History Behind the Story Series – Charleston Tides

Hello, friends! It’s that time again: the announcement of the articles I will write covering the history behind the story series for my next book. This is always a fun announcement because it gives you, the reader, a little sneak peak into the historical framework of the book before the book is released.

This time will be a bit different. There will be three articles, which is less than usual, but the themes were broader in this book. Plus, there will be a special guest post from my sister on an ancillary theme in the book. So without further ado, I give you the History Behind the Story Topics for Charleston Tides!

  1. Festivals of Freedom
  2. Fame of Civil War Officers
  3. Violence Against Freedmen and the Rise of Insurgent Movements
  4. Special Guest Post: Elite Free Blacks in Charleston

Welcome!

Welcome! Put on the kettle while you get acquainted with Tea & Rebellion…

You’ll find tidbits about my books, reviews, history, travel musings, and tea.  Sit back and enjoy a bit of rebellion while you sip.

-Tara

TARA COWAN has been writing novels since she was seventeen. She is the author of the Torn Asunder Series, including Southern Rain and Northern Fire. A huge lover of all things history, she loves to travel, watch British dramas, read good fiction, and spend time with her family. An attorney, Tara lives in Tennessee and is busy writing her next novel.

TARA holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Political Science, with minors in English and History, from Tennessee Tech University and a Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Tennessee College of Law.

TO CONNECT with Tara, follow her on Instagram @teaandrebellion_, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

Q&A: Charleston Tides

Hello again, friends!  The third book of the Torn Asunder Series will be available soon! To celebrate, here is a Q&A about Charleston Tides.  Some questions are about the book, some are about writing in general, and some are about me! (Just a word of caution, if you haven’t yet read Southern Rain and Northern Fire, there might be a few spoilers for those two books. However, there shouldn’t be any spoilers for Charleston Tides, and I encourage you to read the Q&A before you read the third and final book of the series.) Here we go!

Q: Which was your favorite storyline: modern or historical?

A:  I think more about the historical, but if I had to choose, it would be the modern.  I love the coastal feeling of it, and there can be something sort of magical about a contemporary tale.  The chemistry between Adrian and Adeline was always compelling for me.

Q: Do you think the modern and historical storylines overlap?

A:  I do!  There is something almost indefinable that binds the two stories together.  I have had several people tell me that they feel a close link between Shannon and Adeline.  There are several ways their stories intertwine: relationships that began quickly, the complications of parenthood or its void, fear of the uncertainties of love… There are several more, but for me, the strongest thing was that there was always something similar in the mood and tone of the two stories.  And of course, there is the house, which is the same setting for both stories for a large portion of the series; Ravenel-Thompson House is almost a character in itself!

Q: Do you have a favorite moment in the series thus far?

A:  I really liked the brief vacation to Sullivan’s Island that Adeline, Adrian, and Jude take in Northern Fire.  I also enjoy the moment that Shannon finds out it is John Thomas on the ship in Northern Fire!

Q: Are any of your characters based on people in real life?

A:  Nope!  I’ve always heard all of the fun stories about Jane Austen including her quirky neighbors and friends in her books, and I think: she could never get away with this in the South!  Part of the joy of writing to me is the creation level of it.  I don’t think it would be very fun to pattern characters after people I know because it would turn into mimicry, which takes the creative process out of it.[1]

Q: What kind of music would your main characters listen to?

A:  I think Adrian listens to Frank Sinatra and Michael Bublé in the series.  Adeline strikes me as a Colbie Callait/Jason Mraz girl, maybe with a little Fleetwood Mac thrown in?  For John Thomas and Shannon… I don’t know: Schubert? Chopin? Tchaikovsky? 😉

Q: What was the most difficult to write about Shannon?

A:  She has a bit of a crazy side. We all do, though, so that’s okay! Her character very much begged me to let her spiral, and I had to do several rewrites just to calm her down. She also has this deceptive air of retiring fragility, coupled with a very powerful mind, and you’re like: Who are you? I finally realized that she was just that: a very feminine, very intelligent woman, who had been taught (and rather liked) to appear weak, while also being strong-willed. That made her very elusive as a character. A lot of readers actually don’t like Shannon, and some sort of state it as a criticism. The thing is, you aren’t necessarily supposed to like Shannon at first. She’s very self-centered and very flawed. The series is partially her journey of setting aside the things of the past, of childhood, and emerging into adulthood and peace. But that doesn’t mean you’ll always like her. And that’s hard for me, too. I like characters who always make responsible decisions!

Q: We left Shannon on the ship, asking John Thomas to take her back.  Should we expect to see him do so with open arms?

A: I struggled with determining how he would react to her leaving.  My sister (plot doctor extraordinaire) said, “The one thing I do not want you to do is have him beg her to come back.” I agreed.  It was a tricky situation all around.  I don’t want to give too much away, but basically, there is nothing simple about their reunion!

Q: What would you say this series is “about?”

A:  Probably most prominently, women—their trials, internal and external, and how they overcome them. 

Specifically, too, women in the Civil War.  There is a tendency in war novels and history to make it appear as if little of the burden fell upon women, as if they had minimal roles in the play at all.  No one can deny the huge burden that did fall upon men—something to the tune of 750,000 deaths… But at least 50,000 civilians died violent deaths during the war, many of them women.  And that’s setting aside deaths that women had always faced from childbearing, etc.  They were actively engaged, actively facing the consequences of political decisions, and living in a country at war. Women faced hardship from every possible front during the war.

Shannon loses three people dear to her.  I specifically wanted them all to be women.  Two died from illnesses related to womanhood and one, Phoebe, from violence.  I wanted to portray that this was a woman’s war, too, and also that women of this time had been at war, so to speak, before the battles ever began.

Q: I have noticed that your blog is non-political, but there is a lot of discussion of political parties in the historical part of the series, particularly Charleston Tides.  Should we expect any correlation to modern parties?

A:  The short answer is no. 

The long answer: it would be really tough to write about the Civil War without exploring the political parties of that day. If you watch the year of 1860, the split was very much a political one, and if you read primary sources, people considered loyalties during the war to be wrapped up in party loyalties.  In the memoirs of John O. Casler, who lived in divided Northern Virginia, he relates that he didn’t know if he could trust a neighbor when he was home on leave. His terminology was: “I didn’t know what his politics were,” meaning that he didn’t know which country or government his neighbor supported during the war.

Do I think there is any correlation to the political parties of today?  Not really.  For the first time during the Civil War we did have our two-party system finally boil down essentially to “Democrats” and “Republicans.”  I have heard some historians say that the Democratic party started with Jefferson, continued with Jackson, the Democrats of the Civil War era, and right up to today, and that the Republican party started with Lincoln and continued until today.  On the other hand, I have heard historians say that the Democratic and Republican parties switched platforms in the early twentieth century. 

I don’t totally buy into either theory.  Trying to match parties and people up across roughly 250 years just doesn’t work.  We tried it in one of my political science classes.  The conventional wisdom through scholarship which traces party history was that Republicans of today should align with Alexander Hamilton and Democrats of today should align with Thomas Jefferson.  Yet, when we read their ideologies aloud, the reaction was overwhelmingly just the opposite. 

Political platforms are, to a large extent, based on current issues and events.  I think that people make parties what they need them to be in their own time, based on the world as they find it in their era. You can trace certain roots of party heirship and ideology to the past but not in any way that deeply affects platforms of today, or that is particularly traceable in a two-dimensional, two-party way.

So when I’m talking about “Democrats” or “Republicans,” in the series, I am talking about the parties just as they were in the 1860s, nothing more. I do not find anachronistic historical fiction that paints modern politics over historical events to be particularly compelling.

Q: Was there anything that really surprised you over the course of your research about the Civil War?

A:  I originally shied away from the Civil War because it was such a terrible conflict.  The more I know about it, the more terrible I find it to be!  The sheer number of deaths, the battles, the diseases, the violence, the hardships, the starvation, the fear…  I think much of this is true for most people involved, North and South, enslaved and free.  It’s hard for us to imagine that a war of this magnitude happened during the Victorian Era.  I keep thinking there will be a way to make sense of it all, but it just gets more horrific the more I read about it. 

On a more optimistic note… There is some really fascinating history about the newly freed men and women of Charleston in the year after the Civil War.  My sister, who is in grad school for Public History at the College of Charleston, helped me with this research.  1865-1866 was a huge moment of empowerment for formerly enslaved communities in Charleston.  This was something I was not expecting.  If I had been writing without the research, I would have portrayed it very differently.  I think you’re going to enjoy reading about this history in Charleston Tides!

Q: Has there been any reader feedback which surprised you?

A:   One thing that has been kind of funny is a generation split about Adeline’s situation.  My younger readers think she’s totally on the right track: she needs to be cautious, take her time, not trust too easily…  But my older readers get so frustrated with her: Why can’t she see Adrian’s a good boy?  Why can’t she just make the leap already?  I love these sorts of conversations!  They’re things you would never think about as you’re writing.

Q: Does being lawyer impact you as a writer, or vice-versa?

A:  Well, just from a thousand-foot level, being a lawyer takes up most of my time.  My clients come first, so writing has to happen once everything is finished at work.

But as far as the two jobs sort of feeding each other…  At first, being a writer made legal writing a little tough.  In creative writing, you get to be flowy and wordy, whereas in legal writing you have to be concise and to-the-point with short sentences and paragraphs.  But when you think about line edits and trying to convey clarity to your readers, my legal training is something that is helpful to fall back on.

My writing is also the thing I do that keeps my life balanced.  The legal profession is notoriously stressful from day one in law school until retirement.  But with writing, I have this sort of creative or imaginative outlet that gives me a release and keeps everything in perspective.

Q:  Is there anyone who has been especially helpful to you in the course of publishing the Torn Asunder Series?

A:  My hometown and my friends and family have been a huge encouragement.  I don’t know if it’s just because they’re incredibly kind people or if the themes really resonated because we’re from the same place, but they have been so loving and have said all of the things that any writer really needs to hear.  So, to the people closest to me… Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

Q: Where do you plan to take us next—a new series, a stand-alone, modern, historical?

A:   I am definitely taking you somewhere—that’s about all I can tell you!  I have several completed manuscripts, and it’s a matter of choosing which one to run with next.  I am going to take a few months just to regroup, start the editing process, and make sure that I get you the best finished product I can!  I will post updates periodically on my blog, so stay tuned!

And thank you, Dear Readers, for taking this journey with these characters!  It has been a fun ride, and I can’t wait for the next one!


[1] I do bend my rule just slightly and sometimes draw inspiration from real life for characters who are children because children are really easy to get wrong in writing.

Release Day Update!

Hi friends! I thought I would drop by to let you know that we are still on target to release Book 3 of the Torn Asunder Series very soon. Life has gotten a little busy, and, as we all know, 2020 has been nothing if not unexpected, challenging, and off-schedule!

However, I can tell you that Charleston Tides will be in your hands soon. It will just be a winter publication instead of a late autumn publication as originally planned. Thank you so much for your patience and excitement for the book. I’m so grateful for the readers I have and the encouragement you give! I can’t wait to share the culmination of this series with you!

Best,
Tara

Charleston Tides – Synopsis Revealed!

Hi friends and readers! I am thrilled to announce that Charleston Tides, Book 3 of the Torn Asunder Series, is in its final edit. That means it will be in your hands very soon! It also means that it is time to share the synopsis with you! So without further ado, I give you the Charleston Tides blurb:

Charleston, Modern Day:

Adeline Miller-Ravenel came to Charleston to restore a historic Battery Street mansion. She never expected her ties in the city to run so deep or her decisions to be so difficult. With her reason for staying drawing to a close, she is torn between making the sensible choice and following the promptings of her heart.

Charleston, 1865:

The war is over, and Charleston lies in ruins. In a world quickly changing, Shannon Haley must piece together the fragments of her marriage and former life. Her journey will plunge her deep into the heart of Reconstruction and into the highest stakes for the fate of a nation and her own future.

Charleston Tides is the final book in the Torn Asunder Series. It is the poignant culmination of great emotions, fears, trials, and triumphs for the characters of the series, both modern and historical.

I’m so excited to share this final installment of Shannon and Adeline’s journeys with you! Stay tuned for a cover reveal soon. (Hint: it’s my favorite cover yet!)

The American War Novel

Today is Veterans Day in America.  I thought that, in special recognition of this day, I would talk about a class I took in college that meant a great deal to me and greatly influences my writing: The American War Novel.  We got to discuss topics like the changing attitudes regarding PTSD throughout the centuries, the conceptualization of women in war literature, realism versus romanticism, and the nitty gritty effects of war on the people who fight them.

Our professor was just out of grad school “up north” as we say in the South, and he brought to Tennessee Tech a passion for war and trauma literature (shout out to Dr. Williams!).  It was a small class in which we sat in a circle and discussed the literature assigned.

Going chronologically through history, we started with some essays and excerpts from the nineteenth century.  There was a lot of romantic and flowery language during this era, the language of glory in death, etc.  It is beautiful language but way off base in accuracy, according to most veterans, in that it doesn’t touch on the realities of war. I always thought that this rhetoric, which was what much of America took into the Civil War, must have led to a huge wake-up call in the wake of what became America’s most violent conflict to date.  It may even have prolonged the conflict. You see in primary documents people clinging to this rhetoric of glory and “knights on a charger” even amidst the growing casualty counts deep into the war.

After that, we read The Red Badge of Courage.  This book, written about the Civil War by Stephen Crane in 1895 (thirty years after the conflict ended), is, according to Matthew Arnold, “a touchstone for modern war fiction.”  In other words, it is the mother of all war novels.  While “the war” is kind of universal in The Red Badge, most believe that The Battle of Chancellorsville is the setting.  Crane’s work is remarkable in that it obliterates the clichés of prior war fiction, giving us a depiction of a young boy who is simply a human, afraid that he will run at his first battle.  Every sentence is literary and could be carefully unpacked.  Romantic traditions are rejected in favor of reality and genuine courage.  I remember so vividly Henry Fleming’s inner struggle.  Even though we as a class could never take away a distinct “meaning” from the book (not a bad thing), it resonates.  And I have to think that was due largely in part to the fact that Crane interviewed a lot of Civil War veterans.

We moved on to Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.  This is about an American lieutenant serving in World War I in Italy who falls in love with his nurse, Catherine, after he is injured.  It is part gruesome and realistic war novel and part romance (although not in a happy-go-lucky way).  I liked this one for its narrative ease, for the way Hemingway strips his language down to the bare bones, and for the fact that a woman featured prominently in it.  However, the really depressing ending stays with you long after you read it.  It does contain one of my favorite quotes, however: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”  Just don’t read the line after that—hope never lasts long with Hemingway!

Next, we read Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, which was WWII-related and linked to the firebombing of Dresden.  It was also part sci-fi, part meta, part really off-the-wall novel!  This was not my cup of tea at all, but I am glad we read it to get exposure to all of the different varieties of war novels, and Vonnegut is certainly one of the legends of the war novel genre.  My reaction paper for this one was about the sexism used towards every female in the novel and my theory that it was done to highlight the degradations towards women that sexism causes (in other words, in an attempt to help, not to hurt).  The sexism was so blatant that my professor commented on my paper, “I really hope you’re right!”

After that, we moved on to Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko.  This was my favorite war novel and stands as one of my favorite novels of all time.  It is about a Native American soldier who fought in WWII in the Pacific Theater and was forced to take place in the Bataan Death March.  After this, he returns to his tribe with what was then called “battle fatigue,” and would now be known as PTSD.  We follow his journey to healing, which was aided by the spiritualism of his heritage.  It was beautiful.  I remember feedback from a fellow student who was commenting on how fascinating the war’s effects were to explore through the Native American experience.  She said, “When I try to think, What is the opposite of PTSD, I think, It is balance.”  Balance is such an important concept in Native American culture, so in this and in many other ways, you watch an entire culture’s answers to his illness come to the forefront.  I presented on this book in my class, and the subject I chose was the history of the Bataan Death March and the physical toll it took on the soldiers.  This book was a wonderful contribution to American literature, and, for me, a constant reminder that, of all racial, ethnic, and cultural American groups, per capita, Native Americans served in the largest number in WWII.

Next, we read Going After Cacciato, by Tim O’Brien.  O’Brien is a Vietnam veteran who went on to write war novels.  I think he is most famous for his book, The Things They Carried.  O’Brien has a lot to tell us about the nature of war as it is actually fought and lived.  He was almost like a second professor for our class; we read so many of his quotes that they could frame almost every discussion we had.  For instance, we talked about the theme of masculinity in war, or the concept in literature that, if war does nothing else, it makes you a man. The thing I loved about O’Brien was that he seeks to present you with the truth; he doesn’t deny any reality about war.  His answer to the “war makes men out of boys conversation?”  He agrees, but he doesn’t stop there.  He says, “War makes you a man; war makes you dead.”  Try grappling with that quote!  He talks about the beauty of war and juxtaposes it with its grotesque nature.  In addition to the Hemingway quote above, another of my favorites is by O’Brien: “War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love.”  That quote has influenced me so much as I grapple with war themes in my own novels.  It gives a first-person perspective to those of us who have not fought in wars but want to honor the experiences of those who have in our own writing.  Cacciato is about a soldier in Vietnam who sets off on a journey to find another soldier who has gone AWOL.  It was another book that was very heavy on the literary elements.  It blends reality and fantasy.  It wasn’t my favorite, but Tim O’Brien is certainly worth discovering.

Last, we read Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain.  This one featured an Iraq war veteran who is sent on a victory tour after coming home.  It explores the reactions Americans had to troops during the Iraq/Afghanistan wars and the ways in which they might not have been helpful.  For instance, really vivid in my remembrance is the scene in which Billy and his group are expected to go down on a football field at halftime while Destiny’s Child performing.  It was revealing about the fact that we need to go much, much deeper in addressing the needs of returning veterans.  However, it was, in my opinion, a bit too political.  Our class was all over the political spectrum, and everyone seemed to agree on that.  Like I said, though, there were lessons to be gleaned from it.

We were slated to read In Country, by Bobbie Ann Mason but had to cut it because we ran out of time.  I was disappointed by that because it details the home front experiences of a little girl during Vietnam.  Most war novels focus primarily on men, and I would like to read more featuring women (one of the reasons I focused so heavily on women’s experiences in Northern Fire).  We did discuss women in relation to every book, era, and theme, however, so I felt like I left with a pretty good grasp of war novel trends throughout time with regards to women.  If you want to see a movie that plays with a lot of those themes (and don’t laugh…), I actually have to tell you that Mulan (animated) is excellent.  You can tell that the writers were students of the war novel genre.  Every song could be used as one of the war novel themes we discussed in relation to women.  For example, “A Girl Worth Fighting For,” was a recurring theme in early war literature, etc.

I really like the genre of the war novel.  It is a field that builds on every previous generation’s theme, almost as if all of the authors from Stephen Crane onward are having a conversation.  We discussed many difficult themes, and I think the class helped me to get just a small glimpse inside of the experience of those on the frontlines of wars and conflicts.  In the words of O’Brien, “That’s what fiction is for.  It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.”

To all veterans, thank you is not enough.  “They carried all they could bear, and then some, including the silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.” – Tim O’Brien

The Fall of Charleston

History Behind the Story #5: The Fall of Charleston

THE HISTORY:  Since the Jacksonian days of John C. Calhoun, South Carolina and Charleston, specifically, were known as the “cradle of rebellion” or the “hotbed of secession.”  Many in the Union states felt that there would have been no war if the people of Charleston hadn’t agitated for one.  Charleston was blamed primarily for three things:

  1. For the divorce of the Democratic Party at the first Democratic Convention in 1860, which was hosted in Charleston and which ultimately led to the nomination of a Northern Democrat and a Southern Democrat.  This ultimately led to a fractured party which didn’t stand a chance of defeating the Republican nominee, Abraham Lincoln.
  2. For being the first state to secede, almost immediately after the election.
  3. For firing the first shots of the war, which happened at Fort Sumter in the Charleston harbor.

We could have a discussion of whether it was entirely fair to pin these things primarily on one city.  I could make an argument that Charleston was deeply involved in agitating for secession, and I could also make a counterargument that there were a lot of other factors at play.  But what really matters is what people thought during the era, and Charleston was a sort of target for propaganda.

Charleston wasn’t, psychologically speaking, a great place to be during the Civil War, enslaved or free.  The city was so heavily guarded that it didn’t fall until late in the war.  Therefore, the Emancipation Proclamation had no practical effect for enslaved people within the city; slavery remained status quo.  I imagine that must have led to feelings of desperation.   Not only this, but with South Carolina having a majority black population, many feared uprisings.  Sanctions were tightened and freedoms limited.  On the eve of war, many Charleston residents sent their slaves out of the city, selling them or sending them to other properties, to prevent uprisings.  This was the sort of action taken by owners that led to familial separations and uncertainties among enslaved communities.

For the citizens of Charleston, there were a lot of concerning threats to Charleston in Northern newspapers.  I was surprised when I read a report calling for a “holocaust of Charleston.”  I had actually thought the word was coined during WWII to describe Nazi actions against Jewish people, but it is actually a Middle English word.  The definition of holocaust is: “destruction or slaughter on a mass scale, especially caused by fire.”[1]  So this was the language of genocide against a city.  This is pretty heavy stuff for the Civil War, or for any civil war.  It could probably make you a bit on-edge.

Then, to top it off, Confederate President Jefferson Davis took the stance that it would be better for Charleston to be reduced to “a heap of ruins” than surrender.  So as a civilian, slave or free, you know you are in a strategically important city that the government is going to try to protect but that will be a sort of last holdout which may functionally be a shell by the end of the war.

Charleston became a real challenge for the Union, militarily speaking.  The guns on the ironclad ships of the Union Navy made the old fort system that America had used to protect port cities more or less obsolete.  But there was one exception to this: Charleston.  Due to the geography and the heavy fortifications of Forts Sumter and Moultrie, the Union Navy never did break through those Confederate-manned forts until the Army broke into Charleston from behind on land just two months before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. 

Charleston was one of the first targets in the war.  I’ll briefly go through failed Union attempts before we get to the final Union success.

Fort Sumter began the war with Beauregard taking the fort fairly easily from the U.S. military, which had not been sufficiently reinforced.  The Battle of Port Royal, a fort versus naval battle, resulted in a Union victory and the fall of most of the Sea Islands between Savannah and Charleston.[2]  Most of the white population evacuated the area.  The battle and the evacuation led to what has been called “The Port Royal Experiment,” during which the former enslaved people on the islands operated the plantations on their own.[3]

After this, the Union sort of failed to “follow up” on the victory.  There were a few other attempts to take Charleston.  One was the Battle of Secessionville on June 16, 1862.  Secessionville was an Army rather than Navy endeavor.  Basically, the Confederates repulsed the Union attack, and the Union evacuated James Island (which is very close to Charleston).

Other than these attempts, the most important one included the continual bombardments of the city and its forts by the Union Navy.  These were never successful, but Charleston was indeed slowly being reduced to rubble during the 587-day bombardment.  Other amphibious and land attacks were planned or attempted, but they were always repulsed until late in the war.

Charleston officially fell on February 18, 1865.  So what eventually caused the fall?  It was late in the war, so Confederate resources were tapped out.  When Sherman executed his famous march from Atlanta to Savannah, he showed what the Union military was capable of doing: basically, that there was no “interior” of the Confederacy anymore and that he could go anywhere he wanted.  He threatened to raze the city of Charleston during his march.  “Raze,” again, is a word with connotations of total destruction.

Three days before the fall, Beauregard ordered an evacuation of Confederate troops from Charleston.  So as a civilian, this is your worst nightmare: a city that is the last holdout that has finally been abandoned by the military.  Civilians were left alone to deal with the aftermath, and the mayor surrendered the city.  That has always been an interesting concept for me.  A mayor is by nature a civilian, not a military person.  One tends to think of military officers or generals surrendering cities, but this was something that happened all over the South, an elected official having to become a quasi-military ruler and take the white flag out to the opposing army.

Union troops moved in, the first soldiers entering the city being United States Colored Troops of the 54th Massachusetts and the 21st Infantry.  There is some fascinating history surrounding what happened among the freedmen in Charleston in the year after its fall.  I don’t want to give anything away for Book 3 in the Torn Asunder Series, Charleston Tides, however, so that will be covered in a History Behind the Story article for that book.

So was there a holocaust of Charleston?  Yes and no.  Basically, you could argue that between the bombardments, the Fire of 1861, the blockades, inflation, and starvation, Charleston was already on its knees before it ever fell.  Witnesses compared Charleston to Pompeii. There were lots of homes of prominent people burned.  You can see that when you visit Charleston’s plantation district on Ashley River Road.  But there wasn’t a holocaust in the since that people burned in their homes or the entire city was bombed, as the rhetoric had threatened.  Why was that, given the threats?

I speculate that Columbia has something to do with it.  South Carolina’s capitol was overtaken just before Charleston.  A good portion of the city burned, and there are ongoing arguments about whether it was burned by Confederates or Federals.  It seems like there is more evidence that the retreating Confederates burned buildings in an attempt to destroy war materiel.  In any event, there does seem to have been a lot of looting and violence in Columbia.

All of this is to say, if vengeance was really wanted against a South Carolinian city, it was had in Columbia.  And then imagine you get to a city, Charleston, that’s already reduced to a heap of rubble.  There wasn’t much left to destroy in Charleston.  Plus, surrendering cities always fared better under Sherman if they actually surrendered than if his army overtook them.  His philosophy was that all he really wanted was their surrender.

I depicted a brutal take-over scene at Santarella in Northern Fire.  Santarella was envisioned as being on an island really near to Charleston.  Its fall happened a few months previous to Charleston’s fall, so it wasn’t part of the overall take-over of Charleston.  Everything I depicted[4] was based on actual stories of things that happened during overtaking raids – houses looted and burned, huge trees felled, people shot, land and property confiscated.  Many historians say that if the brutality of Sherman’s March through Georgia has been somewhat overstated, it has probably been understated in relation to the march through the Carolinas.  South Carolina, in general, greatly suffered during the war.  These stories are complicated, though.  You probably noticed in Northern Fire that the take-over of Santarella wasn’t purely a story of destruction; the Union soldiers also liberated hundreds of people who were held in bondage.  

PERSONAL SPOTLIGHT: Mary Chesnut, a South Carolinian woman, kept a diary which historians have called one of the most important works of the Civil War.  Her observations of the Confederacy were obviously limited by the times in which she lived, but she is thought to depict powerfully all levels of society and the intricacies of Southern culture.  Here is what was recorded in her diary the day she learned Charleston had fallen:

“Charleston and Wilmington—surrendered. I have no further use for a newspaper. I never want to see another one as long as I live. . . . Shame, disgrace, beggary, all have come at once, and all are hard to bear—the grand smash!…

Rain, rain, outside, and naught but drowning floods of tears inside.”[5]

ANALYSIS OF PHOTOGRAPH:

These are photographs of Charleston’s ruins after the war.  A great deal of what you see was caused by the Charleston Fire of 1861. Just take a moment to notice little details in the photos, things that give you a window into the past.

Photo Credit: Huffpost, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/civil-war-history_n_844544.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: These were the words of General Sherman about Charleston:

“I doubt any city was ever more terribly punished than Charleston, but as her people had for years been agitating for war and discord, and had finally inaugurated the Civil War, the judgment of the world will be that Charleston deserved the fate that befell her.”

This is an interesting statement, eloquent and involving both sympathy and ruthlessness.  Did history prove him right?  What do you think?  He seems to include natural disasters, spontaneous fires, and acts of the Union military in the word “punishment,” indicating that he believed Charleston’s ultimate destruction was a culmination of fate.  Do we still think of disasters and destruction like this today?

This is the final History Behind the Story post for Northern Fire!  It has been a pleasure to be on this journey with you!  Thanks to all who have taken the ride.  I plan to write a similar series of articles for Charleston Tides, which will release late this autumn.


[1] Oxford English.  The definition says: “by fire or nuclear war.”  It has been modernized to include modern technology.  I think just “fire” is more appropriate in the historical context.  The interesting thing was that a good portion of Charleston was destroyed by fire without intervention of the Union military.  See “History Behind the Story #1: The Charleston Fire of 1861” on this blog.

[2] There were some islands closer to Charleston that didn’t fall until the end of the war, which is the route I chose to go for the fictional Santarella.

[3] This was a fascinating “dress rehearsal” for Reconstruction.  It is beyond the scope of this article, but I encourage you to look up history on the Port Royal Experiment.

[4] With the exception of head-shaving, a historical choice which was discussed in “History Behind the Story #4: Violence Against Women in the Civil War.”

[5] Chestnut, Mary Boykin, “A Diary From Dixie,” D. Appleton and Company, New York: 1905.

Cover Image Credit: Bonanza.com. This depiction is of Union ironclads bombarding Fort Sumter.

Newport, RI Mansion #5

Our final house museum tour while we were in Newport was Chateau-sur-Mer. We’ll take a look at this interesting house, and I will also give you some insight into some other things my sister and I got into in Rhode Island!

5. Chateau-sur-Mer

Chateau-sur-Mer was different from any of the other Newport houses we had toured in that it was built decades before any of the other fabulous cottages. It actually was not a part of the cottage fad except to the extent it was remodeled to add a few grand touches. It is “High Victorian,” which means it’s kind of heavy – dark rooms, oppressive wallpaper, dark wood paneling… I kind of thought of it as a Gothic architectural style, which was definitely a change from the opulent, bright, and sunny cottages. There were things that were really cool about Chateau-sur-Mer, though.

One was the fact that you could stand in the foyer and look up and see level after level of balconies until you reached the roof. Here is a picture. It really doesn’t convey how cool this architectural technique is, but you can get an idea.

George and Edith Wetmore hired Richard Morris Hunt to redesign the house in the Second Empire French style during the 1870s, which is why, I would imagine, there are several opulent touches. And yet, there are still some High Victorian remnants. Here are a few pictures in which you can see the attention to detail and the blending of 19th century design trends:

Here is a of picture of the exterior:

It was good to visit Chateau-sur-Mer to remind us that Newport had a rich and intricate history before the Gilded Age. Speaking of… Let’s talk about a few more things you can do in Newport!

First, just driving around is a treat. You can go to one part of town and see numerous colonial-era or colonial-inspired buildings that would fit in perfectly in Colonial Williamsburg. There are also lots of Victorian houses where less wealthy, but still rich people once lived, and those are beautiful, too. Of course, there’s no denying that Bellevue Avenue, where all of the mansions are, is really spectacular. There is shopping on the Avenue, too, and you can just picture the carriages going down the streets in summers past.

There is generally good shopping in Newport – lots of boutiques, and both chain and local stores. For groceries, there is a more traditional grocery store as well as a smaller, completely organic store, where prices are actually reasonable. Newport is also the sailing capital of the world. We had intended to go sailing but ran out of time. You can see some of the boats in the pictures behind us here, though:

This was our first experience with New England food, and so we might not be the best judges. Some was wonderful, while some was…not so much. Annie’s is famous for their breakfasts, and it was fine, but we weren’t overwhelmed. Again, this could just be because we were used to a more Southern-style breakfast.

We ate at La Forge Casino Restaurant because of the history of the tennis club in the building. We dined outside, and it was cool to have an experience similar to what it would have been in the Gilded Age. Again, the food was just okay.

We went twice to Griswold’s Tavern, which was our favorite place. I got the Veggie Nachos once, which were delicious. The real upside of Newport food was that there are usually healthy and vegetarian options at most places.

We love seafood, and there was plenty of that. We had been used to a certain style of doing seafood from the beach towns of the Gulf of Mexico, so this was quite different from that. Whereas in Florida, Alabama, or Mississippi, the emphasis is on mahi mahi, grouper, and salmon, in Newport, you have lobster, scallops, and lots of cod. We went to three seafood places. We really loved the scallops at The Lobster Bar. Flo’s Clam Shack was a more traditional beachy place with plenty of fried food and a line of people waiting to get in backed out the door. We also went to The Landing, which was my sister’s favorite! Just a note: if you’re going to a beachy type place, wear whatever you want; if you’re going to a more upscale restaurant, they kind of dress up in Newport. We saw one restaurant where people were going in wearing evening gowns and tuxedos. Never fear, though; you don’t have to go too fancy at most of the restaurants – just dress like you would kind of dress up for a date night.

You can visit the beach, too. We met some very friendly seagulls while we were there, I remember. It was a little too chilly for us to wade in, even in August, but some brave souls tried it!

But the real crown jewel, the do-not-miss activity in Newport, is the Cliff Walk. There’s nothing like the beauty of the ocean on one side of you and mansions on the other. And bonus: it’s totally free! Here are a few pictures:

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Newport, do not miss it! It is one of our favorite places, and we do not regret going one bit!

Newport, RI Mansion #4

The fourth house museum stop for our Newport, RI trip was The Elms.  Get ready for some beautiful gardens and general splendor!

4. The Elms

The Elms was our next stop, and it did not disappoint. Welcome to the foyer!

I really liked the scheme of the house: white, gold, marble, and black iron. The inspiration was the 18th Century Chateau d’Asnieres in France. Sarah and Edward Julius Berwind, of the coal fortune, built The Elms in 1901 so that they could host on a larger scale.

The Elms is famous for its gardens, so let’s have a look at those first:

I really loved that bench, and there were fountains, pavilions, and statues galore.

There was what I call a “sunroom” to bring the outside indoors. This included possibly the word’s plushest lawnchair.

The inside was equally lovely. Here are a few of the rooms, which definitely give you the impression of French grandeur (except for the green library, which was more homey). Look at those gorgeous ceiling medallions!

Did you spot both pianos?

I seemed to have collected pictures of a lot of different bedrooms, so I’m thinking there may have been more rooms available for viewing at the house than at the other houses. Here are a few of the bedrooms. (Never mind my sister gazing dreamily at that fainting couch.)

Oddly enough, I remember the portraits acquired by this house the most. This portrait of Elizabeth Wharton Drexel Dahlgren Lehr is quite famous. My sister bought a jewelry dish with this portrait on it while we were in Newport. Elizabeth’s first husband was the son of the famous Admiral Dahlgren (who, as a side note, is discussed by Shannon and her father in Northern Fire!) Her first husband died young. I remember her sad story of her second husband telling her on their wedding night that he had only married her for her money. (Note, this is not the owner of the house. I can’t remember why her portrait is at The Elms – maybe she is a relative?)

Another notable portrait at the house is that of Maria Cosway, an Englishwoman who had, shall we say, a more than casual acquaintance with Thomas Jefferson while he was Minister to Paris. This portrait was painted by Cosway’s husband. I’m not sure how the Elms acquired this original either. Here it is:

Does anyone remember how the Elms acquired either of these fascinating paintings? Comment below if you do!

Stop back by next week for our final mansion. I’ll also talk about some of the other stuff (including a lot of eating) that we did in Newport!

Photo of Maria Cosway: The Preservation Society of Newport County, https://www.newportmansions.org/learn/collections/fine-and-decorative-arts/paintings.
All other photos: Tara Cowan or Hannah Cowan Jones

Newport, RI Mansion #3

The tour of Newport continues with Rosecliff today!

3. Rosecliff

On the third day of our trip, we went to Rosecliff, which is perhaps less famous than The Breakers and Marble House (even though it has been in several movies!). But I think it is actually my favorite of the Grand Dames along Bellevue Avenue because Rosecliff is *slightly* understated in comparison to the two houses we discussed previously.

Of course, it all started with an heiress. Theresa “Tessie” Fair was the daughter of an Irish immigrant who had hit it big in Nevada silver.  She met her future husband, Hermann Oelrichs, playing tennis in Newport.  (We actually had lunch one day at this tennis club/casino, which is still there!)  He was pretty wealthy himself, and together they purchased the property along the Cliff Walk and built Rosecliff.  [Just as a side note, Tessie’s sister married Alva Vanderbilt’s son (Alva, of the Marble House fame).]

Tessie couldn’t wait to start giving lavish parties at Rosecliff, and she certainly had the ballroom for it.  This is probably my favorite room in all of Newport.

One of the things I loved about Rosecliff is that it relies on artistry more than flash.  You can see that the ballroom walls are just white, but look at the ornate plaster and molding.  And the mural on the ceiling isn’t garish in the least; it is just the sky, like you’re looking through a glass ceiling.

Take a look at the art encapsulated in this fireplace in another room.

Here are a few more rooms.

The exterior was very elegant.  It puts you in mind of Marble House and the White House a bit.  It was fashioned after the Grand Trianon at Versailles.

I’ll leave a few more pictures below.  Spot the circular library table with books, and the modern bathroom.  I loved those.  Also, the staircase – wow! Enjoy!

All photos: Tara Cowan or Hannah Cowan Jones