Thursday, June 13, 2024

Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip

Good morning, dear readers! As soon as I read the premise of this novel, I knew it was one to share with you. Gail Ward Olmsted has found a fascinating historical woman to feature, and you all know how I love the kind of story that shines a light on a lady who has been left too much in the historical dark. Read on about Katharine Prescott Wormeley, a Civil War Nurse and road trip adventuress!

~ Samantha


Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip: An Excerpt

Guest Post by Gail Ward Olmsted

The history behind the story:

In the fall of 1907, Katharine decides to drive from Newport, Rhode Island, to her home in Jackson, New Hampshire. Despite the concerns of her family and friends, that at the age of 77 she lacks the stamina for the nearly 300-mile journey, Katharine sets out alone. Over the next six days, she receives a marriage proposal, pulls an all-nighter, saves a life or two, crashes a high-society event, meets a kindred spirit, faces a former rival, makes a new friend, takes a stroll with a future movie mogul, advises a troubled newlywed, and reflects upon a life well lived; her own! 

Join her as she embarks upon her remarkable road trip.

Here's a sneak peek from Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip!

The lighter side of serving as a volunteer nurse on a hospital ship during the Civil War

“But it wasn’t all bad,” I told him. “When things settled down a bit, we nurses were able to chat with the soldiers or read to them. We even wrote letters to their loved ones for them.” I smiled brightly. “That was my favorite activity, the writing of letters. Just to know that they could tell their families back home how they were faring . . . well, it was quite the rewarding experience I can tell you that.” 

I felt tears well up in my eyes, and I quickly wiped them away. Many of those letters would have arrived at their intended destination long after the soldier who had dictated it had died from his injuries. I hoped that the last words they received had provided some solace to the grieving families. It had been an honor and a privilege to be involved in their lives in that way. I remembered trying and failing to imagine what it would have been like to receive a letter like that, dictated by a loved one, transcribed by a well-meaning stranger.

Keep reading Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip

More about the remarkable Katharine:

Katharine Prescott Wormeley (1830-1908) was born into affluence in England and emigrated to the U. S. at the age of eighteen. Fiercely independent and never married, Kate volunteered as a nurse on a medical ship during the Civil War, before founding a vocational school for underprivileged girls. A lifelong friend and trusted confidante of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, she was a philanthropist, a hospital administrator, and the author of The Other Side of War: 1862, as well as the noted translator of dozens of novels written by French authors, including Moliere and Balzac. She is included in History’s Women: The Unsung Heroines; History of American Women: Civil War Women; Who’s Who in America 1908-09; Notable American Women, A Biographical Dictionary: 1607-1950 and A Woman of the 19th Century: Leading American Women in All Walks of Life

Get your copy of Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip 

 or read FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

Connect with Gail Ward Olmsted

Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a fulltime basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary. After penning a pair of contemporary novels featuring a disgraced attorney seeking a career comeback (Miranda Writes, Miranda Nights) she is back to writing historical fiction featuring an incredible woman with an amazing story. Watch for Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip on June 13th.

Connect with Gail on her website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Book Bub, Amazon Author Page, and Goodreads

Monday, June 3, 2024

Saving the Union

James Alexander Hamilton wrote extensively about the issues connected to the US Civil War, including slavery, constitutionality, and preservation of the Union. The evolution of his thoughts on these topics helped me understand the mindset of Americans - or at least Northerners - of the early 19th century. From our modern point of view, it is easy to argue that the Civil War was a single-issue war, but, of course, the truth is much more complicated. 

My guest today has delved into the challenging task of discerning the attitudes and mindsets of a past generation in order to write their stories as accurately as possible. What did preservation of the Union mean to Northern soldiers? Author Richard Buxton digs into this question with some great insights.

Welcome, Richard!

~ Samantha


Saving the Union

Guest Post by Richard Buxton

As a writer of historical fiction, I’m constantly fearful of misrepresenting the past. In practice, it’s impossible not to. The wonderful Hilary Mantel, in her 2017 Reith lectures reminded us that, ‘History is not the past, it’s the method we’ve evolved for organizing our ignorance of the past.’ Even where you have first-hand accounts, written at or close to the time, they all have their own spin. Hilary, never one for understatement, went on to say that history, ‘is the multiplication of the evidence of fallible and biased witnesses combined with incomplete accounts of actions not fully understood by the people who performed them.’

We might think of the American Civil War, the backdrop for my trilogy, as on the cusp of modern times; it’s end at Appomattox just shy of one-hundred and sixty years ago. There are very extensive army records, both official and unofficial, some photographic evidence, and lots of newspaper coverage. So getting most details right (the weather, the uniforms and equipment) should be achievable. Events tend to be presented subjectively, so are a little harder. How then to deal with a broadly held attitude or motivation?

One issue I struggled to understand is what Union meant to soldiers fighting for the North in the American Civil War, the Union being the collection of states then constituted. Today we just call it the U.S.A or the States. I played with it in the title for the trilogy, Shire’s Union; Shire fights for the Union but it also hints at his often-forlorn hopes for a future with Clara. But the idea of Union meant much more to the people at the time. It’s very evident that the long-standing irritant of slavery was the underlying cause of the war, but preservation of the Union was a far more widely cited motivation than abolition for the early volunteers in the Union Army. It was also the principal objective of the government. Lincoln famously said, ‘If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.’ This was written well over a year into the fighting. Only later would an end to slavery get equal billing with saving the Union. And those were the two great outcomes of the struggle: slavery was abolished and the Union was restored.

Image reference:
Library of Congress 2003674570;
Created/Published New York
by Currier & Ives, c1861

But what did Union mean to the soldiers of the North? It’s hard to get at, especially for someone who’s British, where we have our own – often conflicted – ideas of Union. When the young America partially dissolved and went to war with itself, it was only eighty-five years old. The very identity of America was bound up with the idea of Union, with a hard-won rejection of old European monarchies. The Union represented a new consensus about freedom. America’s frontier was a little way west of the Mississippi at the outbreak of war, ‘the states like multi-coloured fields reaching across a half-finished farm,’ as Shire thinks when tearing a page from his father’s atlas. States like Ohio, Illinois and Iowa, were on the frontier themselves just a few decades before. Many soldiers were first or second-generation immigrants, whose spoken language was other than English. Their own or their parents’ escape from the European experience was not so distant. Most believed that preserving a Union of states bound together by freedoms for the individual was worth battling and possibly dying for. It’s subtly different than fighting for your country. It’s fighting for an idea. An end to Union – disunion - meant backsliding towards autocracies and suffering that they believed they had left on the other side of the Atlantic.

Distilling any of this into a novel through the thoughts and actions of your characters is challenging to say the least, and is best done with a very light touch. Shire’s squad in the 125th Ohio all have their own reasons for fighting. One is out to revenge his parents’ deaths at the hands of pro-slavery bushwhackers, another is a furnace worker after the sign-up bounty. Shire himself primarily sees the army as a means to get south and closer to Clara. Mason, a part-Iroquois lawyer, is perhaps the most nobly motivated, fighting for equality for all and seeing the Union, flawed as it was, as freedom’s best chance.

You might consider that the case for the Union is made easier by exposing the argument for succession made by the new Confederacy: the smaller collection of states who decided to begin and then fight a long war to preserve and extend slavery. Against that lowest of benchmarks, it’s not too hard to see why people would fight for the other side. Common humanity isn’t exclusive to our century. Ultimately, after Lincoln made his emancipation proclamation in the middle of the war, the case for the Union and for abolition were effectively merged. Winning the war would deliver both.

I was researching in Tennessee the day of the Brexit vote, the UKs decision to leave the European Union. The day before, I’d been reading firsthand accounts from the 1860s in the archives of the East Tennessee History Museum in Knoxville.  Disunion – secession – came in via democracy. Each southern state voted to depart, leaving American patriots, notably in Eastern Tennessee, high and dry, forcing them to leave a Union they fervently believed in. What came after was horrific. Outside the killing of a generation on the battlefields, at home there was imprisonment, murder and fratricide. The grief and the strife lasted for decades. Even today, over a hundred and sixty years later, you can still easily find echoes of the war.

As I sat in Eastern Tennessee, the day after the vote, reading the voices from America’s time of disunion, the parallels with the problems in Europe were frightening: a Union arguing over its own imperfections, hotheads on both sides exaggerating dire consequences, freedoms of the individual clashing with economic imperatives. Different sorts of Union often only come about after schism: the United States after the war of independence, the League of Nations after World War I, the European Union has its roots in the ashes of World War II. Sadly, disunion is rarely any less painful.

Ultimately, people don’t read historical fiction to brush up on constitutional matters. We read it to empathise with the characters, their struggles and triumphs, to enjoy the odyssey and the climax. Perhaps, above all, to be transported to another time. To achieve the latter, a writer is obliged to strive to see their characters’ world through their hearts and minds and try to understand the wider questions and motivations of their age.

Shire's Union Trilogy

Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that pulls him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War. Lost in the bloody battlefields of the West, he discovers a second home for his loyalty.

Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that creeps ever closer.

The Shire’s Union trilogy is at once an outsider’s odyssey through the battle for Tennessee, a touching story of impossible love, and a portrait of America at war with itself. Self-interest and conflict, betrayal and passion, all fuse into a fateful climax.

Written by award winning author Richard Buxton, the Shire’s Union trilogy begins with Whirligig, is continued in The Copper Road, and concludes with Tigers in Blue.

Read Shire's Union Trilogy through Amazon or Amazon UK!

Connect with Richard Buxton

Richard lives with his family in the South Downs, Sussex, England. He completed an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University in 2014. He has an abiding relationship with America, having studied at Syracuse University, New York State, in the late eighties. He travels extensively for research, especially in Tennessee, Georgia and Ohio, and is rarely happier than when setting off from a motel to spend the day wandering a battlefield or imagining the past close beside the churning wheel of a paddle steamer.

Richard’s short stories have won the Exeter Story Prize, the Bedford International Writing Competition and the Nivalis Short Story Award. His first novel, Whirligig (2017) was shortlisted for the Rubery International Book Award. It was followed by The Copper Road (2020) and the Shire’s Union trilogy was completed by Tigers in Blue (2023). To learn more about Richard’s writing visit