Monday, December 27, 2010

New Discoveries for the New Year

This week, two interesting news stories broke in regard to the War Between the States. It was announced that descendants of John Wilkes Booth are exhuming his brother's body in order to obtain DNA. It will then be compared to the person thought to be buried as John Wilkes Booth. Speculation has circulated since his death (he was shot in a barn two weeks after assassinating President Abraham Lincoln) that an impostor was actually shot, and that the real JWB escaped and lived until 1903, when he committed suicide in Enid, Oklahoma under the assumed name of John St. Helen. Theories exist that he was a member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, an elite group of Confederates who concealed Booth's identity and assisted in his escape.

Another discovery concerns a message in a bottle. The find was given to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia in 1896. It was a gift from Capt. William A. Smith, of King George County, who served during the Vicksburg siege. The message, dated July 4, 1863, was encrypted, and the curator of the museum finally became curious enough to find out what was inside the tiny 2" bottle. Essentially, the author, who is believed to have been Maj. Gen. John G. Walker, of the Texas Division, and who had under his command William Smith, the donor of the bottle, stated that he was unable to provide support to General Pemberton, the Confederate General who was under siege in Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was on that same day that the Confederate army surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant's Union forces.|htmlws-main-n|dl1|sec1_lnk3|192058

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas One and All!

Here's to wishing everyone a very merry Christmas. I realize that I am being unconventional by not stating "Happy Holidays," but I have a different take on all the political correctness. It is my opinion that you shouldn't say happy holidays merely to avoid offending those who aren't Christians. I tell everyone merry Christmas to celebrate my own Christianity. That is my belief and I should not be forced to be ashamed of it.

That being said, remember the familiar adage that Jesus is the reason for the season. If you have the opportunity, attend a church service on Christmas Eve. I guarantee that it will inspire you. For all those who have suffered loss this year, God bless you. And a very special "Merry Christmas" to our armed forces personnel, who are far from home, missing their families.


Monday, December 20, 2010

And So It Begins

Today marks the 150th anniversary of South Carolina's secession from the Union, and the escalating events that led to America's greatest tragedy, the Civil War. In 1860, the governor of South Carolina recommended that, if Lincoln was elected, the only honorable thing to do would be to secede. So on December 17, which would have been 150 years ago last Friday, delegates to the South Carolina Convention met in Columbia. Because of a smallpox outbreak, the convention was adjourned until the 20th, and an Ordinance of Secession was passed within hours. The vote was 169 in favor to zero opposed.

The wife of one of South Carolina's senators, Mary Chesnut, was traveling home by train when she heard the news "...that Lincoln was elected and our fate sealed." She also wrote that "South Carolina had been ... rampant for years. She was the torment of herself and everybody else ... South Carolina had exasperated and heated themselves (sic) into a fever that only a bloodletting could ever cure." Judge Pettigru, who was possibly the only Unionist in the state, remarked that "South Carolina is too small for a republic but too big for an insane asylum."

It wouldn't be long before several other southern states joined South Carolina in the cause. From here on out, I will be documenting these events as they occurred over the course of a four-year span. Hope you enjoy!

Friday, December 17, 2010

UDC Christmas

Last Monday night, my United Daughters of the Confederacy chapter (Varina Howell Davis #2559 in Horn Lake, Mississippi) celebrated Christmas with our annual party. We had a good turnout, and enjoyed lots of great food, friendship, and games! We also participated in a secret Santa gift exchange.

The ladies of the UDC have much to celebrate. This year we participated in the Southaven Christmas parade, and recently learned that our float placed FIRST PLACE! We deserve it after traveling the parade route (4 miles) in frigid Mississippi December weather, over hill and dale, and overcoming a locked vehicle. Fortunately, no one fell down this year!

My chapter also participated in Southern Lights, which is a Southaven tradition. The UDC works one night at the gate each year, and this is one of our primary money makers. It is my understanding that we collected enough to make our goal this year. The Christmas season is indeed a special one when we have so many friends to celebrate it with.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Battle of Fredericksburg

Monday marks the 148th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia. It was during this battle that Burnside's Union forces faced defeat at the hands of General Lee's Confederates, who were entrenched on Marye's Heights. The Yankees were literally mowed down, and during the course of the bitter cold night, suffered tremendously, their cries and moans echoing in the still December air to the distraught ears of the Rebels.

One remarkable soldier laid his life on the line to assist the poor soldiers he was fighting against. This is a profound gesture, because the Union soldiers had pillaged the town upon their arrival, driving the remaining citizens into the woods to fend for themselves. Private Richard Rowland Kirkland, only nineteen years old, ventured out onto the battlefield to offer fallen Yankees sips of water from his canteen. Because of his bravery, he is forever known as "The Angel of Marye's Heights." He was killed a year later at the Battle of Chickamauga.

The battlefield has been honorably preserved, as has a house that survived the midst of battle and still has bullet hole pock mark scars to prove it. My novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, discusses the battle, and the remarkable thing that occurred afterward. Once the fighting had ceased, Northern Lights became visible in the winter sky. This was extremely unusual, as they are normally not seen that far south. The Confederates took it as a sign from God that he approved of their victory.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Blandford Church

While on a recent trip through Virginia, I was able to visit the historic Blandford Church, located in Petersburg. The church is nearly as old as Virginia itself, having been built in 1735. It sat vacant for nearly a century, from 1800 to 1900, but during the War Between the States, it was used as a field hospital. The structure is a simple one-story, with a balcony that was later taken out.

After the war, Louis Tiffany was commissioned to create stained glass windows in honor of the southern states, each one portrayed by a saint. These include St. John for Virginia, St. Peter for Missouri, St Mark for South Carolina, St. Bartholomew for North Carolina, St. Paul for Louisiana, St James for Mississippi, St. Philip for Tennessee, St. Thomas for Georgia, St. Matthew for Florida, St. Luke for Texas, and St. Andrew for Alabama. Two smaller windows at the back of the church represent Arkansas and Maryland. Every saint has subtle details included within the window. There is also a poem etched in pencil on one of the walls, which is thought to have been composed by either Edgar Allen Poe or Tyrone Powers.

There are only five states that have Tiffany glass windows, and they are in Virginia, New York (which has two), Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Outside the church is a cemetery where 30,000 Confederate soldiers are buried. The cemetery's entrance is marked by a huge granite arch. There are no weekly services conducted, but the church does hold wedding and summer services, as well as a Sons of Confederates Christmas program. This year's program is entitled, "The Winter of 1864," and letters from soldiers will be read. If you have the opportunity, visit this beautiful, amazing old church.