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Beyond All Price--Synopsis and Review
"A Scratch with the Rebels" -- A Recipe or Two
"A Scratch with the Rebels" -- Battle Accounts
"A Scratch with the Rebels" -- The Inspiration
"A Scratch with the Rebels" -- a Photographic Record

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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

inspirations

Sprouts!

Things have been dark and gloomy around here for a while. Last week we suffered a bitter cold wave (temps in the single digits) that spelled the end of my little container garden of herbs on my front porch. I checked them at the lowest point in that plunge and found them blackened and shriveled beyond redemption. 

The weather is a little better now (in the low 50s today), but I hadn't opened the front door to look out until this morning. You have to understand that my "front door," for reasons too complicated to explain, is located at the very back of the house, reached only by a long narrow sidewalk and facing only a double row of 40-foot junipers and cypress pines. In the winter I always go out on the opposite side, through the garage.  So I was shocked this morning to discover a planter full of bright green sprouts in that container--not just a hint of a leaf pushing through the ground but chives four to six inches tall, and bunches of parsley with inch-wide leaves ready for harvesting. And there were enough of them to allow me ample cutting and chopping to flavor the pot of potato soup bubbling on the stove. What a surprise! What joy!

And then, somehow, climbing out of the blue funk I had wallowed in for days, I started to see other "sprouts" as well. Facebook brought me several pictures of tiny kittens just finding their new forever homes. One of them went to a family of medievalists, who are about to discover the meaning behind Julian of Norwich's maxim, "All manner of things shall be well."  Especially if you are lucky enough to share your little living space with  a cat.

There were also two birth announcements of beautiful baby girls, plus a message from the mother of a child who, a couple of years ago, faced a doubtful future from a neonatal crib in the NICU. Her picture showed a beautiful 2-year-old, laughing, and blowing a kiss at the camera. Talk about a sprout! Then there was the picture of two grade-school age children, whom I have watched grow up from babyhood. They were on their knees, watching a robotics demonstration, their mouths open in rapt fascination as their interest and ideas burst forth. More sprouts.

And finally, from the grown-ups, came an invitation to join a group dedicated to start making 2017 a more positive year for all of us. The group was described this way:

Beginning Jan. 20, 2017, and for one year, members of S.T.O.P. For Kindness (a Service To Others Project) pledge to create a daily act of kindness, however small and simple, that shows appreciation for, or benevolence toward, a friend, a family member, a stranger, an organization, an animal, even a tree...because our members are passionate about spreading all sorts of benevolence. So that's 365 acts of mindful kindness per member, this year! And this Secret Group allows us to share and discuss our experiences here without attachment to ego. We are on a mission to stop the madness of 2017 with a S.T.O.P. for Kindness!

Talk about sprouts? Membership has already sprouted to over 700, and you may take this blog post as your invitation to join us.  To do so, simply go to S.T.O.P. for Kindness: 


It's time to quit complaining about what's wrong and start working to make things better.


150 Year Later.


One hundred fifty years ago today —on April 9, 1865 — Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. The long Civil War was finally over, although its effects would last much longer — in fact, right down to today. The anniversary has started me on a path of reminiscing about my own last ten years.

I started writing about the Civil War in 2004 — not because of any anniversary, but simply because I had retired from teaching, and for the first time in 20 years, I had the freedom to write about what interested me, rather than about the no-less-interesting but more pressurized medieval history that would determine my success or failure as an academic.

I had a family story to tell. My great uncle had actually served in the Civil War, and I had inherited a small bundle of his letters.  I wanted to write the story of Sgt. James McCaskey before those letters crumbled into dust. And so I started on a little manuscript that would become a full-size book. My first publisher urged me to “get on with it,” pointing out that the sesquicentennial of the Civil War would start in 2011, and I could be “in on the ground floor” if I had a book or two finished by the start of the celebration.

That was the start of my new writing career. A Scratch with the Rebels was published in 2007.  It was straight military history, a documentary account of the first year of the war and the experiences of the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment. It wasn’t a particularly good book, but it appealed to the descendants of the men of that regiment, and they helped to publicize it. Today it’s still in print and into a second edition, thanks to a far-sighted publisher. (In fact, the first edition is on sale for 30% off today to celebrate the end of the war!  Click Here.)


Then I took the same set of events and told the story from the point of view of the regimental nurse, who had barely been mentioned in the first book. Beyond All Price came out in 2010 and fulfilled the promise suggested by that first publisher. As interest in the Civil War ramped up, so did interest in the second book and by August of 2011, it became a run-away Kindle best seller, staying at the top of its category for several weeks and earning enough money to force me to hire an accountant.

That’s all I intended to do, really, but I soon realized that the Civil War was too deeply embedded in my soul to let the observation of its sesquicentennial pass without me. So there followed a series of books, tied closely to the actual dates of the war. In 1862, a band of missionaries arrived in South Carolina to help educate the slaves who had been left behind when their owners fled from the invasion of the Union Army. By November of 1862,  one woman had established the first black school. In November 2012, I published the story of Laura Towne in The Road to Frogmore.

Stories about other fascinating people began to appear more frequently in the next couple of years as celebrations of the Emancipation Proclamation and the “Day of Jubilee” spread through the academic world. In 2013 I added Left by the Side of the Road — a book of short stories that featured several of the more prominent African Americans who made their mark in 1863 and beyond. Gen. Sherman began to organize his “March to the Sea” in late 1864, and in 2014, I published my first  historical novel, Damned Yankee, set directly in Sherman’s path.

And now? Now that the Sesquicentennial has come to an end? Am I finished as well? No, there are still stories to be told. I’m working on a sequel to Damned Yankee — one that is set in the period of Reconstruction immediately after the war.  Yesterday, as I reached the end of a chapter, a Freedman had a chance to speak his mind. I didn’t mean the words to be prophetic, but Hector sums up where I — and my new book —are at the moment:

“In time? In time we’ll all be dead. Look, Jonathan, I respect your position, but the simple truth is that most black men are no better off now than they were under slavery. We may be free, and we may even have the right to vote, but nobody’s offering much help when it comes to having a right to eat. The great promise of land didn’t last long, did it? And while the Black Codes may be gone, the land is still in the hands of white men. If we want to work the land, we have to become sharecroppers, which means doing whatever the white man says. We have to borrow money from white men to buy food, and our seeds and farm tools, and then when our crop comes in, we have to give it to the white man to pay what we owe him. So we’re stuck in poverty and beholden to the same men who were once our masters. That’s why I’m still in South Carolina. Someone has to fight back. The war may be over for you, but for me, it’s just beginning.”


So stay tuned. The Civil War may be over, but the fight goes on.


"Mommy, Where Do Baby Books Come From?"

At book signings and public speaking engagements, I'm often asked how I get the ideas for my books.  A variation of that question is why I decided to write a particular book.  When the question is specific to one book, it's pretty easy to answer, but there's also a generic answer that fits almost everything I write.  For me, books have generations -- mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers.  Each one I produce gives birth to another -- or so it seems.

Last fall I released the second edition of Left by the Side of the Road.   That book is a collection of short stories --incidents and characters that I had to leave out of its mother volume, The Road to Frogmore. I couldn't bear to throw their stories out.  Instead, I gave then their own collection, separate from their mother book. 




Where did The Road to Frogmore come from? Well, it had its beginning in  Beyond All Price, the story of Nellie Chase, Union Army nurse.  During her stay in South Carolina, Nellie became quite attached to the slaves who worked in the regimental headquarters.  When the regiment pulled out, Nellie wanted to stay behind to help those slaves, by setting up classes for them and teaching them to read.  She was not allowed to do so, but was told that a group of missionaries had just arrived in Hilton Head to take care of the educational needs of the freed slaves.  That made me curious enough to start researching the details of those missionaries and educators. And out of that curiosity came The Road to Frogmore.

So, where did Beyond All Price come from? Until now, I didn't have a quick answer to that question, although I knew where it had come from.  The first book I wrote after officially retiring was called  A Scratch with the Rebels. It was published in 2007 by a small press, who grossly overcharged for the book [$25.00] while producing a school-bookish version with a cover that self-destructed within a couple of days' use. The book itself was a factual history of the Roundhead Regiment [100th Pennsylvania Volunteers].  It mentioned the regimental nurse frequently without giving too many details about her -- just enough to make me want to tell her story in Beyond All Price.


 Of course, it's possible to take things back one more step.  The ideas for  A Scratch with the Rebels came from a small packet of letters I found in my mother's attic -- letters from my great-uncle James, who served in the Roundhead Regiment.

So there you have four generations of books. Youngest book, along with its mother and grandmother, appeared in Kindle and other inexpensive electronic editions or in nicely-produced paperback versions. But the great-grandmother of this series -- the book that started it all -- was hard to find and even harder to use.

Until now! We're about to remedy that! Stay tuned for further announcements..