PENDLETON — Michael Eisenhut has had a lifelong interest in the American Civil War, and about seven years ago he started writing a novel set on its battlefields.
But it wasn’t until he faced a mortal threat — a cancer diagnosis in 2018 — that he buckled down to finish his first book, “Brothers of War,” a 430-page work of historical fiction centered on fighters from an Indiana infantry regiment and the Battle of Gettysburg.
“When I got cancer, I really wanted to get the book done,” said Einsenhut, who now lives in Monrovia.
He not only finished his book, however; he went on to publish it, receive literary recognition for it and start two new books he hopes to publish in coming years.
Eisenhut, 53, a 1987 Pendleton Heights High School graduate and commercial airline pilot, had his first inkling to write a book during a visit to Gettysburg, circa 2012, after seeing a tombstone with his grandmother’s maiden name on it. He found out the soldier buried there was a distant cousin.
Eisenhut was intrigued and started researching the relation, and soon thought he would write a non-fiction work about the cousin and his two brothers, both of whom also fought in the Civil War.
Information on them was scarce, however, so he changed gears.
He decided to go the historical fiction route, where he could tell a story of three brothers as he imagines them, with a fabric of facts as the backdrop. That story is what developed into “Brothers of War.”
At first, working as a pilot full time, with a family and without a writing deadline, it was slow going, he said.
He’d work on the book “casually,” for a couple of hours a couple of times per week.
“There was no time constraint,” he said.
That all changed, Eisenhut said, after the cancer diagnosis — Stage 3 melanoma that had spread to his lymph nodes — and he was off work for an extended period of time undergoing treatment.
“It made me want to get this (book) done,” he said. “The initial (cancer) prognosis was not good.”
In the worst-case scenario, he’d leave a finished book for posterity.
“And if I did live, I’d have something to show for (all the time I took off),” Eisenhut said.
Perhaps most importantly, focusing on the book gave him something to think about besides the disease, he said.
“Brothers of War” tells a story from the perspective of two brothers and their squad in the 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry regiment, part the “famed” Iron Brigade, in the days leading up to and including the Battle of Gettysburg, Eisenhut said.
There are real and fictional characters in the story.
According to Eisenhut, the history in the book is thoroughly researched.
In his acknowledgments, Eisenhut thanks a number of scholars, authors and historians, as well as writing advisers, friends and family.
There are five battlefield maps in the book drawn by a Gettysburg park ranger and cartographer.
“He tailored my maps specifically for the Iron Brigade,” Eisenhut said.
On a number of fronts, responses to the book seem to support the quality of the storytelling and accuracy of the details.
At Amazon, where the book can be purchased, the book received 4.9 out of 5 stars with 128 global ratings; 75 included reviews.
“Not just for civil war or Gettysburg buffs,” reads one review. “This is a fantastic book for all fans of great storytelling and compelling characters, all set in a historically accurate context. I enjoyed this book so much. The author did a wonderful job of taking us through an account of the ups and downs of life as a member of the 19th Indiana. Masterfully weaving together real and imaginary soldiers, I got a taste of the bond of brotherhood that only such circumstances can create.”
“Once you start reading the Brothers of War, it is difficult to put down!” another review starts. “The author puts you right into the middle of all of the sights, sounds and emotions of the Civil War Battle at Gettysburg. There are moments when you will laugh and cry with the characters as they prepare for battle and then fight for their lives. Thank you, Mike, for this wonderful story! I can’t wait for your next one!!”
Furthermore, the book has gone on to win some literary recognition.
It won the 2021 American Writing Award in the History-Military category; and the 2022 Independent Press Award and the 2022 New York City Big Book Award, both for Military Fiction.
These days, Eisenhut, who is now cancer free but still on mandatory medical leave from work, said he spends many of his weekends at events in Indiana — such as the recent Pendleton Fall Creek Heritage Fair and the Atlanta New Earth Festival, as well as Civil War re-enactments — as well as in Gettysburg, talking about and selling his book.
He also speaks at Civil War roundtables, service clubs and historical societies, he said.
He’s also dedicating more time to writing. He has two more books in the works, both Civil War- related — one told from a Southern perspective and the other a prequel to “Brothers of War.”
All of these developments represent a big change from where his life was a few years ago, before his cancer diagnosis; his first book, he said, was something that might have taken him long into retirement to finish.
He said his wife, Kara, at one point made an observation about the role his first book has played in his personal biography.
It’s a phrase he sometimes uses, too.
“The cancer saved the book, and the book saved my life.”
“Brothers of War” is available at online bookstores. More information about the book is available at brothersofwarbook.com.

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