Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Good Will

Holiday charity was displayed frequently during the War Between the States. On more than one occasion, troops displayed reciprocity by exchanging coffee for tobacco, northern newspapers for southern ones, and songs. The Rebel bands proudly played “Dixie,” followed by a retaliatory rendition of “Yankee Doodle” from the Yankees. Both sides came together as they played “Home Sweet Home,” with nary a dry eye on either side as soldiers reminisced of their home and loved ones.

The Civil War was unique in that both sides held the same basic principles and beliefs, had the same religions, patriots, and histories. The soldiers frequently came together to share stories, and then turned around and killed each other the next morning during battle. It is difficult to fathom such an existence, and indeed, many veterans expressed the same sentiment years later during Civil War reunions.

I previously mentioned Sergeant Richard Kirkland, a Confederate soldier who displayed compassion on the battlefield at Fredericksburg. But Union soldiers also felt empathy for their adversaries. On Christmas Day, 1864, ninety soldiers from Michigan and their captain loaded up wagons with food and supplies. They then distributed them to destitute citizens living in the Georgia countryside who had been victimized during Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” The Yankees even went so far as to tie tree branches to the heads of their mules, resembling reindeer.

Nothing expresses the nation’s sentiment better than this excerpt printed in Harper’s Weekly on December 26, 1863: “Even with all the sorrow that hangs, and will forever hang, over so many households; even while war still rages; even while there are serious questions yet to be settled – out it not to be, and is it not, a merry Christmas?”

Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy Holidays! (Enjoy Your Family)

The week between Christmas and New Year’s was a very lonely one for Civil War soldiers away from home. Those who lived close enough were allowed to return home during the winter, but for the ones who were too far away, the winter was spent in camps constructed of dirt and logs with cracker barrel chimneys. Besides their loved ones, the topic on most every soldier’s mind was food. Victuals became especially scarce for Confederate soldiers, and those who were in Virginia suffered more profoundly because the state and its occupants had been depleted of crops and livestock early on in the war.

On Christmas Day, some regiments were treated to egg nog - and I mean the real stuff - made from eggs, cream, and nutmeg. Because whiskey was considered a daily ration, and used for medicinal purposes, it was also supplied for the yuletide drink, although most soldiers were only able to partake in a shot or two at most. Besides holiday cheer, the men enjoyed special treats when the army could supply them, or partook in treats sent to them in packages from home. These included brandy-soaked fruitcakes, cookies, gingerbread, and rock candy. They also enjoyed oysters, which were far more plentiful back then, but still considered a delicacy.

Loneliness was felt most profoundly on Christmas, as is apparent by the following letter written by Elisha Hunt Rhodes, who served the Union army with the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry: “Christmas December 25, 1862. We have passed a very quiet day and except that we have been excused from drill, the day has been like others … In the evening … we had a sing. I should like to be at home on this Christmas night.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Savannah as a Christmas Gift

On December 21, 1864, after pushing his troops over 300 miles across Georgia in his "March to the Sea," General William Tecumseh Sherman arrived in Savannah, capturing the city that was by now inhabited by only a few women, children, and slaves. Happy with his accomplishment, Sherman telegraphed President Lincoln. "I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah with 150 heavy guns & plenty of ammunition & also about 25.000 bales of cotton."

I can't imagine what the women of Savannah felt upon this invasion other than utter loathing, which is understandable. By now, most of the South was aware that the war was winding down, and that they were losing. What complete loss they must have experienced at a time that was traditionally held as a joyous occasion.

With this in mind, let us rejoice in our freedom, and celebrate the fact that we live in such a prosperous country. Even though commercialism is everywhere, we should try to look past it and celebrate in honor of those who fought, suffered, and died before us for what they believed in. Without their sacrifice, we wouldn't be where we are today.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas During Wartime

Soldiers who were (and are) subjected to being away from home at Christmas suffered a particular kind of homesickness, different from the usual melancholy they usually felt. Because most soldiers who fought in the Civil War were Christians, the celebration of Christmas was a very special time for them. As Victorians, they believed that Christmas should be celebrated as a happy time of year. But with all the death surrounding them, it must have been nearly impossible to feel that way.

The Battle of Fredericksburg took place a little over a week before Christmas, on December 13, 1862. This battle was especially sad, because the citizens of Fredericksburg were forced out of their homes. Some had no recourse but to camp in the woods in subzero temperatures. The Union forces invaded the town, looted, destroyed, and burned much of it, and shelled it as well. They then marched up to Marye's Heights, where Confederate troops were waiting for them. Because the Rebels were at an advantage, the Yankees were forced to march up the hill through an open field, thus making them sitting ducks. Needless to say, thousands were slaughtered.

When the townsfolk were finally able to return to their homes, they found only destruction. It is difficult to imagine this kind of sorrow for many of us today. Somehow, they managed to carry on through the terrible sadness that engulfed them. It is interesting to note that, during a lull in the battle, one soldier found the compassion to come to the aid of his enemies. His name was Sergeant Richard Kirkland, a Confederate from South Carolina. Without the protection of the white flag of truce, he braved the open field to provide water and blankets to the wounded and dying Union soldiers. Because of his bravery, the "Angel of Marye's Heights" is immortalized with a statue at the Fredericksburg National Military Park.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

More Photos of Huntsville's Antebellum Homes

I wanted to include more photos of buildings in historic Huntsville that I found interesting. Below is a short description of each one:

Photo #1: First Presbyterian Church, c. 1860. This is the oldest Presbyterian Church in Alabama. During the Civil War, local women gathered in the basement to sew socks for the soldiers. It had the tallest spire in Huntsville until a storm destroyed it in 1878, and it was never replaced.

Photo #2: Howard Weeden House, c. 1819. This was the home of John McKinley, the Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the birthplace of Maria Howard Weeden (famous poet and artist). It is now a museum.

Photo #3: Regions Bank Building, c. 1835. This is the last surviving building of the originals that stood on the public square. It has been in continuous service as a financial institution since it was built, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Photo #4: Moore-Rhett House, c. 1826. Hand pressed bricks used for the walls were made by slaves.

Photo #5: McDowell House, c. 1848. During the Union occupation, General Ormsby Mitchel used this house as his headquarters. Period outbuildings surrounding the house have been preserved.

Christmas in Huntsville

This week, we were in Huntsville, Alabama. I love this town! Not only is there an abundant supply of rich history, but the people are sweet as well. Because Huntsville plays a predominant role in my novel, I decided to feature it here on my blog.

Huntsville is fortunate in that it has one of the largest concentrations of antebellum structures in the South. This is because it was occupied by the Union army early on in the war, and was spared from being destroyed.

The first photograph is of the Morgan-Neal House, built c. 1823. It is the birthplace of John Hunt Morgan, a famous Confederate raider. The second picture is of the Thomas Fearn House, c. 1820. Dr. Fearn was a prominent Huntsville resident. Photo #3 is graffiti that either Union or Confederate soldiers drew on the inside walls of the Huntsville Train Depot. In 1862, the town was invaded by Yankees, who kept Confederate soldiers prisoner upstairs for 10 days until they were shipped to Union prison camps. Picture #4 is a train at the depot, all decked out for Christmas, and Photo #5 is the depot itself, which is one of the oldest remaining train depots in the country.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas at Beauvoir

On a recent trip down to Biloxi, my husband and I stopped by Beauvoir, the beautiful home where Jefferson Davis lived out his final years after the Civil War. The structure was damaged from Hurricane Katrina, but has since been restored to its original splendor.

The first photo shows the work being done to replace the presidential library that was destroyed by the storm. Sadly, most of the contents in the museum that was housed on the first floor were destroyed. The books were upstairs, however, so they were spared, and are now being stored at various locations around town until the new library is completed, which should be in two years.

The second photo is Beauvoir, which means "beautiful view" in French. The entire porch and steps have been replaced. Photo #3 shows the Confederate cemetery on the grounds behind the house. After Jefferson Davis died, Varina Howell Davis, his wife, donated the property to Confederate veterans as a retirement home for them and their spouses. These are the people buried in the cemetery, along with Jefferson Davis' beloved mule and dog. President Davis and Mrs. Davis are buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

Photo #4 shows what was salvaged from a memorial monument built by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It was originally erected in front of the house. Like the monument, a few antiques that were in the museum were found, but most were damaged. They are on display in the gift shop. The final picture is one of the grounds, which overlook the Gulf of Mexico. It is absolutely stunning, and it's no wonder why they named the home "Beauvoir."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another Anniversary for 2009

This year marks the 150th anniversary of John Brown's Raid at Harper's Ferry. For those unfamiliar with John Brown, he was a religious fanatic who was also a staunch abolitionist. He killed a bunch of slave owners in Kansas, and that is how it became known as "Bleeding Kansas." From there, he took his posse to Virginia, where he attempted to start an uprising. However, his plans backfired, as no slaves revolted. The U.S. Marines closed in, and captured John Brown. Sadly, the first man to die in the raid was a freed slave. Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart participated in the capture at the arsenal building. Strangely, those men would end up fighting for the Confederacy only two years later.

As John Brown was led to the gallows, he is quoted as predicting the bloody days to come: "I, John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood." Ominous, to say the least! One of the spectators to witness the hanging was John Wilkes Booth, who was Abraham Lincoln's assassin. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was also in attendance.

In honor of the anniversary of this profound event that some say started the Civil War, historians from Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland formed the John Brown Sesquicentennial Quad-State Committee to promote the event. They even staged a mock hanging!Events also included re-enactments, dramatic productions, art exhibits, academic lectures, and special tours. If you ever have the opportunity to see this historical town, I strongly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Year of Lincoln

Historians and the media have dubbed 2009 as the "Year of Lincoln," because it is the 200th anniversary of his birthday. We have honored our illustrious 16th president since his election, but his legacy became even more apparent following his death. Because he was the first American president to be assassinated, and because the country had just gone through four years of horrible misery, Abraham Lincoln will forever go down in history as the man who saved the slaves, which is what he verbally wished to be remembered for the most.

In 1909, it was decided that Lincoln would appear on the penny in honor of his 100th birthday, and his likeness has been there ever since. He was the first president to be immortalized on U.S. currency, and his face also appears on five dollar bills. There is nothing on record that indicates why Lincoln was chosen for the $5 bill,which took place in the 1920's.

Lincoln's likeness also appears in many other places. There is an enormous monument in Washington D.C. that has inspired many, including Martin Luther King, Jr., who gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech there. Our current president, Obama, was so inspired by Lincoln that he pledged his oath of office on the same Bible as Lincoln. Old Abe is one of only four men chosen to be immortalized on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. His statue stands at Gettysburg, he (of course) has a presidential library in Springfield, Illinois, and he is honored, along with the Father of our Country, George Washington, every February. Some of us even get the day off! Lincoln will always hold a fascination to us, and even though he was considered just another politician during his presidency, he has since been elevated to an iconic status, even considered a martyr by some.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Black America (And How It Almost Never Was)

We all know that the Civil War evolved into a war to end slavery. But that isn't how it began. Although he was an abolitionist at heart, President Lincoln was against freeing the slaves. His main intention was to preserve the Union, period. He thought it would be best for the nation if slavery was allowed to exist in slave states, and free states remained free. This had to do with westward expansion, as the South wanted to keep slavery in newly established states for free labor purposes.

Lincoln originally opposed emancipation, and refused to move on the slavery issue. "I would do it if I were not afraid that half the officers would fling down their arms and three more States would rise," he said. "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that."

The President backed a plan that called for paying slave owners $400 for each slave that was freed. He also favored sending the freedmen to separate colonies in Africa and South America. In essence, he wanted to do to them what was done to the American Indians. Because Frederick Douglas spoke so adamantly against it, Lincoln was forced to back down on that issue.

Freeing the slaves was essentially an act to undermine the Confederate economy, and although Lincoln personally felt slavery was wrong, he avoided emancipation until the Union had a decisive victory, which didn't happen until the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) in 1862. That fall, he made his Emancipation Proclamation public, and on January 1, 1863, it was put into effect. That is, only in the southern states, where Lincoln really had no influence. In fact, the proclamation didn't apply to slaves in northern states, and in Illinois, Lincoln's home state, freed blacks weren't allowed into the state at all.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Battle of Franklin - Then and Now

On this date in 1864, the Battle of Franklin took place in Franklin, Tennessee. The battle was a decisive victory for the Union army, and paved the way for Sherman's March to the Sea. Like so many Civil War battles, severe blunders were made by the generals. In this case, Confederate General John Bell Hood allowed the Yankees to pass his army in the middle of the night, where they managed to establish themselves in breastworks that were essentially impenetrable by the Rebels. Many Confederate soldiers met their deaths as they marched on the fortifications, which would become known as "Pickett's Charge of the West." Six Confederate generals were killed. The Rebels lost over 6,000 casualties; the Union lost a little over 2,000. This was due in part to the Union army's advantage in using repeating rifles.

Recently, the battle was revisited when construction crews unearthed the remains of a soldier last spring. In appropriate military style, the remains were laid to rest with full honors, including a three-volley salute, and many participants attended in period clothing. A crowd of around 3,000 observed the funeral procession and ceremony. Although the soldier's affiliation is unclear, several U.S. eagle buttons and a spent bullet were found at the grave site. The casket was draped with flags from both the United States and the Confederate States.

Two special attendees were also on hand. One was 91-year-old Harold Becker from Michigan. His father fought for the Union side at the Battle of Franklin, and according to Becker, only had good things to say about the Rebels he fought, admiring their bravery. The other was James Brown Sr. from Tennessee, who represented the Confederate side as a Real Son. He talked about how his father rarely discussed his experiences, except for the suffering that the Confederates had to endure. When the two met, they immediately embraced before delving into discussion about their ancestors. The two gentlemen were given special seating at the funeral, and escorted the horse-drawn buggy to the cemetery.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I would like to wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving! Of course we all know that Thanksgiving originated with the pilgrims. But did you know that the holiday wasn't made official until 1863? President Lincoln declared a national day of thanks, to take place on November 26, after the Union victory at Gettysburg. The speech, which was actually written by Secretary of State William Seward, declared that every fourth Thursday in November would thereafter be an official U.S. holiday.

George Washington, in 1789, called for a day of thanksgiving and prayer, but an annual event wasn't observed. This was in part because successive presidents thought it was going against the Constitution's separation of church and state. From 1815 until 1863, no official proclamation took place.

Thanksgiving was celebrated on the fourth Thursday from 1863 until 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to change it to the third Thursday in an attempt to boost the economy by providing extra shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, he changed it back in 1941 after bowing to the pressures of Congress.

So let us all give thanks for the wonderful country we live in, for our troops, and for the many blessings we have. Have fun watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and all the football games. And try not to eat too much turkey!

Monday, November 23, 2009

KKK Expelled From Ole Miss

Last Saturday, the Ku Klux Klan showed up on the University of Mississippi campus to protest the chancellor's decision for the band to stop playing "From Dixie With Love" after each football game. Apparently, there was some concern about the students chanting, "The South will rise again!" after the song. Personally, I don't see how that is a racial slur, but the students have complied.

The KKK made a stand by appearing at the University prior to the game on Saturday. However, the students were so upset by their presence that they verbally insulted them until the KKK left. I say Kudos to those students! I am NOT a fan of racial injustice, and I think it's great that the student body represents equality. It has come a long way over the past forty years.

My only regret is that the KKK is representing itself with the Confederate flag and the song "Dixie." In my opinion, I wish they'd get their own flag and song and leave the rest alone. I saw a bumper sticker with a picture of the Confederate flag on it that I think says it all: Heritage, Not Hatred. The flag has been misconstrued to represent the KKK, and that's a shame. The Sons of Confederate Veterans are in no way associated with the KKK, and yet, they must endure criticism for their honoring the flag of their forefathers. Sad but true. I always liked the song "Dixie." I only hope it doesn't come to being associated with white supremacy as well.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Confusing State of Affairs

By the end of the Civil War, Unionists from every southern state except South Carolina, where the war originated, sent regiments. How confusing it must have been to have to pick a side and go fight for it, even though your neighbor, cousin, or whatever fought for the other side. Some soldiers joined up, only to desert and enlist with the opposite side later on.

It seems that at the start of the war, sections in several southern states were in favor of preserving the Union, even though the majority didn't vote for Abraham Lincoln. Secession was a state decision, and wasn't put to the popular vote, so once the state joined the Confederacy, the men typically enlisted dutifully, in preservation of their own state. Slavery wasn't as issue, because most southern soldiers didn't own slaves, and those that did were often exempt from fighting. Some northern states allowed slavery, as well as several "border" states.

There were a few "fire eaters" who spewed venom, persuading others to join their crusade for the Confederacy. One such example is the following, written by a Kentucky rebel named James Blackburn, in a letter to his wife:

My Dear Wife: I have left you and our children in the land of the despot, but God grant that I may soon be able to make the union men of Kentucky feel the edge of my knife. From this day I hold every union traitor as my enemy, and from him I scorn to receive quarter and to him I will never grant my soul in death; for they are cowards and villains enough. Brother Henry and I arrived here without hindrance. I have had chills all the way, but I hope to kill 40 Yankees for every chill that I ever had.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Case of John Wilkes Booth

Everyone knows who John Wilkes Booth was, or if they don't they should. He was the guy who shot President Lincoln in the back of the head at Ford's Theatre, jumped onto the stage after doing so, yelled, "Sic semper tyrannis" (Latin for "Thus always to tyrants"), and supposedly followed it up by exclaiming, "I have done it! The South is avenged!" He then high-tailed it to Virginia, dragging along an accomplice by the name of David Herold. It took the Union cavalry eleven days to track him down in a tobacco barn, but when they finally did, they set fire to it, and one soldier named Sergeant Boston Corbett shot the assassin, even though he had been ordered to bring Booth in alive.

Very strange things happened in accordance with this event. On November 9, 1863, President Lincoln attended a play in Washington D.C. entitled The Marble Heart. Among the cast was none other than John Wilkes Booth. The actor, who had plotted to kidnap Lincoln prior to the war's end, was photographed in the crowd that attended Lincoln's second inauguration.

After the assassination took place, it seems a curse was placed on many of the people who were involved. Dr. Mudd, who tended the actor's broken leg, was incarcerated for four years before being freed, due to his lifesaving efforts during the prison's yellow fever epidemic. He died at the age of 49, and is buried in the cemetery of the church where he first met John Wilkes Booth. Mary Todd Lincoln went bonkers, and eventually ended up living in a single room with a money belt around her waist, where she packed and unpacked her 64 crates of clothing until her death. Judge Holt, who sentenced the conspirators to hang, became a recluse as well, no doubt because he couldn't deal with the guilt of sentencing Mary Surratt, who many thought was innocent. Major Rathbone and his fiance, Clara, who were in the presidential box with Lincoln the night he was shot, got married, but sadly, on Christmas Day 1883, he shot her to death. Sergeant Corbett lost his marbles, also. He pulled a gun on two boys in Kansas, and was committed to the Topeka insane asylum. But in 1888, he escaped, and was never heard from again. And the Lincoln's oldest son, Robert, believed whole-heartedly that he was cursed. In 1881, while he was with President James Garfield, an assassin attacked and killed the president. Then in 1901, the same thing happened, only this time it was President William McKinley.

But what about John Wilkes Booth? He was a very popular actor at the time, and some think he killed Lincoln for his own notoriety. His brother, Edwin, who was a famous actor, too, received permission from Andrew Johnson, who had succeeded Lincoln, to bury his brother in an unmarked grave in the family plot in Baltimore. Prior to that, the killer's body had been buried under the floor of the Old Penitentiary's dining room. But for years, speculation circulated about John Wilkes Booth actual death. Some swore the body was that of another man because the wrong leg was broken, the scars didn't match up, etc. A conspiracy theory arose, and some believed that the man who had been buried was a prop: that the real John Wilkes Booth had escaped. Years after the assassination, people reported seeing him out West, in Europe, and in Japan. In 1994, the court ruled against exhuming the body to determine if it really was John Wilkes Booth who was buried there.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hemingway and Me

I am currently participating in a writing class, and my instructor asked us what our writing habits are. She informed that when Hemingway wrote, he would always find a definite place to stop, so that when he resumed his writing, he could pick up again where he left off more easily. I thought, hey, I do that, too! Us writers are strange creatures of habit. We have unusual routines that vary from person to person. I recently saw Diablo Cody give an interview, and she said that she usually stays up until 3 a.m. I got that beat, sister! I've been known to stay up until 4 a.m. In fact, on several occasions, I was just going to bed when my husband (who is an early bird) was getting up!

Some writers are able to get up in the morning, go straight to their computer, and start writing. Not me. I have to get the blood circulating into my brain for several hours before I can become coherent behind the keyboard. Some writers can sit behind the computer for six to eight hours a day and write, but I can't. I have to take breaks, and lots of them, otherwise, I lose focus. So what are some of your writing habits? Write back and let me know!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hug a Veteran

As most everyone knows, tomorrow is Veteran's Day. The day was originally established as Armistice Day, the day that the Armistice was signed ending WWI. Major hostilities were ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. President Woodrow Wilson declared it a holiday in 1919. In 1953, the idea was spread to include all veterans, changing it from Armistice Day to "All Veterans" Day, and in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law. All states within the United States observe this holiday.

National ceremonies take place every year at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. The day will be celebrated with parades, speeches, and observances of our beloved veterans. So if you know someone who has bravely served in defense of this great country, give them a hug. If they are serving now, hug them. If they fought in Desert Storm, Vietnam, or Korea, give them big hugs (here's one for you, Dad.) And if they are one of the few remaining veterans who fought in WWII, give them an extra special hug. Without these men and women, our freedom would be lost.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Haunting of Abraham Lincoln

Jenna Bush, one of President George W. Bush's daughters, recently talked about how she had heard phantom opera music coming from the fireplace in her bedroom while she was living at the White House. In the same breath, she expressed her disappointment about never seeing the ghost of Abraham Lincoln.

It's common knowledge that Lincoln's spirit still resides within the Executive Mansion, as the White House was called during the Civil War. In my opinion, Lincoln was psychic. He had premonitions about every major battle, and dreamt about his own death. His wife, Mary, held seances after his assassination, and in one photograph, an eerie manifestation of Lincoln appears in the background. It could have been a photographer's trick, but many other witnesses have seen his ghost as well.

Several heads of state have witnessed the ghost of Lincoln, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, President Coolidge's wife, Grace, President Harry Truman, and Ronald Reagan's daughter, Maureen.

Sightings of Lincoln's ghost have occurred near his grave in Springfield, Illinois, and at his former home there. It has also been seen at the Loudon Cottage in Loudonville, New York, which belonged to one of the women who was sitting in the president's box at Ford's Theatre when Lincoln was shot. The President's spectral funeral train has been observed on the anniversary of its journey from Washington D.C. to Springfield, thundering through the darkness to its spooky destination.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Haunted Jeff Davis

Keeping in the spirit of Halloween (for just one more week), I'd like to devote some attention to the late great (and only) president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. As most of you know, the president had an illustrious career, but he also suffered great loss and personal tragedy. He was a West Point Graduate, served in the Mexican War, was elected Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce, and served as U.S. Senator of Mississippi. When the War Between the States broke out, he reluctantly gave up his Senate seat, and accepted the position of President of the Confederate States of America. Mr. Davis had premonitions about this acceptance, but surrendered the decision as being that of divine will.

Davis' first wife, Sarah, daughter of President Zachary Taylor, died shortly after their secret marriage took place.Ten years later, he married Varina Howell, who was half his age. Despite his ill health, brought on by malaria he had contracted and that had killed his first wife, Davis held his position with great esteem. But soon, another tragedy befell him, as his son, Joe, fell from the second story balcony to his death at the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond. (Davis subsequently had the balcony removed from the house and destroyed.)

Upon the fall of Richmond, the Davis family was forced to evacuate, and traveled into Georgia to escape persecution. However, it wasn't long before President Davis was captured. He was held prisoner at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, where he suffered much humiliation and degradation, confined by leg irons in solitary confinement for the first four months. His incarceration lasted two years. Upon his release, he and Varina went up to Canada and traveled to Europe. After several years, Jefferson Davis returned, and lived in Memphis. He served as president of Carolina Life Insurance Company, and lost another son in the yellow fever epidemic of 1878. He retired to Beauvoir in Biloxi, where he wrote his memoirs. Davis died in 1878 in New Orleans, and his funeral was the biggest event ever witnessed in the South. Varina had his remains moved to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. However, his spirit supposedly isn't at rest with his body.

Strange things have reportedly happened at Ft. Monroe. Civil War soldiers, as well as President Lincoln, are said to haunt the place, and the sounds of phantom boots clunking have been heard, as well as phantom skirts rustling, and laughter echoing within the ancient walls. The apparitions of President Davis and Varina have also been witnessed near the room that confined him while he was imprisoned there. His spirit has been seen in the form of eerie mist near his grave as well. And his son, Joe, haunted the Confederate White House until his body was exhumed and buried beside the grave of his father. Then, inexplicably, the haunting stopped.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Haunted Horn Lake

Last Saturday was Halloween, and in keeping with the spirit, I went down the Haunted Trail at Latimer Lakes Park here in Horn Lake. Besides the usual ghouls, goblins, and chainsaw massacre people, this trail had the ghosts of Confederates! They chase away trespassers who dare to come near their hallowed graves on Halloween night. So beware the next time you venture South on Halloween, all you Yankee blue bellies!
(In the photo are members of Pvt. Samuel L. Hughey Camp #1452 Sons of Confederate Veterans. From left to right: Sam McGan, Commander Randy Hailey, and Lynn Herron.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Haunted Prisons

Since so much death surrounded Civil War prisons, it only makes sense that unsettled spirits still haunt these places. Thousands died, both North and South, from malnutrition, dysentery, and disease. We only have a few old reminders left, but in some places, there are other, more unworldly reminders as well.

One such place is, of course, Andersonville, Georgia, the site of the infamous prison camp. The suffering that took place within the barracks was immeasurable: men virtually starved to death, or died a slow, rotting death brought on by scurvy. They were forced to live in their own filth, eat raw birds and rats if they were lucky enough to catch any, and tolerate weather and overcrowded conditions. After the prison was finally closed, hauntings in the area began. It is said that some of the prison's former inmates still wander the grounds, as does the ghost of Henry Wirz, Andersonville's commandant. Some think that Wirz was wrongly accused and executed, so therefore, he still walks the road in search of retribution.

Another haunted prison is the Old Brick Capitol Prison. The prison was torn down in the 1920's, and the U.S. Supreme Court building was erected on the site. But the ghosts still remain, although they were more prevalent when the Old Brick Capitol still stood. Ghosts that haunted the place included Henry Wirz, who was executed there, as was Mary Surratt, who some believe was innocent of conspiring in Lincoln's assassination. She has appeared on the anniversary of her hanging. Moaning, weeping, and sighing echoed within its walls, as well as screams, cries, and phantom footsteps. Laughter and the sound of cell doors slamming, although the doors had been removed, also permeated the building.

Just outside of St. Louis in Alton, Illinois, strange sights and sounds occur where a Confederate penitentiary once stood. As in many prisons of the time, a small pox epidemic spread through the camp, killing thousands. A small portion of the prison's wall amazingly still remains, as does an old building known as the "Blaske building." Reportedly, strange things have occurred there, from apparitions appearing to doors slamming to things moving on their own inside the building. An eerie essence surrounds the area. Residual impressions have been seen by locals that resemble tattered Confederate prisoners.

Point Lookout, Maryland is also a famous prison that is said to be haunted. By the end of the war, over 4,000 prisoners had died there. Although the location is now a welcoming state park and recreation area, several buildings that housed the prison remain, and ghosts of Confederate soldiers still frequent it. Many visitors to the park have witnessed apparitions, as have the park rangers. Sounds of ghostly footsteps, slamming doors, and even snoring have been heard. Creepy voices have been recorded within the park, and it is a favorite place for seances and ghost hunters, because strange phenomena happens so frequently. Remarkably, the rangers keep a record of all the bizarre happenings that take place in the park, and hold a ghost tour every October.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Haunted Battlefields

It is said that spirits stay on this earth for two reasons: because they don't know they're dead, or because they died a sudden, tragic, unnatural death. So it only makes sense that the most haunted places are battlefields. The most significant one, of course, is Gettysburg. Sightings occur frequently in the form of marching soldiers. At one of the buildings on the Gettysburg College campus, a reoccurring impression has been seen by many spectators - that of a Civil War hospital, complete with bloody-aproned surgeons, moaning victims, and piles of hacked off limbs.

The most haunted place on the Gettysburg battlefield is said to be Devil's Den. Apparently, a huge Indian battle took place there, called "The Battle of the Crows." After intense fighting during the second day of the Civil War battle on July 2, 1863, many men were killed at this location, and their bodies were left for months afterward, because the rocky formations made it difficult to find and retrieve them. This is where photographer Alexander Gardner took some of his most stunning photographs, four days after the battle ended. Stories of ghosts started almost immediately. A hunter was lost in the area, and an apparition appeared, pointing the way for him to exit. A ghost in tattered Confederate garb appears mysteriously in photographs, or poses with tourists, but is missing from the developed photos! Gunshots, men shouting, and the appearance of a ghostly rider who vanishes also occur at the site.

Another haunted battlefield is Stones River Battlefield near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Near the battlefield is one of the oldest national cemeteries in the country, and the oldest monument of the Civil War stands within the cemetery. Most sightings have occurred around what is known as the Slaughter Pen, where the Federals had been surrounded on three sides. It is here that the air is always still: birds and wildlife avoid the area. Eerie feelings persist, like you are being followed, and the air is 10 to 20 degrees cooler than in other parts of the park. Just like at Devil's Den, a mysterious soldier appears. White lights have been seen bobbing along the edge of woods, even though no headlights or fires are present.

Other battlefields have specific places that are most haunted as well. At Antietam (Sharpsburg), it is Bloody Lane, which became a slaughter pen for Confederate troops. Phantom gunfire, along with the smell of gunpowder and smoke, and ghosts of Rebel soldiers still haunt the location. Burnside Bridge, St. Paul Episcopal Church, which was used as a field hospital, and the Piper House are also reportedly haunted.

The "Hell Hole" in Georgia, near New Hope, is said to have a haunted ravine, and Chickamauga (a Cherokee Indian word meaning "River of Death") Battlefield is reportedly haunted by many ghosts. After the battle, fallen soldiers were buried randomly, with two to three in each unmarked grave. Shouts, screams, moans, horses galloping, and gunfire are some of the phantom sounds that occur at night. A ghostly woman in white appears often, as does "Old Green Eyes," believed to be a Confederate soldier whose head was blown off, or a monster that was there before the battle. The glowing green eyes have been seen on numerous occasions, and was reportedly seen after the battle, wandering amongst the dead.

Monday, October 26, 2009

More Great Pictures from Last Weekend's Event

Battle of Collierville Reenactment

Last weekend's book signing event was a big success. Thanks to every one who came out to support this wonderful reenactment. Even though it was a bit muddy, we had a great time!

Friday, October 23, 2009

More Haunted Civil War Places

I have to admit, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Just ask my kids! And even though the ghost stories are spooky and make my skin crawl, I'm still fascinated by them, so I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you about a few other haunted places that were influenced by the War Between the States.

The Peidmont Hotel in Gainesville, Georgia belonged to General James Longstreet, or "Old Pete." After the war, he created controversy by becoming a Republican and holding posts under his former adversary, U. S. Grant. In his later years, he became a colorful eccentric, building terraces outside the hotel that looked like trenches. The locals called it "Little Gettysburg." He died in 1904, and since then, the hotel has gone through a number of changes, and is in the process of being renovated. It is said to host the general's spirit, as well as other unearthly beings. Items turn up missing, only to reappear later in another part of the building, and doors are rumored to open and close on their own.

Cashtown Inn eight miles west of Gettysburg was the site where Confederate officers met, and where the decision was made by General Lee to attack the Federals at Gettysburg. A mortally wounded soldier died on the second floor, and is believed to still wander the halls, dressed in a Confederate uniform. A local doctor claims he treated his comrade's wound, only to return the next day to find their campsite gone without a trace. Footsteps have been heard in the attic, things go missing, and the sounds of horses outside are but phantom imprints. Mysterious knocks on the doors when no one is there, and cold spots in the heat of summer also occur. Room #4 is reportedly the most haunted, and the favorite hangout of the Confederate soldier ghost.

Also at Gettysburg is the Thompson Farm. During the battle, wounded soldiers were taken to this farm on Seminary Ridge, which served as a field hospital. The dead were piled up in the barn's cellar, stacked on top of each other. Unbeknown to the stretcher bearers, a soldier at the bottom was still alive! Four days later, the corpses were slowly removed by the burial crew. They discovered the man on the bottom, who screamed in terror after his horrible ordeal. He died a few days later. In the late 1800's, the barn burned down, and a house was built in its place. The homeowners heard screams coming from the basement, and loud banging behind the cellar door. It wasn't until the house was blessed by a priest that the haunting finally stopped.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More Haunted Houses

The list of houses that are supposedly haunted by Civil War ghosts is enormous, and exist in nearly every state, both North and South. The Farnsworth House in Gettysburg is among the top ten most haunted places in the country. But there are other dwellings where phantoms reside as well.

On November 30, 1864, The Battle of Franklin took place near Franklin, Tennessee. Sadly, Confederate General Hood's men charged Union General Schofield's troops, and Hood lost 6200 men. The Yankees lost 2300. In other words, it was a bloodbath. In the middle of the mayhem stood the Carter House. The Carter family and neighbors who were staying with them were forced to hide in the dank cellar while Federal troops took over the house, and heard the battle raging outside. One of their sons, Tod Carter, who had been fighting under Hood, was shot, and after the battle, members of the family scoured the battlefield in the dark until they found him only 100 yards from the house. He died two days later. Since the battle took place, the house has been host to many ghosts, one of whom is thought to be of Tod Carter. Staff members have witnessed the sensation that a child is pulling on their sleeves, or have observed objects appear, disappear, and move around. The apparition of a girl has been seen disappearing down steps and hallways, and the voice of a woman has been heard.

Also near Franklin is the Carnton Mansion. During the battle, Caroline McGavok and her husband, John, resided in the house, which ended up serving as a field hospital. Needless to say, many died there, and were moved to the back porch. There were so many dead men stacked up in the back of the house that they stood erect in columns. The dead were buried nearby, and in 1866, more remains were moved from the Carter House to the Carnton grounds. Since that time, heavy footsteps can be heard echoing through the old house, and a restless soldier has been seen many times pacing through the mansion, across the back porch, and around the yard. A former cook supposedly haunts the place, as does Caroline herself. There is also the spirit of a girl residing there, and a specter that is fond of breaking glass.

It's no wonder that many spooky houses stand in New Orleans. One is the Beauregard-Keys House. Confederate General Beauregard lived there after the war, and wrote several books on his battlefield experiences. After the turn of the century, the house was occupied by a wealthy Italian family who saw much violence there, as the Mafia tried to extort them, and several of their members were killed. But not until after WWII did the house become occupied with Civil War ghosts. The phantoms have been seen engaging in battle within the house itself. Horses gallop through, men scream and slash at each other, cannons and other weapons go off, and the general himself has even made an appearance.

The Griffon House outside the French Quarter was abandoned by its owner when Federal troops invaded New Orleans. The first soldiers to enter the house reported hearing chains rattling and moans coming from upstairs. They went to investigate, and found slaves shackled to the walls and near starvation. They were removed to a nearby hospital, and the house was turned into a prison. Two raucous Union soldiers were held captive there, and spent their days drinking, and loudly singing "John Brown's Body." They were actually Confederate deserters disguising themselves as Yankees. Then one day, they bribed a guard to bring them pistols, laid down on the bed, pointed the guns at each other's hearts and pulled the triggers simultaneously. It is said that they still haunt the old house, as their singing can be heard on occasion. Blood has been seen dripping from the ceiling, but upon further inspection, disappears. Marching boots echo upstairs, and pieces of concrete were hurled at previous owners, who went upstairs to find that nothing was amiss. In 1951, a hurricane blasted the town, and after the cleanup, a tunnel was discovered running underneath the house. In it was a chest, chains, trash, and a few uniforms.

The most tragic story revolves around the Lalaurie Mansion. In 1832, the Creole mansion was occupied by Dr. Louis Lalaurie and his wife, Delphine, who were well-respected socialites. Inside, the house was decorated with elaborate furnishings. Delphine was admired and revered, but there was a demonic side to her. She kept many slaves, and treated them with brutal cruelty. The cook was chained to the kitchen fireplace, and servants disappeared without a trace to be replaced frequently. In 1834, a fire tore through the house, and the firefighters made a ghastly discovery. Upstairs in the attic, slaves had been chained to the walls, strapped to operating tables, confined in cages, and tortured. Body parts were strewn across the floor, heads and internal organs were thrown haphazardly into buckets, and grisly souvenirs were stacked on shelves beside a collection of paddles and whips. All the victims were naked, some had their mouths sewn shut, or their hands sewn to their bodies. Others had been disemboweled while still alive. Limbs were cut off, fingernails had been ripped out, brains had been "stirred," eyes were poked out, and privates were sliced off. All this was done by Madame Lalaurie herself under the blind but knowing eye of her husband. This was the most hideous crime to ever happen in the city, but to avoid arrest, the Lalaurie's made a hasty departure. Almost immediately, reports surfaced about strange occurrences within the mansion. The house was left to disrepair, and neighbors said they heard screams and moans, and saw apparitions of slaves walking on the balconies and in the yard. Vagrants who went inside for shelter were never seen again. Over the years, tenants stayed for only brief periods. During the times the house was occupied, strange things happened: a black man in chains attacked tenants and then disappeared, animals were brutally butchered, children were attacked by a whip-wielding ghost, and of course, there were the never ending screams, yells, and cries. When the house was recently renovated, a makeshift graveyard was discovered under the floor, which explains the disappearance of Delphine's slaves. Her victims were many, and apparently some still linger there.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ghosts, Goblins, and Soldiers

Since Halloween is nearly upon us, I decided to write on my blog about hauntings that have taken place in various parts of the country in regard to the Civil War. Disputably, the most haunted place is Gettysburg. This is because the town rests on what is known as a "lei line," where two intersecting fractures meet. It has something to do with energy fields beneath the earth's surface. Within Gettysburg, probably the most haunted place is the Farnsworth House.

Now an inn, the Farnsworth House saw its share during the War Between the States. Confederate sharpshooters used the garret (attic) as a vantage point to fire upon Union troops positioned on Cemetery Hill. One bullet fired by a sharpshooter supposedly traveled down the street, hitting Jennie Wade, who was the only civilian killed during the battle. Afterward, the house was used as a Federal headquarters.

There are over 100 bullet holes visible on the south side of the house, and some of the bullets that were lodged in the brickwork are on display inside. The house boasts a fabulous restaurant, a cozy tavern decorated with memorabilia from the movie, "Gettysburg," and the guestrooms are decorated in beautiful Victorian style. Guests and staff have witnessed strange occurrences on several occasions. Some of the servers have had mysterious encounters in that someone or something yanks their aprons. Others have seen apparitions in the forms of women in period dress and soldiers, or have been tapped on the shoulder. Phantom footsteps echo through the two-story house, and strange, eerie shadows abound.

The Farnsworth House sponsors ghost tours, and recently added a seance room in the spooky basement to replicate the Victorian notion of communicating with the dead. When my husband and I stayed at the Inn a few years ago, we didn't experience any ghostly encounters, although the room we stayed in was decorated with strange paintings. One was of Jennie Wade herself, looking straight at us from beyond. Another was a creepy Victorian angel, and a third was that of a weirdly-dressed monkey playing a mandolin. You would think the paintings would be enough to summon ghosts, but alas, I never did encounter any, even though I sat outside late at night waiting for an apparition!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Witness Trees

At various battlefields and historical buildings across the country, old trees still survive that were living during the Civil War. There are two enormous, craggy old catalpa trees that still thrive on the property of the Ellwood Plantation in Fredericksburg. And even though it's dead, an old tree stump still stands at Vicksburg National Military Park, riddled with bullets.

These trees would tell quite a story if they could talk. Unfortunately, they just can't live forever. One such casualty is a tree at Gettysburg National Military Park that recently died, estimated to have lived 147 years.

The good thing is that they can live on as reminders of our precious past. The wood has been donated to the Gettysburg Foundation for use in preservation, just as bricks from old historic buildings have been auctioned off for fund raising purposes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Discoveries of Old Things

Since the invention of metal detectors, amazing discoveries have been made, giving us insight into the past. Recently, at a golf course in Franklin, Tennessee, Civil War relics were discovered on what is believed to be a tract the Confederates traveled en route to the Battle of Franklin in 1864. The property was purchased by Franklin's Charge Preservation Coalition for $5 million in 2005 to prevent the land's development when a country club was put up for sale.

Franklin's Alderman Mike Skinner wants the land to be surveyed in order to prevent further development on the site. So far, a U.S. belt buckle, several minie balls, grape shot, a small button, and a 6-pounder cannon ball have all been discovered.

To know that live ammunition still lies beneath the surface is startling. Last year, an amateur historian sadly met his demise while cleaning a cannon ball he had discovered. Relics hunters need to use precaution, and obey the law where applicable. In Gettysburg, two men are being investigated for metal detecting in the park. Because they were confronted by park rangers, they will no doubt be facing hefty fines, thanks to the Archaeological Resource Protection Act.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Modern Medicine or Medieval Practices?

One of the saddest facts about the War Between the States is that technological warfare far outweighed medical advances. Many soldiers, after being shot by a minie ball, had to succumb to amputation or die from gangrene. There was no known remedy for infection at the time.

Some medical practices were downright barbaric, although bleeding had become obsolete by the mid 19th century. Leeches are used for this purpose now, interestingly. Halfway during the Civil War, it was discovered that maggots actually did good in that they devoured infected flesh, so they were intentionally placed on the soldiers for that reason.

Doctors considered infection a good sign, and referred to it as "laudible puss." They had no idea that viruses could be spread between people, or that insects carried diseases. People during the time thought that the air or the ground was contaminated, and that is how illnesses were spread. They were vaguely aware of germs and sanitation.

Many Civil War reenactments across the country are now including medical demonstrations, so that school groups and visitors can experience what a soldier's life was like, including the suffering they endured at the hands of physicians. I highly recommend that you attend one if you get the chance. Please check out for a list of reenactments. You can also find an extensive list at

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Civil War Artifacts - The Strange and Unusual

Victorians had a peculiar way of cherishing their mementos. I'm sure you've seen wreaths made out of human hair, as well as toys and clothing made from animal hides, bird's feathers, and horse hair. But some of the relics that have survived the test of time are truly bizarre in nature.

Case in point: at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., there is a museum in the basement that houses interesting artifacts from the Civil War and President Lincoln's assassination. Strange as it seems now, the President's coat, encased in glass, still has his dried blood visible. People tore blood-stained pieces from the coat and saved them as souvenirs, so parts of the coat are missing.

Horses have been stuffed and preserved, like General Philip Sheridan's horse, Winchester, which is on display at the Smithsonian American History Museum. Stranger still is the head of General George Meade's horse, Old Baldy, which is stuffed and hung on a plaque, waiting to be displayed after the Civil War Museum in Philadelphia is completed.

But the oddest item of all is the leg of General Daniel E. Sickles, who lost the appendage during the Battle of Gettysburg, and donated it to science. The leg is still on display at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington. General Sickles was one strange character who would often visit his leg after the war ended. So the next time your grandma wants to show you her gall stones in a jar, don't think it too bizarre. At least it's not her leg!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Captured Confederate Flag Still in Wisconsin

I recently learned that a First National Flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars, is being held captive in Boscobel, Wisconsin. The flag was captured during the first day of battle near Gettysburg in 1863 by Private Richard Huftil, and has since been known as the “Huftil Flag.”

During the course of one hundred and forty-six years, the flag has been passed from the Grand Army of the Republic, to the Women’s Relief Corp, to the Grant County Historical Society. It has been on display at Boscobel’s G.A.R. Hall, one of only three that still remain in the upper Midwest.

There has been controversy surrounding the flag for many years. The Preservationist Society is concerned that if the flag is returned to its rightful owners, i.e. the Sons of Confederate Veterans, harm will come to the county’s historical preservation in the way of their “heritage, traditions, and tourism.” Although I see their point and understand their concern, the bottom line still is this: the flag belongs to the SCV, so give it back! (We are finding out about more flags that are still up North as well, so I’ll keep you posted.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Books Week

This week, schools and libraries across the nation will take part in "Banned Books Read-out." Everyone is asked to participate by acknowledging your favorite banned books, what it means to observe and uphold the First Amendment, and how banned books have impacted our lives. As an author, I can appreciate the importance of this event.

Many famous books have been banned in the past. Some examples are "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "Black Beauty," and the Harry Potter books. The list is immense, and some books have been banned for obscure reasons.

Book censorship has been a problem since the beginning. The Bible and the Quran have also been banned at some point. Any book deemed too radical or politically incorrect is at risk of being banned. Although viewpoints have changed over the course of history, it is still unacceptable, in this author's opinion, to ban the written word simply because certain groups don't agree. Voice your opinion, and read a banned book this week!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Portion of Wilderness Battlefield Up For Sale

A few weeks ago, Wal-Mart won voters' support by securing a portion of the Wilderness Battlefield in Virginia to build a new super center. Much protest came from local politicians, historians, and celebrities. Now 93 acres are being offered to the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT) for purchase. This parcel of land is about one mile from the proposed Wal-Mart site.

According to CVBT President Erik F. Nelson, the contract is drawn up, the price is locked in (at $10,000 an acre, for a total of $930,000), and the closing date should take place within the year. The group plans to do fund-raising to help cover the cost of the down payment on the mortgage. State grants might also become available.

Talks have been in the works for several years, but the land owners finally decided to come to an agreement and make a deal after what happened with Wal-Mart. They are in favor of having the land saved, rather than being built upon. This is a huge victory for battlefield preservation, in that the land will now be unavailable for commercial and residential use.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Event Canceled

Last Saturday I was planning on attending the reenactment of the Battle of Farmington near the town of Corinth, Mississippi. However, because of heavy rainfall, the event was canceled. This is always a disappointment, because I look forward to seeing all the reenactors, as well as civilians dressed in Victorian attire. And because I'm a horse freak, I love to see the horses, too.

I'm still learning about Southern culture, and one thing I've found, at least in this area, is that when something like the weather happens, they like to cancel events. Not postpone them, not delay them, just flat out cancel them. This has happened on several occasions, but I think the worst scenario was a big reenactment scheduled here in Mississippi that was canceled for political reasons. It was the reenactment of the Battle of Corinth, but for some reason, this year they decided it wasn't politically correct to have "Confederates" do battle on farmland that apparently has been used for such an event before.

Stranger yet is the parade in Ohio that wouldn't allow "Confederates" to march in their Memorial Day parade. Um, excuse me, but I thought this was a free country we lived in! Once again, the confusion arises in that Confederate reenactors are confused with the KKK, or somehow associated with that hate-filled, supremacist organization. It's sad how certain aspects of history can be distorted over time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Doomed To Be A Lush

Before I was published, I decided it would be a good idea to meet some local authors. So one Saturday afternoon, I attended a book signing at Borders in Longmont, Colorado, where a bestselling author was signing his books. He warned me by saying that authors are heavy drinkers, but then went on to say that we also have the good life, as we set our own schedules, get to travel, and in his case, go skiing every weekend. I don't know about the rest, but I do get to set my own schedule, as erratic as that is.

In a recent edition of Writer's Digest, one of the contributing authors warned that, when attending a writers' conference, you should figure out how much whiskey you'll need and pack twice as much. How come all these authors relay on booze to get them through? The reason is simple: stress. Being a creative person is exceptionally stressful, because not only are we called upon to be forever creative, we have to deal with rejection as well.

One author who lives in Loveland warned me that I should psych myself up for rejection, because I will get plenty of rejection letters. He said he wallpapered his bathroom with his. I've gotten my share, and I have to admit, it's a big letdown when one comes. So much so that I find myself in tears. Most editors/agents don't even read your material, I'm told. If their slush pile is too high, they just reject everything. Getting "in" by attending seminars, conferences, etc. and meeting people in person helps, but it isn't always a guarantee, and disappointments are limitless. So to all you aspiring writers out there, just remember,we all go through our hard knocks. Now where did I leave that bottle of tequila?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to Avoid Plodding Plots

It is interesting to see how different authors come up with story ideas and find ways to present them. Some plot out their stories and know the endings before they write a single word, while others chose to delve into the story and write with the flow of their creativity. I have found that both are true. I write out a detailed outline first. Once I begin writing, the outline is bound to change, as the story writes itself and the characters evolve.

The way you write depends on the type of story you are writing. In my case, historical fiction has to be accurate, and immaculately so, because if it isn't, I'm sure to hear about it! I have found several ways to keep the plot going. One is to get rid of excess words. If you can say the same thing in three words that you just said in five, delete a couple. Another way is to add dialogue. In my current novel, I am writing about Jefferson Davis' inaugural address. At the time, he was a great orator, but to read the speech now is, shall we say, a little tedious. So to spice it up, I have inserted character dialogue, as well as their thoughts (i.e.what they are feeling, how they are reacting to the speech, etc.).

Action is another effective way to break up a dragging plot. I recently had a peer read my novel, and he said that I had too many action scenes sidetracking from the story, and that I should just get to the point. Little did he know, those side scenes actually happened! Action motivates the plot, keeps it moving, and eventually brings the story around to the end. Without action, dialogue, and plot, the story merely becomes nonfiction.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What Goes Around Comes Around

During a recent trip to Mason City, Iowa, my husband and I attended a Civil War encampment and reenactment. While talking to some of the guys who sponsored the event, we discovered that Iowa still has in its possession a Confederate flag from the 17th Mississippi. The flag was captured at Gettysburg.

In 1905, Grover Cleveland signed into law a bill requiring the return of Confederate flags. However, many northern states failed to abide by the law, not just Iowa, whose reason for keeping the flag is because it draws tourists to the state's capital. The flag is in disrepair, and hasn't been on display for quite some time. It will cost approximately $5-10,000 to restore it. Thus, the flag has been stashed away and forgotten until now.

My husband, Dave, is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. This came about after I wrote my book, and he became interested in his heritage. Upon further research, he discovered that his great-great grandfather was a Confederate interpreter for the Cherokees under Nathan Bedford Forrest. Dave's commanding officer was so excited about his finding the flag that he had him announce it at their monthly meeting. Now they are in the process of procuring the flag, which holds profound significance for them, as their ancestors fought under that flag. It's funny how all this has come about. I wrote the book = Dave found his ancestor = he joined the SCV and found out about the missing flag = we went to Mason City, Iowa, where my sister lives = we found the missing flag. Strange how one thing leads to another, and it all eventually comes full circle, even though, in this case, it has taken a hundred and forty-six years!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Vicksburg: a Sight to See

Last weekend, my husband and I traveled to Vicksburg to see the battlefield. It is impressive to say the least. Interestingly, the paved roadway through the park is lined with majestic monuments and busts of long forgotten heroes. On the west side of the park is a spectacular view of the Yazoo River, and it’s easy to visualize the strategies used by Generals Grant and Pemberton. But the highlight of the battlefield, in my opinion, is the ironclad gunboat, the U.S.S. Cairo.

In 1862, the U.S.S. Cairo was hit by Confederate underwater torpedoes, now called mines, and sank in twelve minutes into the Yazoo. Everyone aboard jumped ship and survived. After discovery was made of its whereabouts in 1964, the gunboat was brought back to the surface, and many of the artifacts inside survived the test of time. This is due to the fact that silt on the river bottom preserved the ship’s contents, as well as the skeleton of the vessel itself. The restored ironclad is now on display at the park, alongside a museum housing its artifacts.

The park ranger informed us that in the 1930’s, the government came up with the not-so-brilliant idea of planting trees alongside the roadway. Now the trees have grown into a scrubby, overgrown mess, and the NPS is deciding whether it should mow the trees down, which obscure sight of the battlefield. The visitors center is informative, with an old movie from (my guess) the 60’s describing the event, as well as dioramas depicting soldiers during the siege, a cave inhabited by Vicksburg citizens, and freedmen fighting for the North. The scene is poignant, and left me with mixed emotions. Within the park, Union soldiers are buried in the National Cemetery, as was the way with battles won by the North. The Confederates are buried in the old Vicksburg cemetery, which is located, sadly enough, on Lover’s Lane.

The town of Vicksburg is marvelous, but in terrible disrepair. The historic downtown district, which brags an old-time apothecary, as well as the Coca Cola Museum (the soft drink started distribution here), is full of empty storefronts and loiterers. However, the old antebellum houses and churches are fascinating. Vicksburg is on its way, pulling itself up from the depths of terrible oppression that it suffered over 145 years ago. Unfortunately, it still has a long way to go.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Another Victory for Walmart (and a Defeat for Civil War Enthusiasts)

Last week, a final approval was passed to build a new Walmart near the entrance of the Wilderness Battlefield in Orange County, Virginia. In a 4-1 vote, officials decided to grant a special permit after a majority of more than 100 speakers rallied in favor of the Supercenter. Regardless of protest from historians, Civil War buffs, and preservationists, supervisors reasoned that they couldn't see a threat, because there is no visual impact to the battlefield. Construction is scheduled to start in a year.

The majority of the Civil War's largest and most significant battles took place in Virginia. At the Battle of the Wilderness 145 years ago, Generals Lee and Grant opposed each other for the first time. Approximately 145,000 Union and Confederate soldiers fought, with over 29,000 casualties. Only one-fourth of the Wilderness Battlefield is currently protected. Walmart reasons that it is building in an area zoned for commercial use. Locals claim that a new store will provide jobs, tax revenue, and affordable shopping for the 32,000 residents living there.

Protesters included Ken Burns, Robert Duvall (who claims to be a descendant of General Lee), Virginia's governor, and two congressmen. Last year, the Commonwealth of Virginia appropriated $5.2 million for the preservation of its battlefields. Virginia is committed to protecting and safeguarding her Civil War battlefields. But unfortunately, local response outweighed the desire for historical preservation. Sadly, this may not be the last time such an atrocity occurs.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Rare Find

I love watching Antiques Roadshow to see what people show up with, especially the ones who have purchased their finds at yard sales for a fraction of what the item is worth. Case in point: in 2006, a man by the name of Bruce Steiner purchased a box of papers from a flea market for $27.95. Inside, he discovered an envelope with these words written on it: "Let this man enter with this note." It is dated April 14, 1865, and signed, "A. Lincoln." The note was signed the same day Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Skeptical at first, Steiner, who is an avid Civil War buff, decided to get the note analyzed, and discovered that the handwriting seemed to be genuine. However, he ran into obstacles when historical societies refused to acknowledge his discovery. He continued to pursue the note's authenticity, and sent it to a handwriting expert, who confirmed that the handwriting seems to be that of President Lincoln himself. The estimated value is $120,000.

It's amazing how things like this keep resurfacing. In 1954, an old photograph showing Lincoln at Gettysburg, taken by Mathew Brady, was discovered at the National Archives. This year, old photographs have constantly been discovered in long-forgotten places, as well as manuscripts, letters, and even a watch with an inscription inside. Because this is Lincoln's 200th birthday year, artifacts relating to him are of special interest. If only I could be so lucky as to make an amazing discovery like that! It would be like finding hidden treasure.

Friday, August 28, 2009

And Yet Another "Comedian Turned Critic"

Wednesday night on the Tonight Show, Conan O'Brien hosted Bill Maher, who proceeded to express his views on how he thinks America is stupid. He said that Obama is too concerned with his own popularity to push through his universal health care plan, of which Maher is obviously a fan. But the words I found offensive were his summation of America's Two-Party System: the Democrats, who defend banks, credit card companies, big agriculture and pharmaceutical lobbies, and the "fringe party" Republicans, who include religious lunatics and Civil War reenactors who "take their orders from Rush Limbaugh."

Excuse me? Civil War reenactors? Really Bill? I meet a lot of these people, and they certainly don't fall into the category you put them in! They can't be grouped as all being religious, Christian nevertheless, of which Bill is verbally opposed, or being Republican. This statement is unjust, and I'm here to protest. I'm sorry, but I don't hear any criticism about Renaissance Festival participants, or people who enjoy any other hobby, for that matter. What about Trekies? Aren't they fanatics as well?

The political stigma that is attached to Civil War reenactors, especially Confederate reenactors, is repulsive to me, and only goes to show true ignorance. Assuming such negative associations is at the very least unfair, anti-American even. Is it wrong for us to celebrate who we are today by reenacting the suffering that occurred in our great nation's history? You complain that America is stupid, Bill. Well, to disable living history would be an educational crippler, too. How else can people really learn about historical significance besides taking the time to study it themselves? Experiencing what it was like by interaction is far more interesting and entertaining. And you being an entertainer, Bill, should agree: isn't that what it's all about?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Signing a Huge Success!

My book signing last Saturday at Book People in Sioux City was a big success! Thanks to everyone who came out. It was great seeing some old friends, and relatives I hadn't seen in years! The little book store was filled to capacity, and everyone there was gracious and accommodating. Thanks again for a very special event.

Monday, August 24, 2009

More on the Mason City Reenactment

During my vacation/book signing tour of Iowa, I spent the weekend of the 15th in Mason City, where I participated in their annual Civil War reenactment. Each year, a different battle is portrayed in which the boys from Cerro Gordo County actually participated. This year, it was the Battle of Pleasant Hill in Louisiana. Although the reenactment was a small event with very little publicity, it still a drew good crowd, and about one hundred reenactors were on hand as well.

The actual battle took place on April 9, 1864, and is officially considered a Union victory. However, at this year's reenactment, the Confederates won. There were many interesting characters about, including Abraham Lincoln. The event also featured a Civil War photographer complete with studio, an old-time root beer stand, a candy stand, a surgeon and nursing demonstration, a Civil War ball, and of course, a sutler selling assorted era clothing and accessories. The event was free to the public, and took place in Mason City's East Park.

I was astounded to learn that participation is dwindling. Of course, the poor economy is partially to blame. I hope more people will attend next year. It is an excellent opportunity to learn about history, see the guys in uniform doing battle, and experience their camp life. If you have the opportunity to see a reenactment, don't pass it up. They are a lot of fun, and the soldiers love talking about and sharing their insight into the Civil War.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book Signing a Big Success!

I'd like to thank everyone for coming out to the Civil War reenactment in Mason City, Iowa last weekend. We had a great time, and the weather cooperated as well. It was a lot of fun with a good turnout, and I hope we can participate again next year.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Flags Long Ago Unfurled

Last night I had the pleasure of listening to a gentleman by the name of Larry Hawkins give a discussion about battle flags used by soldiers during the Civil War. His main concentration was flags from Mississippi, and his deep concern was that these relics would be lost forever. That is why he is compiling a book about the flags, with pictures included.

He expressed the fact that many flags have vanished and are irreplaceable. His fear was that these flags would not withstand the test of time, in that political views have changed since the mid 1800's, and people would no longer wish to keep them as a reminder of the Confederate cause.

I truly hope this never happens. There is already too much negative association tied to the Confederacy, because ignorant people automatically link it with the Ku Klux Klan. This isn't the case, however, as they are two separate entities entirely. The Sons of Confederate Veterans only wish to preserve their ancestors' legacy, and slavery isn't even an issue, just as it wasn't an issue for Southern soldiers. They didn't give up their lives for abolition, but for self-preservation. They fought to defend their homeland, just as their ancestors had during the American Revolution. Preserving the past is our responsibility, and our duty to our ancestors. Whether we hold their same beliefs or not is irrelevant. They sacrificed their lives for a cause they believed in, and we should honor them for that above all else.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Being a Reenactor Takes Dedication

This weekend, I am attending a Civil War reenactment in Mason City, Iowa. While putting a list together of things I'll need, I got to thinking about the reenactors themselves. Many travel all over the country to attend reenactments, which generally take place from March through November, and participate in an average of two a month. These are dedicated folks, to be sure, for they invest a lot of their time, money, and energy into such events. In many instances, entire families get involved. Checking out costumes and uniforms on Ebay, I saw that they cost hundreds of dollars, and by the time you throw in authentic shoes, undergarments, weapons, etc., the cost can add up into the thousands. On top of that, these reenactors drive for days to participate,(some toting cannons behind their trucks), camp out all weekend, usually don't have access to running water, and have to tolerate those nasty wool uniforms.

Some would find it ludicrous that these "Civil War junkies" are so obsessed that they would pursue such a hobby. But I say, more power to them. Many of the soldiers are actually retired veterans who enjoy reenacting so that audiences can see what it was like back then to be in the army. Teaching living history is educational and fun, even if it means passing out from heat stroke on the battlefield. Now that's dedication!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Owner of a Broken Heart

It's hard to imagine what it must be like to have to give up your child. My son, who just left for school, was here for two months, and we had a great time. It doesn't seem like summer should end this soon! Now our big house is really empty without him. Knowing he'll be back at Christmas is a consolation, but it's still pretty lonely around here.

I can't possibly fathom what it must feel like to watch a child go off to war, knowing he might never return. Or seeing his name listed amongst the casualties in the local newspaper. And sometimes, the mystery of what happened to him is never resolved.

To all the parents that have had to deal with that heartache and loss, I salute you. My heart is breaking just giving my kid back to college. I guess I'm blessed in that respect.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A man's best friend is his dog ... or his eagle?

Because I have always been an animal lover, I can't imagine my life without pets. At present, we own five dogs, three cats, two birds, and a tank full of fish. That number has downsized considerably over the past few years. I think we've had every kind of pet imaginable, both domesticated and wild. Whenever we take a road trip, our little dachshund, Dixie, travels with us.

Soldiers fighting in the War Between the States weren't any different. They brought along their dogs and cats, as well as domesticated livestock, and made squirrels, bears, and raccoons into pets, amongst just about any other kind of wildlife. Regiments sometimes chose animals to represent them as mascots. The 8th Regiment Wisconsin Volunteers even had an eagle named Old Abe represent them.

General Lee had a pet hen, George Armstrong Custer had numerous dogs, and Sallie, unofficial mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania, is carved in bronze on the regimental monument at Gettysburg. There are many other famous canines that accompanied their masters to the battlefield ... and to their death. A few are even buried there.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Guess Being a Civil War Buff Does Pay Off

Last night (or should I say this morning) I was up until 2 a.m. helping my 20-year-old son study for his history final. Lucky for me, if was about the Civil War, the one piece of American history that I actually have an interest in. To make a long story short, I quizzed him, and gave him memorization ideas, as well as little anecdotes, to help him remember, and it paid off. He called me after his test to inform me that he had aced it!

I know not everyone has the privilege of being taught by experts, be they novelists, historians, scientists, what have you. It's funny how my fascination about the Civil War has spread to other people. My husband didn't have the slightest interest until I dragged him into it. Now he's a member of the SCV, attends reenactments, and loves delving into round table discussions. Hopefully, my passion will filter down to my kids, as I believe it has, enough to inspire them to follow their dreams and never give up.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A horse is a horse ... or is it?

Everyone knows that horses and mules played an enormous role during the Civil War, and many thousands gave up their lives throughout the duration. Their average life expectancy was a mere six months. These unsung heroes were an essential part of both armies, not only to the cavalry, but also to artillery units, for it was these mighty beasts that pulled the caissons from battlefield to battlefield. They also bore the weight of many a wagon train, consisting of ambulances, baggage, and food supply wagons. Most of these animals are long forgotten, but a few have been recorded into the annals of history.

Traveller is probably the most famous horse to serve during the War Between the States. Previously named Jeff Davis, he was General Robert E. Lee’s gray dapple mount. The horse outlived his owner, marched in his funeral procession, and afterword, “authored” a ghost-penned book about the war as seen through his eyes.

General Grant’s horse was named Cincinnati, given to him by General Sherman in 1864. The horse was the son of a famous racehorse. Other horses owned by Grant included Methuselah, Ronda, Fox, Jack, Jeff Davis, and Kangaroo.

Lexington, sire of Cincinnati, was General Sherman’s favored mount. The famous racehorse took the General through Georgia, and to the final review in Washington D.C.

“Stonewall” Jackson had a favorite horse named Old Sorrel. Because the horse was so small (the general’s feet nearly touched the ground), the equine was renamed Little Sorrel. Jackson was riding this horse when he was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville.

Baldy was the name given to General Meade’s horse. (Old Baldy was Meade’s nickname.) The horse accompanied the general through many significant battles, outliving the man, and participated in the general’s funeral procession.

Winchester (previously named Reinzi) was the prize of General Sheridan. So cherished was this animal that, upon his death, General Sheridan had the horse immortalized by stuffing him. Winchester is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

General J.E.B. Stuart’s horse, Virginia, is credited with preventing his capture. The magnificent mare jumped a large ditch, leaving her Yankee pursuers behind.

The infamous Confederate spy, Belle Boyd, rode a mount appropriately named Fleeter.

General Nathan Bedford Forrest held the worst record, having thirty-nine horses shot out from under him. He is quoted as saying that he “ended the war a horse ahead,” meaning he killed thirty-eight Yankees.

These are but a few of the horses that held special places in the hearts of their masters. In an age where vehicles have become disposable, isn’t it interesting that these wonderful equines are still celebrated today?