Northampton Press

Monday, February 17, 2020
 Monsignor James J. Mulligan reads from chapter seven of his new novel, Monsignor James J. Mulligan reads from chapter seven of his new novel, "The Haystack" to members of the Civil War Discussion Group at their Jan. 16 meeting at Northampton Area Public Library. The group meets once a month. PRESS PHOTO BY CHRIS ZWEIFEL

Author uses interest, experiences to craft novel

Thursday, February 7, 2013 by CHRIS ZWEIFEL Special to The Press in Local News

A mesh of interests and experiences led local author Monsignor James J. Mulligan to write "The Haystack."

Mulligan, a Northampton resident and member of the Civil War Roundtable, presented his novel to the Civil War Discussion Group at the Northampton Area Public Library last week.

Growing up, Mulligan's parents were big readers, his father reading "one history book after another," he said.

His father had him reading historical novels beginning in grade school and, during the summer, would take him to the places he had learned about.

"My mother was a reader of mysteries, rather than histories," Mulligan told the group. "'There's nothing as relaxing as a good murder,' she would say."

By the time Mulligan was through grade school, back in the 40s, he had read a lot of the English and American classical writers including Agatha Christie. He has been "reading them ever since."

Then, after Mulligan was ordained, he spent the first 24 years as a priest close to the Gettysburg and Antietam. He was able to spend countless hours at the battlefields "finding out all that I can about them."

Mulligan also taught medical ethics which required a knowledge of anatomy, physiology and medicine. Teaching medical ethics got him interested in medical history, he said.

"Once a year, I'd treat myself to a 19th-century medical book," he said. He would also buy either a dictionary, classroom book or medical treatise of some kind and study it.

"All of that ended up getting into this novel," he said.

"The Haystack" is a murder mystery that takes place at the time of the Civil War. The main character is a medical doctor.

In order to get him in to a real regiment, "I, unfortunately, had to remove the main doctor from the 69th Pennsylvania," Mulligan said, "and insert the fictional Dr. Dougherty as the existing surgeon." He also removed the main surgeon and put in the fictional character, Major Briggs. Another fictional character is a medical student.

The title, "The Haystack," comes from a body discovered on the field. "This body, however, is no battle casualty but a murder victim." It was a specific piece of hay among "an ever-growing pile of destroyed humanity.

"In writing the novel, I tried as much as possible to make it a good mystery, but at the same time, I was very much interested in accurate history," he said.

He was interested especially in the medical aspects.

"I tried without being obtrusive… to make it very carefully accurate." For instance, if he mentions it was raining, it really was raining (having checked the weather reports when he could find them.)

Mulligan read all of chapter seven from his manuscript because it is "probably of the most interest of those who are interested in the Civil War." It takes place during the bloodiest day in American history.

Within the story, Mulligan incorporated a great deal of the medical aspects of the Civil War, "the changes that were made by Surgeon General Hammond and carried over by Major Letterman of the Army of the Potomac." All of these people appear in the book at some place.

Mulligan made maps available, as well illustrations and a commentary. "The Haystack" is available from bookstores or from 3835573.