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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Civil War

Beyond All Price--An Excerpt

Chapter 1:
The young woman waited for Colonel Leasure outside the hastily-erected picket fence surrounding Camp Wilkins. She was tiny, dressed in a simple dark dress of bombazine and a bonnet that shaded her features. But her erect posture, chin lifted and eyes raised to stare straight at the scene before her, made it clear she was neither demure nor humble. Even as the colonel returned her stare and recognized her obvious youth, he was aware she was a formidable personality.
       “Madam, I am Colonel Daniel Leasure of the Roundhead Regiment, at your service, M’am.”
       “Good morning,” she nodded with a miniscule lifting of the corners of her mouth that might have passed for a smile. “I am Nellie Leath. Mrs. Leath,” she said. “I have come to serve as your matron.”
       “Ahhhh, I see. And what, exactly, is a matron?”
       “It is my understanding, Sir, that each military regiment is to be accompanied by a skilled woman who can handle the housekeeping chores, so to speak. A matron, as I interpret the term, oversees meals, supplies, and minor medical needs for the soldiers.”
       “Oh, I see. And you have been sent by the Sanitary Commission, I presume.”
       “Not exactly.” Now the young woman laughed openly. “You really don’t remember me, do you?”
       “You have me at a disadvantage, M’am. Have we met before?”
       “Oh, yes. At York, last June?” She raised an inquiring eyebrow at him, but he still appeared confused. “You were the adjutant with the Twelfth Regiment, and I was a volunteer nurse, assigned to assist Doctor Speer and his small group of surgeons. There wasn’t much need for battlefield services. I spent most of my time helping the women of York who had taken in our soldiers as boarders. You came to York one day to visit some of your men who had fallen ill. I was helping care for two of the most serious cases, Corporal Robert Gibson and Sergeant James Miller. You remember them, I assume.”
       “Yes, of course. I found their eventual deaths most upsetting because I had helped to recruit them. And I do remember a young nurse being particularly helpful. But your name doesn’t sound familiar.”
       “I was using my maiden name then—Nellie Chase.”
       “Ah, yes, I do remember that name. There was a fuss over you, as I recall. Something about you being related to Lincoln’s new Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase?”
       Nellie winced. “We are only distantly related, if at all. I assure you I have never met the man, and he has never even heard of me. Still, people assumed I had gotten my position with the regiment through some sort of nepotism, while I wanted to be judged on my own merits. That’s why I started using my married name, instead. I’m sorry if that confused you.”
       “I still don’t know how you come to be here. Who sent you?”
       “No one. I come as a volunteer. I remembered you clearly from York. You impressed me with your kindness, your concern for your men, and your medical knowledge. When I heard you were recruiting a new regiment, to be composed of sincere, God-fearing, and highly moral young men, I sought you out. I want to continue to help in the war effort, and you would seem to be in need of a woman such as I.”
       Just then, a commotion broke out behind them as two sopping wet young recruits came running for the camp, arms flailing. “Ow, ow, oh, ouch, ow,” they yelled. As they neared the colonel, he could see that their faces, red and tear-stained, were covered with angry-looking blotches. Their bare arms, too, were mottled and marked with welts.
       “Whoa,” said the colonel. “What company are you in? And what in the devil’s name have you boys gotten yourselves into?”
       “Bees, Sir,” said Billy Simpson, the taller of the two. “We’re in Company H, from Lawrence County. Zeb here saw some bees leaving that old hay barn down the road. They were a’comin’ out from behind a loose board, and he pulled on it, hoping to find him some honeycomb. But there was a whole swarm of them and they attacked. We got away by jumping in the cow pond, but not before they took their revenge.”
       “We’ve been stung a hundred times, I know,” said Zeb Elliot. “Ow, ow, ow. Sorry, but it burns like fire, Sir.”
       “How are you going to be a soldier and stand up to battle, if you can’t even endure a small dispute with bees?” the colonel asked.
       “Well, I would hope the rebels don’t come with stingers, Sir.”
       “Be that as it may, you must learn self-discipline, soldier.”
       “Excuse me,” Nellie interrupted. “Do either of you have some tobacco? If so, may I have it?”
       “I had a stogie in my pocket a while back, but I expect it’s pretty soggy by now.” Billy pulled a dripping cigar from his pocket and held it at arm’s length, “Uh, you surely wouldn’t want this, M’am.”
       “Yes, indeed. That’s exactly what I need. Hold still, now.” She took the cigar from him and began to pull the wet leaves apart, tearing the tobacco into inch-long pieces. Carefully she layered the patches onto the welts left by the bee stings.
       “Ouch,” the men protested as she worked. “It hurts when you touch them.”
       “I know. But wait a few minutes. Let me try this.” When she finished, she stepped back and allowed a faint smile to move beyond her lips to light up her eyes. “How do you feel now?”
       “Ow! Ah—aahhh. It’s gone!”
       “You’re right. They don’t sting anymore. How’d you do that?”
       “Yes, Mrs. Leath.” Colonel Leasure raised an inquiring eyebrow. “How did you know to do that?”
       “That’s what a matron does, Sir.” Nellie suppressed a laugh and resumed her serious demeanor. “To answer your question, Granny Merrill—my grandmother—lived with us when I was growing up. She was known as something of a wise woman and treated the minor ills and injuries of the neighboring families. She taught me some of her secret remedies. Wet tobacco for insect bites was one of them.”
       “You know, in civilian life, I am a trained doctor,” the colonel told her. “I might have prescribed a paste of baking soda, but tobacco would never have entered my mind. I am impressed.”
       “We all have our little stores of useful knowledge, I suppose. Zeb, Billy, leave those patches on until they dry and fall off. You should be fine. And the next time you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, here’s another use for that stogie. Light it and let the smoke penetrate the crack where you think the bees are. It will make the bees sleepy, and you’ll be able to help yourself to a chuck of comb without risking another disaster.”
       “Yes, M’am,” they said.
       By now a smattering of curiosity-seekers had begun to assemble around the gateway, watching to see what the mutton-chopped colonel was going to do about the young woman who had solved a problem for him. Murmurs and suppressed snickers passed through the crowd. From somewhere near the back, a soft whistle revealed what the onlookers suspected. Reluctant to put on a further show, Colonel Leasure bowed slightly, and offered his arm. “Well, come with me to our headquarters, and we can discuss this further.”   
       The two picked their way through a mass of soldiers, some cooking over an improvised fire. others pounding tent stakes or practicing their drills in the dust. As they passed, every eye watched them. The homesick soldiers saw Mrs. Leath as mother or sister, or neighbor; the more worldly-wise had other notions. But all were struck by the self-assured figure of this lone woman in a campground full of men.

       As they walked, the colonel’s eyes remained slightly downcast as he picked their way around the inevitable obstacles of a makeshift military camp. This also allowed him to keep his surroundings slightly out of focus, so he did not have to see the curious stares or leering grins of the men who watched their progress. Nellie, however, was openly fascinated. She noted everything as they passed, as if she were keeping a mental inventory. Her eyes twinkled when she noticed a chicken sizzling on a stick over an open fire, while four obviously guilty soldiers pretended to be interested in everything around them except for the purloined fowl. She reacted with a sympathetic smile to a miserable young man who sat staring at a much-creased picture. She noted with interest the men who were reading or writing in their journals. And occasionally she wilted a forward young stud by sneering at his wiggling eyebrows. Nellie recognized and categorized them all as they passed. By the time she and the colonel reached the command tent, she may have known the regiment more intimately than he did

This book is available in paperback, Kindle, and Audible formats. 

The End of the Civil War

As we prepare to greet the year 2015, Civil War buffs like me are reminded that the coming year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. That in itself calls for some sort of special recognition, but the city of Charleston, South Carolina, is making special plans to celebrate the end of the war there in the city where that war started. Here are a few of the events they have planned.

If you're in town tomorrow,Thursday, January 1st, 2015, please consider coming out and joining in or watching the Emancipation Day Parade--starting at 11 am outside Burke High School and working its way down King and Calhoun Streets to end at Emanuel AME Church (see  http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20141231/PC16/141239933 ). This year's commemoration is especially significant in that exactly 150 years ago in 1865 the provisions of the proclamation that anyone formerly enslaved would be henceforward "forever free" came into force across the reunited nation on the cessation of the Civil War.

In regard to the latter point, please also keep a look out for a series of events coordinated by the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World (CLAW) program in conjunction with colleagues at the Citadel, the Fort Sumter/Fort Moultrie Trust, and the National Park Service. Governing all these events will be the spirit invoked by President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address of "malice toward none, charity for all."

On February 18th we will be commemorating the surrender of Charleston with a panel discussion involving the College of Charleston historians and former Avery Research Center director Marvin Dulaney.

On February 20th, Dr Joe Kelly will lead a seminar-style discussion based on the work in his book America's Longest Siege.

On March 11th, two noted Lincoln scholars, Dr Richard Carwardine (President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford) and Dr. Vernon Burton (Clemson University), will give a special Bully Pulpit presentation on Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.

On April 14th, the Fort Sumter/Fort Moultrie Trust in conjunction with the National Park Service will be running special boat-trips to Fort Sumter for ceremonial re-raising of the Union flag.

On April 18th, the Dock Street Theater will see two panel discussions on the end of the war and its legacy featuring some of the nation's most prominent Civil War historians, including David Blight, Eric Foner, Annette Gordon Reed, Tom Brown, Emory Thomas, Ethan Kytle and Blain Roberts (this event supported by a major grant from the Humanities Council SC).

On April 19th at 1pm on Hampton Park, there will be a memorial service honoring all of the dead of the Civil War, led by Citadel chaplain Rev. Joel Harris and Rev. Joseph Darby.

On April 19th at 7pm, there will be a reenactment of a feast of reconciliation organized in 1865 by Nat Fuller, Charleston's most prominent African-American caterer (some of you may have seen the Post and Courier piece on this just before Christmas: http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20141223/PC1206/141229762).

As other events appear on the calendar, i will try to keep you posted. In the meantime, I'm holding my own small celebration of the end of the war by working on a new novel that will explore the years immediately after the war. More details on that to come in the new year.

Cyber Monday: Maybe Tomorrow We Can All Get Back to Work!

How are you spending Cyber Monday?I have a lengthy "to-do"list waiting for me. We're going to one (maybe two) Christmas parties tonight, and for one of them I need to wrap up a bunch of presents.  So far, I have the paper out. I also planned to do some baking today, only to discover that the butter in the fridge is something labeled "butter made from olive oil and sea salt." Doesn't sound like Christmas cookie material to me! So baking will be postponed until I can work in a grocery run.

And what have I accomplished so far? Well, I've read lots of ads for special Cyber Monday deals, including a few that feature my own books.  Just in case you're shopping, here are some places you might want to visit.

"The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese." This handy guide for navigating the tricky path to self-publishing is on a "count-down deal." It will be available for only $1.99 until tomorrow morning at 8:00 PST.

"Teddy Takes a Road Trip" is my first attempt at writing a children's book and publishing it through amazon's new program. Until midnight tonight you can get it for free.

And my publisher has a 40%-off deal on all books, so you Civil War fans can pick up the first edition of "A Scratch with the Rebels" with all the endnotes and illustrations.  It is available today only for $14.97 rather than $24.95.

Happy shopping, everyone.

National Nurses' Week, May 6 - 12

This is National Nurses' Week, and the historian in me needs to mention that it was during the Civil War that American women first tried their hand at nursing as a career. Of course women had always done the nursing in their own families, but it was not until the mid-19th century that they ventured beyond the home to work with patients who were not intimate family members.

Florence Nightingale is given credit for originating the idea that women could be useful adjuncts to an army in time of war. It was in Britain during the Crimean War (1854) that the precedents were set. But in America, there remained a moral prohibition against a woman viewing the body of a man who was not her husband or her son.  It took the Civil War to convince doctors and other male medical workers that Women had a place in battlefield hospitals.

This picture shows the primitive conditions of medical care at Gettysburg.  And note that in the medical staff assembled to care for the wounded men in the tent, there is only one woman.

  The first nurses had no medical training, and they were often expected to do little more than hold a suffering hand or write a letter for a soldier who could not do so for himself, as this picture shows.

But as the war dragged on, the services of the women who took up nursing duties for the army became more and more important. A sketch artist for the Harper's Weekly published this montage of women going about their varied duties among the wounded soldiers. They appear in the simple role of housewives mending socks -- as comfort-givers, and as brave women venturing onto the battlefield to perform simple triage among the wounded and dying.

Please make an effort to thank a nurse this week, in recognition for all they do. But if you're interested in history, you might enjoy reading one of the many books written about Civil War nurses. You might even try Beyond All Price, the story of Nellie Chase, who began as an inexperienced regimental nurse for a Pennsylvania unit and finished her career running a 600-bed military hospital in Nashville at the end of the war.

Ice on the River, but No Groundhogs

From ice on the river to soldiers needing discipline to a president in pain, things don't seem to have changed much in 150 years. Here's the latest from Memphis in 1864:

In recognition of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, “Civil War-Era Memories” features excerpts from The Memphis Daily Appeal of 150 years ago. The Appeal is publishing from Atlanta. Perspective from our staff is in italics.

Jan. 27, 1864

Distinguished Arrivals (in Memphis) — Major Gen. W.T. Sherman arrived on Sunday by a gunboat, and is now stopping at the Gayoso House.

Jan. 28, 1864 

From the Memphis Bulletin of the 7th — The Mississippi River was full of floating ice yesterday, the cakes ranging in size from six inches square to half an acre in extent. It was not thick enough to materially impede navigation, but sufficiently observable to form a remarkable incident for this latitude ... We hear that in Wolf River the ice in some places is frozen six inches thick.

Jan. 29, 1864 

Rags Wanted — The highest market price, either in money or subscription, will be paid for clean cotton or linen rags, white or colored, delivered at the APPEAL counting-room, Atlanta. (Before the late 19th century, paper was often made from textile fibers, like cotton and linen, taken from recycled rags. The APPEAL supplied rags to its paper vendors who produced paper that was often more durable than that made later from wood pulp).

Jan. 30, 1864

The cavalry in Mississippi has been divided into two parts: all north of Grenada and in West Tennessee is under command of Major-Gen. Forrest; all south of an imaginary line running through Grenada, east and west, and in Louisiana, is under command of Major-Gen. S.D. Lee. General Forrest’s headquarters will be at Como, Panola County and Gen. Lee’s at Jackson (Miss).

Feb. 1, 1864

Letters from Mississippi — Gen. Forrest is busily engaged organizing and bringing under proper discipline and restraint the troops which he brought out of West Tennessee. They need it.

Feb. 2, 1864

Lincoln’s Cares — No man in this agony, says the “Boston Watchman,” has suffered more and deeper, albeit with a dry, weary patient pain that seemed to some like insensibility. “Whichever way it ends,” he said to the writer, “I have the impression that I shan’t last long after it is over.”