"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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Another Thankful Morning--This Time for Alert Cats.
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Finally! We Have a Launch!

The folks who have had to listen to me complain about Amazon, Kindle, CreateSpace, and everyone involved in trying to publish the second edition of "Beyond All Price" will understand why this is a day for celebration. It has taken almost a full month to get the earlier version removed from availability, the book reviews transferred to this new edition, and the two versions--Kindle and trade paper--linked to each other and to the audio edition. When I first hit that "publish" button, I had no idea that Amazon was about to announce a major corporate move. I self-published the electronic version on the old Amazon KDP site and submitted the print files to CreateSpace for  the paperback versions. Two days later, Amazon announced that CreateSpace would now be known as Kindle Direct Publishing, and all my books would have to be transferred to the new site. What resulted was absolute CHAOS. 

I'll spare you the painful details of the ensuing discussions. I would send  an email off to ask for a correction, and KDP would wait until the middle of the night to respond.  That meant that I spent several mornings fulminating over my breakfast. I guess I'm happy I started the process in August. My absolute deadline for having the book available was September 22nd--and I have made it with just two days to spare.

Why September 22nd? That's the day of the  Roundhead Family Reunion being held in Darlington, Pennsylvania--a celebration devoted to all things "Civil War" and particularly honoring the descendants of the Roundhead Regiment (the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment). Why there? It's the hometown of Col. Daniel Leasure, the first commander of the Roundheads. And why do I care? I'm a lateral descendant of Sgt. James McCaskey, Company C of the Roundheads. My first book, "A Scratch with the Rebels" told the story of Great-Uncle James, from the time he joined the newly-recruited regiment until his death at the Battle of Secessionville in 1862. And my latest publication, "Beyond All Price," is the story of the Roundhead's regimental nurse, who knew Uncle James and his comrades.

I'm unable to attend the reunion, but my books will be there to represent me, and a few attendees will win signed copies of those books. For those who don't win, there will be order forms so they can claim their own copies with the only known picture of Nurse Nellie Chase on the cover. But here's why I've been sweating thumbtacks over the publication. I designed the order form showing the listing I WANTED to book to have.  It took until today to get that listing corrected! WHEW!  

So tonight I celebrate a long-awaited book launch.If you care to join in the celebration, go to 

Roundhead Reunion on September 22nd in Darlington PA

 
A Facebook group whose 250 members are either direct or lateral descendants of the 100 Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment will hold an all-day family reunion next Saturday to honor those who served in this unique Civil War regiment.  Events will take place inside and on the grounds of the Greersburg Academy in Darlington, PA. There’s no telling what all will take place when these folks get together, but I know they will welcome anyone who is interested in Civil War history. Here’s a tentative schedule of activities.
 
9AM: Welcome; museums all open; reenactors encamped around Greersburg Academy; Donuts and coffee breakfast available outside Greersburg Academy.
ALL-DAY EVENTS INCLUDE:
·      Living Historian, Kenneth Serfass, as General US Grant. He will be giving a presentation on the Battle of Vicksburg, in which our Roundheads participated. He bears a striking resemblance to the General and will remain in character all day
·      Brenda Applegate from the Beaver County Historical Research and Landmark Foundation will be in period dress and will have a booth set up talking about “The Underground Railroad Quilt Code.”
·      Kevin Farkas of the Social Voice Project will have his podcast recording equipment set up all day and will be interviewing any Roundhead relative about their family member in the 100th.
·      We will be raffling off a copy of the 1989 reprint of the “100th PA Regimental History” and two signed copies of Carolyn Schriber's new book, “Beyond All Price.”
·      We will have slides of Roundhead grave site researched and found by Judy Foster showing all day.
·      There will be photos of Roundheads and Roundhead memorabilia on display inside Greersburg Academy.
·      Food and drink will be available for sale outside the Academy from the ladies of the Little Beaver Historical Society.
9:30 AM: Wreath laying ceremony at the Civil War monument that was built by the Daniel Leasure GAR post.
9:45 to 10:15 AM—Jay Paisley will talk about his book “The Huffman Letters. Jay will have signed copies of his book available.
10:45 to 11:15—Larry Spinnenweber will present his program on Civil War surgery.
11:45 to 12:15—Dave Welch will speak about his research and work setting up the 100th PA web site.
1:00 PM—Ken Serfass will present his recreation of General U.S. Grant
1:45 PM—Mike Kraus, curator of Soldiers and Sailors Hall in Pittsburgh, will give a presentation on the PA 100th the Roundheads.
3:00 PM—Ken Turner will give a presentation on Pennsylvania in the Civil War and area regiments.
 
If you are in the area, please stop by for a few minutes or several hours.

Gratitude in the Face of a Hurricane

Yesterday, the internet heaved a massive sigh of remembered grief as we stopped to think about where we were and what we were doing when those planes crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.  Yesterday was also a day of multiple sorrows for me because I have just lost a dear friend to an unforgiving disease.  And now we are supposed to move on, many of us feeling a little more hopeful because we realize that our world has survived that awful calamity and will do so again.
 
But before I’m ready to move forward, I need another day—one in which to send love and gratitude to a group of people who—I hope—will not read this message. They will be too busy filling sandbags, boarding up windows, checking generators, stocking up on emergency supplies, and plotting escape routes from the deadly storm that is headed their way. Hurricanes scare me because they are so uncontrollable, but none frighten me more than the ones that threaten my own memories and the landmarks that chart my writing career.
 
So while Florence still churns her way through the Atlantic, here are just some of the people and places I hope she will miss:
·      The readers and fellow writers who have become long-distance friends in both North and South Carolina.
·      The owners and staff of the vacation condo in Myrtle Beach, where we always felt welcome and where my books dotted the shelves of the communal living room.
·      The librarians and archivists at the Charleston County Public Library and the South Carolina Historical Society who have always been eager to check a fact or look up a reference for me.
·      The Charleston tour guides who consented to give me private tours of antebellum houses in Charleston and the battlefield at Secessionville where my great uncle died.
·      The owners of the Blue Bicycle Bookstore who hosted my very first book signing and opened my eyes to the interplay between antebellum and contemporary Charleston.
·      The College of Charleston faculty members who allowed me to share in their year-long celebration of Jubilee—the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
·      The manager of the museum shop and the on-site historians at Middleton Place, who were always willing to stock my books that mentioned the Middleton family.
·      The staff of the Penn Center on St. Helena island, who welcomed my work on Laura Towne and the history of Frogmore—as well as the managers of the souvenir shops in town who cleared spots on their shelves for my “The Road to Frogmore.”
·      The residents of Beaufort, South Carolina--the bookstores that stocked my books and  the librarians at the Beaufort Public Library who helped with thorny research problems and scheduled local book talks whenever I could be in town.
·      The owners of the Leverett House, featured in my “Beyond All Price,” for letting me explore their private residence for traces of its Civil War history.
·      The residents of Hilton Head island, who welcomed us as frequent visitors, invited me to give book talks at the Coastal Discovery Museum and various women’s groups, and allowed me to poke about in their gated communities and abandoned cemeteries for traces of that first Yankee invasion in 1861.

May you all stay safe, warm, and dry in the coming days.

A Glimpse Out of the Past

By now, I hope you have seen the new cover of the revised and illustrated second edition of “Beyond All Price.” It features the never-before-seen photograph of Nellie M. Chase, the plucky young woman who served as the matron of Pennsylvania’s Roundhead Regiment. After a year with them, she moved on to become one of the best-known nurses of the Civil War. The men she cared for christened her with titles like Angel of Mercy, The Florence Nightingale of the Western Army, and a Woman Beyond All Price. With that kind of reputation, it’s not surprising that there’s a lovely photograph of her.

There’s quite a story behind the image that graces this book cover. The photograph is taken from a carte de visite—a visiting card of sorts, but much more than that. Two developments in the 1850s made it possible. The first was a photographic process developed in France in 1854. With it, a photographer could print multiple copies of a small image, which could then be pasted onto a sturdy cardboard backing to make it durable. The second was a Civil War that took thousands of young men (and a few hundred women) away from their homes and families in 1861 to serve their country. These new little cards became keepsakes—a way for families and friends to remember their missing loved ones. At the urgings of their families, soldiers flocked to get their pictures taken, and a new fad was born. 

The cards are small. The backing measures about two and a half by four inches. 
The photographic sheets were smaller—approximately two by three and a half inches. (If you look closely at the image, you can see the borders). And then the image itself was often no larger than a penny..  As photographers grew more skilled and cameras more complex, the images became more detailed and often filled the entire card. But Nellie’s photograph was made in 1863, and it’s no larger than an inch. On the reverse of the card is a stamp identifying the photographer, but there are no identifying words printed on these cards because they were meant only for those who knew the individual. 

As I began to research Nellie’s story, I learned that she had a carte de visite, which she could give to patients who asked for one. A small paragraph in a Philadelphia newspaper announced that Frederick Gutekunst had taken her photograph, but no such card existed in any of the boxes of documents that recorded her history. Members of the Society of the Roundheads began searching for her picture, but it was not until this past spring that one actually turned up. 

The card displays only the tiny headshot. The reverse has Gutekunst’s seal and Nellie’s handwritten signature (which you will also see on the cover of my new book. The signature indicates that she gave this card to a  “W. W. Blackman of North Carolina.” So far, his identity has eluded investigation. The card also has a penciled note in another later hand that identifies her as the “wife of Geo. W. Earnest of the 15th Pa. (name spelled wrong). and says they both died of smallpox (although it was actually yellow fever).  But for me, this little card is--like Nellie herself--another treasure "Beyond All Price."

A National Snake

Did you see it? Yesterday, the Bronx Zoo Cobra came out of his long Twitter hibernation to comment on what was--to him--the most important news story of the day. Barnum and Bailey Animal Crackers announced that from now on, the animals on their boxes would be free to roam rather than being kept in cages. Freedom at last! BZ Cobra sighed a long--very long--sigh and commented, "Well, good for them, I guess." How sad he sounded. How lonely.

BZ always tried to be a good snake. True, he escaped once and scared half of NYC into believing that poisonous cobras were about to take over the world. But BZ had no such plans. H simply wanted to live the life he was born to live. He took delight in the natural world he discovered outside his cage. He threatened no one. He took only what he needed for his own survival. He took pride in being who he was, tried his best to love all other creatures, and danced to music only he could hear.

But the people with power and zoo credentials captured him anyway and thrust him back into captivity. It broke his little heart. They silenced his pithy little observations about the foibles he saw in those around him. They condemned him for being a snake, and they placed him on display so other creatures could mock him and call him names.

One of the saddest things about the Bronx Zoo cobra is that he probably does not know how many people live lives similar to his--caged, not behind bars, but by bureaucracy, poverty, prejudice, and other spirit-breaking events of the day. I'm hoping we hear more from him in the coming days. Surely our world could benefit from the wisdom of this little guy. He has suffered a long captivity, but he can still rejoice in the success of others. 

Stick with us, little fellow. Maybe someday we can declare you our "National Snake."