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A new book penned by a Spring Hope native tells the true story of a Nash County everyman who fought on both sides of the Civil War.
Bestselling author Michael Brantley, 51, is a professor at Barton College in Wilson and a longtime contributor to The Nashville Graphic. His book “Galvanized: The Odyssey of a Reluctant Carolina Confederate” is on sale now at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and several other retailers.
Published by University of Nebraska Press Potomac Books, “Galvanized” recounts the amazing story of Wright Stephen Batchelor, who opposed the Civil War, yet ended up fighting on both sides of the bloody conflict.
Batchelor barely escaped death at the Battle of Gettysburg, was captured twice and survived one of the conflict’s most infamous prisoner of war camps. Later, after the war, Batchelor was involved in a bizarre hometown murder on the steps of the county courthouse.
The trial covered in “Galvanized” took place in Wilson. Brantley said he had trouble pinning down that detail in his early research because so much inaccurate information exists.
“I found that it is more fun researching ordinary people than famous ones even if it is difficult,” Brantley said. “I think people in general should find out more about where they’ve come from, from family ties and history. There is a reason those DNA traces are so popular. It’s interesting. History is interesting if it is told as a story and not a list of dates.”
Brantley’s first book, “Memory Cards: Portraits from a Rural Journey,” is about growing up in eastern North Carolina.
“Memory Cards” reached No. 1 in both the nonfiction and memoir categories on Amazon.com in October 2016.
“Galvanized” covers the Civil War from the viewpoint of a private, a survivor who is a metaphor for his entire home state. The book is intended to get readers to view the war from points of view not often considered, Brantley said.
“Years of research went into the book, and it was an incredible journey,” Brantley said. “I want to share that experience and hopefully spark an interest in folks to find out more about their pasts as well.”
Brantley graduated from Southern Nash High School and received a bachelor’s degree from Barton College. He earned a master’s degree in English from East Carolina University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Queens University in Charlotte.
Brantley is an assistant professor of communications at Barton. He teaches journalism, English and creative writing. He also advises the Barton College student newspaper, The Collegiate.
Brantley lives with his college sweetheart and their children on the Spring Hope farm where he grew up.
“I’ve lived in Nash or Wilson County all my life,” Brantley said. “There have been several opportunities to leave, but in the end, we just couldn’t put eastern North Carolina behind us.”
Brantley wrote about those hometown ties in his first book. He also writes about local history on his website, www.michaelkbrantley.com.
“That’s one reason I have centered so much of my writing about this place — this part of the state seems underserved in the literary world,” Brantley said. “And there is so much to write about, so many stories, so much culture — it’s not just an area you have to go through to get to the beach. I’ve written about the gold mines of Nash County. People seem really interested in these little forgotten bits.”
Brantley’s written the Soapbox column for the Graphic since 1997, and has worked with the newspaper in some capacity for all but 18 months since he turned 15.
“I was the kid who cleaned the press after every run and my last full-time job with them was as managing editor,” Brantley said.
For the 18 months he wasn’t at the Graphic, he served as editor of The Spring Hope Enterprise, his first job after graduating from Barton College.
After newspapers, Brantley worked in public relations for two years, then ran an award-winning photography studio for 18 years while freelancing for magazines.
As far as his writing regimen, Brantley still struggles to balance teaching and writing.
“Writer’s block comes in many different forms, and mine is telling myself I need X amount of hours to get some writing done, and if that time isn’t available, I end up not writing. Semester breaks are my prime time for writing,” Brantley said.
All the textbooks and magazines say you should write every day, and that’s good advice if you are someone who responds to rote discipline, Brantley said.
“I write in my head just about every day, sometimes that’s driving, or while reading, exercising or doing chores,” Brantley said. “I keep a notebook handy and use my phone. When I sit down to put the words on paper or into the computer, they appear to come easily, but it’s because I’ve worked out so much of the story mentally. I think having worked as a journalist really helps in storytelling — I tell my students if you can do journalism, you can write anything, and your dialogue will be especially good.”