Civil War Silk Dress Balloon

by Sandra Merville Hart

The U.S. Balloon Corps began in the summer of 1861. Aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe and members of his corps made numerous balloon flights to discover Confederate troop movements from the air.

Confederate General James Longstreet wrote that their army longed for a balloon to use in observations but didn’t have the money.

Captain Langdon Cheves* bought silk in Savannah and Charleston in lengths of 40 feet. This fabric, normally used for women’s dresses, was sewn together and then varnished. Because various colors were used, the balloon made from the silk was beautiful. The balloon’s official name was Gazelle.

The “Silk Dress Balloon,” as it came to be called, was sent to Richmond. Confederates were unable to get pure hydrogen gas. Instead, ordinary illuminating gas from Richmond Gas Works—the same type that lit gas lamps—filled the balloon.

It was moved, full of air, to the battlefield by train. The colorful Silk Dress Balloon was first used by the Confederates at the Battle of Gaines Mill. General Edward Porter Alexander ascended several times to observe the fighting from two miles away. Actual troops were difficult to see yet rising smoke showed him where to direct Slocum’s Division to reinforce Porter’s troops. Night ascensions showed enemy campfires for estimates of troop numbers.

Inability to fill the balloon in the field hampered their efforts. Gas from the Gas Works limited flights to 6-7 hours. They didn’t use Lowe’s three captured portable gas generators.

Confederates were happy enough with the results to take the balloon onto the Teaser, an armed tug boat. When necessary, the balloon was sailed along the James River to Richmond for refilling. On July 3, 1862, the U.S.S. Maratanza captured the Teaser on the James River. The balloon went to Thaddeus Lowe, who cut the fabric for souvenirs.

Another balloon was made in Savannah by Charles Cevor, a balloonist. It was used for the next year in the Charleston and Savannah area until the Second Battle of Charleston Harbor, when it was lost in the summer of 1863.

The Confederates didn’t try again. By then, the U.S. Balloon Corps had dissolved.

A rumor has survived from the war. In 1886, General Longstreet wrote in an article published in Century magazine. He said that a request was made that the ladies donate their silk dresses to make the balloon. It paints a lovely picture of sacrifice that Southern women made throughout the war—and they did sacrifice abundantly—but this particular one doesn’t appear to be factual. Articles that mention Longstreet’s quote also write about the forty-foot lengths of silk purchased by Cheves to make the balloon.

*One source gives the name of Dr. Edward Cheves instead of Langdon Cheves.



“Civil War Ballooning,” American Battlefield Trust, 2021/02/05

Clifford, Command Sergeant Major James, USA-Ret. “Balloon Operations in the Peninsula Campaign,” The Army Historical Foundation, 2021/02/05


Fanton, Ben. “Gas Balloons: View from Above the Civil War Battlefield,”, 2021/02/05

Paone, Thomas. “The Most Fashionable Balloon of the Civil War,” Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, 2021/02/08


Carolina Carpenter Brides

Four couples find tools for Building Romance in a Home Improvement Store

I loved that all four of these romances begin with a connection at the Home & Hearth Superstore.

In Janet Benrey’s How to Refurbish an Old Romance, the romance begins when both Brianna and Zach take a course on “How to Repair Bad Decisions Made Years Ago.” Brianna had signed up to learn how to wallpaper. The last thing she expected was to see Zach, the man she’d been engaged to years ago.

When Kaitlyn Ferrer’s boss asks her to write a feature story on the dating scene at a hardware store as her first reporting job, she thinks he’s crazy. Chris Taylor also works for a newspaper with a similar assignment. Things go awry when they both go undercover in Once Upon a Shopping Cart by Ron Benrey.

Valerie Bradford, high school teacher, plans to install cabinets herself but Austin Hodges figures she’ll need help no matter which style she chooses. She reluctantly accepts his help in Can You Help Me? by Lena Nelson Dooley.

Marc Goodson is the head of security at Home & Hearth Superstore and has reason to suspect Laurel Jones, a new employee in the flowers and plants department, of theft. On the other hand, Laurel believes he’s a stalker … not the best way to begin a romance in Caught Red-Handed by Yvonne Lehman.

I enjoyed this collection of light-hearted, easy-to-read romances!

-Sandra Merville Hart


The Devil’s Bookkeepers by Mark H. Newhouse

by Sandra Merville Hart

Book 3: The Noose Closes

I shunned from the title of this book yet it is aptly named.

Newhouse has written a fictional story based on chronicles of events that were written during WWII. Jews in Poland lived through a nightmare. This story begins with Ben Ostrowski’s frantic worry for his wife and two-year-old daughter. German soldiers had come for all the children in Lodz Ghetto. His wife wouldn’t allow her daughter to leave without her and both were taken in September of 1942.

Ostrowski can barely function at his job, but he must. Those who don’t work are in danger of deportation. Where did the trains go? It was rumored that people were taken to farmlands up north. He wanted them to be safe and happy … he wanted to believe it, yet the increasing atrocities dictated by the Germans and their Jewish Chairman say otherwise.

This story chilled me even as it held me in its grips. It was difficult to read and impossible to put down. Well-written. Terrifying. Poignant.


The author’s parents managed to survive the misery and danger of Lodz Ghetto but never talked about their experiences. Many of his relatives did not survive Auschwitz. His parents never talked about their experiences. The haunting shadow of the Holocaust compelled Newhouse to write this trilogy. His message? “Never again to anyone, anywhere.”



Fannie Farmer’s Lemon Pudding

I bought The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, originally published in 1896. I wanted a lemon dessert and found a recipe for lemon pudding in this book.

What appealed to me about this “old favorite” was its claim of “soft lemony custard on the bottom and sponge cake texture on top.”

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Separate 3 eggs and set aside.

Beat 2 tablespoons of butter until soft. Stir in 7/8 cup sugar a bit at a time, until the butter and sugar are blended. Add egg yolks one at a time and stir before adding the next yolk.

Stir in 1 cup of milk and 1 ½ tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Add the zest of 1 lemon and 1/3 cup lemon juice—1 large lemon provided enough juice for this recipe.

Beat the mix. The recipe said that the mixture will look curdled, which mine didn’t. I blended the butter and sugar completely—perhaps that made a difference. Set this mixture aside.

Using a mixer, beat the egg whites until they are at soft peaks. Fold this gently into the batter.

You can use a 1 ½ quart baking dish or ramekins for individual servings as I did. (Mine made 7 servings.) Prepare with cooking spray and spoon into the dish(es). Set in a pan and pour hot water around the dish until it is halfway up the side.

Bake in preheated oven at 350. If using 1 large dish, bake 50-60 minutes or until very lightly browned. Individual dishes take less time, about 30-35 minutes. When it was cool, I sprinkled powdered sugar over the top. Serve cool or cold.

Delicious! Both my husband and I thought that the lemony flavor of the dish was plenty. The two different textures—custard on the bottom and sponge cake on top—made it a unique dessert. We loved it!

I will make this again.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Revised by Cunningham, Marion and Laber, Jeri. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1983.



Civil War U.S. Balloon Corps

by Sandra Merville Hart

On June 17, 1861, Aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe’s balloon flight from the Columbia Armory (current location of the National Air and Space Museum) snagged the attention of President Abraham Lincoln when he received a telegraphed message from Lowe—from the balloon in flight at a height of 500 feet!

Lowe’s balloon was tethered to the White House lawn that evening while the two met. Lincoln supported the use of balloons in surveilling Confederate troops from the air.

Lowe became the chief aeronaut in the U.S. Army Balloon Corps. The War Department built military balloons for the corps. The first one was ready in August.

Union and Intrepid could carry 5 people and were the largest balloons used by the Union army. United States and Constitution held 3 people. A couple, Eagle and Excelsior, were manned by one person. The larger balloons had room for telegraphers, an important advantage.

Lowe became a member of Major General George B. McClellan’s staff. In September of 1861, Lowe directed artillery fire from his balloon at Falls Church, Virginia.

The U.S. Balloon Corps had several members: Corporal James Starkweather, Privates William A. Hodges, Albert Trunbull, W.H. Welch, Francis Barrington, Robert Wardell, James F. Case, George W. Fisher, John H. Hall, and Lawrence M. Chickey. Civilians also worked in the corps. Among these were Aeronauts James Allen, John La Mountain, and John Wise, who was considered the “Father of American Aeronautics.” Lowe also hired his father Clovis.

Balloons were used at Washington D.C., Seven Days’ Battle, the Peninsular Campaign, Battle of Seven Pines, and Fort Monroe in Virginia, to name a few.

Also, La Mountain made a tethered balloon ascent on August 3, 1861. It is significant to history because it was launched from the steam-powered gunboat Fanny. There are scholars who believe this first flight to be a precursor of the aircraft carrier.

Confederates shot at the ascended balloons. Fortunately, none were shot down. Their height usually kept them out of range. That didn’t prevent the Southerners from shooting. In fact, Lowe earned the dubious title of “the most shot-at man in the war.”

Several Federal officers ascended in these balloons, including John Reynolds, Joe Hooker, George McClellan, Fitz John Porter, Baldy Smith, John Sedgwick, and George Custer.

Unfortunately, problems with aeronauts receiving pay from the army led to resignations. Conservative generals preferred intelligence from spies, scouts, prisoners, and deserters. Vague reports from aeronauts frustrated field commanders. To top it off, Lowe didn’t get along with his staff supervisor Captain Cyrus B. Comstock and resigned on May 7, 1863.

James and Ezra Allen were then the last members of the U.S. Balloon Corps. They reported Confederate movement from Fredericksburg toward the Blue Ridge Mountains as they marched toward Gettysburg in June. The Balloon Corps ceased to exist in the summer of 1863.


“Civil War Ballooning,” American Battlefield Trust, 2021/02/05

“Civil War Ballooning,” Smithsonian National Space & Air Museum, 2021/02/05

Clifford, Command Sergeant Major James, USA-Ret. “Balloon Operations in the Peninsula Campaign,” The Army Historical Foundation, 2021/02/05

Fanton, Ben. “Gas Balloons: View from Above the Civil War Battlefield,”, 2021/02/05

Gould, Kevin. “Balloon Corps,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2021/02/05

Mortimer, Gavin. Double Death: The True Story of Pryce Lewis, the Civil War’s Most Daring Spy, Walker & Company, 2010.

“Thaddeus S.C. Lowe,” Wikipedia, 2021/02/05

The Egyptian Princess by KD Holmberg

A Story of Hagar

Hagar is a Royal Princess of Egypt in the times of Abram and Sarai (Abraham and Sarah in Genesis.) Hagar is destined to marry her twin brother, Crown Prince Merikare, who views her with jealous hatred. The Pharoah is her father and he is more interested in his sons, a painful rejection she’s dealt with all her life.

She’s been having visions, horrible nightmares, since she’s learned that Sarai was coming. The Pharoah wants Sarai to become his newest wife.

Some are troubled by Hagar’s visions while others, like Merikare, ridicule them.

Then her dreams begin to happen …

I was first caught by all the old Egyptian traditions and beliefs that were new to me. Then I became engrossed in the story and the escalating danger Hagar faced. I lost sleep finishing it!

Realistic characters search for answers about the one God in the midst of a society where such conversations can cost their life. I was drawn into the drama that didn’t let me go.

Readers of Biblical fiction will enjoy this story. It’s also a great read for history lovers.

 -Sandra Merville Hart

Hard Tack and Coffee by John B. Billings

The Unwritten Story of Army Life

What a treasure this nonfiction book is for readers of Civil War books!

The author, John B. Billings, was a Civil War soldier in the Army of the Potomac. He gave American history lovers a great gift when he wrote about a soldier’s experiences during the war.

He gave details of shelters the Union army used for hospitals. Living in tents in army camps and log huts during winter presented challenges for soldiers.

Billings writes about their rations. Hard tack loses any appeal from his sometimes humorous descriptions yet was a staple in their diet.

I enjoyed the wonderful details of Civil War army life. As an author of Civil War novels, I loved how Billings brought those days to life. This book, written in 1887, helped me gain an understanding of a soldier’s everyday life.

Recommended for those interested in American history, the American Civil War, and military camp life.

Civil War Romances Series with reviews-Sandra Merville Hart


Civil War Food Prices Escalate in Richmond

by Sandra Merville Hart

The Confederate Capitol was officially transferred to Richmond, Virginia, on May 21, 1861. Confederate President Jefferson Davis moved there with his family.

Richmond’s prewar population of 38,000 swelled to 100,000 by 1865. This caused food shortages as the war continued.

By early 1862, the cost of food had risen. Bacon was 25 cents a pound. Butter was up to 50 cents a pound. Beef had risen from 13 to 30 cents a pound for poor quality meat. Fish, even shad or rockfish, was expensive.

Folks paid $1.50 for a pound of coffee. At that price, ladies used roasted rye or roasted corn as substitutes for coffee. Some used dried willow leaves to replace tea.

As the war continued, some residents resorted to “Dutch treats,” when entertaining guests at dinner parties. Guests attending such dinners provided delicacies like brandied peaches, sardines, or French prunes for the meal.

Oriental’s Bill of Fare dated Monday, December 21, 1863, shows a variety of choices. This Richmond restaurant boasted of “Game of All Kinds (In Season)” and “Meals Furnished at All Hours.”

Here are a few of their menu items and prices:

Soups: Beef, Chicken, Vegetable, Clam, Oyster, Terrapin, Turtle, Mock Turtle—$1 each

       Fowls: Roast Turkey, Roast Goose, Roast Ducks, Roast Chicken—$3 per plate

       Fish: Shad, Perch, Herring, Crabs and Lobsters—$3 per plate

       Meats: Roast Beef, Roast Mutton, Roast Lamb, Roast Veal—$3 each

      Steaks: Beefsteaks, Pork Steaks, Mutton Chops, Veal Cutlets, Venison Steaks—$3 each

       Sundries: Ham and eggs, Poached eggs, Scrambled eggs, Fried eggs, Omelets—$3 each

       Oysters: Fried oysters, Scalloped oysters, Raw oysters—$3 each

       Birds: Partridge, Robin, Snipe, Woodcock–$3 per pair

       Vegetables (many choices marked as unavailable): Irish Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Cabbage, Lettuce, Onions, Celery—50 cents

      Non-alcoholic beverage choices were Pure coffee—$2.50, Pure tea—$2, Fresh milk—50 cents.

     Wines: Champagne, Madeira, Claret, Port

     Liquors: French Brandy, Apply Brandy, Peach Brandy, Rye Whiskey

     Malt Liquors: Ale, Porter

Even Fine Havana Cigars were on the menu. It’s difficult to read the prices for the alcoholic drinks and determine if it was sold by the bottle or glass. For instance, champagne has $40 marked by it in pen.

In contrast, Corinthian Hall’s Bill of Fare, from March 28, 1864, shows price increases in only three months. These are grouped by price:

     $7.50—Ham and Eggs, Tenderloin Steak, Beefsteak and Onions, Oyster Fried, Oyster Boiled, Oyster Scalloped

       $5—Veal Cutlets, Mutton Chops, Boiled Ham, Fish, Omelet-herb

       $2—Potatoes cream, Potatoes fried, Celery, Toast, Butter

       $4—Coffee per cup

These old menus give us a glimpse back into history—what a treasure!


“Richmond in the Midst of the Civil War,” Virginia Museum of History & Culture, 2021/02/04

Mortimer, Gavin. Double Death: The True Story of Pryce Lewis, the Civil War’s Most Daring Spy, Walker & Company, 2010.

Ohio’s Greatest Natural Disaster Inspires My Story–Surprised by Love

by Sandra Merville Hart

A school event for my daughter took us to Troy, Ohio. The quaint city captivated me from the first visit. It felt like something ought to happen there—and that was before I was writing!

A few years later, an opportunity arose to join fellow Ohio authors in a novella collection set in Ohio locations. My mind raced back to Troy. What could I write about? My husband and I drove there on a mission of discovery.

At the Museum of Troy History I learned about a terrible flood in 1913 that displaced many Troy citizens and even claimed lives of a few. The way the townspeople rallied together to meet the tragedy inspired me and led to the writing of this story.

We walked around the town square, visiting shops. Around About Books is a treasure. I’ve since participated in booksigning events there so this has become a special place to me.

We ate at a lovely diner, K’s Hamburger Shop, a place that has been on Troy’s Main Street since 1935. My story is set in 1913 so it wasn’t there during the flood, but the whole place gave me a feeling of historic nostalgia.

My imagination soared from my research. The first draft of the novella, Surprised by Love, was written in two weeks! That remains the record for me.

Researching The Flood of 1913—Ohio’s greatest natural disaster—and personal visits to Troy inspired this story of love and courage.

I hope you will read this story and all the others set in Ohio locations in “From the Lake to the River. Here’s a blurb for my historical romance, Surprised by Love:

Lottie’s feelings for an old school crush blossom again during the worst flood her town has endured in years.

Lottie shoulders the burden for her siblings after their mother’s death. Her seventeen-year-old brother’s disobedience troubles her, especially since she also cares for the boarders in their home. When the flooding river invades not only the town of Troy but also her home, Lottie and her family need to be rescued.

Desperate circumstances throw Lottie and Joe, her schoolgirl crush, together. Can tragedy unite the couple to make her long-buried dream of winning his love come true?