Lincoln’s Spies by Douglas Waller

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

Their Secret War to Save a Nation

This book is a great resource about the spying that took place during the Civil War.

I read this book while researching for my novel, Avenue of Betrayal, Book 1 of my “Spies of the Civil War” series. This book gave a nice overview and many specific examples of the spying during the war. Sometimes the information spies provided was credited with helping to win specific battles.

The author divided the book into yearly sections and includes the spies that were active in those specific war years.

Civil War enthusiasts will likely recognize some of the agents discussed in this book: Allan Pinkerton, Belle Boyd, Rose O’Neal Greenhow, Elizabeth Van Lew, and Lafayette Baker. Several of Allan Pinkerton’s detectives, called scouts, are also highlighted.

I also liked how the history of the events, meetings, and battles was interspersed throughout the book, making it an interesting read.   

My copy has lots of highlighted sections as a testament to how helpful I found the book.

Recommended for Civil War research and for lovers of American history.

Cabbage Lasagna

by Sandra Merville Hart

It’s that time of year when folks are counting their calories and/or carbs. I saw a quick video of a cook making this lasagna and decided to try it with ingredients at hand.

This is a delicious low-carb meal that I’ll make again.

1 head of Cabbage

2 – 3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 lb. ground beef

2 cans crushed or diced tomatoes

1 cup shredded carrots

1 yellow onion, diced

1 tsp. dried oregano

Black pepper to taste

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup Ricotta cheese

1 cup mozzarella cheese

1 tsp. dried basil or ¼ cup fresh basil


1 egg, beaten

First, separate the leaves of an entire head of cabbage into stacks. This may take a few minutes.

Add a teaspoon of salt to a large pot of water and begin to boil.

  1. Pour a thin coat of olive oil in a deep skillet—start with 2 tablespoons and add enough to cover the bottom. Next, sauté the carrots and onions together. I didn’t have shredded carrots so I used sliced baby carrots. I also didn’t have an onion so I substituted diced green onions. If you do this, sauté the carrots alone for about 3 minutes, adding the green onions for about a minute.
  2. Add to this mixture the ground beef, oregano, and black pepper. (I used ½ teaspoon of pepper. Use more or less to your taste.)  Brown this over medium high heat.
  3. Once the meat is browned, add 2 cloves of minced garlic. (I didn’t have garlic on hand, so I skipped this step.)
  4. Add basil and 2 cans of crushed tomatoes. I used diced tomatoes and simply broke them down with a wooden spoon while it cooked. I also added 2 tablespoons of chopped scallions for color and flavor. Lower heat to simmer for 20 – 25 minutes.
  5. As soon as the large pot of water is boiling, cook a few cabbage leaves at a time. Use a slotted spoon to remove them once they soften and set them gently to the side because these are your lasagna noodles. Keep the larger leaves separate because you will use them first. This step took longer than I imagined, so allow at least 20 minutes. Keep the water boiling on high and more water may be needed in the pot as it boils down.
  6. When the meat mixture is done simmering, turn off the heat and stir in the beaten egg.
  7. Choose a deep round or square dish so you can make multiple layers. Spray it lightly with cooking spray.
  8. Now you are ready to assemble the lasagna. Select one large leaf to lay on the bottom center. Next, overlap the largest cabbage leaves from the middle so that they go up the sides of the dish, lining it all around and over the top until the dish is completely covered. (You will tuck the pieces hanging over the top onto the lasagna later.)
  9. Spoon on a layer of meat. The add spoons of ricotta cheese in several spots, but no need to cover the meat. Then sprinkle a layer of mozzarella cheese over the ricotta. Next add a layer of cabbage leaves—no need to go up the sides for this layer.
  10. Repeat step 9 above twice. Make sure that the top pieces of cabbage cover the whole dish well, for when you turn it over after baking, it’s the bottom layer. Then tuck the original cabbage pieces hanging over the sides over it.
  11. Bake at 375 degrees for an hour.
  12. Allow it to cool 5 – 10 minutes before turning it out onto a serving plate.

This was a very tasty meal. I have to admit that I missed the garlic flavor so I’ll add it next time. I will also add an extra teaspoon of oregano when I make it next because it wasn’t a strong enough flavor.

I loved eating this low-carb lasagna and found it a comforting meal. My husband doesn’t eat lasagna so I had leftovers for lunch for a few days. I didn’t get tired of it!

Grasshopper Weather

by Sandra Merville Hart

I recently read On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her family moved to Minnesota when she was seven and first stayed in a sod house built into the creek bank. The details of everyday life in the 1870s fascinated me.

The Ingalls family was very poor. They had moved into the sod house too late to plant crops so finances were tight. Laura’s pa put all his hopes on next year’s crop, which promised to be a bountiful one. She dreamed of having all the things they’d done without and eating candy daily.

There was no snow by Thanksgiving of that year. Days were still warm though the nights were chilly. No rain. No more frost. Pa learned that the old-timers called it “grasshopper weather” but no one explained what that meant.

An unusually dry, hot, sunny summer followed. Plump wheat promised a beautiful crop. Pa planned to pay for the farmhouse he’d borrowed the money to build with the bountiful wheat.

Sunshine dimmed at lunchtime a couple of days before the planned harvest. A coming storm blackened the sky. No, not a normal storm. What was it?

Glittering thin snowflake-like matter blocked the sun. No wind. Then brown grasshoppers dropped to the ground, falling on Laura’s head and arms like hail. When she beat at them, they clung to her skin.

Grasshoppers by the millions ate the wheat crop, prairie grasses, leaves, cornstalks, and every vegetable in the garden. Though all windows were shut, brown grasshoppers came inside the house each time someone entered it.

Laura’s family endured a nightmare.

It’s estimated that one trillion Rocky Mountain locusts descended on the Great Plains in 1874, covering an area around 2,000,000 square miles and causing much devastation.

When large groups of grasshoppers swarm, they’re called locusts. In one day, these swarms can fly as far as 100 miles.

Locusts returned in smaller numbers some years but became extinct early in the 1900s. The arrival of farmers who plowed the prairie grass to grow crops changed the habitat, which many experts believe caused the extinction.   


“Grasshoppers in On the Banks of Plum Creek.”, 12 April 2017,

Nuwer, Rachel. “When Weather Changes, Grasshopper Turns Locust,” The New York Times, 2021/09/29

Wheeler, John. “Weather Talk: Grasshopper plagues are gone with the wind,” AGWEEK, 2021/09/29

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. On the Banks of Plum Creek, HarperTrophy, 1971.

Beyond the River by Ann Hagedorn

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad

This book is a great resource about the Underground Railroad leading up to the Civil War.

I read this book while researching for my novel, Byway to Danger, Book 3 of my “Spies of the Civil War” series. Though my novel is set in Richmond and Hagedorn’s book focuses on the history of the Underground Railroad centered in Ripley, Ohio, I learned a great deal about the courage it took to aid fugitive slaves.

Abolitionist John Rankin, his family, and many of his Ripley neighbors sacrificed repeatedly to lend their aid.

Hagedorn’s vivid scenes transport readers back in time in this nonfiction work, showing the everyday heroes that made in difference in many lives.

Well-written book.

Recommended for Civil War research and for lovers of American history.

The Librarian’s Journey

by Sandra Merville Hart

This historical novel collection takes readers on a journey with librarians on horseback, who transport books to remote communities. I love reading historical novels where I learn new things about our history while enjoying a good story. I didn’t know that part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal provided for a Pack Horse Library Initiative. I love that folks who rarely left home during the Depression had the opportunity to read—or learn to read—a new book every week.

All four stories—Love’s Turning Page by Cynthia Hickey, For Such a Time by Patty Smith Hall, Book Lady of the Bayou by Marilyn Turk, and The Librarian and the Lawman by Kathleen Y’Barbo—touch on the danger faced by these brave young women. Riding horses or mules, they ventured out on mountain paths and bayous to deliver books.

I enjoyed this collection. All four stories are different. I like that they were set in different parts of the country.

Candied Orange Peel

by Sandra Merville Hart

Like everyone else the past two years, Covid has affected holiday plans—either by cancelling or postponing them. As I write, my son-in-law has Covid and a late Christmas family gathering will be delayed again.

I often try to bring some new holiday recipe to Christmas gatherings. Last year I made a yule log—delicious! This year I had planned to try Candied Orange peel. I decided to make it even though our celebration is delayed.  

I looked at a few different recipes and they were all very similar.

Candied Orange Peel

2 large oranges, cut and peeled into 8 wedges

4 cups sugar, divided

3 cups water

8 oz chocolate, melted (optional—and for later, will use this after the peels dry)

Cut peel and pith (the white part) from orange wedges. Because oranges are a juicy fruit, this part can be messy so cut the oranges over a plate or rimmed dish. (I served the leftover fruit as a packed-with-Vitamin-C snack for the children in my home. 😊)

Next, slice the peel wedges into 3 strips each. Boil a large pot of water and then add strips. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes. Peels will be soft. Drain in a colander. Rinse and then drain again.

Place 3 cups of sugar in 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Stir to dissolve sugar and then leave it alone, bringing it to a boil over medium heat. Add the orange and allow the syrup to return to a boil and then reduce heat so that the mixture gently simmers for about 45 minutes, until peel is very soft. Remove the peel with a slotted spoon.

Hint: Save the orange syrup for another recipe or serve it on pancakes for a different flavor.

Place a cup of sugar in a mixing bowl and coat the peel. You may need another 1/3 cup of sugar to coat all the slices—at least I did, with the help of a preschooler and a kindergartner. 😊

Set aside the peel to dry on a sheet of parchment paper. I set mine on a lined baking sheet and it took 2 days for them to dry.

Optional—not optional for the chocolate lover in me!—melt 8 ounces of chocolate and dip the slices halfway into the melted chocolate. Delicious! I love the combination of orange paired with chocolate.

Store the dried peel in an airtight container. It should keep up to two months.

My family ate these without chocolate too and asked for more. It’s a different yet delicious orange treat, packed with vitamin C in this cold and flu season—a win-win!

I will look for ways to use this orange peel in recipes. I’ve already steeped a slice in my tea for a hint of orange—and added vitamin C!

Confederate Spy Rose Greenhow Influences Characters in Avenue of Betrayal

by Sandra Merville Hart

Avenue of Betrayal, Book 1 of my new “Spies of the Civil War” series, releases on February 8, 2022. Here’s a bit of historical background for the story.

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

Avenue of Betrayal is set in Washington City (Washington DC) in 1861, where a surprising number of Confederate sympathizers and spies live.

Perhaps the most famous female Confederate spy who lived in Washington DC when the Civil War began was Rose O’Neal Greenhow. When many other Southerner sympathizers left, the widow remained with her eight-year-old daughter, Rose. Colonel Thomas Jordan asked Rose to be an agent shortly before leaving the city to fight for the South. Spying to uncover troop movements and government communications appealed to her. She agreed to send messages based on a cipher he provided.

Coded messages were sent on a “Secret Line,” which involved several couriers in a chain that passed on messages in common places such as docks, taverns, and farmhouses.

Rose’s spy network from Boston to New Orleans was the largest in the war—48 women and 2 men. She 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.

Several other messages about Washington’s defenses and troop information were sent from Rose to Beauregard. Thomas A. Scott, Assistant Secretary of War, asked Allan Pinkerton, head of Lincoln’s Intelligence Service, to find Confederate spies and put Greenhow under surveillance.

About a month after the First Battle of Bull Run, Pinkerton discovered incriminating evidence. The home was searched. Rose and her daughter were placed under arrest at her home. Because she managed to get other secret messages out, they were moved to 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.

Rose’s real-life story influences the fictional characters in Avenue of Betrayal.


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.

Connecting with Christ

by Sandra Merville Hart

52 Weekly Devotionals to Nurture Spiritual Growth

I was thrilled when Yolonda Tonette Sanders asked me to contribute to this devotional book!

The book is divided into themes such as Renewal, Love, Promises, and Rest. My devotions can be found under the Celebration/Freedom and Giving sections.

Sanders wrote some of the devotions and invited other talented authors to join her. DiAnn Mills, Cindy Thomson, Obieray Rogers, Chelsea C. Elliott, and Leslie J. Sherrod, along with others, also wrote for this well-done devotional.

I hope you pick up a copy for quick, inspiring weekly devotions.