Ironmaker to the Confederacy by Charles B. Dew

Review by Sandra Merville Hart

Joseph R. Anderson and Tredegar Iron Works

Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond has been located by the James River since before the Civil War. It had rolling mills, foundries, a cooper shop, and many other buildings that made up the iron works.

Tredegar was vitally important to the Confederacy during the war as it made weapons for the army, such as cannons. Workers discovered early in the war to guard its weapons made in secret. For example, Union spies supplied the North with news of the submarine tests that Tredegar performed and figured out ways to combat them.

The author gives details from Tredegar’s history that included some of the day-to-day operations. This information was especially helpful for my research of Boulevard of Confusion, Book 2 in my “Spies of the Civil War” series. The hero in the story works at Tredegar and this book and couple of others provided wonderful historical information. Both Book 2 and Book 3 (Byway to Danger) are set in Richmond in 1862.

Well-written. Well-researched. This is recommended for anyone interested in learning about the Civil War in Richmond, Civil War weapons, and history lovers.

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Peach Cobbler Recipe from the 1870s

by Sandra Merville Hart

The family cook in my latest release, Boulevard of Confusion, Book 2 in my “Spies of the Civil War” series, was also a talented baker. She bakes pies, cakes, and cobblers that no one turns down. Writing these scenes made me nostalgic for my grandmother’s cobblers. She was always too impatient to teach her daughters and granddaughters her recipes. Sadly, those cobbler recipe secrets died with her.

The next best thing was searching my 1877 cookbook. I found one for plum cobbler. Miss S. Alice Melching, who wrote the recipe, noted that it worked for any canned fruit.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

For the peach filling:

Stir in ¾ cup sugar (Miss Alice’s recipe calls for a coffee-cup of sugar and I guessed that to be about ¾ cup) into 2 large cans sliced peaches (29 oz. each.) Canned peaches come with light or heavy syrup. I used a little of the syrup with the filling, since Miss Alice left out a lot of details. I didn’t measure it, but it was probably about ½ cup.

For the pie crust and lattice top layer:

Melt 4 tablespoons lard (I used shortening.) Sift together 4 cups of flour, ½ teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. Add the melted shortening. Stir in 2/3 cup milk or water. (I chose milk.) After watching my grandmother cook with her hands instead of a spoon all those years, I like to mix the dough with my hands too. Knead it until it holds together.

Sprinkle flour lightly over a table or counter. Divide the dough in half. Roll the dough thinly for the bottom layer. Then arrange it in your baking dish. I used an 8 x 8 pan for mine but a pie pan will work fine.  

Hint: To prevent fruit juices from soaking into the pie crust, Miss Alice suggests mixing 3 tablespoons flour with 2 tablespoons sugar and sprinkling it over the bottom crust.

Add the filling onto the pie crust.

Take the other half of dough and roll it. Slice it into ½ inch strips and arrange these strips into a lattice top.

Bake 25 – 30 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned. This makes 10 – 12 servings.

The aroma took me back to childhood memories of my grandmother’s cooking.

I couldn’t wait to try it so I ate a piece warm from the oven. It was a delicious treat after lunch. My husband and I enjoyed it as dessert after supper. He liked it and is looking forward to another serving peach cobbler. (I’m writing this before daylight. I think it might be my breakfast. 😊)

I’d love to hear if you try it.

Sources

Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 1877.

Author’s Inspiration for Boulevard of Confusion

by Sandra Merville Hart

In Boulevard of Confusion, Book 2 in my “Spies of the Civil War” series, two people in love—one supporting the North, one supporting the South—struggle to rise above their differing loyalties.

In my book, the hero is a Virginian loyal to the South. Though Jay hates slavery, he cannot turn against his state. His job at Tredegar Ironworks supplies the Confederate army with artillery. They develop new weapons and technology, such as submarines, that must be kept secret even from Richmond residents.

Our heroine is from the North. Bea has Southern ties and her brother, a Confederate officer, was recently released from a prison camp. Bea’s understanding of both sides of the conflict tosses her into confusion, especially in light of her growing feelings for Jay.

Part of my research for this novel involved a trip to Richmond museums. One display in particular at the American Civil War Museum at Historic Tredegar made me want to do a little dance. (If you followed me around on my museum visits, you’d witness my enthusiasm for historical people and events and how they impact my stories. Perhaps you share my love of history. 😊)

Anyway, this particular display was a painting of Julia Ann Mitchell, who lived in Richmond at the start of the Civil War. She was from a well-to-do family that traveled often. On one of these trips, she met and fell in love with Frederick Coggill, a New York City resident. Though they loved one another, the couple was divided in their loyalties. 

Sadly, Julia’s brother, who fought for the Confederacy, was killed in battle. This probably added to the conflict between Julia and Frederick.

I’m happy to say that the couple seemed to enjoy a happy ending, for they were married in 1863.

I didn’t yet know my characters when I read this display, for the stories ferment in my imagination as research reveals the history. I tucked it away in my mind and it later inspired me.

Boulevard of Confusion isn’t Julia’s and Frederick’s love story. Not at all. It’s simply that history’s record of them overcoming their differing loyalties to marry proves that it happened. That’s all I needed to know.

Avenue of Betrayal, Book 1,is set in the Union capital of Washington City (Washington DC) in 1861, where a surprising number of Confederate sympathizers and spies lived. Boulevard of Confusion is set in Richmond, the Confederate capital in 1862. Actual historical spies touch the lives of our fictional family.

Through both real and fictional characters, this series highlights activities spies were involved in and some of the motives behind their decisions.

I invite you to read both Avenue of Betrayal and Boulevard of Confusion. And please watch for Book 3, Byway to Danger, which will soon follow!

Back Cover Blurb for Boulevard of Confusion

In times of war, is anything as it seems?

Her aunt’s invitation to Richmond is just the change Beatrice Swanson needs after her brother’s release from a Union prison. Bea’s father agrees to the trip with a condition—one that tosses her emotions into swirling confusion.

Though Jay Nickson wants to serve his country as a Confederate soldier, his work is too important to the government. Bea’s interest in his job, which includes secrets that would benefit the Union, arouses his suspicions. Is she spying for the North? His growing feelings for her are hard to squelch.

Though she participates in activities to benefit Confederate soldiers, Bea struggles with her own loyalties and her father’s demands. Where does her cousin, Meg, go on her solitary errands? Bea’s own growing love for Jay, a Southerner, only adds to her confusion. Tensions escalate in Richmond as the Union army approaches, drawing her into more secrecy. Where does her allegiance lie? And how will she be forced to prove it?

Nothing in war is simple…especially when the heart becomes entangled.

Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo.

Ashes of Glory by Ernest B. Furgurson

Review by Sandra Merville Hart

Richmond at War

I loved this book! This nonfiction book brings the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, during the Civil War (1861-1865) to life.

Furgurson arranged the book in mostly chronological order, which makes it an easy read. The author has a storyteller’s flair for opening up history. It was a page-turner for me.

The author gives details from history that bring the scenes vividly to life for readers. Descriptive details that involve the senses transport readers to the difficult days of the war. The author includes details such as distances between Richmond locations—such as a “block and a half away”—that were a real treasure for me as a historical author.

In fact, I bought this book for research purposes. My “Spies of the Civil War” series has two books set in Richmond in 1862—Boulevard of Confusion, Book 2 and Byway to Danger, Book 3. I took lots of notes and highlighted passages testifying to how it enriched my understanding of what Richmond citizens faced during the war.

Well-written. Well-researched. This is recommended for anyone interested in learning about the Civil War in Richmond, Civil War research, and history lovers!

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Spies of the Civil War Series Book 2 Releases Today!

by Sandra Merville Hart

I’m thrilled to announce that Boulevard of Confusion, Book 2 of my new “Spies of the Civil War” releases today, May 10, 2022!

Though the series is about a fictional family, there are actual historical spies who touch the stories.

Boulevard of Confusion is set in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, in 1862. Citizens establish new hospitals to care for wounded Confederate soldiers and new prisons to house Union prisoners. The city’s population swells and Southern citizens don’t know who to trust—and rightly so, for many Union spies now roam the streets and sleep in Richmond hotels.

Here’s a bit about the book:

In times of war, is anything as it seems?

Her aunt’s invitation to Richmond is just the change Beatrice Swanson needs after her brother’s release from a Union prison. Bea’s father agrees to the trip with a condition—one that tosses her emotions into swirling confusion.

Though Jay Nickson wants to serve his country as a Confederate soldier, his work is too important to the government. Bea’s interest in his job, which includes secrets that would benefit the Union, arouses his suspicions. Is she spying for the North? His growing feelings for her are hard to squelch.

Though she participates in activities to benefit Confederate soldiers, Bea struggles with her own loyalties and her father’s demands. Where does her cousin, Meg, go on her solitary errands? Bea’s own growing love for Jay, a Southerner, only adds to her confusion. Tensions escalate in Richmond as the Union army approaches, drawing her into more secrecy. Where does her allegiance lie? And how will she be forced to prove it?

Nothing in war is simple…especially when the heart becomes entangled.

Order your copy today on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, or Barnes and Noble!

Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash

by Sandra Merville Hart

It’s 1910 and Sofie has nightmares about her father’s job at a Pennsylvania steel mill. She fears for his safety at the mill where accidents occur that could be prevented.  

Her mother’s job as a housekeeper for a bachelor in charge of safety and inspections at her father’s mill keeps her from the family for long hours. Sofie’s aunt, who takes care of her and her little brother while her parents are working, is actually more of a mother to them because her mother has always remained distant from her children and Sofie wonders if she loves them.

It seems all the immigrant families in the small Pennsylvania steel town are just as poverty-stricken as Sofie’s. Pole, her best friend, has his own problems. After his mother’s death, there’s no one to save him from his father’s drinking and abuse.

A gripping, well-written story with believable characters that leap off the page. Some characters readers will love and pull for. There are several characters readers will hate.

Readers are taken on a tough journey with the characters. It’s a multi-layered story, told in multiple points of view. There’s tragedy, grief, and abuse. The story also deals with physical and mental illness…and the struggle to forgive deep wounds.

I was captivated by the story from the first page. I couldn’t put it down.

It’s not an easy read. There is some language and violence.

This one will stay with me.

Easter Traditions in the Victorian Era

by Sandra Merville Hart

Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter every spring. Though it’s always on Sunday, the date varies. The actual date depends upon when the full moon following the vernal equinox appears. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after that full moon.

The Easter Lily is a popular flower because it symbolizes life after death. Lilies grow from a bulb buried in the ground and bloom in spring. Large white blooms symbolize purity because Jesus never sinned. The trumpet-shaped flowers resound with the good news of the risen Savior.

Easter was a fun celebration for Victorians. They gathered for traditional meals. They sent Easter greeting cards containing Bible verses and decorated with crosses. Drawings of bunnies in Easter greetings first appeared in the late 1700s when a publisher added one to writing stationery.

Children loved the holiday back in the Victorian era just as they do today. They enjoyed Easter egg hunts and egg rolling contests.

Dying the eggs was part of the celebration. Young children dyed them using a variety of fruits and vegetables. Beets and cranberries were used because of their strong colors. Peels from oranges and lemons provided dyes. Though blueberries and blackberries weren’t specifically mentioned in my sources, these were probably used as well. Imagine the fruits and vegetables that leave stains on fingers for other ideas of dyes.

Along with the dyes, children drew crosses, churches, flowers, and bunnies on the Easter eggs.

It was a joy to include an Easter celebration in Boulevard of Confusion, Book 2 in my “Spies of the Civil War” series. Children and adults enjoyed dying Easter eggs after church services in my novel.

Sources

“Easter Traditions During the Victorian Era,” WorldHistory.us, 2021/08/13 https://worldhistory.us/european-history/easter-traditions-during-the-victorian-era.php.

“Victorian Era Easter Celebrations,” Victorian Era, 2021/08/13 http://victorian-era.org/victorian-era-easter-celebrations.html.

Wells, Mary Shannon. “Everything You Need to Know about the Easter Lily,” Southern Living, 2022/04/14 https://www.southernliving.com/holidays-occasions/easter/easter-lily-meaning.

Confederate Spy Rose Greenhow in Boulevard of Confusion

by Sandra Merville Hart

Boulevard of Confusion, Book 2 of my new “Spies of the Civil War” series releases on May 10, 2022. Here’s a bit of the historical background for the story leading up to its release.

Though the series is about a fictional family, there are actual historical spies who touch the stories.

Boulevard of Confusion is set in Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy in 1862. With its Southern setting, one might imagine all the citizens supported the Confederates. Surprisingly, a number of Union spies and Union supporters—called Unionists—lived in Richmond.

Just as the historical Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow played a part in Avenue of Betrayal Book 1, her story also touches the characters in Boulevard of Confusion Book 2.

Rose O’Neal Greenhow was perhaps the most famous female Confederate spy who lived in Washington DC when the Civil War began. She agreed to send messages based on a cipher. She built up a spy network of fifty people, the largest of the war.

Rose learned battle plans for Bull Run and passed this vital information to Confederate General Beauregard. The First Battle of Bull Run was a Confederate victory.

She was caught and imprisoned at Washington’s Old Capitol prison. The Federals decided to send her South.

On June 4, 1862, she arrived in Richmond, where she was taken to the best hotel. Confederate President Jefferson Davis called on her the next day, saying, “But for you there would have been no battle of Bull Run.” Rose wrote that his words made up for all she’d endured.

The following year President Davis sent her to Europe. She took letters from him to France and England. She received money from them to aid the South.

In October 1, 1864, Rose returned on the Condor, a blockade runner. Unfortunately, the USS Niphon, a Union gunboat, came close to their position on Cape Fear River. While Confederate soldiers from nearby Fort Fisher fired on the Union gunboat, Rose asked the captain for a lifeboat for herself and two other Confederate agents. Two hundred yards of rough waters were between the boat and the shore. Despite his initial refusal, she convinced the captain to provide a boat.

A powerful wave overturned the lifeboat. They swam for shore. Unfortunately, Rose had a bag of gold sovereigns tied around her waist underneath a heavy silk dress. Though she was a good swimmer, she drowned due to the extra weight while her companions made it to safety.

Her body washed ashore the next day. A Confederate soldier found the bag of gold and took it. A search party later found the body. When the soldier discovered Rose’s identity, he returned the sovereigns.

She was buried in Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington with full military honors.

Rose’s story touches our fictional family again when she arrives in Richmond in June of 1862.

-Sandra Merville Hart

Sources

Monson, Marianne. Women of the Blue & Gray, Thorndike Press, 2018.

Winkler, H. Donald. Stealing Secrets, Cumberland House, 2010.

Zeinert, Karen. Those Courageous Women of the Civil War, The Millbrook Press, 1998.

The Confederate State of Richmond by Emory M. Thomas

Review by Sandra Merville Hart

A Biography of the Capital

This nonfiction book reports on events that took place in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, during the Civil War (1861-1865).

Thomas arranged the book in mostly chronological order, which makes it an easy read.

Filled with interesting details about important leaders and events, this book also includes charts, maps, and, places, and Richmond businesses. The author even included military buildings, hospitals, newspapers, businesses, owners’ names, and the street location—a treasure for historical authors!

In fact, I bought this book for research purposes. My “Spies of the Civil War” series has two books set in Richmond in 1862—Boulevard of Confusion, Book 2 and Byway to Danger, Book 3. I took lots of notes and highlighted passages. The book enriched my understanding of what Richmond citizens faced during the war.

Recommended for anyone interested in learning about the Civil War in Richmond, Civil War research, and history lovers.

 

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The Chamomile by Susan F. Craft

Review by Sandra Merville Hart

Book 1 in “Women of the American Revolutions” Series

Lilyan Cameron’s loyalties belong to the colonies during the Revolutionary War. Her brother Andrew fights for the militia, but when he is captured by the British and held prisoner in deplorable conditions on one of their ships, Lilyan doesn’t know where to turn for help.

Captain Nicholas Xanthakos also fights for the militia. He and others plan how they can save Andrew and those captured with him. He enlists Lilyan to help. She doesn’t need much persuasion—she’ll do anything to save her brother.

There’s a lot of action and adventure in this story. It also shows how the colonists lived and made their living. Some of the detail, while fascinating, tends to slow the action.

The story beautifully demonstrates the courage of many men and women, whether they fought for the militia or not.

Multiple twists and turns in the story made this a page-turner for me. Tragedy, heartache, and difficulties escalate as the story unfolds. I felt that the initial relationship between Lilyan and Nicholas moved quickly for the time period.

As a history buff, the book snagged my interest. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

LPC buy link