After breakfast I got a novel, “The Monk Knight of St. John,” and read it about through. I got in one of the large wagons belonging to [wagonmaster] Burgess’ train, and with my feet plunged into a mass of blankets and my overcoat on, I spent the time very comfortably.
It was March 13, 1862 and it was snowing at Tijeras, a small village in New Mexico, but Sgt. Alfred B. Peticolas seems to have found a spot to rest and recuperate.  Born in Virginia in 1838, Peticolas was well-educated and worked for a time as a schoolmaster to finance his law studies. In 1859, he moved to Texas, where he opened a law office. In September 1861, Peticolas joined the Confederate army and was mustered into Company C, Fourth Regiment, Texas Mounted Volunteers, where he was promoted to Sergeant. In March 1862, he found himself in a late-winter storm as part of Brig. Gen. Henry H. Sibley’s ill-fated New Mexico campaign.
The Monk Knight of St. John was written by Canadian novelist John Richardson and first published in 1850. At a first glance, the book was a typical gothic novel set in 11th century Palestine during the crusades, featuring among others a lost manuscript, palace intrigues and a description of the Battle of Hattin. However, it soon becomes clear that more is going on, as Richardson weaves an intricate net of seduction and desire around his protagonists.
And indeed, the book produced a scandal when it was published, because it not only openly dealt with sexual love but also promoted sexual emancipation. Without taking a moral standpoint, Robertson treated homosexual relationships as well as adultery as legitimate expressions of love – something that went squarely against Victorian norms. The novel was not pornographic and, what may be difficult to understand today, had a religious message at its core: namely that carnal knowledge leads to an understanding of God.  Still, it is very open in its description of the various combinations of affairs and relationships between men and women as well as Christians and Moslems.
The novel is clearly written in the tradition of the enlightenment, with its attacks on social conventions and Christianity. This may have appealed to Peticolas, whom the editor of his diary characterises as a “freethinker”.  From what we can gleam, he seems not to have been appalled by the scandalous book but rather devoured it, spending a couple of enjoyable hours with it during a gruelsome campaign.
The Monk Knight of St. John is digitally available at archive.org. The small Canadian publisher Davus offers a print edition with a foreword by a leading scholar on Richardson.
 Alberts, Don E. (ed.): Rebels on the Rio Grande: the Civil War Journal of A.B. Peticolas. University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, New Mexico 1984, p. 69.
 For the background of this campaign, see Alberts, Don E.: The Battle of Glorieta. Union Victory in the West. Texas A&M University Press1998, p. 17f.
 Beasley, David A.: The Canadian Don Quixote: The Life and Works of Major John Richardson, Canada’s First Novelist. Davus Publishing: Simcoe, ON 2004, p. 251.
 Alberts (ed.): Rebels on the Rio Grande, p. 4.