New History Behind the Story Series Announced!

To celebrate the release of Northern Fire (Book 2 of the  Torn Asunder Series) I am launching a new series on the history behind the story for Northern Fire.  For Southern Rain, I ran a similar series that was really fun.  Readers got to learn all about the history upon which I built my storylines.  The topics I chose this time will give you the first glimpse into some of the events and subjects covered in Northern Fire!  If, after reading the book, you have any questions for me about the events in the book or the historical choices I made, let me know, and I am always happy to add an article!

Here are the planned articles:

  1. The Charleston Fire of 1861
  2. The Roper Hospital in Charleston
  3. Naval Quarantines
  4. Violence Against Women in the Civil War
  5. The Fall of Charleston

Character Pictures

I ran a poll on my Instagram story as to whether readers like to see the pictures or portraits which inspired characters or whether they instead like to imagine characters for themselves.  As of writing this post, the post is at 70% for seeing the pictures and 30% for imagining.

I have had experiences in which it was super fun to see the author’s inspirations.  I’ve also had experiences in which the author’s imagination and mine were so different that I was a little thrown off!  So my Instagram friend Tammi suggested that I post the pictures I used for my characters on my blog so that people who don’t want to see them don’t have to. I thought that was a great idea.

So just be forewarned… Pictures will follow for my character inspirations.  You can quit reading now if you want to, and I won’t be offended. 😉

One more a caveat: these pictures are really sketchy.  It’s been so long since I first saved them that I have no idea where they came from or who the people are.  One was pulled from an ad for a legal research site.  LOL!  So I credit the pictures to their owners, whoever they may be!

Okay, without further ado, here are my inspirations…

Shannon:

Shannon

John Thomas:

John Thomas.PNG

Frederick Ravenel:

Frederick

Marie Ravenel:

Marie

Where are the modern people, you might ask?  I actually left Adrian entirely to my imagination and didn’t base his appearance off of a picture.  Adeline was kind of the same way.   I also left most all of the side characters to my imagination, too.

Occasionally, though, I will see someone, either on TV or in real life who reminds me of a character, and that’s always fun.  There was a contestant from Season 2 of the Great American Baking Show of whom I remember thinking, “Oh, hey, she looks a lot like Adeline!”  Her name was Amanda Faber.  I remember that she was a great baker!  LOL!

If you are a writer, do you ever meet your characters in real life, either in appearance or personality?  If you are a reader, have you ever imagined someone totally differently from the author?  Do any of the pictures above represent my characters as you imagined?  I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Q & A: Northern Fire

Hello again, friends! My sister, Hannah, and I sat down for a Q&A about Northern Fire, and I have also included some questions from some wonderful readers. Some 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, there might be a few spoilers for that one! However, there shouldn’t be any spoilers for Northern Fire, and I encourage you to read the Q&A before you read it.) Here we go!

Hannah: What was the inspiration for Northern Fire? Was it hard to narrow down your ideas?

Tara: It’s all very hazy now, but I think the inspiration for the Torn Asunder Series came to me while I was taking a walk during my two-month intense isolation/study time for the Bar Exam. I had this idea for this historical heroine who leaves her husband, an absolutely shocking thing for the Civil War Era, and I really wanted to know how that would play out. Hmm, could I pair it with this modern storyline about a preservationist that had been floating in my head? Yes, I could! It’s not usually hard to narrow down your ideas because something always comes to you passionately and has to get out.

Hannah: What kind of audience do you expect to read Northern Fire?

Tara: The tendency is to say women who love Historical Fiction/Romance, but several men have read and liked Southern Rain, too. I think, between the history, the modern romance, and the Women’s Fiction dimension, there is something for everybody. I will refer you to the Q&A for Southern Rain for information about young readers/parents’ discretion, which can be found in its own special tab on my blog at http://www.teaandrebellion.com. As always, you can contact me if you have any questions.

Hannah: What should the reader know going into Northern Fire?

Tara: I think I always underestimated the series, in that, whether modern or historical, I thought it was going to be lighter than it was. There are some heavy topics, which may be difficult for some people. There are a couple of sad scenes and some overarching struggles that may be relatable for a lot of people, in both good and tough ways. I think the advantage of having a book that tends towards heaviness is that, wherever there is pain, there is also a lot of depth.

Hannah: How do you deal with difficult subjects? How do you strike the balance of far enough/too far?

Tara: It’s sometimes hard to know how much is too far. I have learned that a good rule of thumb for me is that if something makes me uncomfortable, I should probably take it a step further even from there and push the boundaries a little bit to experience the truth of the story. When a book does tend towards heaviness, the great balancer is always hope. Human life is so difficult, but there is such beauty in it, too. It’s important not to overlook either.

So many readers: Why don’t you just give Shannon and John Thomas a baby already?!

Tara: So sorry! This is probably the number one question I have gotten. It’s touching that everyone is so worried about their happiness. When I first started reading clean historical romance about twelve years ago, I found some truly talented authors, and many of those books have beloved spots on my shelves. But I noticed a recurring structure: boy meets girl, usual struggles ensue, they get together, happy ending equals healthy baby. That didn’t quite ring true to me. Historically speaking, a lot of couples struggled in conceiving (George and Martha Washington, James and Dolley Madison, Andrew and Rachel Jackson) or in carrying to term (Louisa Catherine Adams, Mary Church Terrell). Sometimes the mother died from something as simple as severe morning sickness during the pregnancy (Charlotte Brontë). If you could have a baby, the birth was an extreme ordeal for which you could thank God if both mother and child survived (Stonewall Jackson’s first wife died from a hemorrhage just after giving birth, and their child was stillborn). Lots of men had two families because the first wife died in “childbed” (Theodore Roosevelt). Many women made it through the birth only to linger and die from puerperal fever or physical complications (Thomas Jefferson’s wife) days, weeks, or months later. Of course, for those who did not have as many difficulties, families were often large due to lack of effective birth control methods, and I think that is perhaps where the idea that “everyone in history had eight kids” comes from. But even for those large families, it is difficult to think of a historical figure who did not lose a child to a childhood illness. All of that is a long way of saying that I’m not sure the notion, historically speaking, of a happy ending culminating in a modern-type birth where there are no worries quite passes muster. I kind of wanted to represent the full range of historical experiences in this story. Shannon struggles, while Marie has a whiplash-inducing honeymoon baby. And, while I won’t tell you here whether Shannon and John Thomas have a baby, or even whether they reunite (this is all just a matter of plot), I will tell you that their ultimate peace, if they find it, will be in acceptance of whatever situation in which God places them, of themselves just as they are, and of God just as He is, which is what I think we all must find before we can get down to the more trivial business of daily happiness.

Hannah: What do you think it takes to make a strong male character likeable, but also real? Do you think John Thomas and/or Adrian apply?

Tara: My sister and I (ahem) talk about this a lot. For me, a main male character (“MMC”) has to be loyal, and his love cannot waver. He also has to be gentle with the female character, physically speaking—there can be no love where there is any sort of fear. I don’t mind a good argument, but I don’t like a lot of yelling or any verbal abuse. I also like the MMC to be capable and to have a good grasp on his situation. I like to write male characters that you know are good ones, deep down. I don’t think that’s an unrealistic expectation at all (and if it is, we’re better off alone, girls!). Other than that, I think the sky is the limit! I love writing all different sorts of male characters. It’s totally okay for them to have their own struggles. They don’t have to be superheroes. Do John Thomas and Adrian apply to my criteria? Funnily enough, I’ve had several people tell me they don’t trust Adrian yet. So I hope this isn’t a spoiler when I say that: yes, they meet all of my main criteria. I will say that they both surprised me with the depth of their emotion by the end of the series, which I loved.

Hannah: Do you relate to Shannon or Adeline personally?

Tara: I always say that there is a little bit of me in all of my characters. I relate to Adeline’s love for history, desire to keep the peace, and awkwardness. I don’t relate to her laid-back personality, or her ability to not overthink things, unfortunately. I think every human being can relate to Shannon, since she kind of represents the human condition, that knot of tension that grows in all of us from childhood on, through numerous and varying causes. She also represents the choice we have of letting those dark forces overtake us or of overcoming them through the only way I know how—clinging to God.

Hannah: You put a lot of work into side characters. Do you ever wish the main plot had followed them instead of your MMC and MFC?

Tara: I know you’re asking this because you love Frederick and Marie. Sometimes, I wish I had made Frederick’s story on equal par with Shannon’s. However, sometimes, there is something enticing about a side-character only when the person is a side character, so I think it worked out fine.

Tammi: What other interests do you have, in addition to history and crafting stories?

Tara: That’s a great question! My day job is a lawyer, and I’m fortunate enough to work with my brother. I do a lot of property law, but my favorite thing to do is estate planning. I read a lot of historical fiction. I watch pretty much any historical drama that comes on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu. I really enjoy Audible for books that I would love to read but don’t really have time to dig into, like historical biographies and religious/theological books. I have been studying Contemplative Prayer and have found a lot of meaning in learning to listen for God’s voice in new (to me) ways. I love antiquing, particularly buying old furniture. Of course, I absolutely love touring historic homes. I just bought an old house, so there is always something to keep me busy. The History Chicks Podcast and Ben Franklin’s World Podcast have become something I love to have on in the background while I’m cleaning or working in the house.   I like to listen to music and have several playlists on Spotify. I played piano in another life and would like to get back to that soon. I like Royal Watching and follow the “From Berkshire to Buckingham” Instagram page and blog for fun analysis. I love going to plays and am fortunate to have three excellent amateur theaters nearby. I’ve recently gotten back into shopping/fashion in an effort to step up my wardrobe. And I have been dieting for about four years now and in the course of that have picked up a lot of healthy eating habits, so I’m always looking for great vegetarian or organic options.

Josette: What is your favorite historical book?

Tara: I always have trouble narrowing this down because I love so many. For historical fiction, I’ll have to give you four, loosely in order of my preference: A Bride Most Begrudging, by Deeanne Gist, Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer, The Silent Governess, by Julie Klassen, and America’s First Daughter, by Laura Kamoie and Stephanie Dray. For books that were written in historical times, I would have to say: Persuasion, by Jane Austen, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë, and The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery.

But if I had to pick an absolute favorite, that would probably be A Bride Most Begrudging. I’ve read it so many times, expecting it to disappoint as I get older, but it never does.

Tammi: Do you listen to music while you write?

Tara: I make a playlist on Spotify for every book or series. Sometimes I listen, and sometimes I prefer silence. I always play a song which I’ve chosen as a kind of theme for the book when I write the last scene and just push replay over and over until the scene is finished. I really like music with choir or strings and piano. I love The Piano Guys, Scala & Kolacny Brothers, Paul Cardall, Helen Jane Long, and 2Cellos. I had never heard of a lot of them until I started listening to the Scala & Kolacny Brothers Pandora Station (after hearing their music for the Downton Abbey trailers), and now they’re some of my favorites!

Tammi: How much time do you spend writing each day?

Tara: I used to spend about an hour or two writing every day, even while I was in law school. Now, sometimes I’m not able to do that because of eye strain from said law school. So I usually end up writing on the weekends. I like to write in bulk and might write for eight hours one day and none for the next four days. If I’m really feeling inspired and am able, I usually write for about two hours per day.

Tammi: Where do you write?

Tara: In my living room. I like a room with lots of windows and light. I have a desk that I wrote three novels on in college and still sit there sometimes, but I often write on my couch now.

Tammi: How did you become interested in writing historical fiction?

Tara: My mom would bring me home Christian Historical Fiction books that she had bought on the sale shelf at our local Hastings bookstore. I absolutely devoured them (Deeanne Gist, Julie Klassen, Lynn Austin…) One day, I said, “I just love these!” And my mom said, “Why don’t you write one?”

Tammi: When did you start writing?

Tara: When I was seventeen, pretty much right after that conversation with my mom. 🙂 That’s been about eleven years now. My first manuscript was written in a composition notebook and was set in Nineteenth Century England. It was terrible. 🙂

Tammi: When did you develop your love for history?

Tara: My mom was a 5th and 6th grade Social Studies teacher during my childhood, and my dad likes history, too, so my siblings and I grew up in a very history-friendly household. My mom would tell us fascinating historical tidbits. My parents knew how to make history fun, taking us to Washington, D.C. and Charleston when we were little, with the emphasis always on history. I remember one Sunday, they took us (after wrangling us all to church and back, no less!) with the grandparents to Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville. I remember when we walked through the door and the docent directed our attention to the ruby glass above the door. “Pretty,” she said, “but there to serve no other purpose than displaying the Harding family’s wealth.” Me: Oooh. My brother and I found that fascinating. Then came the time for the trip down to the mausoleum. (I should note that in Middle Tennessee, mourning customs were heavily followed and are always a huge part of most any tour.) I was petrified. I was not going down there. Luckily, my grandpa felt the same. Skirting the cooling pad (yes, where they laid out the bodies—it was just lying in the hall, for crying out loud!), he found a bench and said, “Sissy, I think I’m going to sit right here.” My response: “Me, too, Pa!” That trip is one of my fondest childhood memories.

Matthew M.: How did you get interested in the American Civil War?

Tara: I actually started out with an aversion to the Civil War. I always liked history, but I remember looking at pictures of the battles in my 5th grade textbook and feeling horrified. I kind of stayed away from the Civil War until I needed to fulfill my history credits at Tennessee Tech, and one of Tech’s history professors was teaching his nearly-famous course on the Civil War and Reconstruction. He really brought the Civil War alive for us. It was an intensive course, with multiple books, articles, papers, etc., and we were required to learn battle movements and plans for all of the major battles and recite them in narratives on our tests. We covered all aspects—the home front, the lives of the enslaved, theories that developed in the post-war era… After that, I wrote a series which follows several siblings in Civil War Era Virginia. I think setting a family drama in that era and researching minute details for so long is what finally tipped me over the edge for the Civil War. The opportunities for drama are boundless, the range of human emotions breath-taking. We see the best and worst of humanity, and, as an author, that’s exciting to explore. I realized that if I could get a little braver in dealing with a very tough time period, there was a wellspring of experiences to be discovered and retold!

Matthew M.: Do you use any primary source material for your novels?

Tara: Yes, I absolutely love getting my hands on a letter which gives special insight to the time period. You can find some great letters in online archives, and I have a book called War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars by Andrew Carroll, which has been great. I also find that docents are excellent to read you parts of letters when you tour historic homes. And touring historic homes is something I love to do to get a feel for the time period, and, if it’s close enough to my setting, the place. Seeing an antique from the time period can really ground you in the era, too. I also read diaries and recipes from the era, and I look at a lot of photos or portraits for the fashion.

Reaching out beyond that, I also look at scholarly works or biographies. For the Torn Asunder Series, some of the books I read in preparation were:

At the Precipice, by Shearer Davis Bowman
The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds
An Antebellum Plantation Household, by Anne Sinkler Whaley LeClercq
Grant, by Ron Chernow

Hannah: Not all authors enjoy the subjects of their own books. Would you devour this one?

Tara: I would read it, yes, and I think I would enjoy it. I have written other books that are more to my taste. I think this one is geared more towards my sister’s taste (wink). But there is, I hope, always an element that I strive to put in my books that makes you want to keep reading or read the next one. Can I tell you a secret? There’s another cliffhanger in Northern Fire! Gotta run now before readers attack me!

Stop by the Southern Rain FAQ Page for some more questions answered about the series and my writing in general. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me!

Cover Reveal: Northern Fire

I’m so excited to share the cover for Northern Fire!  This is Book 2 of the Torn Asunder Series and follows Southern Rain.  The Kindle edition is available for pre-order now and will release to your device on May 25th.  The paperback will be available to order exclusively from Amazon.com on May 25th.

Here is the cover!  What do you think?

NorthernFire

{Charleston, Modern Day:

Adeline Miller’s life has taken a significant detour. Nothing has been quite as she imagined since coming to Charleston, and the worst of it is the uncertainty that leaves her wanting both to take a leap of faith and to protect her heart. Still, she is determined to restore the Ravenel-Thompson House and discover what secrets and mysteries lie beneath its hallowed walls.

Charleston, 1861:

Shannon Haley’s choice is made. Plunging into a war-torn land, she will risk everything to reach her family. Reconciliation is only a vague and distant hope, but what awaits her when she arrives in the South, she can only guess. Crushed by loss and despair, can she find a new life among the ruins of her home, her marriage, and her peace?}

This book has been a long time in the making, and I cannot wait to share it with you!

-Tara

Cover Design By: TeaBerryCreative.com

Northern Fire Synopsis

Hi friends!

I am so excited to share the synopsis of my new book, Northern Fire, which will release on May 25th.  The book covers the next few months in the lives of our modern characters and the rest of the Civil War for our historical characters.  There are some real ups and downs, but I think you will enjoy the ride!  Stay tuned in the next few weeks for more details, including the cover reveal on Monday and an Author’s Q & A later on.  Also, for the greatest insights on my books, you can follow me on Instagram @teaandrebellion_

And so, without further ado, the synopsis for Northern Fire, Book 2 Torn Asunder Series:

Blurb Image

Review: Denise Hunter Books

Review: Summer by the Tides and Lake Season by Denise Hunter

I’ve been a huge Denise Hunter fan for about ten years. If she writes it, I read it. I actually delved into Summer by the Tides, a stand-alone novel that comes between the Blue Ridge and Bluebell Inn Series, back in July of 2019 while I was on vacation, but I never got around to reviewing it. I’m actually glad, because I think the two books are good to review together, since both represent new literary angles for Denise Hunter.

Okay, you know the drill by now. I always try to let you know my biases up front so that you can judge for yourself how seriously to take my review. 😊 I was fortunate enough to begin my Denise Hunter journey with The Convenient Groom. It was exquisitely magical. I followed it up almost immediately with Surrender Bay. It was perhaps even more enchanting. I loved the books so much that I, as a high school senior, broke surreptitiously into my mom’s Christmas stash, where I knew a copy of Seaside Letters was just sitting there, waiting for me, unread and lonely. I had a third of it read between getting home from school and driving to volunteer at a Kids of the Community Christmas event. Needless to say, the Nantucket series set the bar pretty high for me. It has, unfairly, always been the measure by which I judge every new Denise Hunter book.

Now, you should know that I devour every new Hunter book as soon as I get it in the mail. They’re always eminently readable, another reason she is one of my favorite authors. But for me, there are tiers of Denise Hunter Books. In the top tier are those in which what I have termed “Denise Hunter Magic” are present and include: The Convenient Groom, Surrender Bay, Seaside Letters, Dancing with Fireflies, Falling Like Snowflakes, and The Goodbye Bride. There’s just a little something special to these books, a certain tightness of plot, deep romantic chemistry, and a little fairy dust. The second tier are those books which are still better than any other modern books and have a great romantic plot, but which are lacking in said fairy dust. Those include: Sweetwater Gap, Sweetbriar Cottage, Blue Ridge Sunrise, On Magnolia Lane, Just a Kiss, and Married ‘til Monday.

The third tier are those in which there is less romantic chemistry for me. I still buy them, I still read them quickly, I still enjoy them – they’re just not soul-stirring. Unfortunately, both Summer by the Tides and Lake Season fall into the third tier for me. That being said, I want you to keep in mind that this is all just a matter of taste. I could really see a lot of people going crazy over these two books, especially Lake Season. We all come to the table with different backgrounds and biases, and I’ve already told you that my bar is extremely high, and I’m guessing you’ve realized by now that I’m also an extremely picky reader. Neither of these books should be easily written off, and that’s why I’m going to give them both a review. Here we go!

Denise Hunter - Summer by the Tides

Summer by the Tides:

When I picked up this book by the pool in Florida, I read it really quickly and enjoyed it quite a bit. Summer by the Tides is Denise Hunter’s first foray into Women’s Fiction, which is characterized by putting all or most of the emphasis on the female protagonist, with a lot of attention paid to female friendship or family relationships. There is usually a romantic thread, but it takes a back seat to the woman’s journey or growth. I love Women’s Fiction. I think it’s actually more realistic for most people than a heady romance. I loved that Denise Hunter was flexing her writing muscles in this modern direction – go Denise! But because of the biases I discussed above, I want romance from Denise Hunter, doggonit! 😊 I fully acknowledge that this is not fair at all.

There was romance in the book, and I actually remember liking the male lead quite a bit. But…that’s about all I remember about it, to be honest. I has been only about nine months since I read the book, and I couldn’t remember a single thing about the book or the female lead, which is very unusual for me. So I had to go back and refresh myself.

Once I did that, I was actually quite impressed. There was a lot of work put into the characters and into the storyline. I think it was just that I was longing for the romance to be the focus, coupled with the fact that, while the Women’s Fiction element was good  (the female lead’s relationship with her sisters), it actually felt a little formulaic to me, like a plot from a Women’s Fiction generator. By that, I mean that I’ve seen very similar things done in Women’s Fiction books several times; there wasn’t a fresh angle.

But if you get a chance to go on vacation this summer, take it, read it, enjoy it. Your reading experiences might be so different from mine that it will be your perfect book. It will be a great summer read, either way.

Denise Hunter - Lake Season

Lake Season:

Lake Season represents another departure from Denise Hunter’s norm. This is actually a time-slip novel, in which we alternate between present day and the 1960’s. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but, while we’ve seen flashbacks in a character’s own life, I don’t think there has been a Denise Hunter book yet which follows a historical thread of different characters. I also thought there was a general difference in atmosphere: this book was a little moodier, almost putting you in mind of a Nicholas Sparks book.

Speaking of Nicholas Sparks…the male lead, an author, definitely draws some inspiration from him, and there are references to The Notebook throughout. I liked Adam. He is a beta hero, which is always endearing. I also liked Molly. However, I don’t think Molly was ever three-dimensional for me, and there was just something lacking in the chemistry between the two. The kissing scenes were great. Other than that…no sparks.

I think the modern story line put too much dependence on the historical storyline. Even though the modern portion really constituted the bulk of the book, there just wasn’t enough substance there, not enough emphasis on the emotional things of the present day. It focused almost entirely on the historical mystery, and, frankly, I guessed the secrets, all of them, about the historical storyline almost immediately. The historical part suffered from being a really predictable plot.

The beginning of the book plods along, but the second half is, admittedly, quite a bit better. Every one of the elements for a really moving book were there in the strong finish, but somehow, it just didn’t all come together for me. But again, it might for you!

There are going to be two more books in the Bluebell Inn Series, with one set to release on May 19, and another this October.

Featured Image By: Tara Cowan

Photo Credits in Body: DeniseHunterBooks.com

Rose O’Neal Greenhow

History Behind the Story #10: Rose O’Neal Greenhow

Spoiler alert! In Southern Rain, my historical heroine, Shannon, is recruited by a respectable society matron-turned spy for the Confederacy. I had always known Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a spy, but it had never really struck me how huge it was that she was at the top rung of society in Washington, D.C. and yet still doing quite a bit more than dabbling in espionage. She also always struck me as a bit shady, but is that accurate, or just a reflection of history-telling that has dubbed her as “unladylike?” Let’s delve into her story, shall we?

Maria Rosetta O’Neal was born in Maryland in either 1813 or 1814 (there is some dispute about this). Reports differ as to which of her parents died first, but we do know that it was upon her mother’s death when she was about 13 that Rose, as she was called, was sent along with her sister to Washington, D.C., to live with relatives.

When Rose was about 21, she married Dr. Robert Greenhow, “a federal librarian and translator with medical and law degrees.”[1] I have also seen him labelled as a historian.  Rose hobnobbed with the elite in Washington, including Dolley Madison. Rose was, apparently, involved in political intrigues, one involving Cuba, before the Civil War, and she made it a point to befriend politically powerful men, like John C. Calhoun and James Buchanan.

Robert was transferred to the West Coast in 1850, where Rose lived for a few years before returning to Washington, D.C. to give birth to her fourth child, understandable since she was by that time around 40, and she would want to be near friends and family. But tragedy struck when her husband fell from an elevated sidewalk in California and died from his injuries in 1854, leaving Rose to raise their 4 daughters alone.

Rose did get a pension, since her husband had been a Federal employee, so she bought a house not far from the White House and resumed her role as society hostess. She was a friend to politicians on both sides of the aisle, and she was always politically active. She campaigned for James Buchanan and helped him get elected.

Keep in mind that, at the outbreak of the Civil War, she was in the stage of life (her late 40’s) when most women in her era would be contemplating being grandmothers and slowing things down a bit. Not Rose. She instantly sided in her heart with the Confederacy and became a spy.  Some sources say that she was recruited by U.S. Army Captain Thomas Jordan, who set her up as a spy before leaving the U.S. military and going to join the Confederate military.  Rose stayed in Washington when most Southerners had evacuated, so she was obviously presumed to be on the side of the North. With her many political connections, she was in a position to hear anything a gentleman in power might accidentally let slip.

It was through Henry Wilson, a Senator on the Military Affairs Committee, that Rose heard that the Union Army was concentrating its forces in a plan to converge on Manassas, Virginia. It wasn’t Shannon Ravenel whom Rose ended up drafting, though. 😊 It was a young woman named Bettie Duvall, who allowed Rose to hide a ciphered note in her hair. Bettie then snuck out of Washington dressed as a lower-class farm woman and made her way to Fairfax Court House, Virginia, which was occupied by Confederate troops. She startled Confederate officers by unravelling her hair and pulling a note from its confines. They decided to trust her and, thus armed with knowledge of Union General McDowell’s plans, were able to consolidate their own forces and meet the attack at Manassas, and to win.[2]

I think one thing that I never really realized was how extensive Rose’s spy network was.  I always imagined her passing along notes when she could, doing a dab here and there. But her network consisted of 48 women and 2 men and spanned several states. That’s 50 employees – that we know of.  It was not at all unlikely that she would try to recruit someone like Shannon, a young woman with Confederate sympathies who was married to a Union officer.

In addition, Rose’s network wasn’t just extensive, it was sophisticated. She used an intricate cipher to code and decode messages. It survived and was able to operate through both of her imprisonments.

But Rose did have a weakness: she wasn’t the greatest at storing her information. She kept extremely incriminating documents in her home, such as reports, maps, burned papers, and copies of messages to Beauregard.

So, this was all evidence against her, but how did she initially get busted? Thomas A. Scott, an assistant to the Secretary of War, received an anonymous tip that Rose was a spy. The North had just formed the Union Intelligence Service, with Allan Pinkerton as its director. He was assigned to personally monitor Rose, an indication of how much damage the Union felt she was capable of inflicting, since Pinkerton was also the go-to man for McClellan’s Army of the Potomac in collecting very important information like how big the Confederate armies they were going to face would be.

I am going to quote one of my sources, since it gives such a vivid account, on what happened next. “On August 22, 1861, Pinkerton cased Greenhow’s house and noticed a young Union officer entering. Standing on the shoulders of a fellow officer, he spied into the front parlor and noticed the officer and Greenhow speaking in hushed tones and looking over a map of Union fortifications. Pinkerton waited until the officer left the residence and tried to flag him down. When the officer ran, Pinkerton followed. Unfortunately, the officer ran to the provost-marshal station and had Union soldiers arrest Pinkerton. He was thrown into a holding cell in a nearby guardhouse. By bribing a guard, Pinkerton was able to send a message to Scott about what he just witnessed. Scott summoned Pinkerton to the War Department and, after confirming his story, arrested the officer immediately.

“The War Department then went after Rose. As she was returning from a walk the next day, Rose was approached by Union soldiers and arrested. The soldiers then searched her house. The map of Union fortifications that the officer showed her yesterday was found with other incriminating materials and Rose was placed under house arrest with her youngest daughter ‘Little’ Rose. Other raids of Confederate-sympathizers and spies were conducted in DC in the following weeks and suspected spies, like Rose’s friend Eugenia Phillips, were imprisoned in Rose’s home. The house became known as ‘Fort Greenhow.’”[3]  John Thomas’s fears for Shannon in that scene at the end of Southern Rain were very real, then: if she had been involved, it was quite likely she would have been arrested and imprisoned along with Rose.

Now, keep in mind, this imprisonment of Rose was in her own home, with her youngest daughter allowed to remain with her. That seems pretty gracious of the Union to me, given the swift and rough justice usually applied to spies. I think the trouble was that they didn’t quite know what to do with Rose.  You have this society lady in beautiful clothes, who knows all the “best people,” and she has connections everywhere. This probably put the authorities in a very difficult position. They would look like monsters if they imprisoned her in a real prison, and no one would ever believe how much damage she had done. If found guilty, hanging her was out of the question. It wouldn’t be until after the assassination of Lincoln that a woman would be sentenced by the federal government to die by hanging. And, if I’m not mistaken, the federal government would have had jurisdiction here, for two reasons: 1. Rose was living in D.C., which falls under the federal government’s wing; and 2. She could easily have been tried by the federal government anyway because she would have been accused of treason, espionage, and conspiring against the Union Army. Frankly, Rose could have been sentenced without a trial, since President Lincoln had suspended habeus corpus in certain areas or with certain people in cases involving far less evidence of treason than Rose had given them. “But she’s wearing a hoop skirt!”  Someone had to have said that, right?

My big question is: why would Rose have risked so much, especially after getting caught the first time? She was born in Maryland, a state that hadn’t even seceded. There was significant Confederate sentiment in certain parts of Maryland, but Rose hadn’t lived there in a long time. Her home was Washington, D.C.  Washington was, to some extent, thought of as a “Southern city,” but no one disputed that it by rights belonged to the Union, and if you were going to be on the Confederate side, you simply needed to leave, as most did (not that I don’t get the brilliance of Rose staying if she intended to become a spy). But I’m struggling to come up with why Rose identified with the South so much that she was willing to put her neck on the line. Her husband had worked for the federal government. One of her older daughters had married a Union officer and urged her mother to stay away from secessionists.

I think it had to be either that she was passionately attached to the South or she was bored. The latter is not impossible. She was a very intelligent woman confined by society to a very limited role. She couldn’t go out and use her skills in a job. She couldn’t openly offer her talents to either military.  Could it be that she liked feeling useful, as though her contributions accomplished something? Or at the very least, it seems possible that she liked the suspense and danger involved.

But there was no end to the trouble Rose caused the authorites, even after she was arrested. She continued spying, even after the military and government authorities made concession after concession to her.

Her friend, Mrs. Phillips, was able to convince the authorities to release her to the South, and she continued to communicate with Rose and send information via smuggled letters. She also continued to get information to Confederate authorities for Rose. Sometimes Rose’s Union friends (like Senator Henry Wilson) would drop by and still let information slip! I have to imagine that Rose was just that good at dragging stuff out of people.

Collecting information was her true strength as a spy. Rose continued to communicate with her network by using handkerchiefs of various colors that she would wave out her windows. Some say she used her window blinds and flickers from candles as signals later on.  She also smuggled a letter to Secretary of War Seward asking that she be released, a letter she proceeded to copy and send to the South, where it was printed in a Richmond newspaper, much to Seward’s annoyance. So a question arises here: Were the authorities being kind to her and Rose took advantage, or did the authorities never imagine Rose could, as a woman, do any damage while under house arrest and she took the initiative to prove them wrong? What a conundrum!

Anyway, the War Department got annoyed and transferred Rose and Little Rose to Old Capital Prison in January of 1862. Even there, Rose was able to smuggle in a Confederate flag, and she waved it from the prison window. Can’t you just picture her saying, in a honey-accent, “Officer, I’m just a widow in reduced circumstances, imprisoned, away from my home – wouldn’t you just let my friend in to see me, please?” And then, of course, he melts, and then next thing we have is Rose waving the Confederate flag singing, “La la la la la!” from the window. That kind of makes me laugh. And kind of not. She was really pushing it. Maybe she was really secure in the fact that they would never hang a woman? I mean, come on, she had a nine-year-old daughter to think of – she had to have been pretty confident they would never truly press charges.

And it seemed she had good reason. Two of the reasons given for not putting her on trial were that she was so dangerous that she could expose government secrets and that she might make a mockery of government officials. My guess is that the “mockery of government officials” part means that a lot of high-up gentlemen were squirming, knowing that they had let sensitive information fall in Rose’s presence. She had some dirt on people.

She was ultimately released in May, told to go to the South, and informed that she had better not leave the Confederacy. If that sounds crazy to you (the government releasing her and just expecting her to follow their orders), it wasn’t really crazy for the time. Soldiers captured as prisoners by both armies were often “paroled,” meaning that they were told to go home and stay put. Most resources I’ve read says most men followed the terms of their parole.

She was met with great enthusiasm in Richmond, the socialites taking her in, and she even had an audience with Jefferson Davis. But Rose did not stay put. She was sent by the Confederacy on a diplomatic mission to Britain and France. Again, I am torn. It was really bad to violate the terms of her release. On the other hand, she was a woman becoming a diplomat in 1862.[4] Whatever the circumstances, that was a huge accomplishment. And Rose did not twiddle her thumbs on her diplomatic mission!  In fact, she became engaged to the Earl of Granville, which is pretty major if you think about how rare marriageable nobility was, and how many ladies would’ve killed to have married into said nobility. While she was there, she penned her memoirs, entitled, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington.

I had been thinking that, while she might have had slaves, she didn’t have deep economic ties to slavery, like a planter would have. She had been born to a wealthy slaveholding family, but she simply had a house in the City of Washington. And yet, seeing the title of her book, and its snarky reference to abolitionists, her feelings began to be a little clearer to me. Rose was a huge advocate for the Southern way of life, and she was very pro-slavery in sentiment. If the Southern way of life was her abiding passion, that would probably be reason enough for her instantly to side with the Confederacy. Why she repeatedly put her neck on the line is still less clear, unless she just felt that passionately.

In any event, Rose didn’t let even her journey home go to waste. She brought back $2,000 worth of gold for the Confederate cause. She was travelling on a British blockade runner (if you remember from our last History Behind the Story post, the Union Navy formed a very effective blockade of Southern ports). When the ship approached Wilmington, North Carolina, the captain thought he saw Union ships. While he was attempting to escape, the ship became grounded.  Rose had two other Confederate agents with her, and all three were worried about being captured, so they requested a rowboat to paddle to shore in. (I’m definitely seeing Rose’s love for adventure coming through.)

But this is where Rose’s story ends. The boat capsized, and Rose drowned.[5] She was given full military honors by the Confederacy (another thing that was highly unusual for a woman), and she was thereafter a “revered symbol for the Confederate Cause.”[6]

I always hesitate to make moral judgments of people who lived in a different time period. But I’m curious: what do you think of Rose? Power woman or dastardly spy? Tell me what you think!

P.S. You can see all of Rose’s captured correspondence at archives.gov here:

https://www.archives.gov/research/military/civil-war/greenhow

Duke University also has a collection here: https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/greenhow/.  At that link is a list of four books if you are interested in pursuing your interest of Rose Greenhow.

P.S. Also, the featured photograph is Rose and Little Rose, captured while Rose was imprisoned at Old Captured Prison. It was captured by the Mathew Brady’s famous studio.

That’s a wrap on our History Behind the Story Series for Southern Rain. But never fear, I’m thinking of doing a similar series covering the history of Northern Fire! Thanks for hanging in there with the series! It’s been fun!

Sources:

Rose O’Neal Greenhow, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/rose-oneal-greenhow.

Rose O’Neal Greenhow: American Confederate Spy, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rose-ONeal-Greenhow.

Confederate Spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow Dies, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rose-greenhow-dies.

Seized Correspondence of Rose O’Neal Greenhow, https://www.archives.gov/research/military/civil-war/greenhow.

Image Credit: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/rose-oneal-greenhow.

Footnotes:

[1] https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/rose-oneal-greenhow.

[2] There is some dispute among sources as to how vital this information was to the Confederate victory at Manassas. Some sources say everyone knew the Federals were converging on Manassas. I could see that. But I am also hesitant to believe those sources because there is a certain dismissive tone to them that I have found quite common when a woman’s role in history is the topic, especially if the woman stepped outside of a woman’s then-proper roles. It seems unlikely that Jefferson Davis and the entire South would have regarded her as a heroine if the information she passed along was common knowledge. Confederate General Beauregard later testified that he requested more troops because of the information the ladies passed along to him. If he hadn’t had enough troops, he might have lost the battle – who can say?

[3] https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/rose-oneal-greenhow.

[4] Some sources refer to Rose’s capacity as unofficial, but it seems pretty clear that Confederate President Davis sent her.

[5] Sources say that the gold was sewn into her dress or carried by her in a satchel and dragged her down into the water. I don’t know why, but that seems a little fanciful to me. I do not doubt the gold was on her person. I do doubt that she would have been able to walk in said dress if she had had enough gold to plunge her to and keep her at the bottom of the ocean. I feel like it’s more likely that she got caught in a current, either caused by the ship or the tides. Or perhaps she couldn’t swim. Or perhaps she got tangled in her hoop skirt. There seem to be so many possibilities.

[6] https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/rose-oneal-Greenhow.

Rose Greenhow - battlefields.org