storer College after Catesby was hired to teach at the Harpers Ferry school, one of the first learning institutions in the United States that didn’t discriminate due to color or gender.
In telling Catesby’s story, O’Connor includes many local sites, events and people. Readers, for instance, will see mention of the Great Harpers Ferry Flood of 1870 as well as Martin R. Delany, the African-American born in Charles Town in 1811 who rose to prominence fighting for the Union.
O’Connor, who teaches writing and publishing workshops through the local Adult and Community Education program, has been inspired by this area’s Civil War history. His other books include “A House Divided Against Itself”; “The Perfect Steel Trap: Harpers Ferry 1859”; “The U.S. Colored Troops at Andersonville Prison”; “The Centennial History of Ranson, West Virginia”; “The Life of Abraham Lincoln as President”; “The Virginian Who Might Have Saved Lincoln” and just earlier this year, “Countdown to West Virginia Statehood.”
The Illinois native, who writes history articles for the Spirit of Jefferson and other publications, worked as a newspaper reporter before becoming a novelist. He is a four-time finalist for national book awards and has spoken about his books more than 150 times in 17 states since 2011. Details on his books may be found at boboconnorbooks.com.