Interview: Quest, “I Held Lincoln”

31 03 2020

SONY DSCQuest-I Held Lincoln.indd

Richard Quest, Author of I Held Lincoln: A Union Sailor’s Journey Home (spoiler alert – this book is much more about the sailor’s journey than about his role in the moments after the assassination of POTUS 16) has been good enough to answer a few questions for us.


BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

REQ: Harry thanks very much for the opportunity to share a little bit about the book and myself. I began my career in education over 30 years ago now and began as high school history teacher in upstate New York. I taught 11th and 12th grade for 10 years and then moved into administration and became a principal serving at both the high school and elementary levels. After completing my doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania I left K-12 education and moved into higher education. I held positions as an Associate Dean and Dean at a couple of community colleges and then as an Associate Vice President at a four-year college. Along the way I founded a nonprofit called Books in Homes USA and along with my wife established that organization and then became the founding Executive Director in 2014. In October of 2018 I accepted a position as the National Director of Education with the US Naval Sea Cadet Corps located in Arlington Virginia and continue there today.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

REQ: I became interested in the Civil War when I took a trip with my sixth grade class to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Standing on little round top looking across at Devil’s Den and seeing in the distance the Peach Orchard I suddenly realized that something extraordinary had happened there. It was as if I could feel the struggle. I must have talked a lot about it after I got home because my parents decided that we should take a vacation and go camping there that summer. That was it I was hooked not just on the civil war but with history in general. It seems that I have always been interested in old things and growing up in a historic (read that as old, circa 1870’s) house in upstate New York led to my poking around and often finding things stuck in the corners of the basement of that old house and garages. Those early interests would lead me to my college major in anthropology and archaeology as an undergraduate student and then working at the Public Archaeology Facility at SUNY Binghamton as a field archaeologist.

BR: How did you come across the story of Benjamin Loring?

REQ: I came across the story of Lt. Benjamin W. Loring in the mid-90s when I held the appointed voluntary position of Tioga County historian in upstate New York. The town of Owego historian Emma Sedore knew of my interest in the Civil War and that I was always looking for opportunities to bring some local history into my 11th grade United States history classroom. She asked me one day if I knew the story of Lt. Loring and that he had served during the Civil War and that it was alleged that he had been at Ford’s Theater the night of the Lincoln assassination. She then mentioned that it was rumored that he had actually come in contact with Lincoln. She also stated matter-of-factly that the frockcoat that Lt. Loring had worn the night of the assassination was in the local County Museum and that again it was alleged that Lincoln’s blood was on it. As the County Historian I was also an ex officio member of the county museum and so I sought out the frockcoat and more information. That was over 25 years ago now.

BR: Tell us a little about Loring prior to the titular incident.

REQ: Loring began life just outside of Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1840s. He was an active young man and left home in his teens seeking to make a living and find adventure at sea. Over the years he would gain enough experience to climb through the ranks to that of a sea captain. I don’t have a lot of information regarding Loring’s early life and career but we do find him in California and the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the 1860 census. Loring and his younger brother Bailey are listed as Packers taking supplies high up into the mountains to the gold miners and making a good living at it. It is here in 1861 that Loring learned of the first shots fired at Fort Sumter. Feeling it his duty to return and enter the fray Loring headed back east leaving the business to his brother. After arriving back east Loring enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was commissioned an Acting Master, which would today be considered a lieutenant junior grade. Loring was given orders to report for duty aboard the USS Galena. In command of that vessel was Loring’s distant cousin Capt. John Rogers. It is aboard the Galena that Loring would first see action and the severe cost, devastation and personal destruction of war.

BR: The stories around the night of Lincoln’s assassination are legion. I have a special interest myself, as the four soldiers who bore Lincoln from Ford’s Theater to the Peterson House were from my hometown and nearby. Without spoiling the book, can you clue us in on Loring’s role?

REQ: Lt. Loring plays an interesting, dynamic albeit small role at Ford’s theater the evening of April 14, 1865. It was this role that very early on captured my interest in the entire story. Over the course of many years of research it is this incredible story leading up to the events at Ford’s Theater that I have found most interesting. Lt. Loring’s living descendants have the actual orders which place Lt. Loring in the Navy Yard on April 12, 1865 where he was still recovering his health after his prison escape. It is through similar artifacts and documents such as those as well as Loring’s own writings that provide us with some incredible documentation regarding his time in the US Navy and eyewitness accounts to an extraordinary time in our nation’s history. Very often family histories are passed down through the ages, embellished and even rewritten however in this case we have Loring’s own words which transcend time.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew? When did you know you were “done”?

REQ: This is a very interesting question about how long it takes to write a book and one that I am asked quite often. Because there are so many components to it; the research, the actual writing, the rewriting, the editing, the wordsmithing, checking data, rewriting some more and even setting it aside for a few weeks at a time to give yourself some distance and perspective. So… if you consider the first time that I heard about Loring and the frockcoat and his involvement at Ford’s theater that was over 25 years ago. It has taken decades to actually see a book come to fruition. However, the actual act of putting all this down on paper began in 2014 when I decided to make a phone call to Lt. Loring’s great-grandson whom I had met during the summer of 2000 to ask him if he had any materials that I might be able to borrow to actually write the story. After making the call and reintroducing myself from 14 years earlier I was warmly welcomed and told that we should get together to discuss this further. After our meeting in May 2014 and returning home with voluminous documents related to Lt. Loring I set about organizing all of these. Among the papers were included letters, orders, handwritten notes, journals, maps and a few photos. As I pulled all of this information together and began to create a chronology an incredible story began to unfold. It was a story of an ordinary man living in extraordinary times who felt that it was his duty to help preserve the union and his nation. The very nation that generations before his family and helped found.

Once I had organized the papers and created the chronology the most difficult part of writing the book was actually getting started. I was unsure of how to proceed. I knew I would need an editor and so began that search online. As has been the case with this project since the beginning I have been very lucky. I found an online offering stating that if you filled out the form an editor would contact you within three hours to discuss your project. I had nothing to lose so I filled it out. Three hours later no one had contacted me so I called the number left a message and emailed the company complaining and thinking this was some type of a scam. Sure enough someone emailed me back and provided me with a name and phone number. I called the number and was introduced to a person that would become my initial editor and later literary agent in this project. From the point of identifying this editor to having a written document and landing a publisher to actually seeing a book in my hands took nearly four years to the day.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?

REQ: My research process is based on the fundamental of trying to triangulate all the data that I come across. Utilizing primary sources, letters, Adjutant Generals reports, US Navy documents, official US government reports, referencing historical newspapers and other eyewitness accounts are all part of the process. It is important to note that I rely heavily on Lt. Loring’s own writings whether through family letters, journals or personal memoirs. This book is his story and told through his experiences and I have tried hard to remain true to that perspective. I have however corroborated all the historical facts utilizing the aforementioned triangulation of data where possible. The actual writing process however has been more about telling a story and making it interesting, engaging and exciting and less a traditional scholarly work. I’ve always felt that it was important to bring history alive for my students when I was teaching and so with this work I have taken that same idea to produce this book. All too often I hear from people about how boring history can be. Well it doesn’t have to be. This book is for all those who have been unfortunately exposed to history presented in a boring manner and who might be interested in an amazing story regarding an incredible time in our nation’s history presented in what I hope is an engaging story. So, even those who may not be interested in the Civil War or the US Navy or the Lincoln assassination might be very interested in one man’s story of survival, the ability to overcome and adapt and the willingness to put others first while sacrificing your freedom and putting your own life in jeopardy so others may survive. Lt. Loring takes his patriotism to a level unsurpassed and when combined with the action and adventure throughout this book it provides the reader with a first- hand view of our nation’s struggle during our most critical time.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

REQ: The book has been well received thus far. Those who have read it have thoroughly enjoyed the story. One of the most often received comments has been that it is a “page turner” and I take that as a tremendous complement. People enjoy reading history when told in this fashion. I am sure there are historians that question the events as told to us by Lt. Loring regarding the evening of April 14, 1865 as they unfolded in Ford’s theater. However, with all of the corroborating evidence and artifacts I have no doubt that this is factual. However, it is a small piece of the entire story and up until now it is information that has been lost to history.

BR: What’s next for you?

SRS: I continue to study the volumes of documents that the family has very generously given me access to and I continue to research the various ships Lt. Loring was attached to and the battles in which he participated. The family continues to come across new material as they sift through boxes and old trunks. For example, new information in the form of letters and artifacts regarding Lt. Loring’s action aboard the USS Galena at the battle of Drewry’s Bluff have recently been uncovered and provide new information written the day after that battle. In fact, one amazing discovery ties Lt. Loring to Marine Corporal John Mackey on board the USS Galena and Mackey’s gallantry in action. In fact, Mackey would become the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor and it was Lt. Loring who nominated Mackey for that medal. This is clear in the letters written in the days and months after the battle. In addition, 86 letters were recently uncovered relating to the time just after the Civil War when Lt. Loring was mustered out of the Navy and was commissioned a 3rd Lieutenant in the US Revenue Cutter Service, predecessor to the US Coast Guard. These letters span nearly 10 years and are full of historical detail related not only to the Revenue Cutter Service ships which Lt Loring served aboard but it includes the names of other officers he served with, the daily business that the cutters were engaged in and the locations in which they were working. These letters also provide a glimpse into the life of the post-Civil War period during reconstruction and what life was actually like for Lt. Loring while he was trying to build a new life for himself and his family.

I thoroughly enjoy delivering lectures related to the book and Lt. Loring. If people are interested in contacting me to ask questions or schedule a lecture they can do so via email at RichardEQuest@yahoo.com

There is currently some interest in bringing the book to the big screen and I am in conversations with a script writer who is a Sundance Fellow from that famous film society. I’m also currently considering the next book regarding Lt. Loring onboard the USS Galena and bringing to life the battle of Drewry’s Bluff as well as more of a traditional history of the Revenue Cutter Service and Lt. Loring’s service in the mid-1860s and early 1870s.

Harry, I want to thank you again for this wonderful opportunity to share with you and all of your Bull Runnings followers and readers a little bit about Lt Loring and myself. I also want to thank you for providing a forum to share Lt. Loring’s incredible story and all that is related to the Civil War while continuing to contribute to our understanding of this critical time period in our nation’s history.


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One response

31 03 2020
Chris Barry

Nice interview. Great to hear about the researcher/writer’s process.

Liked by 1 person

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