The Texas native graduated from West Point in 1967 and served in Vietnam as an artillery forward observer for Company D, 1/506th Infantry, 101st Airborne. He continued his flying career as an Army aviator with the Army Corps of Engineers. After an honorable discharge from the Army in 1974, he continued to work as an engineer, later creating his own company. Now retired, the veteran tried his hand at writing and produced the historical fiction work The Parting: A Story of West Point on the Eve of the Civil War.
The main character, Confederate Lt. John Pelham, was an actual Confederate officer from Jacksonville, and through Adams’ texts, we follow his journey from young West Point grad to a military fighter, and witness the rebirth of a nation. In this interview, the author discusses his thoughts on friends turning into war enemies, his affinity for Pelham, and the importance of continuing a legacy.
Adams will be in Anniston to present his book at 2 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Anniston Public Library. For more information, visit anniston.lib.al.us. For more information on Adams, visit richardbarlowadams.com.
Q: You are a West Point graduate and military veteran. What made you decide to take a foray into writing?
A: Wanting to write something of lasting value was my incentive, and while a military veteran and for many years a consulting engineer who has written hundreds of technical reports and documents, I wanted to leave a legacy for West Point and for those who embrace our country’s history. And being a former cadet, combat veteran, Civil War buff, and long-time avid West Point alumnus, I determined that The Parting was the story I should tell.
Q: Tell me about the research that you did on this book. Was there anything that you came across that surprised you about the era?
A: As to the latter, I suppose I was most intrigued and moved by the little-known relationships between persons who later would face each other in the Civil War. As to my research, I reviewed many West Point and Civil War-related references and writings, made several trips to the West Point Library (Department of Collections and Archives), and interacted with Mary Elizabeth (Mary Betty) Sergent, the author, now deceased, who so completely captured the West Point classes of May and June 1861 in her two non-fictional works (They Lie Forgotten and A Remaining Glory), and the growing up years of John Pelham in her novelette, Growing Up in Alabama — she was, to say the least, infatuated with John Pelham. The archived materials I reviewed included Academy records, Mary Betty’s notes donated to the West Point Library, and letters from cadets featured in the story and their later commentaries about those who fought in the war, especially those who fought “on the other side.”
Having been a cadet, it was also great fun to review the demerit records of certain story characters. Additionally, I reviewed descriptive materials, reports and maps that defined the physical layout and structures of old West Point, the military and academic regimens in place, and the key events of the time. Digging into facts about the legendary tavern keeper and friend of cadets, Benny Havens, was also a key aspect of my research, as was my review of various accounts of the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run).
Q: Are there certain elements of John Pelham that are a direct reflection of you and your military journey?
A: I can’t imagine that any graduate of West Point, including myself, wouldn’t want to see as much of John Pelham in themselves as possible. The man was incredible and beloved. I can say that I shared some of his Academy “experiences,” and I certainly endeavored to be the best officer I could be.
Q: During that time, what went into deciding one’s allegiance over which side they were fighting for, and how difficult was it to be pitted against someone you once called a friend, who was now your number one enemy?
A: To be honest and candid, I believe allegiance was simply and naturally defined by the geographical location of family and home, and what home represented … as I believe it would be today, were we forced to make a decision. That said, I believe that once the gauntlet was thrown, there was no choice but that best friends on opposing sides had to consider old friends new enemies. After the war, of course, many broken friendships were healed within the West Point family.
Q: It’s very interesting that you chose to have your cadet based in Calhoun County (but what a great choice!). What made you choose Alabama?
A: I must credit Mary Betty, whose writings (along with those of others) made it clear that John Pelham stood “tallest.” He was the most popular man in his West Point class and the “beau ideal” of the South.
Q: With 2011 being the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, there have been several historically based texts created in its name. Is there anything that you come across that you feel has been misunderstood about the battle?
A: The causes of the war will be forever debated — states’ rights versus slavery versus …, but the reality of the time is that the country was irrevocably divided. In the minds of Southerners, they lived, believe and thought differently than the balance of the country, and were willing to go to the “cliff” for the union of like-minded states.
Q: What do you feel is the most important takeaway from your novel?
A: That human history often takes violent, heartbreaking turns that change forever the lives of those who live it, but that men and women of character will rise in such circumstances and act in ways noble and glorious.
Q: Do you plan to write more now that the book has been published, or what else is on your agenda?
A: Yes, and I hope readers will be excited to know that I am well along with three other stories.
Erin Williams is a graduate of Faith Christian School and the University of Alabama. She is a performing arts aide for the Washington Post Style section.