Inspirational Stories of Love, Faith & Family Set in 19th Century America

Category: U.S. Civil War

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Most history buffs are familiar with Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America. But did you know about the other Jefferson Davis during the Civil War?

Jefferson C. Davis was a regular officer for the Union Army and is most noted for killing a superior officer in 1862. Davis served with distinction during the Mexican-American war and was held in high regard when the Civil War erupted. His leadership in early battles like Pea Ridge in Arkansas saw Davis quickly promoted to the rank of Brigadier General.

News of the shooting was covered in newspapers throughout the North and South.

Not long after, in September 1862, he was assigned to General William “Bull” Nelson in Louisville, Kentucky. Nelson grew increasingly dissatisfied with Davis’ performance and allegedly insulted him in front of fellow officers. A boisterous argument ensued and shortly thereafter. Witness claim that Nelson slapped Davis. Davis demanded an apology from his commanding officer and when one was not forth coming, he borrowed a pistol from a friend and fatally shot General Nelson. Davis did not try to escape and was temporarily taken into custody but was released in October of 1862 with his paperwork citing a lack of  available officers to hold a proper trial. Davis walked away and returned to duty as if nothing ever happened.

Mistaken Identify

About a year later, during the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, Davis’s shared name finally caused confusion on the battlefield. One evening, near Horseshoe Ridge, skirmishes between the Union and Confederate armies continued as the light of day drew dim. That’s when the Union’s 21st Ohio volunteer regiment noticed a large group of men advancing toward them. While most assumed they were Union reinforcements a few were suspicious and one soldier called out seeking identification. The returning reply was “Jeff Davis’ troops.” The Federals, now feeling assured that the approaching men were fellow Union soldiers, were shocked when guns were suddenly pointed at them and they were ordered to surrender by the 7th Regiment Florida infantry.

And that’s how a simple case of mistaken identity caused a portion of the Union’s 21st Ohio regiment to surrender during a conflict the Confederates would eventually win.

Your turn: Do you know a story of mistaken identity? If so, please share in the comments below.

 

The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga

Image Courtesy of Library of Congress

Every now and then I stumble on some little footnote of history that absolutely fascinates me. This summer while on vacation, my husband and I toured the Chickamauga Battlefield and learned about a young soldier named Joseph Klem. And, by young, I mean very young. During the Battle of Chicamauga, Klem, who was now known as “Johnny Clem,” was a mere 12 years old.

Our story begins in May of 1861 when little Joseph, age 9, ran away from his home in Ohio to sign up with the Union Army only to find out the Federal Army (3rd Ohio Regiment) wasn’t in the business of  “enlisting infants.” Determined to find his place, Clem approached the commander of the 22nd Michigan and was again rebuffed. Undeterred, Clem tagged after the regiment acting out the role of a drummer boy. His persistence paid off and Clem was allowed to remain with the unit performing various camp duties for which he was paid $13 a month. Since he was not officially enlisted in the Union Army, Clem’s salary was paid collectively by the regiment’s officers.

John Lincoln Clem, Facts

Image courtesy of American History Central

In April of the following year, Clem’s drum was struck by an artillery round during the Battle of Shiloh. This garnered the boy some minor attention from the press who dubbed him “Johnny Shiloh, The Smallest Drummer.” Not long after, Clem was officially enrolled in the Federal Army, received his own pay, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant—the youngest non-commissioned officer in U.S. Army history at the unbelievable age of 12.

But it wasn’t until September of 1863 that young Johnny came to national attention. During the Battle of Chickamauga, he joined the 22nd Michigan in the defense of Horseshoe Ridge wielding a musket that had been sawed down to his size. As the Rebels surrounded Union forces, a Confederate officer is reported to have shouted at Clem, “Surrender you damned little Yankee devil!” Johnny stood his ground and shot the colonel dead. This demonstration of fortitude earned Clem national recognition and the moniker, “The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga.”

Following the Civil War and a failed attempt to attend West Point, Clem made a personal appeal to President Ulysses S. Grant, his commanding general at Shiloh, for an appointment to the Regular Army. On December 18, 1871, Clem became a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army and in 1903 he attained the rank of Colonel and served as Assistant Quartermaster General. After 55 years, Clem retired from the Army as a Major General in 1916—last Civil War veteran to actively serve in the U.S. Army.

General Clem, The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga, died in San Antonio, Texas on May 13, 1937, exactly 3 months shy of his 86th birthday. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

I love nerdy history snippets like this? Had you heard of  The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga before reading this post?

Beyond These War-Torn Lands by Cynthia Roemer & a Giveaway

I’m so excited to welcome friend, fellow author, and critique partner, Cynthia Roemer back to Romancing History today. Cynthia’s latest novel, Beyond These War-Torn Lands, releases next Tuesday, August 3rd and I know y’all are gonna love Drew and Caroline’s story as much as I did!

As you can imagine, writing historical romance requires an author to delve into the time period—the clothes, speech patterns, foods, tools, and events of the era in which they write. Today Cynthia is going to share some of the behind-the-scenes research she did to bring her Civil War novel to life on the page.

And, Cynthia is giving away a signed, print copy of Beyond These War-Torn Lands, too! So make sure to see the Giveaway section at the bottom of this post and leave a comment!


When I decided to write a Civil War novel, I knew I was in for a lot of research. I’m not sure how I settled on The Battle of Monocacy Junction to start the novel off (timing, placement), but I soon found myself engrossed in learning about this lesser-known battle along the Monocacy River in Maryland. This battle, though a loss for the Union, turned out to be an ultimate victory for the men in blue.

Here’s why:

The Monocacy River, Maryland

The day-long battle began early in the morning of July 9, 1864 and lasted well into the evening. General Lew Wallace commanded the Union troops, while General Jubal Early led the Confederates. The two sides volleyed back and forth throughout the scorching heat until they landed smackdab in the cornfields and yards of some of the neighboring residents—the Best family, Thomas family, and Worthington family.

Several of the residents, such as six-year-old Glenn Worthington and his older brother Henry, hunkered in their cellars watching the battle through cracks in the walls. Glenn later wrote an account of the experience in his book, Fighting for Time.

Waves of skirmishes ended with Wallace’s men fleeing, leaving a horde of dead and wounded in their wake. The Confederate army had intended to storm Washington and take over the city. However, the delay at Monocacy Junction allowed the Union time to send for reinforcements and spare their Capital a takeover. Therefore, the battle at Monocacy became known as The Battle That Saved Washington.

As I was delving into my research, our hostess, Kelly Goshorn, and I had just become friends and critique partners. When I found out she lived within an hour of the very battle I was researching, and that the site had been preserved for visitors, I was ecstatic! Though Kelly hadn’t visited the site herself, she graciously offered to house me if I was able to make the trip out. I had high hopes of doing so and then … the Pandemic hit.

Followed by a cancer diagnosis.

Between the two unexpected challenges, I knew I would be unable to make the trip. But thank the Lord for carrying me through my health ordeal and for all the wonderful online resources available. Via the internet, I was able to access so much information about the National Battlefield at Monocacy Junction, among other historical events and people that found their way into my novel, Beyond These War-Torn Lands. Kelly proved a help as well, for she had visited some of the sites included in the book.

In the opening scene of Beyond These War-Torn Lands, my hero, Sergeant Andrew (Drew) Gallagher, is injured at the Battle of Monocacy Junction and would have become a casualty of war had my heroine, Caroline Dunbar not happened upon him while on her way to aid wounded Confederates at her neighbors—the Worthington and Thomas families.

 How I relished weaving my characters into history during one of America’s most challenging and fascinating eras. I’ll leave the rest of the story for you to discover, but I assure you, Drew and Caroline have quite a journey ahead of them before their happily ever after!

**One other historical tidbit I found in my research. If you’ve read or seen the movie, Ben Hur, you might find it interesting that it was written by none other than the retired Union General Lew Wallace!!


About the Book

The War brought them together ~ Would it also tear them apart?

While en route to aid Confederate soldiers injured in battle near her home, Southerner Caroline Dunbar stumbles across a wounded Union sergeant. Unable to ignore his plea for help, she tends his injuries and hides him away, only to find her attachment to him deepen with each passing day. But when her secret is discovered, Caroline incurs her father’s wrath and, in turn, unlocks a dark secret from the past which she is determined to unravel.

After being forced to flee his place of refuge, Sergeant Andrew Gallagher fears he’s seen the last of Caroline. Resolved not to let that happen, when the war ends, he seeks her out, only to discover she’s been sent away. When word reaches him that President Lincoln has been shot, Drew is assigned the task of tracking down the assassin. A chance encounter with Caroline revives his hopes, until he learns she may be involved in a plot to aid the assassin.

Beyond These War-Torn Lands is available on Amazon

About the Author

Cynthia Roemer is an inspirational, bestselling author with a heart for scattering seeds of hope into the hearts of readers. Raised in the cornfields of rural Illinois, Cynthia enjoys spinning tales set in the backdrop of the mid-1800’s prairie and Civil War era. Her Prairie Sky Series consists of Amazon bestseller, Under This Same Sky, Under Prairie Skies, and Under Moonlit Skies, a 2020 Selah Award winning novel.

Cynthia writes from her family farm in central Illinois where she resides with her husband of almost thirty years. They have two grown sons and a daughter-in-love. When she isn’t writing or researching, Cynthia can be found hiking, biking, gardening, reading, or riding sidesaddle with her husband in the combine or on their motorcycle. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. To learn more about Cynthia and writing journey, sign up for her author newsletter or visit her online at: her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, BookBub, or GoodReads.


This giveaway is now closed!

Congrats to Lila, the winner of the signed copy of Beyond These War-Torn Lands!

Giveaway**

Cynthia is giving away one signed print copy of Beyond These War-Torn Lands to one lucky Romancing History reader. To enter, tell us what your favorite period of American history is to read about and why.

**Giveaway ends midnight, August 4th**

5 Little Known Facts About the Civil War

The Civil War remains the defining moment in America’s history. While the Revolution gave birth to the United States, the Civil War  determined what kind of nation it would be.

According to the Library of Congress, over 70,000 books have been written on the civil war and that doesn’t include books that may contain Civil War related material but are catalogued separately.

Here are 5 little known, yet interesting facts about the Civil War that you may not be aware of:

1. One-third of the soldiers who fought for the Union Army were immigrants
I was surprised to learn the number of immigrants among the ranks of Civil War soldiers was that high. As it turns out, the Union Army was a diverse, multicultural fighting force. We often hear about Irish soldiers (7.5 percent of the army), but the Union’s ranks included even more Germans (10 percent), who marched off in regiments such as the Steuben Guard. Other immigrant soldiers were French, Italian, Polish, English and Scottish. In fact, one in four regiments contained a majority of foreigners.

At right is a recruitment broadside aimed at  New York’s German immigrants to fight for “your country”: Bürger, Euer Land ist in Gefahr! Zu den Waffen! Zu den Waffen! (Citizens, your country is in danger! To arms! To arms!)

 

Sketch of the John Adams, which carried Tubman, firing upon the Combahee Ferry

2. Harriet Tubman led a raid to free slaves during the Civil War
Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave who led others to freedom on the Underground Railroad before the war, arrived at the Union camp at Port Royal, South Carolina, in the spring of 1862 to support the Union cause. On the night of June 2nd three federal gunboats set sail from Beaufort, South Carolina up the Combahee River. Tubman had gained vital information about the location of Rebel torpedoes planted along the river from slaves who were willing to trade information for freedom.

Because of this information Tubman was able to steer the Union ships away from any danger. She led the ships to specific spots along the shore where fugitive slaves were hiding and waiting to be rescued. More than 720 slaves were shuttled to freedom during the mission reminding Tubman of  “the children of Israel coming out of Egypt.” On the ferry mission, Tubman liberated ten times the number of slaves she had freed in ten years operating the Underground Railroad.

3. More men died from disease than bullets during the Civil War
Approximately 625,000 men died in the Civil War, more Americans than in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined. Although rifles were by far the war’s deadliest weapons, deadlier still was disease. For every three soldiers killed in battle, five more died from disease. In 1861, as armies massed, men once protected from disease by isolation now lived, marched and fought side by side in close proximity to one another. Camps became breeding grounds for childhood diseases such as mumps, chicken pox and measles. Soldiers on both sides contracted malaria and dysentery, and epidemics were common.

Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

4. Some bullets fired during the Civil War actually fused together
The two Minie balls pictured at left collided in midair on “Bloody Hill” during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, August 10, 1861. One is .69 caliber, the other .58 caliber; they were recovered in the early 1950s. Two bullets colliding in midair is a relatively rare occurrence, and bears witness to the heavy fighting that took place on “Bloody Hill.” Sergeant George W. Hutt, of the 1st Kansas Infantry, described the fight as “a perfect hurricane of bullets.”

 

 

Photo taken on November 17, 1865, depicting Company E, 4th US Colored Troops at Fort Lincoln, North Dakota

5. The Emancipation Proclamation did not ban slavery
Prior to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 obligated non-slave states to return escaped slaves back to their owners. Lincoln’s Proclamation was meant to punish the Confederate States, not make slavery illegal. Since Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri didn’t rebel against the Union, they were allowed to keep their slaves. Slaves who managed to escape the Confederate States into Union territory could join the military in return for a salary, but could not become Union citizens. Black soldiers eventually made up one-tenth of the Union Army. Some historians believe that this influx helped to turn the tide of the war in favor of the Union.

What interesting facts do you know about the Civil War? Please share in the comments below.

 

 

The Civil War’s Biggest Debacle You Probably Never Heard Of

Baker’s Crossing at Ball’s Bluff

As a lover of history, I’m blessed to make my home in the northwestern corner of Virginia anywhere from a few miles to a few hours drive from many of our nation’s richest historical treasures. Places like Jamestown, Monticello, Mount Vernon, Gettysburg, Antietam, Yorktown, Williamsburg, Fredericksburg, Harper’s Ferry, Fort McHenry and of course, our nation’s capital, just to name a few.

Nestled behind a residential neighborhood in Leesburg, Virginia, the small town where I grew up, is the site where one of the first major debacles of the Civil War took place–the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. Compared to places like Gettysburg, Franklin and Antietam, Ball’s Bluff is merely a skirmish in the opening days of our nation’s Civil War. Like most civil war battlefields, quiet cannons inform visitors that this hidden spot at the end of a gravel road once roared with the sound of artillery shells, the whistle of minie balls and most likely the deafening sound of the rebel yell.

Today, you can hike down the footpath past a national cemetery and eventually come to a precipice about 120 feet above the Potomac River. A ridge that proved quite deadly for Union forces on October 21, 1861.

Potomac overlook at Ball’s Bluff National Military Cemetery

The Potomac was not only a vital waterway for the transportation of troops and supplies but it held significant symbolism as the boundary between northern and southern states. “As soon as secession happened, the Potomac became the most important river in the Civil War,” said Jonathan Earle, an associate professor of history at the University of Kansas. “The Potomac was a psychological border as well as a physical one.”

In the fall of 1861, with Confederate troops camped in Manassas, Virginia, only 25 miles from the U.S. capital, control of the river was imperative for Federal troops. General McClellan, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, didn’t want to cede control of the upper Potomac and lose access to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad at Point of Rocks, Maryland and Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). Learning that Rebels were positioned at the bluff in Leesburg, McClellan wired General Charles P. Stone, stationed in Poolesville, Maryland, across the Potomac from Leesburg, suggesting that “perhaps a slight demonstration on your part would have the effect to move them.”

High ground claimed by Confederate forces at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff

General Stone sent three regiments across the river, one at Ball’s Bluff and two at Edwards Ferry a few miles downriver. There wasn’t a bridge anywhere along that stretch of the river, and it was too deep to ford, so they had to rely on boats. Only three were available at Harrison’s Island, a two-mile strip of land occupying a bend in the Potomac facing Ball’s Bluff. Stone informed McClellan, “We are a little short of boats.”

They were also short on military strategy. The man who quickly took command of the operation was the U.S. Senator from Oregon, Colonel Edward Baker. Baker was an advocate of “bold and determined” action and a close friend of President Lincoln’s. Although gifted in oratory, the colonel was deficient in military strategy allowing Union forces to be cornered against a bluff overlooking the river, with only a few skiffs available if retreat became necessary.

It was the perfect recipe for a military tragedy: sketchy information, a river too deep to ford, not enough boats and soldiers who couldn’t swim.

Confederate and Union fores engage in hand-to-hand combat as federal forces attempt to rescue the body of Colonel Edward Baker.

Unbeknownst to Baker, the Confederate commander, General Nathan G. “Shanks” Evans, had sent his men from Edwards Ferry to Ball’s Bluff. The rebels had superior position in the woods, picking off Baker’s men as they struggled to ascend the ridge. Baker himself began working artillery pieces. The rebels charged, whooping, and the fighting turned hand to hand.

The New York World reported what happened next: “One huge red-haired ruffian drew a revolver, came close to Baker, and fired four balls at the general’s head, every one of which took effect, and a glorious soul fled through their ghastly openings.” The Battle of Ball’s Bluff still remains the only military engagement where a sitting U.S. senator was killed in action.

Hundreds of Union soldiers scrambled and stumbled down the steep bluff. So many boarded a flatboat that it foundered. Soon all three skiffs had sunk. Rebels stood atop the bluff and fired at the men below. It was, the rebels would say later, like a “turkey shoot.” Whom the bullets didn’t kill, the water did. Dozens of men drowned burdened by wool uniforms, boots and heavy weapons.

Retreating Union soldiers weigh down a skiff in the Potomac River

No one could claim the Federals lacked courage however a case could be made for incompetent leadership. Ball’s Bluff inspired Congress to create the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. It’s first victim was Gen. Charles P. Stone, accused unjustly and irrationally of treason and thrown without formal charges into a prison cell in New York harbor. Stone was eventually released and returned to the Union cause, but his reputation never fully recovered from the Ball’s Bluff calamity.

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff taught the Union an important lesson about the importance of military principles, of logistics, of avenues of retreat. Coming after the Union defeat in Manassas, Ball’s Bluff foreshadowed what history has taught us–the suppression of the Confederacy would be a long and bloody endeavor. Anyone in Washington who remained unclear about the challenge facing the Union needed merely to visit the banks of the Potomac where the bodies of Union soldiers were washing up as far down river as Mount Vernon.

This modern image of the Potomac River below Ball’s Bluff National Cemetery is serene now compared to the day she swallowed so many Union soldiers in 1861.

I’m curious how many readers have heard of this tragic encounter at Ball’s Bluff before reading today’s post.

 

 

Letters from History: An Ex-slave Writes His Former Master

Long before God put a dream in my heart to be a writer, I loved the written word. The ability to skillfully craft your thoughts and manipulate the words to convey the exact meaning you desire is a benefit that oral communication often lacks. As a lover of history, diaries and letters from generations gone by provide glimpses into a culture and way of life that is often hard for us to understand in the 21st century. The vocabulary can tell us if the writer was educated and the tone can give insight into the character of the person who penned it.

One such letter recently caught my attention. In “A Letter from a Freedman to His Old Master,” Jourdan Anderson responds to his former master’s request that he return to the family’s plantation and help restore the farm to it’s pre-Civil War . In his letter, Jourdan’s satirical wit shines and is often compared to the dry humor of American novelist, Mart Twain.

Jourdan Anderson

Who was Jordan Anderson?

Not much is known about the former slave other than he was born “somewhere” in Tennessee in 1825.  He was later sold as a young boy of 7 or 8 years to General Paulding Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee. The General gifted Jourdan to his son Patrick who often went by his middle name, Henry. Jourdan went on to become one of the most skilled workers on the Anderson’s plantation. In 1848, her married Amanda McGregor on the Anderson’s plantation and together they had 11 children.

Similar to most slaves, the outbreak of the civil war changed Jourdan’s life very life little. However in 1864, a group of Union soldiers stumbled upon Jourdan toiling on the property and granted him, his wife and children their freedom, making the act official with papers from the Provost Marshal General of Nashville. Documents Jordan would treasure for the rest of his life.

With his new emancipation papers in hand, Jourdan and his family promptly left the plantation. An act that angered Henry so greatly he shot at his former slave repeatedly as he fled with his family, only ceasing to fire when a neighbor grabbed Henry’s pistol.

Jourdan and his family eventually made their way to Dayton, Ohio where a local abolitionist, Valentine Winters, helped him and his wife secure employment. While there, the couple’s children were enrolled in school, something the illiterate Jourdan was never allowed to do.

Now this is where the story gets really interesting.

It was here in 1865, that Jourdan received a letter from his former master, Henry Anderson. Unable to read, Jourdan took the letter to Winters and asked him to read it aloud. As it turns out, the letter audaciously invited Jourdan and his family to to return to the Big Spring plantation which had fallen into disrepair. Deeply in debt and desperate to save himself from financial ruin, Henry implored his former slave, a man he knew had the skills to save the plantation, to not only return himself but to convince other freed slaves to come with him. In the letter, Anderson promises to pay any laborers for their work and to treat them as any other freed man.

Jourdan’s original letter reprinted in the Salt Lake Tribune, August 1865.

Some people would have had a good laugh then ball up the letter and throw it away, taking delight in his former master’s change of circumstances. But Jourdan had another idea. After several days of pondering Henry’s offer, Jourdan invited Winters to his home and requested that he write a letter in response that Jourdan would dictate. At Jourdan’s request, Winters sent the following letter to the man who had enslaved his family that Jourdan himself titled, “A Letter from a Freedman to His Old Master.”

 

“A Letter from a Freedman to His Old Master”

Dayton, Ohio,
August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,
Jourdon Anderson.

From Former Slave to Media Sensation

As fate would have it, if Jourdan had crumpled up that tempting offer of employment from his former owner and gone on with his peaceful life in Ohio, we wouldn’t be talking about him today. You see, Jourdan’s friend, Valentine Winters later had the letter published in the Cincinnati Commercial under the same title. The satirical eloquence with which Jourdan politely told his boss where he could shove his offer of employment made the letter immensely popular. Eventually the letter was reprinted in papers across the country and even in Europe, making Jourdan a media sensation by today’s standards and his former master a laughing stock.

To no one’s surprise, Henry never took Jordan up on his offer to pay him 50 years of past wages up front and Jourdan’s highly publicized response likely prevented any of the family’s other slaves from being tempted back to the family’s Tennessee plantation. As a result, the crops that year were never harvested. Henry, deeply in debt, had to sell the plantation for a fraction of its worth and he died penniless and destitute a few years later at age 44.

As for Jordan, he lived and worked in Dayton for the rest of his life, dying in 1907 at the age of 81. His beloved wife, Mandy, died six years later and is buried alongside him.

What is your reaction to Jourdan’s letter? If you had been in his shoes, would you have feared any retribution?

 

What’s Napoleon Hiding in There?

Napoleon in His Study, by Jacques Louis David, 1812

Napoleon in His Study, by Jacques Louis David, 1812

Have you ever wondered what men are hiding inside their waist coats in all those classical portraits?

You know what I’m talking about, right? All those stately portraits from the 18th and 19th century where men are posed with their right hand tucked inside their clothing. It seems rather odd to me. Who really stands that way? What could they be hiding? Perhaps a snack in case the portrait session lasted too long? Maybe a weapon in case the artist didn’t portray them in a favorable manner? Some have suggested that the portrait’s subject had an ulcer or other stomach ailment, or perhaps he is winding his watch or scratching an itch.

It seems the real reason is quite simple.

Early in the 18th century, English portrait artists began looking to classical orators and the postures used in ancient Greek and Roman statuary for their inspiration.  The hidden-hand pose, according to the Greeks, conveyed calm assurance and became popular among the nation’s statesmen. In fact, many Greeks considered it rude to speak with your hands outside of your clothing especially when discussing matters of state.

Statue of Aeschines, Greek Orator

Statue of Aeschines, Greek Orator

By the time of Aeschines, a famous Greek statesman and orator, the tradition had gone out of vogue. But in his speech, Against Timarchus (346 B.C.), Aeschines challenges Timarchus and all Greek statesmen to reinstate the custom:

“And so decorous were those public men of old, Pericles [495-429 B.C.], Themistocles [524-459 B.C.], and Aristeides [530-468 B.C.] (who was called by a name most unlike that by which Timarchus here is called), that to speak with the arm outside the cloak, as we all do nowadays as a matter of course, was regarded then as an ill-mannered thing, and they carefully refrained from doing it. And I can point to a piece of evidence which seems to me very weighty and tangible. I am sure you have all sailed over to Salamis, and have seen the statue of Solon [638-558 B.C.] there. You can therefore yourselves bear witness that in the statue that is set up in the Salaminian market-place Solon stands with his arm inside his cloak. Now this is a reminiscence, fellow citizens, and an imitation of the posture of Solon, showing his customary bearing as he used to address the people of Athens.”

Marquis de Layfayette, portrait by Charles Wilson Peale

Marquis de Lafayette, portrait by Charles Wilson Peale

While Napoleon’s portrait by Jacques Louis David may be the most iconic depiction of a “hidden hand” portrait, the fad had been revived nearly a hundred years earlier. Francois Nivelon’s A Book Of Genteel Behavior of 1738 states the hand-inside-vest pose denoted “manly boldness tempered with modesty.” It seems the English elite liked this portrayal of themselves and began commissioning artists to paint them in the revived Greek pose. In her essay,”Re-Dressing Classical Statuary: The Eighteenth-Century ‘Hand-in-Waistcoat’ Portrait,” Arline Meyer notes the pose being used in eighteenth century British portraiture as a sign of the sitter’s breeding. The gesture became used so frequently that people questioned whether or not the artists were even capable of painting hands.

Photograph by Mathew Brady

Photograph by Mathew Brady

Even with the advent of photography, the stance continued to remain popular. Although usually photographed in a seated position, “hand-in-pocket” images can be found of American weapons inventor Samuel Colt, author of The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx, and many civil war general including Major Generals George B. McClellan, Ambrose Burnside and William Tecumseh Sherman. The practice fell out of favor by the end of the 19th century, although it was still occasionally used in the 20th century, most famously by  Joseph Stalin.

With the introduction of smart phones and their ability to take photos anywhere at anytime, do you think we’ve lost an ere of respectability in the way we represent ourselves in photos today?

 

Penny Dreadful’s Legacy

“To her and none other. Swear to give the girl to me to do with as I please, and I will agree that for every person now in yonder town, a death notch shall be made.”

“Red Hatchet agrees. When he can count the death notches of all his sworn enemies, and is free to go back to his once pretty village, he will deliver Siska to the Devil Dwarf to do with as he pleases.”

“Then call the girl. We will tap a vein in her arm, and seal this compact with a draught of her blood!” the avenger said.

~~Excerpt from Deadwood Dick’s Doom (or Calamity Jane’s Last Adventure)

Sweeney Todd, 1842

Sweeney Todd, 1842


If you love to read like I do, you may be surprised to learn that stories like Deadwood Dick’s Doom (above) paved the way for your favorite author today. These stories, originally known as Penny Dreadfuls, were the first successful mass market paperbacks. First popularized in Victorian Britain, Penny Dreadfuls, sometimes referred to as Penny Bloods, were lurid serial fiction stories published in weekly eight or sixteen page installments, with each part costing one penny. The term quickly became applied to any publication featuring sensational fiction such as story papers and booklet libraries.

Also known in Britain as Shilling Shockers, these stories could best be described in one word, melodramatic. Filled with what today’s editor’s would gleefully strike through as purple prose, these tintillating stories drew readers by romanticizing danger and hardship with larger-than-life heroes defeating villains and rescuing damsels in distress. Rambling plot lines emphasized heinous acts of poisoning, strangling, burglary and narrow escapes from sexual assault that by today’s standards would be considered racist and misogynistic.

Their authors, who might keep ten of these stories spinning simultaneously, were paid at the rate of a penny a line, which had a direct effect on the text. Skilled practitioners quickly learned that short staccato-like sentences not only were the most profitable but increased the dramatic effect as well.

Penny Dreadfuls were printed on cheap pulp paper and were aimed primarily at the working class who saw a sharp rise in literacy rates with new laws requiring mandatory education for all of Britain’s children through age nine. In addition, the proliferation of the railroad made the distribution of Penny Dreadfuls affordable to the masses at a time when traditional full-length novels by authors like Charles Dickens sold for a dollar each.

MalaeskaThe fad took hold on this side of the Atlantic as well when brothers Erastus and Irwin Beadle published Ann Stephens’ “Maleska the Indian Wife of the White Hunter” in 1860. Promoting the work as “a dollar book for a dime,” it was an instant success selling an estimated 300,000 copies in its first year. A feat any author today would would eagerly aspire to repeat.

Beadle’s early publications were printed in orange wrapper papers with no illustrations on the cover. Eventually cover art appeared enticing the curiosity of consumers with illustrations depicting scenes of mayhem and bloodshed.

Drawing on the Beadle’s success, other publishers quickly followed suit and it seemed the American reading public couldn’t get enough of their serialized fiction. Subjects in the early days were pioneer and revolutionary war stories but other adventure genres, such as pirate tales and trapper adventures, also appeared frequently. After the civil war, the focus of the novels turned to the wild west and the detective genres and remained popular through the 1950’s. In the twentieth century the genre became known as pulp fiction after the cheap paper they were printed on.

Early cover art for Beadle's Dime Novels

Early cover art for Beadle’s Dime Novels

Early full cover art for dime novels

Early full cover art for dime novels

1933 cover, still selling for ten cents

1933 cover, still selling for ten cents

Dime Westerns, as they became known in America, were often based on real people like Jesse James, Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson, and Calamity Jane. Although purely fiction, these stories helped create a new national identity of patriotism and adventure. In addition, they helped level the playing field between the social classes as people began to judge the ideal man by his actions rather than his wallet.

Just like violent video games and movies today, dime novels were blamed for an upsurge in violence in American society. PennyDreadfulcrime-briefs1The New York Tribune published this article in June, 1884, blaming societal ills on the popularity of “cheap” literature, particularly dime novels. People complained that the deviant characters in novels influenced real people, particularly young men, to behave aggressively. “The work of the dime novel is being performed with even more than usual success. The other day three boys robbed their parents and started off for the boundless West. More recently a lad in a Philadelphia public school drew a revolver on his teacher, and examination showed that seven other boys present were armed with revolvers and bowie-knives […] The class of literature which is mainly responsible for all this folly is distributed all over the country in immense quantities, and it is distinctly evil in its teachings and tendencies.”

While penny dreadfuls and dime novels focused on fantastic, escapist fiction for the general masses, there is no denying they encouraged the working class to read and influenced generations of authors and publishers. British bookseller, C.A. Stonehill, noted in 1935 that “It is highly probably that in its day more people read Thomas Prest’s “First False Step” or “The Maniac Father” than had ever heard of a book published in the same decade, entitled Jane Eyre.”

Although I may prefer to read of Jane’s trouble with the enigmatic Mr. Rochester over “Keetsea, Queen of the Plains,” or “Crack Skull Bob,” I think it would be fun to write a character who is secretly hooked on the scintillating stories with the melodrama pouring over into her own life as she suspects something heinous has occurred to a missing neighbor. In her novella, “The Husband Maneuver,” With This Ring?: A Novella Collection of Proposals Gone Awry, Karen Witemeyer (one of my favorites) created a hero whose adventures as a bounty hunter were immortalized as Dead-Eye Dan in a series of dime westerns. Talk about a fun read!

How would you incorporate a Penny Dreadful into a novel’s plot line?

Major Sullivan Ballou, Love Letters from History

persuasionThere are just some lines from a favorite book or movie that make you swoon.

You know what I’m talking about, right?

In Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Captain Frederick Wentworth is reunited with Anne Elliot, a woman who had refused his proposal at her family’s insistence years earlier. He bravely tries to win her hand again. Fearing she may accept her cousin, whom her family favors, he writes a letter professing what is most likely his final plea. The one no heart could resist. “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more yours than when you almost broke it, eight years and half ago…I have loved none but you.”

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Or does it?

Although that is one of my all-time favorite romantic declarations, it is fiction. Captain Wentworth, while dashing and honorable, never existed. Nor did his unfailing love for Anne.

But what about real life love stories?

Battle of first manassass

Col. Ambrose Burnside leads his bridge, including the 2nd Rhode Island, into battle on Matthews Hill Library of Congress

In the summer of 1861, the first major battle of the American Civil War raged near the tiny creek, Bull Run, not far from the town of Manassas, Virginia. In the days leading up to the confrontation, soldiers prepared mentally and physically for the battle by cleaning their weapons, sharpening their bayonets, and drilling in company and regimental formations.

And writing their loved ones.

Major Sullivan Ballou was one such soldier. An officer with the 2nd Rhode Island infantry, Ballou had been a lawyer and Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives who answered Lincoln’s call for volunteers. Knowing his regiment would see action, Ballou’s thoughts turned to his wife and sons. Like soldiers throughout history, he wanted them to know one last time how much they meant to him and he penned a letter his beloved Sarah would only receive if he fell in battle.

Major Sullivan Ballou and his wife, Sarah.

Major Sullivan Ballou and his wife, Sarah.

Words meant to remind her and his sons of his love.

Words that give me goosebumps 155 years later.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from his passionate letter:

“If I do not [return], my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, nor that, when my last breath escapes me on the battle-field, it will whisper your name.”

“The memories of all the blissful moments I have spent with you come crowding over me, and I feel most deeply grateful to God and you, that I have enjoyed them so long. And how hard it is for me to give them up, and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our boys grow up to honorable manhood around us.”

“…if the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air cools your throbbing temples, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dear; think I am gone, and wait for me, for we shall meet again.”

Sadly, Major Sullivan Ballou fell in battle July 21, 1861.

Like Captain Wentworth, his written words were intended to be the final time he would express his devotion to the woman who had claimed his heart. Unlike Jane Austen’s characters, Major Sullivan Ballou, his wife, Sarah, and their children were real people, with shattered dreams and broken hearts.

Love so poignantly expressed by Major Ballou to his wife is far more powerful than any fiction I’ve ever read or replayed from one of my favorite movies. It drives me to create scenes and stories that make me feel what Sullivan and Sarah felt for each other and reminds me how my own heart beats for my husband of twenty-five years.

If you thought you might never see your spouse or children again, what words would  you choose to express your love for them?

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