My next book is going to be a modern day book set in small town Tennessee! I am excited about this book – I love this story and these characters, and I think you will, too. So what is the book about? I know we all like to categorize books, but this one is a little hard to do. Is there romance? Yes, subtly. Is there mystery? A little. Is there a Women’s Fiction Element? To a certain degree. Is it a commentary on small town Southern life? In many respects. Is there humor? Yes. Basically, it’s just life. I dug deep for this one, striving to strip it of anything inauthentic. I believe you will love it from cover to cover!
Without further ado, the title of the book is Thank God for Mississippi.
And here is the synopsis:
MISSISSIPPI WHITSON knows two things: she has to find a new job, and she has to find one soon. When her elderly employer, Hammondsville’s district attorney, dies, the plan is to smooth the transition for his replacement and then move on. The plan is not for the replacement to be her employer’s grandson, an out-of-towner who doesn’t know the first thing about surviving small town Southern life.
WHEN HE ASKS FOR HELP, she can’t refuse, being such a good person. But what started as a brief detour on her life plan may end up costing her more in terms of time, criminal drama, and matters of the heart than she ever expected.
A LOVING, humorous, yet insightful look at life in small town Tennessee, Thank God for Mississippi is the next must-have read for fans of many genres of fiction.
The following is a collaboration by Lance Elliott Wallace of New South Essays Blog and Tara Cowan of Tea & Rebellion Blog. We are excited to share a Q&A on Southern life and culture based on questions we have received. Before we jump in, we thought we would give you an idea of our conception of Southern culture. Southern culture is, by its very nature, multicultural. Historically, the South is rich in diversity with heritages including Native American, Spanish, English, Scottish, Irish, African, French, Mexican, and Central and South American, just to name a few! A blending of many cultures and the passage of time has led to certain social trends, habits, and styles that can be identified as distinctly Southern. At the same time, there remain many individual cultures within the South that maintain their own distinctive identities. Self-identification as Southern cuts both ways, sometimes celebrating history and values that are not shared by the subcultures that make up the regional identity. It’s not always pretty, but the complexity provides endless opportunity for exploration and commentary. This is a broad overview to keep in mind as you read!
Q: What are some beautiful places to see outside?
Tara: The South in general has some beautiful national and state parks. The mountains of East Tennessee and North Carolina are gorgeous any time of year. Savannah, Georgia, is renowned for its many city parks. There is a lot of beauty in the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. To me, the most beautiful place to be in the South is on the Gulf of Mexico; you can’t beat the pristine white sand or the emerald water.
Lance: Absolutely agree, Tara. Our family has vacationed at Santa Rosa Beach on 30A in Florida’s panhandle for nearly 20 years. The white sand and emerald green water are imprinted on my psyche providing the backdrop for some of our best memories. I have hiked the approach to the Appalachian Trail with each of my three boys beginning at Amicalola Falls in north Georgia, and those vistas still come to mind easily. We have also spent time in the mountains of North Carolina. We enjoyed hikes and driving through the high country of North Carolina during several trips with friends. West Jefferson and Blowing Rock are particularly scenic. One of the benefits of living in the Atlanta area is that I don’t have to drive far to get to beautiful beaches or scenic mountain tops. The cities I like best for their beauty are Savannah, Charleston and Asheville.
Q: Where are the best spots for food?
Lance: We have lived in the Atlanta area for 18 years and have enjoyed many wonderful meals in town for special occasions. Upscale dining in Buckhead offers the full range of world class fare while Midtown’s diversity has everything from updated versions of Southern staples like fried chicken and deviled eggs to Asian cuisine from every ethnic origin to fantastic Mexican flavors. As a native Texan, I have to put in a plug for the BBQ brisket in the Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio.
Tara: Yes! The South is famous for BBQ, and I think there is actually a bit of a competition between Texas and Tennessee (where I live)! For traditional Southern cooking, Tennessee is a great place—Nashville and Pigeon Forge particularly, if you are feeling touristy. If you want traditional blended with other influences (like French and Gullah Geechee), I’ve had fun exploring restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina. For seafood, I highly recommend Destin, Florida.
Q: What historic sites should I see?
Tara: There are so many different points of interest. If you are looking for an immersive historical experience, there is Williamsburg, VA, and several other Southern cities that put a premium on history, like Natchez, New Orleans, and Charleston. Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, is a must-see. McLeod Plantation Historic Site in South Carolina is a great place for a focus on the lives of an enslaved community and its descendants. I recently visited Shiloh National Military Park—obviously, there is a lot for Civil War buffs to see, but there are also Indian mounds preserved within the park, which is unique, and the park overlooks the Tennessee River and has a really stunning view.
Lance: I lived in Macon, Georgia, for 10 years, and it is often overlooked as a historic destination because of Savannah’s obvious claim to that reputation. In his march from Atlanta to Savannah, Sherman went around Macon, so there are great spots that survived the Civil War. If you do go, plan to spend time at Rose Hill Cemetery, take in the view from the Woodruff House atop Coleman Hill, tour the Hay House and see a show at the historic Grand Opera House. Macon’s architecture is amazing, and seeing the city when the Yoshino Cherry Trees are in bloom in March enhance the city’s charm.
Q: What is your favorite Southern tradition?
Lance: Though not nearly as fanatical as I once was, I have a genetic predisposition to enjoy sports. There is nothing better on a fall Saturday than to boil a pot of peanuts and watch college football from noon to midnight, interrupted only by firing up the grill and cooking something delicious. I know they play football all over the country, but in the South, college football is on a pedestal. No matter who you root for, you can find a way to care about any game on TV.
Tara: Grilling and college football—yes, indeed! It’s hard for me to identify exactly what Southern traditions are because I’ve never lived anywhere but the South. But I like the gathering (maybe someday again!), the close-knit families, the extensive Sunday dinners, and the ties to home.
Q: What is the craziest Southern tradition?
Tara: One that I hear people express the most shock over is our funerals. It may be more of a Middle Tennessee thing—I can’t speak to other places in the South. Funerals are a big deal in my area. A lot of what happens strikes me as very Victorian. You need to wear black or at least dark colors to the funeral. You stand in a queue and wait hours if necessary in order to talk with the family beside the casket, where you will be invited to look at the deceased for as long as you wish (and forced to do so if you express a wish not to). The deceased is open for viewing for about two days. The room will be bedecked with flowers people have ordered, which just before the funeral will be taken and set up at the site of the burial. Every person you know brings food until there is literally nowhere to put anything else. At the actual funeral, there is usually a preacher who delivers a message, and several songs will be performed. Funerals can run an hour or two hours long. Then, as if they were the royal family, the family of the deceased is taken to a motorcade where the funeral home employees have discreetly lined up the family vehicles in order of precedence (usually determined by relationship to the deceased). The other mourners fall in behind the hearse and the family if their vehicles have not also been lined up (and usually they have). A policeman (or several) leads the procession, and another usually follows. No matter how distant the cemetery, every person you meet on the road is required by social tradition to pull over on the side of the road. If you are behind a funeral procession, even on a highway, you are not to pass. At the cemetery, a tent is usually constructed over the burial site, where all of the mourners proceed, and you basically have another funeral. Then there is a huge meal. Some of it is amusing and exhausting, of course, but I think most all of it is done out of respect for the grieving family.
Lance: Having recently attended the funeral for my wife’s aunt, a beautiful service despite the pandemic precautions, I agree with Tara that the way Southern families conduct their funerals can be weird for some folks. One of my go-to phrases in conversation is “As they say at Southern funerals, ‘Don’t he look natural.’” Tara’s thoughtful response also reminds me of one of my favorite songs by Southern singer/songwriter Kate Campbell. It’s called “Funeral Food,” and it’s signature line will stick with you: “Pass the chicken, pass the pie. We sure eat good when someone dies.”
I would add that every Southern town has a festival. These border on the sacred in some places and the utterly ridiculous in others. The smaller the town, the weirder their festival. My personal favorite is the Kaolin Festival in Sandersville, Ga. This celebration of white clay mined in the region isn’t a household word in areas of the world bereft of these clay deposits, but this celebration of a substance found in everything from paper coating to toothpaste has a wonderful parade, a Kaolin Queen pageant and the requisite carnival rides out at the fairgrounds. The pandemic has put too many of these festivals on pause. Here’s hoping they can safely return soon.
Q: Why do Southerners sometimes refer to people from the North as “damn Yankees?”
Tara: I do hear that occasionally. It’s unfortunate and not very “Southern” given the emphasis on hospitality and friendliness in the South. The roots of the South using the term derogatorily are historical. Later on, it became a stereotype used when a Northerner did something displeasing to a Southerner, particularly something considered discourteous. Southerners tend to put a premium on social politeness, and there is a perception that Northerners aren’t as concerned with that. So when the stereotype is perceived as coming true, that is the label that gets stamped. Of course, none of this is really thought out by people today and stereotypes are just never fair. But history has a way of handing legacies down to us that tend to be perpetuated—however rude they may be!
Lance: All true, Tara, but let me take a slightly different approach here. Yes, there is still regional animosity between the former combatants of the “War of Northern Aggression” as it is still known with all seriousness in some quarters of the South. The phrase went mainstream in popular culture after the release in 1955 of the musical comedy “Damn Yankees,” which was adapted from the book “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant” by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop. It was adapted into a movie of the same name and released in 1958 starring Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston. The basic story is that a longsuffering Washington Senators fan, Joe Boyd, sells his soul to the devil to see his team beat the Yankees. I, for one, do not sit in judgment of the fictional Joe Boyd on that count. In real life, the New York Yankees have won 27 World Series titles since 1903, and they have been a nemesis of the teams I grew up a fan of—first the Texas Rangers and later the Atlanta Braves. It was painful to watch the Braves lose the 1996 World Series to the Yankees after jumping out to a 2-0 series lead, winning both games in New York by a combined score of 16-1. The Braves proceeded to lose the next four giving the Yankees their first title since 1978. Not prone to swearing, that series made me want to utter “damn yankees” more than once.
Q: (Three questions actually follow from this one!) When speaking of a modern Southern comedian, Lance recently wrote in a blog post, “…[H]e does have strong Southern bona fides, a recognizably Southern rhythm and pacing to his storytelling, and an authentic Southern voice that isn’t a caricature.” What do you think makes Southerners unique as storytellers?
Tara: Authenticity is key in good Southern storytelling. There is usually something that strikes a chord or touches us in Southern stories. There is a willingness to settle in and weave an intricate narrative. I think that quality is the legacy of cultural heritages renowned for oral storytelling—Native American, Scottish, Irish, and African, to name a few. Storytelling is a learned and practiced tradition from childhood on in the South.
Lance: Time, place and adversity have shaped Southerners into good storytellers. The late 19th Century was a simpler time, and much of life in the South was agrarian. People had more time and spent it together on the front porch because there was no air conditioning. With the advent of radio and TV and the ubiquity of air conditioning, the culture shifted, but for at least a generation the prevailing form of entertainment was listening to your elders tell stories on the front porch after supper or after Sunday dinner with the family. The stories that held the most resonance were filled with humor and heartache, both of which were in abundance at the turn of the 20th Century in the South. Southern stories have an element of self-deprecation, a respect for ingenuity and distrust of progress and technology. The comedians, writers and storytellers that are known for being Southern have mastered their craft by being good listeners and refining their stories after many retellings as they see the response of their audience. That’s why so many Southern storytellers I have been around, famous or just family, can entertain even when they tell the same story over and over. They blend the familiar with a few twists to keep it interesting. We listen to see if it will be different this time.
Q: What makes Southern storytelling’s rhythm and pacing distinctive?
Tara: There is a certain musical flow to Southern stories, something that draws you in gently but immediately and then flows like a river as it unfolds from there. There is a certain pulling from the past/working toward the future dichotomy that makes it circular. And a distinctive tone to Southern storytelling reflects Southern speech patterns.
Lance: My grandmother had a way of stringing the details of her stories together with the verbal pause “and uh” that gave her stories a rhythm. Like a sermon in the African American church tradition, her stories would start slow and build to a dramatic conclusion, usually humorous. She would often laugh at her own stories. She called it “tickled.” I am “tickled” anytime I get to hear such a story. I agree, Tara, Southern storytelling is musical, whether it’s read or heard. To get a sense of what I mean, pick up a copy of Rick Bragg’s latest book, “Where I Come From” or any of his previous works. Read a few paragraphs out loud, and you’ll hear it immediately.
Q: Are Southerners caricatured in media such as movies, books, etc.? If so, what makes a Southern voice have an authentic ring?
Lance: Without a doubt. As a fan of Noah Hawley’s “Fargo” television adaptation of the Cohen brothers film, though, I have to admit that any time a region becomes the focus of a story, the opportunity for caricature exists. I see it most when someone without experience or appreciation of the South attempts to tell a Southern story. They paint with too broad a brush. Because I like to listen to accents, no matter where they are from, it’s often the over-done dialect that makes it so egregious. I like it best when writers, storytellers and actors capture the specifics of a Southern place. There is no one accent or way of life down South. If they know us well enough to grasp the nuances, they can avoid caricature and actually tell a story with authenticity. My favorite theme is the underestimated Southerner that turns the stereotype on its head. I know that can be its own cliche, but I am drawn to stories that flip the script. As for authenticity, I think that emerges from directness, lack of pretense, and color. Honesty is often hard to take, but Southerners can speak from their heart with surprising frankness.
Tara: That is a good point, Lance, that when any region becomes a focus there is an opportunity for or danger of caricature. I also see caricature a lot with religious or ethnic minority groups—any group that is numerically smaller in the broader culture. But yes, Southerners are caricatured broadly to the extent that when a character actually feels like a Southerner, it is a welcome surprise. Behaviors are stereotyped (wearing big hair, being backwards, practicing oppressive forms of religion, being prejudiced more than the general population, etc.). I agree that the accents are often the most cringeworthy. A Southern voice (and as an author, I can add any voice) has more authenticity when the character is first presented as a person and only then as a person who may have certain distinctive regional or cultural traits.
Q: What makes Southern society complex and complicated?
Tara: History. The South has a troubled, or one might almost say tortured history. The presence of slavery deep into the nineteenth century, the forced removal of Native Americans, and an almost caste-based social structure have all made the South and its history complicated, to say the least. There is a history of deep prejudice that still gives the region a troubled legacy today. That’s not to say that the whole country, or every country, doesn’t have the same truth. Prejudice exists in the South and everywhere. To deny that would be to paper over the very real, lived experience of many.
Simultaneously, I think the South has been forced to deal with prejudice on a fundamental level in a way that other regions may not have. I recently read a study that found that quantifiable inequality (unemployment, home ownership, education, etc.) was several percentage points less in the South as a region than in the nation as a whole. But that is not the general perception of Southern society.
Adding to the complexity, the South has also historically been riddled with poverty, to the extent that the default “American” in media or popular imagination is not Southern. Not being the default obviously leads to some problematic handling of the region as a whole by the uninitiated. For example, we wouldn’t normally allow for critical caricatures of people struggling with poverty, but the stereotype of all Southerners as prejudiced somehow makes those depictions acceptable, which does real damage.
And yet, the legacy of an aristocratically tiered social structure does still persist. There is a bit of a “haves and have-nots” element to Southern society that adds another dimension to the complexity, all the more so because it isn’t necessarily in a good versus evil way of a Dickens novel. The complexity of Southern society is profoundly difficult to grasp, but I can say for certain that a lot of it goes back to history.
Lance: Well said, Tara. The South’s agrarian history, which is rapidly being erased, contributes to the complexity. Moving from an inequitable and exploitative rural economy to a high tech and services based economy has changed the landscape so quickly, many who control the systems of wealth and influence have leveraged the old prejudices to stoke division and maintain control. Race is just one level of the conflict. Class is another. And with the growing abandonment and diversification of religious practice, there are even more opportunities for cultural clashes. It’s complicated because it feels like whenever there is progress toward unity, there are ugly, violent events that remind us of the past and erase any gains in trust and goodwill. We’re never that far from what the Baptists call “backsliding.” It feels to me like an addict in recovery. We can never get too confident we’re over the old troubles. We have to take it one day at a time, with humility, and try to do better accepting people for who they are as individuals and not for their membership in a larger group identity.
Q: How is the South and Southern culture changing?
Tara: I think the concept of Southernness may be developing into something that reflects more of the diversity that we have talked about. I feel like there was a time when identification with Southern culture was more common among middle- and upper-class people of European ancestry. But it seems like that perception is broadening today to acknowledge and include the culture and contributions of more and more of those who live in the South. I haven’t researched in this area, so I base this on the fact that I hear people identify as Southern who might not have done so in the past and see Southern magazines exploring the Southernness and contributions to the South of people who may first identify as something other than Southern. This is definitely a great question for Lance!
Lance: This is the very question at the root of New South Essays. I’ve mentioned some of it above. We’re becoming more urban, technology dependent and diverse. Small towns are drying up because people are moving to where the jobs are, and population loss in rural areas is palpable. Family is still important, but jobs are taking people farther and farther away from their roots. We’re experiencing a mix of stubborn pride and pervasive shame over a past that we once reflected on and talked about often. Now, everything about Southern is being reinterpreted. I find particularly interesting the work that The Bitter Southerner and The Oxford American are doing in that regard. I hope one of the messages people take away from my blog is that it’s OK to be Southern and talk about it openly and honestly. It helps to be humble and self deferential with a healthy dose of humor, which I see as growing in the New South.
Q: What is the best thing about the South?
Tara: For me it is the hospitality. Southern history is, of course, fraught and complicated, and, like anywhere else, it still isn’t a perfect place. But at its best today, there is a kindness to Southern culture, a sort of “welcome home” feeling that can and should be extended to all.
The best way to explain would be through a visit to Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room in Savannah, Georgia. There are ten or eleven people seated at a big table that is reminiscent of a Sunday dinner. You pass about a dozen dishes back and forth between you, making conversation all the while like you’re family. People line up and wait for hours for this experience with total strangers. Both times I’ve been, people from different regions or countries want to know all of the details of Southern life, and of course the Southerners are happy to oblige. This leads to trading stories about our homes and the different ways cultures do things. The last time I went, at our table were: my sister and me, a couple from Canada with their two children, an Indian American couple from Manhattan, and a couple from Alabama. All were such lovely people, and if we had met in any other setting, we might never have been acquainted with one another well enough to have known that. But when we left, we all talked about the connection we had felt. I still remember what all of their faces looked like, and for that moment, we were family. It’s a transforming experience, connecting with total strangers just because you can really feel harmony and peace around you. I really think the world would be a kinder place if everyone could experience that type of distinctly Southern setting, because you get to see the goodness in people, and you remember that and carry it with you. Southern hospitality mixing with Southern cooking is just one of the greatest things in the world.
Lance: I can’t argue with that, Tara! We’ve covered most of what I truly enjoy already, but I would be remiss if I didn’t devote some space here to Southern writers. I hope you will check out Tara’s books that weave history and relationships in a way that expose relatable truths. My favorite Southern writer of all time is Clyde Edgerton. I find the work of Larry Brown gritty and real. I’ve always enjoyed Rick Bragg, as I mentioned, and William Faulkner’s well-documented contributions inspired me to take up writing in the first place. You don’t have to be a Southerner to appreciate great Southern literature, and as it diversifies, its impact only grows.
Tara Cowan the author of the Torn Asunder Series, including Southern Rain, Northern Fire, and Charleston Tides. She writes fiction set mostly in the South and loves all things history, travel, and culture. An attorney, Tara lives in Middle Tennessee and is busy writing her next novel.
A former newspaper reporter and editor, Lance Elliott Wallace chronicles life in the New South from his home in the Atlanta suburb of Lilburn. He is a Fort Worth, Texas, native who has lived in Central Florida, Alabama and Georgia, gaining a fascination with contemporary Southern culture along the way.
Charleston Tides History Behind the Story – Outtakes
There were a few historical tidbits covered in Charleston Tides that didn’t quite merit their own posts, so I thought it would be fun to do a lightning “History Behind the Story” round covering five “outtake” topics. As always, there are a few spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the series. Here we go!
1. Mementos: You may remember in Charleston Tides that as soon as the war was over, people flocked to Charleston to get mementos of slavery, newly a dead institution. In Charleston Tides, we hear of the slave-trading district being combed for manacles, market bells, and a set of steps that were sent to William Lloyd Garrison as a trophy. John C. Calhoun’s tomb was desecrated, and people were delighted to take little pieces of stone from it as mementos. Clover was picked from the grounds of Institute Hall, where the Ordinance of Secession had been enacted in Charleston.
This seems a bit odd to us, but there was an obsession during the Victorian era with mementos. You can learn more about this in Episode 63 of the Ben Franklin’s World Podcast, “Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War.” The author of a book by the same name, Megan Kate Nelson, mainly talks about the general destruction of the war, but she also goes briefly into the memento fixation of the Civil War era. My first encounter with the same was with the house museums of Middle Tennessee, where hair art was really popular during Victorian times. You would take a clip (or a lot) of hair from every deceased relative and add it to a piece of hair art. These were then made into an elaborate floral display or the shape of a fan, and every family member gets added in as the generations progress. Even Queen Victoria, when she died, had all of her hair cut off as mementos to be given out!
2. Separation of Civil War Families: You may have noticed that a side-character couple, the Rices, have children who are not living with them at the beginning of the war. It is mentioned that their children are in school in Illinois. I didn’t specify whether the Rices were actually from Illinois, because it was most likely that their children were sent there because a school had been found that was a good fit for their needs. Separation was a reality for most Civil War families, especially those of a military variety, and usually the non-combatant members were sent to where it was most expedient based on needs of the day.
Ulysses and Julia Grant, for instance, had to send their children to various schools, often not near them or family or any particular ties, but to where they felt it would be best for the children. If the family was able to come together, it was only briefly, and often with various children here or there at different times. Ellen Sherman, who had always been particularly opposed to living away from her Ohio home, picked up and moved her many children to South Bend, Indiana, where they could attend Catholic schools and be near particular clergy who were close to her family.
In Southern households, safety was also a key factor. In the fictional movie The Beguiled, (recommended to me by a friend!) there is a girls’ school which is still operating because families sent their daughters there to be out of war zones. Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont’s father sent her mother and sisters to live in Paris during the war. Robert E. Lee’s family was scattered out of necessity due to their properties being close to the Union Army lines. His only child to die during the war was a daughter, Annie, who after living in Virginia most of her life, had moved to Jones Springs, North Carolina to try to recover from Typhoid Fever.
And of course, enslaved families who had been separated by ownership continued to be so throughout the duration of the war, unless they lived in an emancipated area and could find their family members. Reuniting with family was a huge challenge for many freed people in the aftermath of the war.
Separation was a very real and very painful thing for many families during the Civil War.
3. Birth Control: [Skip this one if you don’t have a desire to learn about Victorian birth control – haha!] In Charleston Tides, as I was thinking about Shannon’s brother and his wife’s future, it struck me that 1865 Charleston was a very bad time and place to have a baby. To think about having another mouth to feed when everyone is basically starving, with no hope of income, and when there was a recent death in childbirth… Realistically, it just seemed like a “No.” So I started researching historical birth control to see if it was accurate to hint that this might be used. During my Native American studies in college, I had in research stumbled across various practices used with some success, so protection has been used in North America for a long time.
I always see in historical fiction storylines of certain herbs to prevent conception, which… I’m just not convinced, frankly. If you think about the limitations in Victorian medicine and the understanding of the human body in general, getting doses right, taking them at the right times, and even still today they are not seen as being entirely effective… This seems like a historical myth that has been taken a little out of proportion.
Which leads me to…historical condoms. We’ve all read about (I’m just going to whisper it here) sheep’s intestines. Historic condom-like devices have been found dating back to ancient times. I won’t detail all of them here. But actually by 1855, rubber condoms were invented, if not widely used. They were even advertised in the New York Times, which seems to conflict with notions of Victorian fustiness!
Of course, there were various other methods of birth control, and I do think there were people, even married couples, who used them during the Victorian Era. You can read between the lines in letters and diaries. One that stands out in my mind is a Victorian plantation mistress talking about her sister-in-law, who had given birth to two babies in quick succession. A mother herself, the lady says something like, “I don’t know how she does it. I could never do it.” What else can this mean than that she was doing some strategic spacing of her own children?
4. Resistance to Insurgency in the South: There is a brief mention that Shannon’s brother, who had been a Confederate Naval officer, actually supported John Thomas’s political efforts to quell violence against freedmen in the South. I didn’t touch on this in the post about insurgency and violence, but there were such Southerners who lent their aid. There were some who did so for noble reasons, but most who did were thinking more practically. They knew that violence would cause a longer occupation, which would lead to a loss of rights by those traditionally in power, as well as a longer period to recover financially after the war. One example of a Confederate officer-turned aid to Reconstruction is James Longstreet, who was given a job by the Grant administration. Of course, there were many who were not similarly ready to move on and who took action against the goals of Reconstruction, even to the point of joining and forming insurgent societies.
Hi friends! I have updated the answers to a couple of my previous Q&As to provide greater clarity. I just wanted to officially note them on the blog to flag them for you, but you will also find them in their places on the Q&A tabs. Thanks!
Q: Do you write Christian Fiction or General Market? A: General Market. For now, I do not feel led to market my books as Christian Fiction. I am a Christian, and there are Christian elements in my books because I try to write authentically, and faith is such a deep reality for me. It would be impossible for me to take faith out of my characters’ lives when I am trying to craft three-dimensional figures who reflect real life. I receive God’s inspiration and seek His guidance as I write. However, readers should be aware that I do not seek to mold my writing to any narrative generally required of authors who publish and market as Christian Fiction. I write organically and authentically to myself and my characters, and I am not bound by editorial guidelines as to allowable themes, moral tones, or character resolutions. My books are General Market – Historical Fiction/Contemporary Fiction that happen to have characters who have/grapple with faith.
Q: Does Charleston Tides stand alone? A: No. You need to start with Book 1, Southern Rain, and continue with Book 2, Northern Fire, to get the full story and understand everything that happens in the series. In that way, the series is a bit like a saga, but I don’t call it that because the word “saga,” in addition to just meaning a long story, which this is, also can mean a highly emotional, heroic tale, which this is not.
Welcome to the last post for the History Behind the Story Series for Charleston Tides! My sister is in graduate school in Charleston. When I heard that she was researching elite free Black women in Charleston around the time of the Civil war, I knew I wanted to request a guest post from her. [Warning: There will be a few spoilers in the next paragraph if you haven’t read Charleston Tides. Just skip it if you need to and go on to the next!]
In Charleston Tides, we encounter a number of characters who are Black women who held a legal free status in Charleston long before the Civil War emancipated the enslaved. These were: Jeptha, who becomes the housekeeper in Shannon’s household, Justinia Reed, who has been a midwife for twenty years (who is also Shannon’s father’s mistress), and Miss Millington, a dressmaker.
The lives of Charleston’s free Black population are important to history, as well as fascinating. In addition to the regular free Black community, which I was able to explore in the series to a degree, there was also a thriving aristocratic free Black community in Charleston. This historical topic is one that I wish I had been able to cover in more detail in the Torn Asunder Series. But in lieu of that, I asked my sister to streamline one of her graduate papers which explores one facet and family in Charleston’s elite free Black history. So without further ado…
The Bettingall-Tunno Women:
Navigating Charleston’s Legal Landscape Before, During, and After the Civil War
*Warning: some of the quoted language in this post contains historical rhetoric used in the aftermath of the Civil War which would be considered offensive today.*
I’m so excited to make a guest contribution to Tea & Rebellion! As a History graduate student at the College of Charleston and The Citadel, I’m passionate about bringing historical resources to life. What started as a pet project digging through faded papers in South Carolina Historical Society’s archives developed into a substantial research endeavor exploring Charleston’s elite free Black community experience in the period before, during, and after the Civil War through various facets of rhetoric and law.
For the purposes of this post, I explore the experiences of a specific community of free Black Charlestonians which was considered aristocratic in its day. I investigate changing norms, laws, and race rhetoric to reveal how Black aristocrats engaged, managed, and interacted with the law in a white-dominated patriarchal society in the aftermath of the war. In doing this, I narrowed down my scope to a family known to history as the Bettingall-Tunno family. The Bettingall-Tunno women’s perspective reveals the relative ease with which elite free Blacks negotiated Charleston’s legal and paternalistic landscape. These women embodied Charleston’s elite free Black pre-war experience, making the study of their court records and attorneys’ papers significant to the field of African American history.
Margaret Bettingall, a free woman of color, married Adam Tunno, a prominent white merchant turned planter in antebellum Charleston. They lived openly as husband and wife, and this did not stun elite white society. Margaret brought a daughter to the marriage, and the couple had another daughter. When Adam Tunno died in 1832, his wife, daughter, and stepdaughter found themselves well-positioned in Charleston. Then, on the precipice of the Civil War, Margaret Bettingall-Tunno and her daughters increasingly challenged systems that began to value their skin color more than their social position. Later, in Reconstruction Charleston, maintaining significant real property, wealth, and a sense of agency meant that the Bettingall-Tunno women had to learn to maneuver the law when others tried to take advantage of what they perceived as race or gender ignorance. Let’s take a moment to look at the world in which Margaret Bettingall and her family lived.
South Carolina differed from other southern states in its laws regarding marriage before the Civil War. South Carolina law allowed free Blacks to marry anyone of their choice, except an enslaved person, “even…white people.” Black and white intermarriage occurred in antebellum Charleston, though this was by no means a typical experience of elite free Blacks.
Regardless of race, marriage served an important societal function of rationalizing the patriarchy. Just as aristocratic husbands modeled greater American society, aristocratic wives represented all that a wealthy woman should be based on societal expectations and patriarchal prescriptions. A free Black woman’s ability to embody these expectations could determine the legitimacy of the marital union in the eyes of white Charleston. Even though the law recognized intermarriages between the races, social acceptance of interracial couples only happened under extraordinary circumstances.
Margaret Bettingall and Adam Tunno demonstrate a rare example of an interracial couple who found community acceptance both among elite free Blacks and elite whites in antebellum Charleston. Though recent scholars have debated whether their marriage was in fact legal, I accept testimony that they filed a marriage certificate in their church, and many of Tunno’s friends openly called Bettingall his wife. Those in the elite white community who did not know Tunno well called Margaret his housekeeper in public, while privately referring to her as his concubine. Reverend Johnson, Rector of St. Philip’s Parish, verified their marriage ceremony was listed in “Record of the Parish of St. Philip’s” in defense of the Bettingall-Tunno union.
Following Tunno’s death in 1832, these three women (Margaret, her daughter Hagar, and Margaret and Adam’s daughter) inherited real estate, enslaved individuals, and a significant portion of money from his estate. Critically, they also retained access to certain influential white men who would be key to survival in patriarchal Charleston. Tunno, as her stepfather, assigned legal guardianship of Hagar to Edward Frost, granting her a link with a white parent she did not have and fulfilling the requirement of the law for free Blacks.
To manipulate the law and to experience autonomy, the Bettingall-Tunno women “understood that men were both a hindrance to and a help in their efforts to secure greater liberty for themselves.” Their independent wealth allowed them to maintain agency, and their connections to white men permitted them engage in legal and business ventures.
During the Reconstruction period, a shift occurred from class-based consciousness to complete race consciousness. Post-Emancipation miscegenation fears prompted changes in legislation. South Carolina adopted a Black code in 1865 that prohibited marriage between whites and Blacks, an unprecedented law in the state.
Redefining marriage, though, changed race rhetoric completely. White Charlestonians carefully reconstructed the memory of marriage between Blacks and whites in pre-war times to benefit them socially in Reconstruction Charleston. In an effort to retain a social patriarchy post-Emancipation, former white enslavers and business elites played on fears concerning white women. Regulating interracial marriage and sexual relationships simultaneously placed control of Black bodies and white women back into patriarchal hands. Importantly for elite Black and elite white relations in Reconstruction Charleston, however, the elite free Black community retained kinship ties and blood relations that still held significance among influential whites after the war.
Maintaining a good reputation, for both free Black women and white women, remained crucial to receiving due inheritance from a husband’s estate. If a will became contested in court, a woman of ill-repute was not entitled to her husband’s inheritance. Thus, the language used to describe married women mattered a great deal. Elite Black women who had been considered legally married to white men in Antebellum South Carolina, then, truly felt the weight of changing laws and race rhetoric.
Margaret Bettingall-Tunno encountered the changing race rhetoric when her late husband’s niece, Elizabeth Webb of London, England, contested the Tunno Estate on grounds that “mulatto” children should not rightfully inherit what a man’s white family should. At every deposition, attorneys asked Charleston community members who recognized Margaret and Adam’s relationship what they knew of her character, if she had a good reputation, if they ate meals together or walked together publicly, and if Adam considered her his wife.
John N. Gregg, an elite white man who lived in Charleston and knew of the Bettingall-Tunno alliance, accepted the legality of the interracial marriage. When Margaret’s attorney asked about the legitimacy of her union with Tunno, Gregg replied, “I have heard that she and Mr. Tunno were man and wife, she was a communicant of St. Philip’s Church and you all know that she couldn’t be a communicant of St. Philip’s Church without being the wife of Adam Tunno.” Theodore F. Mitchell, in his court testimony to prove the virtuous nature of Margaret’s character, stated, “The relationship as I have heard was very close… close as she was the head and front of his household.” Mitchell further elaborates that she possessed an upstanding reputation and that the community regarded her as “a good woman.” Another testimony by Mr. Moffett verified that “there was no better woman in Charleston than her.”
In pre-war correspondences between Webb’s attorneys and the Tunno family’s counsel, prominent Charleston attorney Langdon Cheves III, defined the standard for rhetoric regarding the Bettingall-Tunno women, changing it from “mulatto” to “alleged half-caste relatives.” Cheves served as Adam Tunno’s attorney in his lifetime and continued to defend the Bettingall-Tunno women even as late as 1904. His support of these women appears dissonant with the language he used to describe them. The legal rhetoric that passed between both attorneys in the case between Webb and Bettingall-Tunno more accurately reflected the increased conformity to race rhetoric regarding all Blacks than the attorneys’ ability to exercise legal integrity. Writing in the post-war moment, and valuing their white client’s claims, Elizabeth Webb’s London attorneys at Sole, Turner, and Knight drafted, “We do not think for a moment that the testator was really married to these nigger women or either of them, and the document incorporated in his will, by which he made some provision for them, clearly suggests that the relationship between them (if any) were only that of concubinage.” (Tunno’s will did not specify any relationship with the women of his family, only listing them as devisees of his estate.)
Marriage between Margaret Bettingall-Tunno and Adam Tunno, even though proof of a marriage license was unearthed, became in their words “in the highest degree improbable.” The altering language used to describe people of color exemplifies the shift to value race more than social position or class. The Bettingall-Tunno union seemed “improbable” to a white-dominated patriarchal society in which Blacks were stereotyped negatively, thus measured by their skin color and piety rather than their business reputations, wealth, prestige, and connections.
The Bettingall-Tunno women’s responses to the lawsuit are seemingly lost, as only their attorney’s records and the court testimonies from witnesses regarding their characters survive. The fact that Langdon Cheves and attorneys at his firm represented them for so long suggests that even in a city with changing race rhetoric, the Bettingall-Tunnos found avenues to protect themselves by maneuvering within the system, a technique they had utilized in the antebellum years.
Surviving records illustrate that Cheves never hesitated to represent these women or their claims. A cursory search of his other clients, including elite Charlestonians like the Drayton family, reveals the speed and efficiency that Cheves conducted business for his other clients. That Cheves allowed the suit between Webb and Bettingall-Tunno to extend over the course of decades suggests that he knew the limitations women of color would experience in the law, and that the outcome would not be in their favor. He would wait weeks, sometimes months, to reply to letters from the attorneys at Sole, Turner, and Knight. Even though correspondences had to travel from Charleston to London, Webb’s London lawyers always produced a response to Cheves within a couple of weeks. The Bettingall-Tunno women never relented in any part of the case, either, which suggests their persistent resistance to changing race attitudes.
Years progressed in Reconstruction Charleston, and as late as 1902, the court case between Elizabeth Webb and the Bettingall-Tunno women continued. Elizabeth Webb eventually won her case against the Bettingall-Tunno women in 1904. Margaret Bettingall-Tunno and her daughters were already deceased at this point, and Elizabeth Webb died before she could receive what was left of the funds from Adam Tunno’s estate.
Law, grounded in racism, became the basis for justifications that purposefully excluded on the basis of gender, class, and race in the decades following Reconstruction. Charleston’s elite free Black community experience witnessed unprecedented transformations both in law and rhetoric. Formerly engaging in unique privileges due to wealth, standing, and connections with prominent Charlestonians, elite Blacks now experienced contingent freedoms with increasingly more stringent social parameters.
Charleston’s legal landscape in the short period surrounding the Civil War reveals the ways in which elite free Blacks constantly adapted to maintain a prominent social position and find protections against race systems that devalued this group. Experts at manipulating the often-unfair law and pursuing personal gains, Charleston’s elite Blacks created a community that both utilized Black-white relations and circumvented a society that valued a white patriarchy.
Tara again – Thanks so much for sharing your work with us, Hannah! Please note that, while most everything on Tea & Rebellion is permitted to be used with a citation or crediting to the blog, the information in this post may only be used or quoted by permission of Hannah Cowan Jones, which can be requested at the contact tab, the reason being that this post is the result of extensive scholarly research.
There are no known photos existing of the Bettingall-Tunno women. So I thought I would share some images of elite nineteenth century ladies below.
 “Testimony of Reverend John Johnson of St. Philip Parish” in Langdon Cheves Legal Papers (South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston).
 Elizabeth Webb, Adam Tunno’s white niece, contested his last will and testament in hopes of gaining her Black cousins’ inheritance; see “In re: Estate of Adam Tunno Deed” in Langdon Cheves Legal Papers (South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston).
 Cynthia M. Kennedy, Braided Relations, Entwined Lives: The Women of Charleston’s Urban Slave Society (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 103. For a Virginia comparison to view South Carolina’s extraordinary legal position concerning marriage, see Joshua D. Rothman, Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Families Across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787-1861 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 56-59.
 Sandra F. VanBurkleo, and Amber D. Moulton, “Moses Married a Colored Woman” in The Women’s Review of Books 33, no. 2 (2016): 8-9. See also Wilbert L. Jenkins, Seizing the New Day: African Americans in Post-Civil War Charleston (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 2.
 See Drayton Family Papers in Langdon Cheves Legal Papers (South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston).
 One such example is found in Cheves’ February response to Sole, Turner, and Knights’ November letter. See “Re: Adam Tunno Decd.” 7 February 1902 in Langdon Cheves Legal Papers (South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston).
 “Re: Adam Tunno Deced” in Langdon Cheves Legal Papers (South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston).
Welcome to the third installment of the History Behind the Story Series for Charleston Tides. Today’s topic is very broad, and there is no way we could even scratch the surface in one post, so I am going to state the very basic facts to give you an idea of the enormity of the issue. I will also specifically focus on the aspects of this subject with which I chose to grapple in Charleston Tides.
History Behind the Story #3: Violence Against Freedmen and the Rise of Insurgent Movements
THE HISTORY: In the aftermath of the Civil War, as guns were being laid down and people were returning home, America had a lot of adjusting to do. We talked about missed opportunities for really instituting great change for newly emancipated men and women in a prior post. What happened in actuality was a period of intense instability and violence. Freedmen were keen to claim their rights, and many found this threatening for various reasons, which in turn led to violence. I will list some bullet points to give you an idea of just how huge the problem was.
Thousands of newly emancipated men and women were murdered and assaulted. In 1865–1866, the Freedman’s Bureau in Texas alone recorded over a thousand murders, for example. This was a key factor in forcing the occupation of the formerly Confederate states, which lasted about a decade. In addition, racial violence was happening simultaneously all over the country, including in the North and in the territories.
The Ku Klux Klan, White League, Knights of the White Camelia, and other groups began to form and spread quickly. There was no centralized organization, but local groups could be quite powerful and devastating. These organizations threatened freedmen and anyone who helped them. There were both isolated instances of violence and mass murders.
Once “Radical Reconstruction” began, there was also political violence. Both Black and white Republican officials were targeted, intimidated, and assassinated. Several high-ranking politicians were killed. People were shot and lynched and had their homes burned. In addition, much of the violence was aimed at voter suppression. Election nights and days were huge times of violence, arson, and other threatening behavior because the organizations mentioned above wished to disenfranchise the newly freed populace (this means men, of course – women wouldn’t be given voting rights for decades).
Economic intimidation also became a huge factor in preventing newly freed men and women from claiming their rights. The sharecropping system became a system of de facto slavery in which formerly enslaved people would be unable to leave due to loans held by landowners for their planting, which, because of the oppressive economic conditions, they would never be able to repay. In addition, simply “acting free” very often inspired whippings or shootings. Violence also often resulted if people tried to leave.
In Charleston Tides, we see most of this history come to a head at the end of the book (spoiler alert). John Thomas is almost assassinated because of a speech he gave in Congress highlighting the number of murders which had occurred. These kinds of assassinations or attempts were all too common and documented against Republican politicians. In addition, Shannon receives a warning from the Ku Klux Klan at her home in Massachusetts. There were many such reported incidents of insurgent activity against government officials who were Black or who were seen as supporting freedmen’s equality.
PERSONAL SPOTLIGHT: I am going to block quote a few stories which were already told quite succinctly by one of my sources, which is cited below the stories. These involve officials who were attacked for their political beliefs.
“In Georgia on October 29, 1869, Klansmen attacked and brutally whipped 52-year-old Abram Colby, a formerly enslaved Black man who had been elected to Congress by enfranchised freedmen. Shortly before the attack, a group of Klansmen comprised of white doctors and lawyers tried to bribe Mr. Colby to change parties or resign from office. When he refused, the men brutally attacked him.”
“In August 1870, a Black legislator named Richard Burke was attempting to organize a meeting of African Americans in Sumter County, Alabama, when he was shot and killed near his home. Mr. Burke was accused of encouraging armed Black people to stage a protest in Livingston, Alabama, but the Southern Republican newspaper reported that the charges against Mr. Burke were most likely made up as an excuse to kill him for his political leadership.”
“In 1870, Guilford Coleman, a Black delegate to the Alabama state convention, was abducted from his home and killed the week he returned from nominating a Reconstruction governor in Demopolis. Investigation into Mr. Coleman’s murder was minimal but reports indicated he was beaten and dumped into a well solely for his political involvement. Reports warned that pro-Reconstruction politicians “dare not canvass the district, lest they lose their lives.”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The Reconstruction Era is known as one of the darkest times in American history. There were many actions taken that set precedents for generations to come. Many have speculated that if Lincoln had lived things would be different. What do you think? Did President Johnson’s handling of early Reconstruction constitute the most important series of actions during this time period?
PHOTOGRAPH: I wanted to introduce you, if you are not already acquainted, to Hiram Revels from Mississippi, who was the first Senator elected of African and Native American ancestry. He was born free in North Carolina in 1827 and became a preacher in the South before being elected in 1870 to finish the term of one of Mississippi’s U.S. senators. Thankfully, Mr. Revels was not a victim of violence during his tenure, and I wanted to include his story to highlight the strides that he made.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia.com
These posts which cover violence are always very difficult to write and read. If you are interested in learning more, there are so many resources out there which cover Reconstruction history quite well, and I am happy to recommend some. Stop by next time for a special guest post, which also happens to be the final History Behind the Story Post for the Torn Asunder Series.
Chernow, Ron, Grant (New York: Penguin Books, 2017).
We’re on to the next History Behind the Story article for Charleston Tides! Settle in and learn about the background for the historical choices I made concerning the fame of Civil War officers…
History Behind the Story #2: Fame of Civil War Officers
THE HISTORY: One thing that I learned only relatively recently was that the Civil War produced modern-type, completely famous, all-out celebrities. Obviously there had been famous Americans before. But railroads, the press, circles of communications, public interest, and the telegraph combined during the Civil War to make public hysteria for celebrities as intense, if not more so, than it is today. Civil War celebrities and their families had to contend with public interest, adulation, and, sometimes, hostility.
Civil War sensations were famous not just in their states or in the United States, but across the entire world. They became folk legends in Europe and Asia, with military scholars and the general public at large watching their movements intently.
Europeans hungrily waited for reports of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s latest moves and wrote ballads and poems about him. Jackson even sometimes received cheers from Union soldiers he had captured as he walked by them. People would try to touch the officers and rip their hair and buttons off for souvenirs. Once, a captured Union soldier began ripping hairs out of Jackson’s famed horse, Little Sorrel, and was ordered to stop but did not. When Jackson came out, he asked, “My friend, why are you tearing the hair out of my horse’s tail?” The prisoner responded, “Ah, General, each one of these hairs is worth a dollar in New York.”
After the rise of his fame, Ulysses Grant would be swamped at every railroad from which he disembarked. We’re talking such a tide of people that you are unable to move and people are at risk of getting trampled. The same was true of other Civil War celebrities. William Tecumseh Sherman wanted to go visit a friend in Detroit after the war but wrote his brother, “But [I] am bothered by people in travelling so much that I prefer to be quiet ‘til the people run after new gods.” Jackson was horrified to be engulfed at a church he stopped to attend during the war, and even more so to be accosted by throngs of admiring ladies. (One pictures Victorian fangirls looking slightly different than those of The Beatles.)
The famous officers’ coping mechanisms varied, but a lot of the strategies bear resemblance to modern tactics. Grant was delighted when his more magnificent-looking doctor was mistaken for himself. He often used him as a decoy so that he could slip away unnoticed. The famous officers would duck out back doors, stay indoors, keep a low profile, and sometimes flat-out flee from their worshippers.
When Jackson’s daughter was born during the war, he told his wife not to send the news across the telegraph wires and told no one in his camp. This likely wasn’t unfounded, since months later during the many stops of his extended funeral, people clamored madly to see, touch, and kiss the baby. At one point, she was even taken outside the train and passed from stranger to stranger to stranger as people wept and engaged in mass hysteria.
You also hear of Grant holding his children’s hands in public situations, even after they were a little older than the norm. Modern celebrities do this, too, so I would assume it is a protective gesture.
The way officers dealt mentally with fame was generally in keeping with the individuals’ personalities. Grant would smile at the crowds; I think he appreciated the praise, but I don’t think it ever went to his head. Jackson tried to stay out of the spotlight and was always careful to deflect praise from himself and back onto Providence. He just did not believe God would be happy with him for reveling in glory. Robert E. Lee handled fame soberly and also was careful to remind admirers that any praise belonged to God. After the war when Nathan Bedford Forrest was attracting a large crowd in New York, he said, “Get out of my way, God damn you!” And they did. So that was one way to deal with it.
For a lot of these officers, nothing in their prior lives would have prepared them for this level of public scrutiny. Before the war, Grant had been a store clerk who had been more or less forced to resign from the army. Jackson was an unpopular professor at VMI. Both Grant and Jackson had flashes of brilliance during the Mexican American War, but nothing to cause them to receive true renown.
One wonders if the fame was a little less foreign to Lee. The Lee family had been mildly famous during the Revolutionary War, and he had married the daughter of George Washington’s adopted grandson. The Washingtons had been the first American family to be forced to deal with a frenzied level of interest and adulation, so maybe they had passed down some practical coping mechanisms. In addition, Lee had received relative renown in military circles for his engineering endeavors during the Mexican American War. Therefore, he had been introduced somewhat to a public life, though his personal experience of it was only a fraction of what it would become as the war progressed and he executed his successful battles.
These celebrities’ fame did usually arise from success in battle: Grant, for his inventive victories in the Western Theater when all else was going badly for the Union; Jackson, for his record-breaking forced marches and aggressive battlefield strategies; Lee, for his stunning victories in Virginia; Sherman, for the turn-around at Shiloh, and Forrest, for his lightning campaigns and startling successes. So, with fame based on success, the danger was that if things didn’t go well, you would plummet in public opinion just as rapidly.
Of course, Jackson never lived to face that reality, but Grant, Lee, Sherman, and Forrest all did. When Grant was transferred by Lincoln from the Western Theater to battle Lee’s army in Virginia, he was also promoted to Lieutenant General and made overall commander of the Union armies. The fanfare he met with in Washington was like nothing ever seen on this continent, and yet he said, “Nothing ever fell on me like a wet blanket so much as my promotion to the lieutenant-generalcy.” He knew the stakes were high.
When Grant took on Lee, the first battles were extremely fierce and bloody, prompting the North to suffer a slight check in Grant-worship. Grant seemed to take this in his stride, saying something to the effect of that he had always said defeating Lee would come at great expense of human life and he didn’t understand why anyone assumed it would be any different.
Lee suffered a severe blow to his pride by the ultimate surrender, of course. It seems like he was never truly blamed by the South for failure in the war. Still, he seemed to have had some degree of difficulty coping with the final result, even finding it impossible to laugh at a joke Grant made to him years later when he visited Grant in the White House. One imagines defeat was made more difficult through world fame.
The extent to which Forrest was personally involved in the event which won him a degree of infamy (the massacre by his troops of the USCT at Fort Pillow) has been debated by historians for more than a century and is beyond the scope of this article. But history records that he did face an intense level of scrutiny from those who believed he was responsible. He was the subject of strong denunciation in Northern newspapers, which also began digging into his personal life and that of his family members. Forrest recounted stories of people approaching him in the streets and mobs forming, as well as that of one lady knocking on his hotel door and entering before he was even dressed in order to rebuke him.
Similarly, Sherman’s moral responsibility for the scorched earth tactics in the South are also highly debated and beyond this article’s scope. He, too, faced immense criticism and rebuke from those on the opposite side.
There was another very tangible danger, too: assassination. People like Lincoln and Grant came to embody in public perception the political causes which they were executing on the battlefield. We all know how this turned out for Lincoln. Grant was haunted by menacing characters dogging his steps, riding up to his train, and even invading his home during the week of Lincoln’s assassination, and he eventually had to leave Washington. He was rather heedless of the danger, but his faithful group of officers concocted a security plan for his protection. It was a miracle he survived.
All of this, naturally, inspired the direction in which I took John Thomas’s story. The Navy played a huge role for both sides, often accomplishing the seemingly impossible and acting with a precision common to more modern wars like WWII. There were a few famous naval heroes during the war—Admirals Porter, Foote, and Dahlgren come to mind. I don’t believe they achieved quite the A-lister fame of the generals I have discussed above, but when it came to John Thomas, I thought…why not?
PERSONAL SPOTLIGHT: When Ulysses and Julia Grant travelled to England, they were met with overwhelming crowds. In Liverpool, an estimated 80,000–100,000 people turned out to see them. They were even hosted by Queen Victoria for a lavish dinner. The reception was similar in Egypt, Jerusalem, Greece, Rome, Russia, Austria, Germany, Japan, Vietnam, Burma, Singapore, and Thailand. The Grants’ tour of the world offers a fascinating snapshot into the global connectedness of the 1870s. Ron Chernow covers this historical moment spectacularly in Grant, but if you want a shorter read, here is a link to a PBS article on the same.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Public interest creates celebrities. What makes us do it? Fascination, boredom, curiosity, a desire to stay up with the times? I was considering as I was writing this article how the combination of so many factors catapulted the most prominent officers of the Civil War to fame.
Military figures had always held a fascination for the public during wars anyway, partly due to previous centuries’ romanticization of wars. And for the American public, these officers’ decisions were directly affecting their daily lives in a very real way. Civil War celebrities became symbols for causes whether they wanted to be or not, often even when they were just doing their military job and not directly trying to impact public opinion or politics. Was this unfair? Or was it healthy, politically speaking, for the public to be able to hold those in power accountable or promote certain platforms through the mighty force of public opinion of celebrities?
ANALYSIS OF PHOTOGRAPH: Take a look at this photo of Grant’s funeral procession in 1885 in New York. 1.5 million people attended. The fame, celebrity, and infamy of Civil War officers was enduring, and, I think, still endures today.
Stop by next time for a look at the rise of insurgent movements after the Civil War.
William Tecumseh Sherman, by James Lee McDonough
Grant, by Ron Chernow
Bust Hell Wide Open, by Samuel W. Mitcham Jr.
Rebel Yell, by S.C. Gwynne
Clouds of Glory, by Michael Korda
Nathan Bedford Forrest, by Jack Hurst
 Grant’s granddaughter even married minor European royalty, which shows the level of A-lister fame these officers were catapulted into.
 Horrifying in terms of all of the diseases the population was riddled with and considering she was only six months old. Jefferson Davis and Jackson’s wife were in the train car, and my initial thought was, “Why are they letting this happen!?” The mother was upset, but because they were exhausting the baby, not because they were spreading, you know, tuberculosis. And then I remembered how little was understood in terms of germs. A very real reminder of why time travel is not something I could ever desire.
Welcome back to the History Behind the Story Series! Since Southern Rain was first published, I have been writing a series of articles which give you the background on the events that happened in my books or the historical choices I made when writing them. There were ten articles in total for Southern Rain, five for Northern Fire, and the following is the first of the four articles that will dig into the history behind Charleston Tides. Note that there are usually a few spoilers which pertain to the historical aspects of the books. Okay, here we go!
History Behind the Story #1: Charleston’s Festivals of Freedom
THE HISTORY: When I was researching the history of the South in the days and months following the conclusion of the armed hostilities of the Civil War, it seemed like most information pertained to the military or government. For the ordinary men and women who were either piecing back together lives or starting totally new lives, I fell back on the research which spoke comprehensively about the insurgent movements that got underway really quickly after everyone laid down their weapons. I originally depicted a lynching in Charleston, knowing that this was something that happened repeatedly in the city in the years after the war. I was wary of making it seem as though just because slavery had ended peace and equality had been established as well.
Then my sister went to graduate school for Public History at the College of Charleston. I got a call from her while we were in the revision process of Charleston Tides, and she said, “You’re never going to believe it.” What she had found was a little-known but huge moment of empowerment for the newly freed men and women of Charleston. Most of the following history comes from research gleaned from a book called Denmark Vesey’s Garden.
Basically, from February 18, 1865 when Charleston fell until roughly a year later constituted what is known as the Year of Jubilee in Charleston. A flag raising ceremony at Fort Sumter (a heavily symbolic place) with formerly enslaved people, abolitionists, and military personnel present kicked off a series of great festivals of freedom in which Charleston’s newly freed community celebrated their freedom again and again. I don’t want to give the impression that this type of open, public celebration was happening all over the South, because it wasn’t. However, this was possible in Charleston for several reasons. First, Charleston’s newly freed contingent made up a majority of its population. The Union military presence was heavy in Charleston. In addition, Charleston was the archetype city for slavery, so when anything involving slavery was happening, the eyes of the country were upon Charleston.
So what exactly was happening during these festivals? They were elaborate. There were parades, public speeches, demonstrations, and commemorations. Famous abolitionists often travelled to Charleston to participate. Ten thousand people gathered for one parade at the Citadel Green, the cite of the South Carolina Military Academy’s former parade ground (again, highly symbolic). It was a massive procession, more than two miles long, even going down the Battery (where fictional Ravenel House is located). There were dignitaries, military personnel, tradesmen, fire companies, freed schoolchildren who were newly enrolled in schools, and many other formerly enslaved people.
The scene I depicted of the mock slave auction during a parade in Charleston Tides also happened. This demonstration was a satirical statement highlighting the breathtaking barbarity of something that was, in fact, taking place not long before the festivals. The idea was, “Look at these normal, intelligent, capable humans who were sold like cattle just a few months ago.” As I depicted in the book, this reenactment did induce trauma in some women, for whom the memory of losing their children was still too fresh to make satire bearable.
As noted in Charleston Tides, there was indeed a banner carried that read, “We know no masters but ourselves.” To us, this seems like a normal expression of human rights, but think about how revolutionary this was given the freshness of slavery’s downfall! Some of the processions included more funereal elements, such as a mock wake to the institution of slavery, or a hearse carrying a coffin labeled “slavery.” There was singing of songs that were considered very controversial at the time. There was also a float which carried young Black women representing each of the slave states. They wore white dresses and, if the depictions are correct, also crowns, these choices being a political statement of purity and status.
There were lots of ways that the newly freed people of Charleston expressed their freedom and political stances. One was in the building of the Martyrs of the Race Course Cemetery, which I also discuss in Charleston Tides. This was an effort by the freed community to give a proper burial to the 257 Union prisoners of war who were buried in unmarked graves after dying at the prison camp which had been held at Charleston’s Washington Race Course. I am always hesitant to glorify people, armies, or causes in my books because history is simply too fraught and complicated to allow exaltation to be entirely truthful. But I felt that depicting this outpouring of support wasn’t glorification for several reasons.
While this was an act of tribute, there were many nuanced reasons the freed community singlehandedly raised all of the money, made all of the plans, and did all of the work in order to make this cemetery happen. One was that during the time that thousands of men were imprisoned in pitiful conditions at the camp, it was Charleston’s Black community which brought them relief in the form of food, bandages, and medicine, and some risked their lives to do so. I would imagine that bonds had been created in the process. In addition, creating the cemetery was a political expression, an alignment with a very personal cause, an expression of support for one side of the war, and another statement that slavery was dead.
Ten thousand people turned out for the dedication of the cemetery on May 1. Then, it was called “Decoration Day,” but it started a tradition that we know today as Memorial Day.
There had been the strictest of hierarchies before the war. But in the year after the war, the social order in Charleston was turned on its head. The Union military presence, including United States Colored Troops (USCT), was strong. Newly freed citizens were now the ones standing guard with guns outside of buildings. White Charlestonians were shut out of the dedication ceremony for the cemetery. They might find themselves shoved off the sidewalk. They were held to a strict nightly curfew, once a practice applied to slaves. There were insults made on the streets, and people who had once held ultimate power were forced by the turning tables to take it lying down, so to speak. Many were baffled, having been thoroughly inculcated in the belief that the enslaved community had been content and even fond of their masters. You read genuine confusion in some of the writings from the time, something which shows how thoroughly cultural conditioning can instill ideas that aren’t necessarily grounded in reality.
Ultimately, after several discussions with people in-the-know, I decided to take out the lynching scene I had depicted because in this specific place, in this specific year, it seemed unlikely. Charleston would, not too much later, become the scene of various tragedies, including lynching. But for this one year, I do believe that there was a significant power shift, and I think those are as important to discuss as oppression when recounting race history.
The following link is the article which ran in the New-York Daily Tribune on April 4, 1865, from which I believe much of the research in Denmark Vesey’s Garden was pulled.
PERSONAL SPOTLIGHT: When Charleston fell, various Union troops poured into the city over the course of the next couple of weeks, many of them USCT. One Black sergeant, John H.W.N. Collins of the 54th Massachusetts, reported, “I saw an old colored woman with a crutch—for she could not walk without one, having served all her life in bondage—who, on seeing us, got so happy that she threw down her crutch, and shouted that the year of Jubilee had come.” This is a very moving description, depicting sheer joy. I don’t know if this woman coined “the Year of Jubilee,” a Biblical expression, to apply to this situation or if that was how the enslaved community had referred for many years to the year that would be their liberation. I love the snapshot into this woman’s life. She strikes me as someone who had been actively anticipating liberation. I wonder if she might have been an activist or an encourager within her community.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: As I read about the Year of Jubilee, I received the impression that the newly freed men and women of Charleston were there to claim their equality, their freedom, even their political enfranchisement. You can sense the tides of change in the air, the feeling that anything was possible. There was no Jim Crow yet, the KKK was in its infancy, and the military and government seemed to be on the side of the freedmen. One article said that “the promise for a bright future was at its zenith in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.” This makes me wonder… If a few things had been tweaked, if a few politicians had followed through and made better decisions…could America have fast-forwarded a hundred years in terms of equality? Maybe this is outlandish, but it doesn’t really seem so when you look closely at the days and months right after the war. What do you think? Do you think things are inevitable in history, or is every decision important?
ANALYSIS OF PHOTOGRAPH: Sorry that it’s a drawing rather than a photograph! I believe this ran in a newspaper which recounted the events of one of the parades some time after the fact. This depicts the USCT marching as they sing “John Brown’s Body,” a highly controversial song at the time! Notice the schoolchildren in the foreground, as well as the burned out shells of Charleston’s buildings in the background.
Photo Credit: Charleston County Public Library, ccpl.org.
Stop by next time for a peek into the fame of Civil War officers!
 Of course, I’m not saying that by any means it was impossible. I could not find specific instances, but the failure to find specific instances doesn’t mean that it absolutely never happened, as we have discussed in previous posts.
 “The History of Emancipation Day in Charleston.”
Charleston Tides releases today! I am so excited to share the culmination of this series with my readers, who have been the best readers a writer could ask for! Here’s to three books, the end of a series, and new beginnings!
Read the synopsis and then click the link below to download your Kindle or order your paperback! Also, the book is free on KU!
Charleston, Modern Day:
Adeline Miller-Ravenel came to Charleston to restore a historic Battery Street mansion. She never expected her ties in the city to run so deep or her decisions to be so difficult. With her reason for staying drawing to a close, she is torn between making the sensible choice and following the promptings of her heart.
The war is over, and Charleston lies in ruins. In a world quickly changing, Shannon Haley must piece together the fragments of her marriage and former life. Her journey will plunge her deep into the heart of Reconstruction and into the highest stakes for the fate of a nation and her own future.
Charleston Tides is the final book in the Torn Asunder Series. It is the poignant culmination of great emotions, fears, trials, and triumphs for the characters of the series, both modern and historical.
The release date for Charleston Tides has been set! February 12, you will be able to order the book in paperback or Kindle formats from Amazon. Preorder is available now for the Kindle format. Note: if you prefer to order online from Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million, you will most likely be able to within a month of the release when the book goes to expanded distribution.
Click the link below to preorder your Kindle and have it delivered to your device on February 12!