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?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Developing Character(s)

One of the reasons why I enjoy writing novels is because it gives me an opportunity to invent interesting characters. There are several approaches I take when inventing people for my stories. One is by observing others around me, whether it be at the mall, the theater, a restaurant, or a ball game. It’s even better to engage people in conversations, thus getting a better feel of what they’re all about. Another is to draw upon people I know personally. In some instances, I combine several people’s qualities into one character.

Recently, I saw Jackie Collins give an interview on a late night talk show. She discussed how the talk show host was actually a character in her new book. Humorous, yet inventive, if you ask me. She explained how she travels around the globe, meeting interesting specimens to convert into words on a page. And she is not alone. Many authors do exactly the same thing.

This idea isn’t new, nor is it a surprise. Just the other day, my librarian learned that I was writing another novel, and excitedly volunteered to be a character in my book. “I grew up on a plantation!” she informed, and proceeded to describe herself in detail. Someday, she might be pleasantly surprised … I just might take her up on her offer!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Book Signing a Big Success!

I'd like to thank everyone for coming out to Davis-Kidd on Saturday for my book signing. It was a lot of fun! I had the opportunity to meet three other local authors, and talk about my book. It's always fun to meet new people and have discussions with them. It seems that everyone has a story about how the Civil War relates to them, and I never tire of hearing their anecdotes.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Book Signing at Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Memphis, Sat. 1-2 P.M.

At my book signing tomorrow, I plan on discussing the serious problem of urban sprawl, which is overtaking significant Civil War battlefields. At the SCV meeting this week, a friend told me about a Confederate cemetery near Chattanooga, Tennessee that was forgotten in some guy's field, and the grave markers had deteriorated so badly that they were illegible. The SCV could only erect a mass marker for these poor souls that were left forgotten. In my opinion, this is extremely sad!

Each year, the Civil War Preservation Trust compiles a list of the top ten most endangered Civil War battlefields. The list is as follows:

1. Gettysburg, PA
2. Wilderness, VA
3. New Market Heights, VA
4. Cedar Creek, VA
5. Monocacy, MD
6. South Mountain, MD
7. Sabine Pass, TX
8. Ft. Gaines, AL
9. Spring Hill, TN
10. Port Gibson, MS

Some of these places are in trouble due to commercial development, natural disasters, or mining operations. Some are unprotected, even by the National Park Service. I strongly urge anyone who has an interest in history to fight for preservation of these and other threatened sites. For more information, please visit

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Nathan Bedford Forrest is 188!

Last Sunday, I had the privilege of attending a ceremony in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest's 188th birthday anniversary, which was held at Nathan Bedford Forrest Park in Memphis. The park was decked out in flags from each state of the Confederacy. Members of the SCV and UDC were on hand, some dressed in period attire. The crowd was entertained by members of the 52nd Regimental String Band, who played several songs, including "Dixie." Nathan Bedford Forrest's great-great grandson, Kevin Bradley, was present, as was the great-great grandson of Jefferson Davis, Bertram Hayes-Davis.

Mr. Davis spoke about how he has had difficulty bringing recognition to his ancestors' memory. He has approached Congress, the War Department, and several museums, trying to obtain acknowledgment for his great-great grandfather's accomplishments. Most of his efforts took place last year in celebration of Jeff Davis' 200th birthday. It's a shame that racism has tarnished the truth, and that these government institutions fail to honor Jefferson Davis for all that he did for this country.

The ceremony was concluded with a musket salute and benediction, during which time some idiot who was driving by thought it would be funny to scream out an expletive. Lucky for him Tennessee hasn't passed the law allowing firearms to be used in parks! It just goes to show how ignorant some people are to the cause. I'll write more on this subject later, but the gist of it is this: these ceremonies are performed to honor our ancestors, who fought and died for their country, regardless of their beliefs. Regardless of whether we believe in them now. Regardless of what is politically correct. Forgetting that is forgetting important pieces of history, and heaven forbid they should be lost forever.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Civil War Fever

Everyone knows about Civil War reenactments that take place annually nationwide, but did you know that there are Civil War bubble gum cards? The list goes on, from books to blogs to collectors shows. There are Civil War plays, musicals, and plenty of ceremonies in honor of Civil War heroes.

More books have been written about Lincoln that any other American. There are books about Civil War cooking, in both the North and the South, non-fiction books about every battle imaginable, and novels, although they are not as common.

The Civil War lives on in living history encampments, artillery demonstrations, and musical gatherings. There are period dances, Civil War newspapers, magazines, and newsletters. And, of course, there is an unlimited supply of Civil War paraphernalia, such as calendars, clothing, costumes, clocks - you name it. With all the fascination surrounding the War Between the States, is it any wonder that our country will celebrate the sesquicentennial anniversary to the hilt?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Last Veteran’s Reunion at Gettysburg

Seventy-one years ago, a significant event took place at Gettysburg, that being the 75th anniversary of the battle, and the last reunion of Civil War veterans. In 1913, at the 50th anniversary, over 50,000 veterans attended. However, by 1938, the number of survivors had dwindled to around 10,000. The government offered to provide transportation, and so about 1,900 veterans arrived on 26 trains to celebrate, dressed in their old uniforms, or in coats, vests, and ties, regardless of the stifling heat. Their average age was ninety-four, and they were greeted with a fleet of wheelchairs, 3800 tents, which separated the Rebels from the Yankees (as though the old guys were going to go after each other!), mosquito netting, and 27 cases of whiskey. By the end of the July 3-5 weekend, only the whiskey was in short supply.

During the festivities, a dozen veterans from both sides congregated near a stone wall that had been used as Union breastworks, where they reached across and shook hands. A crowd of 150,000 attended as President Roosevelt dedicated the unveiling of the Peace Monument on Oak Hill. Two Gettysburg veterans, one Confederate, one Union, lowered the American flag to reveal the monument as the Star Spangled Banner was played.

The event, including the dedication, was broadcast on all four radio stations. It is thought that in 1938, the only authentic recording of a Confederate giving the Rebel yell was recorded. By 1952, only two Civil War veterans remained. At present, there are only five verified WWI veterans alive, two of which are Americans. In ten years, the 75th anniversary of D-Day will occur, with fewer WWII veterans alive than who celebrated last month. Sadly, yet inevitably, memories of that battle will eventually be lost, just as the fragility of human existence released those who participated in the battle at Gettysburg.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

I would like to wish everyone a happy, healthy Fourth of July weekend. While we’re out celebrating, please be considerate and cautious. Fifty-one percent of all fatalities on July 4th occur from drunk drivers, so I urge you to be alert.

This year marks the 146th anniversaries of the Battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Last year, I attended the reenactment at Gettysburg, and it was nothing less than spectacular. There were so many reenactors, artillery pieces, and horses that it was like witnessing the real thing. The experience was profound and awe-inspiring, to say the least. Some fellow SCV members have expressed their dismay at celebrating such dismal defeats. But let us keep in mind that our nation, as a whole, should celebrate this holiday together in unity, for all our freedoms.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Memphis Queen

My son and I recently took a trip down the Mississippi River on a riverboat aptly named the “Memphis Queen.” Although the vessel is only five years old, it resembles boats of days gone by. Our tour guide, an African-American gentleman with a strong Memphian accent enlightened us on local history, and the use of steamboats on the Mighty Mississippi, the “Father of Waters.”

Riverboats were widely used as a major mode of transportation during the eighteen and nineteenth centuries. They are glamorized today, even though they were extremely dangerous. Most ran on a boiler system that had a tendency to explode if the combination of steam, water, and air wasn’t properly balanced. In fact, the worst maritime disaster in American history took place in such a way.

The Sultana was docked off the Memphis shore on April 26, 1865, and loaded to six times her capacity with Union soldiers who had been released from prison, and were being transported back up north. No one knows what actually caused the explosion, but around 2 a.m. the boilers exploded, the boat caught fire, and nearly 1,800 people lost their lives. This terrible event has virtually gone unnoticed, primarily since it happened in the final days of the Civil War, and the country was preoccupied with Lee’s surrender, Lincoln’s assassination, John Wilkes Booth’s capture, and tired of hearing about death.

Another interesting tidbit we learned from our guide in relation to the War Between the States is that Mud Island, which is where the Wolf and Mississippi Rivers meet at Memphis, was formed by a Union ironclad that ran aground. The mud and silt built up around it, and once the ship was finally removed, the island remained. Mud Island is now a river park complete with a museum and amphitheatre that hosts top name musical acts.

If you’re ever in the neighborhood, I strongly recommend you take a riverboat ride on the Mississippi, and experience for yourself what it’s like to step back in time. There is nothing so serene as floating slowly down the river with the cool breeze wafting by, and imagining what our ancestors experienced.