Such was the feedback attorney Bob Jenkins received from two publishers after he submitted his initial manuscript for The Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood’s First Sortie, July 20, 1864. At that point Jenkins had written over 1,200 pages, not including an additional 200 pages of rosters and casualties.
Both Mercer University Press and Savas Beatie expressed an interest in publishing a shorter version of the manuscript, but Jenkins said his heart was always with Mercer. “I went to law school at Mercer, and they were really my first choice.”
After Jenkins whittled the book to 400 pages, Mercer issued a first run of 1,400 copies in January 2014. The books sold out in ten days—a record for Mercer Press. Since then, the second printing has dwindled to 200 copies, and a third printing is in the works.
Despite some initial serious overwriting, first-time author Jenkins did several things right the first time around: He was passionate about his subject; he wrote for an audience eager for a book about Civil War battles in Georgia; and he pitched his book to publishers known for covering similar topics.
His love for Civil War history grew out of a fourth grade school project in Chamblee. Up to that point, Jenkins describes himself as “not a reader,” but after discovering a fascination with the civil war he “read everything I could get my hands on about it.” In fact, his passion so dominated his interests that by high school, teachers forbade him from writing anything relating to the war.
That didn’t stop his interest, however. After marriage, law school, kids, and a move to Dalton, Jenkins wrote articles for the local paper about battles around the area, gave lectures, and participated in reenactments. He still owns both a Confederate and Rebel uniform, a requirement to be a participant. About 20 years ago at a family gathering in Mississippi, his aunt gave him the service records she’d dug up on his great-great-grandfather, Caradine Jenkins.
“Okay, Bobby,” Aunt Elaine said. “You’re the civil war buff. Tell me what this means.”
“I thought I knew everything about the Civil War,” said Jenkins. “But after looking through that I realized I knew nothing.”
He set out to answer his aunt’s challenge, reading everything he found about his ancestor’s 31st Mississippi unit. By the time the family came together again, he gave them a walkthrough of Caradine’s story. His dad urged him to write a book.
His research had led Jenkins to the Battle of Peach Tree Creek, a battle the 31st participated in. Jenkins knew he had enough information to write a book and thought the Peach Tree battle would be only one chapter in the finished book. The problem was the chapter grew to 76 pages. After lectures to the Chattanooga Civil War Roundtable, key audience members encouraged him to expand the Peach Tree Creek writing to an entire book.
Jenkins didn’t set out to build a platform for his work; his platform grew organically from his passion.
“There was already somewhat of a following eager for the book that had developed when I was on the lecture circuit,” he said. “And second, no one’s ever written on that battle other than a brief interpretation or maybe a chapter at most in a larger book.”
According to Jenkins, none of the battles in Georgia had ever really been written about before, unlike Williamsburg, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, and others. That is changing, however. Jenkins is delighted that two or three additional books have recently released about the battle of Atlanta.
Unsurprisingly, Mercer Press contracted him to write a second book. It is a prequel to the battle of Peach Tree Creek. About 40% of the 1,200 pages he’d already written for Peach Tree was pulled out for the prequel which covers the events leading up to Peach Tree. To the Gate of Atlanta is set for release in early 2015. Jenkins is not sure what his third book might cover, but he’s considering one on the skirmishes that occurred around Dalton.
In the meantime, Jenkins will likely be in his basement writing room in the wee morning hours searching for those “Aha!” moments when he uncovers a clue or solves a mystery that no one else on the planet knows but him. That is, until he writes about them in a book.