Naming Our Characters

Naming characters is one of my favorite things to do when I’m starting a new book. It can also be a really difficult process, though, and I have author friends who get stuck in this phase and throw their hands up in frustration. I’ve been working on honing my naming skills over the past eleven years and thought I’d share some of my techniques!

The most important thing is that the name works for you. It has to wash with the character in your head, or it just doesn’t click. A closely related tip is that the name has to work for the character. Sometimes the name makes the character, and sometimes the character makes the name. Usually, I try to choose names that really suit the person, kind of like you would do if you were naming a pet. An example of this is Shannon’s cousin, Marie, from the Torn Asunder Series. The name just always suited her, so that was easy. An example of the character making the name would be if you had a really bold girl but decided to give her a soft, feminine name, just for the contrast. I’ve seen this work really well.

Using an obviously unsuited name can also work if you want to try out an unusual moniker. I’ve had characters in the past that I’ve done this for, and I think, “Wow, you really pulled that off!” On the flip side, not every name is made for every character. For instance, my historical male lead, John Thomas, was originally Cameron. This is a bit of a modern name, but I knew I could get away with it because it is a surname, and a lot of people gave their sons family surnames back in the day.  However, the name didn’t fit him. It was as though the name tried to make him something he wasn’t. His character even started to change a little from the way I had imagined it in my head. This is the power of naming.

You can also see by my experience with the John Thomas/Cameron debacle that naming can help you get to know your characters when their personalities are still fresh and undeveloped in your head. Through that process, I was able to learn that John Thomas was a little quieter and kinder than I had begun to draw him. The character begins to revolt against the wrong name, and it’s a really helpful tool to keep in your back pocket.

So how did I arrive at John Thomas? It’s hard to remember precisely after so many character names, but I’m pretty sure that John Thomas’s name was inspired by Stonewall Jackson’s. A lot of people don’t know that the famous General was actually Thomas Jonathan Jackson. I always thought the name had a rather nice ring to it. So I kind of flipped it and brushed it up for my character. Why the use of two names? People did this during the Civil War Era. Also, I could never think of one name that fully encapsulated his character.

A name is also a good opportunity to show that you’ve done your historical homework. You probably don’t want a Kayla in 1860. But it’s not always easy to think of good historical names or to know what names were common to your particular era. The best place to start is to pull up census records for the era you want to use. A lot of census records list ages, so you need to look for someone who would have been born in the same decade as your character. There is also a great website that compiles censuses by birth year and lists the most popular names of each decade. It can be found here:

https://www.galbithink.org/names/us200.htm.

I use that site all the time. Remember, if you’re writing a twenty-year-old character in 1850, you need to go back to 1830. Only think how much naming trends change in twenty years in the modern world!  They didn’t change as much, historically speaking, but you can definitely see certain fashion trends as you scroll through censuses. Another tip is to study real people from your era and look at what their children, their sisters, their uncles, etc. were named.

My books also include enslaved characters. For their names, the process is a little different. The censuses also included and counted the enslaved since slave states got a boost in representation in Congress based off the number of slaves held. Obviously, then, you can find historically accurate names for the enslaved from censuses. But you have to find a census from a slave state, and I have often found that historical records from Southern states are a little spottier and more difficult to locate for various reasons. Another good option is to get onto the websites of house museums where there was once an enslaved population. Museums will often do highlights on particular enslaved people or families. The one tough thing about that is that house museums tend to focus on a particular era. For instance, Virginia plantations most all tend to spotlight the Revolutionary Era. So, another thing you can do is read biographies or diaries of slaveowners. Typically, the names of the enslaved will come up. If you have a really hard time tracking down slave records, you can just fall back on the names from the general census from the appropriate era. The names didn’t tend to be too different. For instance, Thomas Jefferson’s rolls list an enslaved woman named Patsy at Monticello, and his daughter was also Patsy.

Okay, so let’s wrap up the conversation on first names with some of my choices from the Torn Asunder Series. Shannon was originally Mary until it struck me that “Shannon” really suited her. Therefore, she became Mary Shannon and is called “Shannon.” Historically, a lot of people gave even their girls family surnames as middle names, so I thought I could get away with that. Frederick’s name just always suited him. “Adeline” (my modern female lead) fit her. It was kind of sweet, kind of quirky, kind of old. Adrian (my modern male lead) kept trying to be “Aidan,” which would have worked for him, but I kept forcing him to be “Adrian” for reasons I can’t now remember!

Now, let’s talk surnames.

I think the most important thing in surnames is remembering that you’re dealing with people who have a family history. I recently read a book that featured a historical character from Tennessee, and he had a last name that was distinctly of Germanic origin. My initial reaction was, “No, he’s not from Tennessee.”  As I sat and wondered why that had thought popped in my head, it hit me that there just weren’t a lot of people of Germanic origins in Tennessee in the era the author had chosen. There were a few, though, and people can obviously move from their original state. I kept waiting for the book to explain the character’s family history, but it never did, and that was when it hit me.  I googled the author’s state, and most of the people there are of Germanic origins. Bingo. It was just an oversight or an assumption, which could happen to any of us. There’s just so much to get right when you’re writing, and it’s impossible to cover it all.

The best thing to do is look at immigration patterns. For historical fiction, unless you’re doing it to make a certain point, it’s best not to stray too much from the area’s human ecology because you run the risk of straying from accuracy in naming. For instance, if you’re writing a book set in New Orleans, it’s best to use mostly French surnames, toss in a few Spanish, and add a dash of English. In Tennessee, immigration patterns show the bulk of the population was from England, Scotland, and Ireland. Always, there will be surnames that stray from the norm, and by all means, it’s great to show those. But do it with intention.

I would just like to make a note here that research should also be done if you have characters who were formerly or currently enslaved. You have a lot of options, including the following: having no surname while enslaved, having a family surname even while enslaved (if permitted), keeping an original African name, taking on an African surname after freedom, taking on a name that meant something special to the individual like “Freeman” or “Ransom,” and taking on the former owner’s surname. You can see the potential for so many wonderful stories and choices. To explore those stories through naming is a particularly profound opportunity.

Also, if your historical story includes a Native American character, similarly there needs to be some research on various naming methods. Sometimes Native Americans would choose to take on a European name either because they were fathered by a European American or as a measure of assimilation. Sometimes Native Americans would choose to keep traditional names.

Obviously, for modern storylines, some of this goes out the window because we live in a much more mobile and diverse society.  But I still think it can’t hurt to do a little research. Even your modern characters have a family story, and I think their backgrounds ring truest when you take a little time to research what that story might have been.

As for my surname choices? Charleston has a strong French Huguenot history, and Ravenel is a French Huguenot name I heard again and again on a nerdy historian’s tour of Charleston.  So I plucked it right from history.  My historical male lead is from New England. Obviously, there were a lot of people of English descent in Massachusetts in the nineteenth century, so I pulled a list of English surnames. “Haley” appealed to me because of Alex Haley’s powerful connection with the history of slavery in light of John Thomas’s abolitionist roots.  So names can also be symbolic or literary while still being historically accurate!  My modern male lead is also a Ravenel due to his family connection back to the historical portion of the series.  My modern female lead is a Miller.  A girl-next-door name, no?

How do you choose your character names? Any good tips? If you’re not a writer, how did you name your kids or pets?

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:  It’s been so long since I first saved these pictures 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!

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

The Navy Before the Civil War

History Behind the Story #9: The Navy Before the Civil War

Spoiler alert! If you have read Southern Rain, you know that my historical male lead, John Thomas, attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland (which is how he met Shannon’s brother, and, ultimately, Shannon). From there, he goes on to enter the Navy and ultimately is a Captain before he heads off to war. Becoming a Captain seems like a bit of lightning-rise in rank, but considering the state of the Navy on the cusp of the Civil War, it wasn’t really. People with John Thomas’s education and a dab of experience were in high demand because if there was one word to describe the Navy when the Southern states began seceding, it was unprepared.

In 1843, the Navy was on the rise, technologically speaking. America rolled out the first propeller-driven steam warship in the world, the USS Princeton, but during a public relations cruise, one of its guns exploded, killing the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Navy, and that successfully halted interest in Naval expansion.

Further jinxing the Navy, its officer rankings seemed almost designed to stunt its prestige. The highest rank one could obtain at the outbreak of war was that of Captain, meaning that in any dealings with the army,  Generals would always feel like they outranked Naval Captains and had the final say. It wasn’t until 1862 that the ranks of Admiral, Vice Admiral, Rear Admiral, and Commodore would exist in the U.S. Navy.

In addition, America’s geography did not seem to leave it much in need of a Navy. In consequence, there were fewer than 90 ships owned by the Navy at the start of the Civil War, and only 42 of those 90 were ready for action. Of those 42, most of them were overseas on a tour from Brazil to China. As a result, Lincoln had only 12 ships at his disposal at the outbreak of war.

Technology lagged, too. It wasn’t until 1854 that America built its last ship that would be propelled by wind (sailing) instead of steam – yikes! The government then started building steam frigates and naming them for American rivers. These new frigates still had sailing capabilities, meaning they weren’t exactly a giant leap towards modernity. They averaged only about 5 or 6 knots under steam. Also, they were huge, too big to pull into most American ports. This led to the production of “screw sloops,” which weren’t quite so deep (one would even be able to traverse the Mississippi River during the assault on Vicksburg). And finally, a new class of warships that was entirely steam-propelled would make up the third generation of steamers, and they would all be named after Indian tribes.

These new warships were revolutionary because they carried modern guns capable of immense damage. Explosive shells from ships were the Civil War’s equivalent of dropping bombs. The guns were also rifled, which meant the projectiles emanating from them had a spin, meaning in turn that they could hold their trajectory over longer distances. This made it possible during the Civil War for combat range to be 20 times what it had been in previous wars.

And so, while there had been some innovation, there was surprisingly little effort put into giving the U.S. a robust Navy.

Southerners were at the forefront of innovation. They hoped to extend American influence (and slavery) into the Caribbean and Central America and had been Naval-minded for longer than other regions. However, the Confederacy had absolutely no navy at all before the Civil War. They built their entire Navy from scratch with remarkable innovation and industry at the outbreak of war.

A few ships were seized by local authorities in the South as states seceded. While Confederate authorities urged Naval officers who were Southern-born to bring their supplies and ships with them when they returned home after secession, none of them did, handing their men and materiel over to federal authorities before going South (like John Thomas’s friend Shalto Hughes does in Southern Rain).

Lots of people know that in the first naval battle of the war, the South’s ironclad absolutely destroyed the North’s ships. If you’re like me, though, you never questioned how the South got its hands on an ironclad so early in the war. Ironclads were just being invented right at the outbreak of the war. These were the mother of all naval vessels and ultimately became the preferred vessel for almost every expedition. Picture the effect a spinning, flaming shell would have on a wooden ship (explosion) and then picture the same shell thunking off of iron into the water harmlessly, and you’ll get the idea. But how did the South get an ironclad into its possession?

I’m going to quote Craig Symonds from his book, The Civil War at Sea. “When Virginia seceded in April of 1861, the steam frigate Merrimack was in the Gosport Navy Yard near Norfolk for an overhaul of her weak and unreliable engines.” The Secretary of the Navy ordered the commander to get it out of the yard, but the Commander broke nervous at the sight of a mob and sank it to keep it from falling into Confederate hands. “[The men] set fire to the masts…, still visible above the water…”

Okay, so if you’re like me, you don’t see a future for the Merrimack here. However, Stephen Mallory, the Confederate Secretary of the Navy, ordered that, “The possession of an iron-armored ship…[was] a matter of the first necessity.” Now, Southerners, from my experience, don’t waste anything, and the Merrimack had already been hauled out of the river and salvaged. Mallory began to wonder if this new-fangled idea, an iron casemate, might not be possible to put on this conveniently left steam-powered ship the Confederacy had acquired. So they literally built armored casemate on top of the Merrimack.[1] The Virginia (the Merrimack’s new name) dealt a huge wound to the Union Navy and morale at Hampton Roads in March, 1862.  And that would alter naval warfare forever. “The London Times wrote: ‘Before the duel off Hampton Roads, the Royal Navy had 149 first-class warships.  After the battle, it has just two.’ Wooden ships were now obsolete.”[2] The Union got down to business, building 84 ironclads during the war, and, ultimately, it would be the more successful Naval force.

The Confederacy at first intended to rely on fortifications, but the new ship technology had made ships a winner against forts almost every time. Since the Confederacy didn’t have the resources to build a huge navy, it was always at a disadvantage, and (this is just me personally) I don’t think enough emphasis has been placed on the U.S. Navy’s ultimate contribution to victory. Historians are always careful to caveat those contributions with, “Of course, it was primarily a land war, so the Navy couldn’t really be the reason the Union won.” And that may be true, but I often wonder what the Civil War would have looked like had the Union not been able to bring its Navy up to speed. What would Vicksburg have looked like, or the ultimate fall of Charleston? What if the U.S. Navy hadn’t formed such a successful blockade of the Southern coasts, and the South had been able to resupply from Europe? I think the Navy played an exceptionally vital role in the Civil War and imagine that the war would have been prolonged for years without its ultimate successes.

If you would like to read more about the Naval War, there are several books out there. One which was surprisingly helpful was Grant, by Ron Chernow. I say “surprisingly” because Grant was an Army man, of course. But Chernow’s research shows how vital Grant felt the Navy to be in ultimately winning the war.

Sources:

Symonds, Craig L., The Civil War at Sea (Oxford University Press, 2009).

“The Naval War of the Civil War,” https://www.historyonthenet.com/civil-war-the-naval-war.

Image Credit: https://www.historyonthenet.com/civil-war-the-naval-war.

[1] They were literally ripping up rail roads to get enough iron for the Tredegar Iron Works to melt down.

[2] https://www.historyonthenet.com/civil-war-the-naval-war.

Charleston during the Civil War:

Charleston Navy
Charleston Naval War

Abolitionists in New England

History Behind the Story #8: Abolition in New England

A note to readers: I wasn’t quite thinking about how broad this topic was when I chose it, so this post is a little long – sorry! I would recommend reading History Behind the Story #7 on the Congregationalist Church in New England for a little backstory on the people of New England. In addition, I should mention that there were abolitionists outside of New England. They were all over – Quakers, Free Blacks, certain groups of other Christians, moral philosophers, etc. This post will focus mainly on the New England voices, since my historical male lead hails from New England.

I created my first abolitionist family in the Torn Asunder Series. This aspect of the slavery conversation was a little easier to write, since my historical male lead, John Thomas, has views that would actually be considered more modern than my average Civil War character.

Of course, there were varying degrees of abolitionist sentiment, from those who wanted to see slavery’s end for economic purposes but were willing to brush equality or voting issues aside, to those who wanted to reestablish the enslaved in Africa (The American Colonization Society), to those who envisioned fully enfranchised, equal freedmen America. The latter are the rarest to find in primary sources, but since I was dealing with New England, I decided to go full force and make the Haleys staunch moral abolitionists.

I hope I conveyed that this was a rather radical viewpoint at the time, even for the free states. Massachusetts was the only state to allow black men to serve on a jury, and there was a pretty staunch system of segregation in the free states. And the slave states, of course, even espoused slavery as a moral “good” that “civilized” an “inferior” race. I’m putting that in quotes in that sentence but not citing any sources for it because you can find all three of those statements in so very many speeches, letters, and statements of the Era. Shannon is not by any means an anomaly when she is appalled by John Thomas’s views regarding equality. I might have made Shannon a more popular character by making her see things his way immediately, but I wouldn’t have made her an accurate one.

So how did Shannon’s husband get so “radical?”

Obviously, the story of slavery and abolition go right back to the founding generation’s decisions and compromises. The founding generation thought that slavery would die out, but, of course, that was before the invention of the cotton gin. A particularly important decision that was made was the Northwest Ordinance, which decreed that slavery would be banned north of the Mason-Dixon Line. After the Louisiana Purchase, whether the new states would be admitted as slave or free was THE hot-button issue of its day. Of course, the Missouri Compromise temporarily solved that issue. However, it is important to remember that this particular slave/free state issue was largely about the balance of power in the Senate and House of Representatives. Slave states wanted there to be more slave states, complete with all of their common interests and needs, so that the South’s coalition of power in Congress would be greater, and vice-versa. You don’t hear a great deal of heart-warming equality sentiment in this argument, unfortunately.

However, there were voices proclaiming equality, and, of course, ultimately such voices would be on the same side as and could form partnerships with the Union cause during the Civil War. I should also mention that their numbers grew exponentially during the Civil War, and one wonders if, after arguing so long against slavery’s economic evils, a lot of people either finally saw the light or decided that a partnership with moral abolitionists was extremely advantageous.

But for New England, moral abolition had been a real thing for years before the Civil War, and I think the beliefs of the Congregationalist and Unitarian churches, which we discussed in the last post, had a lot to do with it. It was one of those pockets of society where you could find people saying very controversial and pointed things about slavery that not just your average citizen was willing to venture.

I should back up and say that early New England colonists embraced the slave trade for both African and Native American slaves, according to Wendy Warren, the author of New England Bound. In addition, New England was home to many large textile mills that needed cotton to prosper, if you know what I mean. So I cannot say that there was always something inherent in all New Englanders that made them opposed to human bondage.

I do, think, however, that a large part of New England never really lost the abolitionist sentiment that swept all of the colonies during the Revolutionary Era. It matched up well with their religious beliefs of self-determination and confrontation of sin. John Adams seems to have felt himself to be on pretty solid ground in his gentle rebukes to Thomas Jefferson for his ownership of slaves. Abigail Adams admits in a letter that, while she knew she should not, she inwardly shuddered at an interracial couple’s embrace during a performance of Othello. I think this letter is key for understanding the more enlightened attitudes towards race in Massachusetts during the Founding for two reasons: 1) Abigail Adams seems to be genuinely horrified at her reaction in subsequent sentences. She is not a child of the Enlightenment for nothing. She says that there is everything to admire in Othello’s character and yet is unswervingly honest about the fact that she could not separate the person from his race. We might be judgmental of her for her reaction today. But that she could recognize this prejudice in herself at all is very nearly astounding for her era, and that she further knew herself to be in the wrong indicates some rather more elevated understanding of racial matters than we commonly see in this era. 2) She was a Massachusetts woman writing to a Massachusetts man, William Smith, with seemingly no belief that he would find anything at which to cavil in her letter, even when she ended her moral struggle with, “There is something I dare say esteemable in all, and the liberal mind regards not what Nation or climate it spring up in, nor what coulour or complexion the Man is of.”[1] Just take a minute to think how revolutionary that thought was, that a person shouldn’t be judged by his or her nationality or race, that there is some “esteemable” quality in every human. Beyond that, she was speaking on the issue of interracial love, a particularly taboo subject in most circles eighty years later on the eve of the Civil War.

So I do think the New England founding mothers and fathers handed down a heritage of abolition to succeeding generations. New Englanders seemed to speak with a boldness on the topic only possible if they 1) felt themselves to be called by a higher power to speak out or 2) had been raised in an environment that took a more enlightened view of race for granted. New Englanders knew about slavery and its horrors to the extent they could, having not been truly exposed to it, but I do not think they could have known how vastly different their views were from a vast swath of the country. I don’t think they knew that they were “radical” because I don’t think they knew just how differently many people felt. Picture your most closely held political belief that no one has ever truly questioned. Then picture someone espousing the opposite thing in the most shocking way possible. Then picture a slaveowner who just sent his slave to the field, who would go to church the next day and be told that what they were doing for the “barbaric race” was a real mercy, and then picture the same slaveowner reading a newspaper in which a New Englander says that same slave should be able to run for Congress. I picture wine sputtering across a dining room. And that’s how New Englander abolitionists got the term “radical.”

The Fugitive Slave Laws, which required Northern cooperation in returning escaped slaves to their masters, sparked a lot of anger in the North, and, when combined with stories of enslaved families being separated, you have the makings of an abolitionist movement. Slave-hunting was despised and resisted in New England (again, I’m speaking in general terms). There was a unified effort of many Bostonians to protect slaves who had escaped or to prevent those who had been recaptured from being returned to their masters. Sometimes they were successful, sometimes they weren’t. There was a highly publicized trial which ultimately ended in a slave being returned to his master. One New Englander commented, “We went to bed old-fashioned conservatives and waked up stark, mad abolitionists.”[2]

So let’s talk about a few individuals from New England.

Charles Sumner

No conversation on abolition would be complete without a look at Charles Sumner, he of the caning, a staunch moral abolitionist, a brave and radical soul, apparently a real jerk to talk to. Sumner was unusually brave in calling out slaveholders and was a very real force to be reckoned with. I’m sure you all know about The Incident? After the violence of Bleeding Kansas, Sumner chose to call out Senator Andrew Butler publicly for being a slaveholder. Apparently, Butler was an older man who had recently been extremely ill, and Sumner’s comments sparked outrage, even in the North (doesn’t this sound like a modern political drama?). And Preston Brooks, seemingly otherwise a sane man, a loving husband and father and Butler’s cousin, beat the crap out of Sumner with a cane. I had always pictured it being a few strikes, but the caning was, in actuality, very horrifying. It was entirely premeditated (we’re talking Brooks specifically chose a cane to inflict the most damage), and Brooks beat the defenseless Sumner again and again and again in such a brutal fashion that it had Sumner out of commission in the Senate for four years. Massachusetts left his seat in the chamber vacant as a political statement. The Incident is one of those events that leave you just feeling horrified all around, but most especially for the violence, which was truly gruesome if you read accounts of it. It makes you wonder what the government had descended to, especially when you think of the delight the beating gave the slaveholding states. I will add – not in defense of Brooks, of course, but just as a side-note: apparently everyone found Sumner abrasive, insufferable, and arrogant. I remember reading in the biography of President Grant that Grant, who, with all he had been through in the war and during Reconstruction, never lost his temper, lost it on Sumner. Just an interesting dimension to the extremely horrible story that you don’t get from a history blurb.

William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison founded a newspaper in Boston called The Liberator, which was an abolitionist newspaper which espoused equality in strong moral language. He attacked proponents of slavery by calling them out as Christians, and he even publicly burned the Constitution for its toleration of slavery. Frederick Douglass described him thus, “unusually modest and retiring in his disposition; but his zeal was like fire, and his courage like steel… [He was] the man who was then and will ever be regarded as the chief apostle of the immediate and unconditional emancipation of all the slaves in America.”[3]

Frederick Douglass

After escaping slavery, Douglass lived in Massachusetts and became a leading abolitionist, forming a strong coalition with William Lloyd Garrison and accomplishing immeasurable strides for the enslaved and later for the freedmen. He was especially effective as an orator. In fact, he fictitiously appears in Southern Rain at an abolitionist rally!

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe was from a prominent New England family. You probably know that she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in reaction to Fugitive Slave Laws and humanized individual slaves for the North in a way that likely would have been impossible otherwise. Literature is a remarkable, powerful thing. 300,000 copies were sold in the first year alone. There are rumors that Lincoln, who had been impacted by her book, called her “the little woman who made this great war.”[4]

The following is a block quote that summed up a few other aspects of abolition in New England that not many people know about, such as it being a rural movement and women being involved, and I thought it would be a good note on which to end. “By the 1830s, western Massachusetts was the epicenter of the state’s growing anti-slavery movement. Numerous towns in Franklin County founded anti-slavery societies, verifying the abolitionist Theodore Weld’s claim that ‘The springs [of the anti-slavery movement] lie in the country.’ Women, including those of color, proved particularly active, forming in Garrison’s words, a ‘great army of silent workers’ who wrote and shared anti-slavery literature, sponsored lecturers, circulated petitions, offered assistance to African Americans escaping slavery, and raised funds for the cause.”[5] That’s a wrap!

Hope you enjoyed this fascinating venture into New England anti-slavery history. I chose to craft characters who hailed from the Massachusetts and South Carolina. Massachusetts was the epicenter of abolition, just as South Carolina was that of pro-slavery sentiment. Both states were comprised of very passionate people with very firm beliefs. Since John Thomas and Shannon’s marriage represents the nation, those two states were the archetypes for their regions, and John Thomas and Shannon represent their states. Does that mean they are headed for their own Civil War? Guess you’ll have to read the Torn Asunder Series to see!

Sources:

Warren, Wendy, New England Bound (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2016).

Abigail Adams to William Stephens Smith, September 18, 1785, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-06-02-011.

Slavery and Abolition in New England, https://dinotracksdiscovery.org/supporting/swapfull/context/abolition-new-england/.

The Civil War Podcast, Episode 10: Anti-Slavery Movement.

The Civil War Podcast, Episode 11: Fugitive Slave Law and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The Civil War Podcast, Episode 13: Caning of Sumner.

Image Credit: Feature Image: Boston Abolitionists Await Emancipation Proclamation, https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/boston-abolitionists-await-emancipation-proclamation.html.

Image in Body of Post: Public Domain.  This is a poster for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, which appeals to emotions to encourage donations.  A very powerful poster!

[1] Abigail Adams letter to William Stephens Smith. Note: Obviously Liberal meant something different in the 1850’s from what it did today, so I in no way intend this as a political commentary on today’s politics or issues, since this website is strictly non-political.

[2] The Civil War Podcast, Episode 11: Fugitive Slave Law and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

[3] Boston Abolitionists Await Emancipation Proclamation. Note: Obviously Conservative meant something different in the 1850’s from what it did today, so I in no way intend this as a political commentary on today’s politics or issues, since this website is strictly non-political.

[4] The Civil War Podcast, Episode 11: Fugitive Slave Law and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

[5] Slavery and Abolition in New England.

Abolition Society Poster

The Congregationalist Church in New England

History Behind the Story #7: The Congregationalist Church in New England

Who were they? The Puritans. What was their creed? To make themselves The City Upon a Hill.

As a Southern girl, I was largely unacquainted with the Congregational/Congregationalist Church, for most of my life until learning about it in a Religious Studies class during college. And of course, once someone clued me in that the older name for the church was “Puritan,” the pieces fell into place. According to Sara Georgini, who authored Household Gods: The Religious Lives of the Adams Family, Puritans turned into Congregationalists by the 18th Century, and there was a bend toward Unitarianism among the more liberal wing by the 19th Century, although Congregationalism remained its own strain.

So I had two denominational[1] choices from which to choose (Unitarianism or Congregationalism) when carving out the background of my historical protagonist, John Thomas Haley. John and Abigail Adams, who are (fictional, of course!) ancestors of John Thomas, were Unitarians. Ultimately, I chose the Congregationalist wing because, having been raised in churches that believe in a Trinity, I didn’t want to misrepresent the Unitarians, who did not quite believe in a traditional Trinity.

This strain of Protestantism today is considered one of the more liberal churches in America, so, at first, the connection back to the Puritans was odd for me, until I really thought about it and realized that the Puritans have always been “progressive” during their eras throughout the generations. From breaking away from the Church of England to the abolition movement during the Civil War, it seems like you can always trace New England’s most famous voices back to a Puritan heritage.

So, how did they get their start in New England? Basically, the Puritans wanted to purify the practices of both the Catholic Church and The Church of England during the 16th and 17th Century. They were part of the Reformation movement that sought greater purity within the church. Their beliefs were “codified” in the Savoy Declaration in 1658, with the full title of: A Declaration of the Faith and Order owned and practiced in the Congregational Churches in England. For a more thorough look into the Reformation movement and the beliefs and ideas swirling around Europe during the Martin Luther era, see my post entitled History Behind the Story #1: French Huguenots in South Carolina.

The Puritans were dissenters from the Church of England and ended up having to worship on the down-low because dissenting was Not Allowed. Also, Puritans in Holland were being persecuted. Hence, the Mayflower. You’ve all heard of the Mayflower, I presume. English and Dutch Puritans made up a big chunk of the people who sailed for the colonies and eventually landed at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts after trying to land initially in Virginia. And it’s crazy to think of that moment, of the serendipity of events, and the impact they would have 250 years later during the American Civil War. But more on that next week!

The Mayflower Compact was signed before they disembarked, and if you read the text of it, it shows already these New Englanders’ commitment to order, peace, democracy, and religion. It feels like you could almost draw a straight line in history from the Mayflower Compact to the Massachusetts Colony’s extreme chafing under British dominion in the days leading up to the Revolutionary War.

Now, keep in mind that these “Pilgrims” were a particularly devout strain of Puritans called “Separatists,” who believed that they could not worship or find full expression for their beliefs by reforming any other church but needed to be a separate body from any existing church. Each local church in New England ruled itself and was not answerable to a higher denominational structure. However, Congregationalism became the “state church” in the colonies where Puritans predominated, in which taxpayers supported ministers and only church members could vote in elections.[2] This led to some pretty restrictive practices since authority can so easily be abused. And, of course, this kind of compulsory society was unsustainable just a generation or two out.

Luckily for the Congregationalists, though, was the emergence of the First Great Awakening. You all remember “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?” Yeah, I bet you do! (*Shudders*) Jonathan Edwards was a Congregational minister. While ensuring the continuance of the Congregationalists, the First Great Awakening did lead to a split between the “Old Lights” and “New Lights” of the Church, but the depths of that chasm are beyond the scope of this post.

Not surprisingly, most Congregationalists sided with the Patriots during the American Revolution. I’ve noticed a tendency to confuse the Congregationalists with the Quakers, who were pacifists. However, Congregationalists were not pacifists and fought in the Revolution. (This was why I could craft the storyline of John Thomas building a career in the Navy later on in the antebellum period, and have his family be very much behind that career.)

Right from the beginning, Congregationalists were dedicated to education. They founded Harvard very quickly after landing in the colonies, and Yale was very much supported by the Congregational Church. Both seem to have placed an emphasis on training pastors and building a literate ministry in the early years. In order to give a nod to John Thomas’s Puritan roots, I had John Thomas’s brother-in-law, Jonathan, attend Harvard before entering the ministry.

In addition to higher education, there was an emphasis placed on the education of children. While reading David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, I was struck by the fact that one of John Adams’s first jobs while he was still a bachelor was teaching at a co-ed school. He noted that one of his sharpest pupils was a little girl. That admission alone would have been revolutionary in most places. And then, fast-forward a hundred years, and we see New Englanders pouring into the South after the Civil War to found schools for former slaves– men, women, and children. They had a strong commitment to the ideal that education was necessary both for advancement in the secular world and as Christians.

So, who were some famous New Englanders with Puritan roots? To name just a few:
-Louisa May Alcott (You may know that she was actually raised as a Transcendentalist, a movement which grew out of the Unitarian movement.)
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
-Emily Dickinson
-Harriet Beecher Stowe
-Henry Ward Beecher

Something that turned out to be really neat was that, while Shannon’s Huguenot roots which turned into Presbyterianism and John Thomas’s Puritan roots which turned into Congregationalism felt poles apart, they both arose out of Reformation Era movements.[3] Therefore, while their ancestors came from different countries and sects, both had a history of rebellion, of familial persecution, of commitment to faith, and of an unwavering confidence of beliefs. Likely the foundation for both attraction and turmoil!

Stop by next time for a look at how these roots and principles led to one of the strongest abolitionist movements in the world!

Image Credit: https://www.historicaltheology.org.

[1] I am using the term “denominational” in a way the Congregationalists probably wouldn’t have themselves. Rather, they saw each church as independent and autonomous from larger denominational ties.

[2] The Congregationalist Church wasn’t disestablished as the official church of Connecticut until 1818, of New Hampshire until 1819, and of Massachusetts until 1820! The Congregationalist Church in Massachusetts still received state funding until 1833, when, after the shift toward Unitarianism, the state constitution was amended to eliminate church taxes.

[3] There was even a Congregational-Presbyterian Union in the early 1800’s in which churches could hire pastors from either denomination, joint committees of Congregationalists and Presbyterians were formed, and there were even colleges born out of the union. This was largely due to the fact that in lesser-populated areas, it was difficult to get numbers or ministers for either denomination. Of course, the Union broke down due to theological and ideological divides, a major one being slavery.

Whoops!

Public Service Announcement: Error in Southern Rain!

A little while back, a reader brought it to my attention that there is an erroneous line in Southern Rain. The line reads, “Cervantes from the original Greek.” As many of you know, Cervantes wrote in Spanish, not in Greek. Some of you may have even read his novel, Don Quixote, which is one of the most translated books in the world.  We’re not sure how Cervantes weaseled his way into Southern Rain. We only know that he would be highly offended.   So we are tipping our (historically appropriate) hats to Miguel de Cervantes, and most humbly begging his pardon. The error has been corrected for future prints of Southern Rain.

Northern Fire – First Details Revealed!

Book 2 of the Torn Asunder Series: Northern Fire – First Details Revealed!

Since Southern Rain was published in September 2019, the No. 1 question we have gotten is: “When will the next book be out?” I’m happy to say that Northern Fire will be available in the Late Spring of 2020!

Northern Fire was intended to be a sequel in a two-book series. However, ever since I conceptualized the story arc for this series, I knew there would be some difficulties determining the number of books in the series. So I just decided to write the story in its entirety as if it were going to be only one book and see how it worked out.

A few technical difficulties arose: the historical storyline took such a different path halfway through that it felt like it should be two books, while simultaneously the modern storyline was skipping along happily as one succinct-feeling book (the trouble with dual storylines!). But the biggest problem was the word count. The No. 1 complaint I have gotten about Southern Rain is that it is so big, which has me continually smiling since I’m a nerd who loves big books. But even trimmed down significantly, Northern Fire was finishing out at about 30,000 words more than Southern Rain.

So, with a wince of apology, I gave the behemoth to my sister, who is always my first reader, and told her to fix it. You can find ways to trim it down, right? – Okay, bye!

So she put on her harshest critic’s hat and set about finding scenes to shear. Her response was that we didn’t need to change a single thing. Nothing could go. Everything was necessary to tell the story in its full capacity. And we’re agreed that it has to be divided into two books, right? – Okay bye!

My sister, who has been my first reader and first editor for nearly ten years, has absolutely never led me astray in literary matters, and I knew I should trust her instincts. So there you have it! You will be getting two books, both roughly consisting of 70,000 words, rather than one book consisting of roughly 140,000 words. This will make Books 2 and 3 a little smaller than Southern Rain, but I’m guessing that won’t be a negative for most!

So what will the books cover? I don’t want to give anything away, since we haven’t developed the official blurbs yet, but here is the time frame:

Southern Rain covered:

Historical: October 1859 – November 1861
Modern: A few months

Northern Fire will cover:

Historical: December 1861 – April 1865 (roughly the end of the war)
Modern: The next few months

Book 3 (Title to be released at a later date) will cover:

Historical: April 1865 – November 1867 (well into Reconstruction)
Modern: The next few months

We’ll be releasing the blurb for Northern Fire soon and revealing more information over the coming weeks and months. In addition, we’ll be doing an FAQ interview for Northern Fire to follow up on our FAQ interview for Southern Rain. In the meantime, stay tuned! We’ll be giving a release date for Northern Fire soon!

-Tara

Civil War Rhetoric

History Behind the Story #6: A Break-Down in Civilities: Rhetoric Before the Civil War

I have recently been reading Ron Chernow’s very famous biography, Alexander Hamilton. The more I learn about the founding generation, the more I see that the Civil War first began brewing while the ink was still wet on the Constitution. Tensions between the North and South and a possible Civil War were alluded to several times in Hamilton. The regions’ economic interests were simply so different that suspicions began to develop in the Cabinet of George Washington, finding their expression in the very real and yet often-hilarious hatred between Thomas Jefferson (Virginia) and Alexander Hamilton (New York). When viewed in this light, the Civil War can be likened to friction between two brothers which has been building for years and then finally explodes, leading to a slugfest until one or both are nearly wiped out.

But there was more to the Civil War than a feud which was a long time coming. Hostilities spilled from the floors of Congress to the battlefield when they did for a reason. There was a reason idle threats of war from the last eighty years mobilized into armies and navies, into two separate countries with two separate presidents, when they did. Shear Davis Bowman says that “not until the winter of 1860-61 did a critical mass of citizens in the states of the…South become willing to quit the Union.”[1]

The reasons were linked to the occurrence of several events in history, a disastrous stew that made the situation ripe for drama: the growing debate over the economic interests between the North and South (linked overwhelmingly to slavery and its spread into the West), the South’s fear that it would lose a voice in the government to an economically superior North, the rise of abolitionism, the North’s loss of patience in appeasements to the South that often took the form of protecting slavery, and of course, the ultimate, hysteria-inducing fact that Lincoln was elected without a single Southern vote. But facts alone rarely make a war. There has to be drama and hype and legal justification. There has to be precisely the right rhetoric to tip people over the brink. And I have found in my research that such rhetoric almost always begins, like a children’s squabble, with name-calling.

Here are just a few names the South called the North or certain groups of Northerners:

  • Black Republicans (because of their determination to end slavery and Southern power in the Union and promote racial equality)
  • Aggressive
  • Cruel
  • Unjust
  • Wanton
  • Tyrannical
  • Fanatics
  • Radicals
  • Power-hungry

And here are a few of the North’s loving epitaphs to the South or Southerners:

  • Slave Power Conspirators
  • Slavocracy
  • Doughfaced toadies (Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan were called this for pandering to the South.)
  • Treasonous
  • Despotic
  • Dictatorial
  • Aristocratic
  • Privileged
  • Arrogant
  • Entitled
  • Rebels

The constitutionality of Secession was also put through the rhetoric grinder, with the South having to justify the legality of breaking away from the Union and the North having to justify making war on states which had seceded. While the arguments on both sides always seemed pretty even (except for the fact the North always had the moral upper hand in arguments pertaining to the slavery aspect of the War), I always had trouble understanding how the North sold its populace on taking war to the South and executing it over the course of four years and at a death toll eventually rising to the hundreds of thousands. We might understand a moral argument, but, unfortunately, the moral cause to end slavery did not, at least in the early years, form enough of a justification for the Northern populace to mobilize for war because the immediate abolition argument was just not taking hold. Obviously, the government had economic and territorial reasons to keep the South in the union, but how did they convince the populace of the legality of making war? Rhetoric. Not that it took too much convincing to fight in the early years. Both sides were positively chest-thumping for military battles (see brothers’ slugfest above). But it wasn’t until I really studied the North’s justification rhetoric for war that I finally understood.

To the North, simply losing an election or disagreeing with the new President was not cause enough to warrant the severance of ties to the union (a valid argument!). However, they still had to contend with the fact that the South had some pretty good legal arguments, such as the ability to revoke the states’ ratification of the Constitution and the principles enumerated of the Declaration of Independence. But the North itself could find nothing in the Constitution to justify secession and argued that secession had happened before the South’s interests had even been attacked. The South was sacrificing “a noble experiment in liberty” simply because they wanted to “perpetuate a distinct, distasteful, and anachronistic regional interest, black chattel slavery.”[2] That was a really good argument, and I imagine it was the one that convinced the North to mobilize for war and sustained them through its rigors. A simple argument of, “You just can’t do that,” is sometimes very powerful.

Both sides remained very “American,” tying their causes back to the American ideals which were fought for in the Revolution. Both sides talked of fighting for freedom. It was surprising for me to realize that “Americans in both North and South believed themselves custodians of the legacy of 1776.”[3] And there was also Christian rhetoric flying, with both sides preaching the justness of their cause, evoking God’s favor for their side, and using language of trusting that God would uphold them in their righteous endeavors.

The South (and I am generalizing here) believed that states had a sovereign right to secede and used the rhetoric of liberty (“the natural right of revolution against tyranny and despotism”) to back that up.[4] The North (generalizing again) simply didn’t believe that the Constitution created state sovereignty to the extent of powers to withdraw from the Union and offend the sovereignty of the real power, the United States. Therefore, any state which seceded, was technically in a state of treason.

While President Buchanan (the little-known President who was in office before Lincoln) didn’t think the Executive branch could coerce a seceded state back into the Union, Lincoln “did not rule out the propriety or necessity of ‘presidential and military coercion’ in response to palpable aggression against U.S. government sovereignty.”[5] You can see how semantics are everything: if the South acted aggressively, it provided the justification for military coercion back into the union. Similarly, the South would use military force if confronted with an unacceptable challenge from the U.S. government to their new government’s sovereignty. Hence, Fort Sumter. The bombardment was begun by the South because of the affront from the U.S. government in refusing to surrender the fort, which was in South Carolina’s waters. Likewise, the bombardment provided Lincoln with what he needed to constitute the South’s actions as an “unconstitutional insurrection ‘too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings.’”[6] And here we have the perfect stew for war. In the words of Bowman, “A rage militaire swept across slave states and free states alike…the war fever ‘cut across social classes, creating a heady sense of solidarity.’”[7] The North had been OFFENDED. The South had been OFFENDED. And it just proved to both that all of the rhetoric, all of the stewing hatred, had been correct, and both sides were swept up in a consensus. That’s the stuff wars are made of.

And so civilities began to break down and while, from our 21st Century seats, war seemed avoidable, with the provocative and sometimes hysterical language prevailing, it must have seemed inevitable at the time. It’s sometimes hard to imagine that in 1860, America was a united country, with an integrated economy and citizens who travelled back and forth freely across the Mason Dixon line and engaged in debate and attended the same universities. And then within a year they were killing each other. But that shows the power of words, doesn’t it? If you’re feeling depressed, we can console ourselves with two things: I don’t believe either side thought the war would be so long, or exact even a tenth of the toll it did. That seems to have been an entirely unintended consequence. And, of course, the institution of slavery did come to an end, even if the struggle for equality was just beginning– oh, no, I’m depressing you again! History can be like that: compelling and horrible all at once.

Stop by next time for a look into the Congregational Church in New England, in which my historical male lead, John Thomas, was raised. Adieu for now!

Photo Credit: New York Historical Society/Getty Images

[1] Bowman, Shearer Davis, At the Precipice: Americans North and South during the Secession Crisis. (The University of North Carolina Press, 2010), pp. 10.

[2] Ibid, 17.

[3] Ibid, 11.

[4] Ibid, 18.

[5] Ibid, 7.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

Kissing Cousins?

History Behind the Story #5: Kissing Cousins: Did People Really Marry Their First Cousins?

The simple answer is: yes.

This is taboo in a lot of cultures these days, isn’t it? I remember my mom telling me as a child that Victoria and Albert were first cousins and thinking… Whoa. And yet, for most of history, and across all cultures that I have studied, cousin marriage has been a common occurrence.

If you’ve read Southern Rain, you’ll know that (spoiler alert!!!) Shannon’s brother marries their first cousin. This may have been a jolt for some of you. When I was looking about for something to ground the story in the historical era, I thought: yep, that’ll do it! You might think life wasn’t much different (and I do have a theory that people have been the same since time began), but boy howdy were their practices different.

I read a lot of British literature and novels, and I think the book that really pushes it on this subject is Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, where the couple not only share a set of grandparents but were also raised in the same house. When I read the book as a teenager, I thought, “Whew, that was odd!” and kind of filed that away in one of those unexplainable-historical-things-that-perhaps-never-existed folders. And then I got into Georgette Heyer. She plays not just with cousin marriage, but also with cousin love a lot. In Frederica, they’re distant relations, perhaps not really related, so you think, “Okay, no biggie.” But she goes for it full blast with The Grand Sophy and The Unknown Ajax. Keep in mind that Heyer was writing from the 1920’s through the 1970’s, so she was obviously looking back on the Regency Era and finding the same thing as Austen: cousin marriage was a way of life. I suppose I always heavily emphasized that was until I found a little-known short story by Heyer online called A Proposal To Cicely that was actually set in the 1920’s. The second line of the story lets you know that Richard is Cicely’s “first cousin once removed.” They were an extremely modern, fun couple, and the guy was hung up on his cousin. And that was when it hit me: it’s only very recently that this has not been a thing.

The temptation is really there for me to say that this happened a lot more in Britain and Europe than America. I certainly see it a lot more in European fiction, and it would make sense, given that the need that royalty and nobility engendered to make prudent political and financial choices often seem to push the same families into alliances over and over. That would, in turn, make the practice socially acceptable and even in vogue. And yet… Every time I formulate an argument to that effect, I find a strong counter-argument or example from American history that proves that the exact same thing was happening here.

For example, did you know that Ashley and Melanie Wilkes were cousins? Gone With the Wind has a character say that the Wilkeses and Hamiltons always marry their cousins. And it was actually set up for Ashley’s sister to marry Melanie’s brother (before Scarlett got her claws in him!). This isn’t hugely important on its own. I know these were fictional characters. But what is fascinating are the social implications Margaret Mitchell makes. She is trying to convey, I think, that the Wilkeses are a cut above the other gentry, the American equivalent of a British “old family.” They are supposed to be exquisitely cultured and naturally gracious. The only person in the community who is like them is, I think, Scarlett’s mother, Ellen, who was from Louisiana. Ellen ends up in this odd marriage to Scarlett’s father because her marriage to her cousin, Phillippe Robillard, with whom she was deeply in love, doesn’t go through. I think Mitchell is using cousin-love as the same plot device to convey the same thing: they were like royalty and had strong reasons for cousin marriage or were high enough up the ladder to be eccentric. And I have to say, it was effective: I knew exactly where the Wilkses and Robillards stood.

There is a lot of discussion in Gone With the Wind about whether cousins ought to marry, mostly having to do with washing out the blood and including some very humorous comparisons to horse breeding. But I actually think those conversations had more to do with Mitchell writing in the 1930’s than any real qualms people would have felt in the 1860’s. While cousin marriage wasn’t appalling in the 1930’s, I do think this general feeling may have begun to grow that it was much better to at least be second cousins. This would be supported by Heyer (in England, of course) making a point to add the “once removed” language for Cicely when she was writing just a few years before. Also, in the movie (but not in the book) Ashley goes on a long ramble about wine having been his father’s uncle Hamilton’s, who married so and so, who married so and so and later on connects it with the Wilkeses again. I remember watching that a few years ago and thinking that it was odd. This was during the war, so the only sense I could make of it was that Ashley was suffering from PTSD or very severe homesickness. But one of my sources suggests that, basically, the screenwriters needed to get it in there that Ashley and Melanie were distant cousins so that audiences wouldn’t be morally squeamish. That seems very plausible to me, given that the movie does seem to paper over the fact that Mitchell indicates they were very close cousins.  She just apologizes to her generation for it in another way in the book: by having the characters’ peers discuss it reasonably so you would know that she hadn’t gotten carried away with this idea or anything.[1] Apparently, some doctors today attribute the current bias against cousin marriage to the eugenics movement in the early Twentieth Century, which was obsessed with genetic perfection.[2] It would make sense that Mitchell was being sensitive to that.

So I think societal disapproval of first cousins marrying began in the 1920’s and has only grown stronger with every passing decade. In fact, in my childhood in the1990’s, I remember hearing that it was okay to marry your tenth cousin, because you were, you know, basically back to Adam at that point. But I’m not sure anyone would say even that today. In my lifetime, I have only heard of, and never known personally, two couples who were first cousins, even though it is legal for first cousins to marry in Tennessee.

Okay, so what’s my historical background for having Frederick and Marie marry? First of all, I used the same plot technique Mitchell did: nothing says really fancy Southern family in the Nineteenth Century like having cousins marry. I needed you to know that the Ravenels have a certain status, and regardless of history, I knew that would convey it. But there is history to back cousin marriage up.

John and Abigail Adams were third cousins. Their grandson, John Adams II, married his first cousin in 1828. Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, married her third cousin, Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr. in one of those dynastic alliances. Jefferson’s other daughter married, apparently for love, John Wayles Eppes, whose father was her cousin and whose mother was her mother’s half-sister. (In case you were keeping count, that’s probably closer than first cousins.)

John C. Calhoun married his cousin, Floride, who was, you know, before their marriage, Floride Calhoun. Andrew Jackson’s adopted son, married his first cousin (yes, by blood), and when she died married another first cousin (yes, by blood). As one does.[3] We all know about Edgar Allan Poe. Robert E. Lee was married to his third cousin, the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. I could go on and on. Did you know that Eleanor Roosevelt was a Roosevelt before she married? Okay, I’ll stop.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: what about the kids??? When Charles and Sophy kiss and ride off into the sunset in The Grand Sophy, they are So Not Thinking Their Kids Could Have Six Fingers. Heyer almost seems to throw it in your face, her complete lack of concern or mention of genetic hazards. Obviously, we know a lot more today about the mutations that don’t get erased if there’s never fresh blood. But come on, they knew a lot about it when she was writing, and they had to have known a little about it throughout history. If you read biographies of some of the people I listed above, or novels like Mansfield Park written in the era in which they were set, I have to tell you that this really doesn’t seem to cross their minds. There’s a rather interesting conversation in Gone With the Wind about the fact that, if one really knew what one was doing, one could breed horses that were even closer than first cousins, if you know what I mean. So if you could do that with no harm, that may have been the only science they had to base it off of. Certainly, no one seems to have linked hemophilia with a straight-line family tree. There are even reports that Queen Victoria’s son’s hemophilia was blamed on her using morphine to ease her pain during childbirth.

And then there’s the question of whether this pre-conceived notion we have of mutations with cousins marrying is completely accurate. Did some of the above people have unhealthy children who died in childhood? Yes, they did. But so did everyone else. The above people also seemed to have had a lot of healthy children, too. A very fascinating New York Times article came out in 2002 stating that, yes, first cousins are somewhat more likely to have a child with health problems, but that “the increased risk is nowhere near as large as most people think”.[4]

There are certain communities where the rate of autosomal recessive disorders are extremely high, such as among the Amish of Lancaster County and Britain’s Pakistani community. Without a thorough scientific knowledge, my guess is that in such communities, rates are higher because there has been a tradition of first cousin marriage for many generations, and there’s almost no chance that an allele can mask and skip a child over. This could also explain the hemophilia with which royal families throughout history have struggled: those dynastic alliances stretched back for centuries. It was unlikely that you would ever marry someone who wasn’t your cousin, or that your children would.

And, there we are. It all comes back to politics and money, doesn’t it? And sometimes it would seem, love. Hope you enjoyed! Stay tuned for the next installment of History Behind the Story in which we experience the break-down in civilities between the North and South on the brink of war.

Also, here is a link to A Proposal To Cicely: (Note: some of the editing is a bit off because it seems to have been copied from an old serial newspaper, so just ignore that.):

https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/audio-visual-e-text-media/a-proposal-to-cicely-tweets-by-georgette-heyer/.

[1] Side-note: She may also have been sensitive to the common stereotype that Southerners marry their cousins. I don’t know when this stereotype started, but it certainly still persists today, since my Southern mama, when she heard I was writing this article, said, “Make sure they know it wasn’t just Southerners!”

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/04/us/few-risks-seen-to-the-children-of-1st-cousins.html

[3] See Jacob son of Isaac being married to two first cousins at the same time.

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/04/us/few-risks-seen-to-the-children-of-1st-cousins.html.

Sources:

https://relatedhowagain.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/104-o-cousin-what-art-thou/

https://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/04/us/few-risks-seen-to-the-children-of-1st-cousins.html.

The Genetics of Cousin Marriage

Photo Credit: JSTOR Daily: https://daily.jstor.org/the-genetics-of-cousin-marriage/