Literary Scenes in Danger from Matthew
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Literary Scenes in Danger from Matthew

I don’t think I’m going to get much done today, except for listening to weather reports and watching the hurricane coverage on the Weather Channel. Matthew is reported to be moving onto Hilton Head Island as I write, and my heart breaks as I think about what lies directly in its path. Of course I think of the people in danger and the losses they are bound to suffer, but when i close my eyes, what I see are scenes from my books --- places where I’ve walked and said, “Oh, what a perfect setting for my next chapter.” I’ve always been grateful that so many of the old buildings from before the Civil War have survived. I hope they will survive again. But let me remind you of some of them.
 
On Hilton Head,  you have to get beyond the gates of exclusive housing communities and expensive resorts to find traces of the Civil War, but they are there. Port Royal Sound is where the fleet of the Great Atlantic Expeditionary Force swooped down on two tiny Confederate forts and blasted them into the sand. My great-uncle James McCaskey was a part of that force. He camped on that beach and wrote about digging a trench and building a wall around their new military base.  His words appear in “A Scratch with the Rebels,” and in the woods all over HHI, you can see that dirt “wall” – an unnatural hump that runs through the trees.
 
That beach and battle also appears in “Damned Yankee” as the place where Charlotte Grenville’s newlywed husband was killed. Another spot I love on HHI lies off Union Cemetery Road, where the first Union soldiers to die of disease were buried.  Today they lie in the middle of an old ex-slave burial ground, amid roughly-scratched markers and conch-shell burials.
 
Move a few miles up the coast to the “top” of Port Royal Sound, and you find the towns of Port Royal, where ex-slaves were trained to become Union soldiers, and Beaufort, once a resort town for wealthy plantation owners. Beaufort is full of reminders of my research. The National Cemetery holds the bodies of black soldiers from the 54 Massachusetts Regiment, which you may remember from the movie, “Glory, ” and from an incident in "The Road to Frogmore."
 
From there, if you drive in toward town, you come to the Point, a neighborhood of beautiful antebellum mansions barely above the high tide mark. Movie-goers may recognize the sets of “Forrest Gump” and “The Big Chill.” I look at those same houses and remember that they once housed the Gideonite missionaries who came to Beaufort in 1862. Their detailed stories appear in my “Left by the Side of the Road.” This picture shows several of the ladies standing in front of the Hamilton House.
 
In town, head down Bay Street and you come to the Tabby Manse, once the home of Rev. Thomas Fuller but commandeered by the Union Army to serve as a military hospital. Nelly Chase and Rev. Robert Browne from “Beyond All Price” were often there carrying out their duties as nurse and chaplain. And even more important, the Leverett House next door served as the military headquarters of the 100 Pennsylvania “Roundhead” Regiment – the centerpiece setting  of both” A Scratch with the Rebels” and “Beyond All Price.” The people who own it now allowed me to explore the inside, where there were still nail holes in the floor from the winter carpets used to keep the parlor warm. This picture shows some of the officers who lived in the house in 1862, along with the butler and Nelly Chase.
 
The Beaufort harbor that can be seen from the Leverett front porch was also the site of Harriett Tubman’s victorious arrival after rescuing some 700 slaves from the plantations along the Santee River. That story appears in “Left by the Side of the Road.”
 
 The Leverett House also reminds me that the Leverett family was the original inspiration for what eventually became the Grenville family of my “Yankee” series.  Just a couple of blocks away, you can also find the house where the first decision was made to secede from the union—a house that later became the home of General Rufus Saxton, who plays a major role in both “The Road to Frogmore” and “Yankee Reconstructed.”
 
All of these literary landmarks lie in harm’s way this morning. They’ve survived other hurricanes and earthquakes, too, but each assault on them weakens them and brings their loss closer. So I’m watching and holding my breath.   Later today, I’ll do a second round of locations further up the coast that also play important roles in my books.