Biography of The History Addict: John McKay

John McKay is a native Georgian, very nearly a native of Atlanta, born in a small town near the Alabama border, but having moved into the city before he was four. He entered the Army shortly after graduation from high school, and was eventually assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He was briefly assigned to Co. A, 1/506th Infantry, the famed “Currahees,” later transferred to a helicopter battalion in West Germany, and ended his military career as a medic in a Georgia National Guard unit.

After his discharge from the service, John spent over 15 years as an EMT/Paramedic and firefighter in and around Atlanta, including several years at Grady Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Medical Service (the South’s original “knife and gun club”!), then turned his interests to teaching and writing history, especially that of the American Civil War. His main inspirations for starting to research the War were his great-grandfathers on both sides of his family, Confederate veterans mostly killed or badly wounded during the war, one of whom lived long enough to tell his stories of battle and camp life to John’s father as a young boy in the early 1930s. In the course of over 15 years of family genealogical research, John discovered he was directly related to at least 24 Confederate soldiers, one of whom was part of one of the units (4th Alabama Cavalry, Roddy's Escort) guarding Confederate President Jefferson Davis when he was captured at the end of the war. Another G-Grandfather was an infantryman with Co. H, 26th Alabama (O’Neal’s) Infantry, severely WIA at South Mountain, Maryland, and yet another was MWIA at Peachtree Creek while with Co. E, 17th Alabama Infantry. Through several family contacts, he has been able to trace his roots back to the MacKay Clan of the Scottish Highlands, where (undocumented) family legend holds a direct ancestor fought with Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314, and further back to an English knight who died returning from the 3rd Crusade.

While trying to decide what he wanted to be when he grew up, he worked as a Georgia Fire Academy structural firefighting and hazardous-materials incident instructor, as a sport scuba divemaster, and as a historian for a small state museum. John taught American history, government and military history at the secondary level for several years, then in 2001 was selected to be the originating Lead Teacher for the Georgia National Guard's STARBASE Program (Science and Technology Academics Reinforcing Basic Aviation and Space Exploration), which targets at-risk 5th grade students in Atlanta metro area schools. John is now the director of that program, and is at the same time answering a call to God's ministry work. He is a Masters of Divinity candidate at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and is working on building a unique ministry, EMS Chaplains of Georgia, devoted to the underserved EMTs and Paramedics of the Emergency Medical Services agencies in the Atlanta area.

John has researched and published as a professional historian since 1990, primarily on the Western Theater of the American Civil War, and on the largely unwritten history of irregular and guerrilla operations in northern Georgia during the "Late Unpleasantness." Most of his published historical work has been centered on Civil War tactical studies, including the Insiders’ Guide to Civil War Sites in the Southern States and the "Atlanta Campaign" section of the Encyclopedia of the American Civil War. Other recently published work has been on one of his favorite subjects, a little heralded Civil War unit known as the Georgia State Line.

His latest work of history is Speaking Ill of the Dead: Jerks in Georgia History, a history of criminals, corruption and general mayhem in the state before WWII, that was released by the Lyons Press in November, 2012. Other works include Brave Men in Desperate Times: The Lives of Civil War Soldiers, which was released by TwoDot Press in 2006, and It Happened In Atlanta, a light, popular history of the Gate City of the South, released by Globe-Pequot in 2011. Current long-term projects include To the Banks of the Chattahoochee: A Tactical Battlefield Guide to the Atlanta Campaign, 1864, a deeper look at the May-September campaign, with a greater focus on the topographical, meteorological, logistical and command influences and how they all affected the tactical flow and outcomes of the battles and lines of approach during the campaign, and Tomahawks & Muskets: The Backcountry Revolutionary War in Georgia, a project in the earliest stages of research and writing, on the backcountry campaigns in the South during the American Revolutionary War, centering on the Patriot and Loyalist militias, their vicious, no-holds-barred style of warfare, and focusing on the commander of the King’s Rangers, Loyalist LTC Thomas “Burnfoot” Brown.


John resides in the north Georgia foothills, with Bonnie, a recovering debutante who is a long-suffering "Civil War widow," as well as an invaluable source of information on the social mores of the "Old South." The "Orphan Brigade" does picket and skirmisher duty around their property; a constantly changing assortment of critters who appear seemingly out of nowhere at regular intervals, currently one cat and uncountable raiding squirrels and patrolling wild birds.

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