Top of the Rock, Branson


In May, 2015, heavy rains in the Ozarks created a large sinkhole—40 feet deep and 70 feet across. This occurred at Big Cedar Lodge and Top of the Rock Golf Course, located a few miles south of Branson, Missouri.

The sinkhole created a beautiful landmark now known as Cathedral of Nature or simply Cathedral. It is awe-inspiring.

John L. Morris, owner of the property and founder of Big Cedar Lodge, is a conservationist. A big dig is underway.  Morris is exploring, hoping to find a secret passageway and a large system of caves.

Excavations crew have removed dirt and rock. The original 70-foot wide sinkhole is now 350 feet across. The depth of 40 feet has been expanded to 200 feet. Gorgeous!

Visitors can ride a golf cart through the Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail.

The Sunset Ceremony was a highlight of a recent family vacation for me. A bagpiper plays as the sun sets. A Civil War cannon fires as the sun dips over the horizon. Simply beautiful.

We visited the church next to the sinkhole. A floor-to-ceiling window on the main floor faces the valley. The view of the water nestled in a tree-lined valley was breathtaking at sunset.

My family loved this place. Consider adding this stop to your trip if you are in the Branson area on vacation.

-Sandra Merville Hart


“Welcome to the Top of the Rock,” Top of the Rock, 2018/06/18


Eureka Springs, Arkansas–A Fun Way to Spend a Day

Christ of the Ozarks

A family trip to Branson, Missouri, led us to spend a day in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The quaint, historical feel of the older part of town made me glad we’d made the hour’s drive.

Folks had already discovered healing properties in the springs by the founding of the city on July 4, 1879. Using the spring’s waters, Dr. Alvah Jackson treated and cured his son’s eye ailment in 1856. The doctor also cared for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. After the war, a few Confederate soldiers recuperated near the springs.

Though the town started with tent dwellings and shanties, thousands visited Eureka Springs for the healing springs.

Visitors still flock to the city today. There are many specialty shops in historical downtown. We arrived around noon ready to dine at our favorite restaurant, Mud Street Café. Since it was closed that day, we enjoyed lunch at the balcony restaurant at the Basin Park Hotel. The hotel opened in 1905.

After lunch, we shopped before heading to Thorncrown Chapel a few miles away. What a beautiful spot! Built in 1980, the chapel has 425 windows—6,000 square feet of glass. Nestled in the woods, the chapel and its surroundings filled me with a serene sense of peace.


Then we drove to an area where the Passion Play is enacted from May to October. (Check the schedule for dates and times.) The Christ of the Ozarks is there, standing 67 feet high. Impressive sight!

We’ll have to return to attend The Great Passion Play. I’ve heard it’s worth the trip.

All in all, a fun place to spend a day.

-Sandra Merville Hart


“Eureka Springs History,”, 2018/06/18

“Thorncrown Chapel,” Thorncrown Chapel, 2018/06/18

Battle of Gettysburg: Lee’s Long Line of Ambulances

Ambulance outside Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s plan to transport thousands of wounded soldiers after the Battle of Gettysburg was a daunting task. He ordered General John Imboden to lead them to Cashtown before heading south to Williamsport, Maryland. When they reached Williamsport, they paused for a break. Once men and horses rested, they resumed their journey back to Virginia.

The ambulance wagon train stretched for 27 miles.


And 7,000 Confederate soldiers, wounded too severely to travel, were left behind in Gettysburg. Characters in my novel set during the Battle of Gettysburg, A Rebel in My House, had to deal with this issue.

Conservative estimates for Confederate wounded number around 13,000. Other sources report over 18,000. Either way, 27 miles of ambulances means a distressing number of injured soldiers traveled south, groaning in agony as rickety wheels jostled them over rutted dirt roads.

I wondered how many ambulance wagons might have been required and thought it might be fun to try to figure it out.

Ambulance outside of Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg.

Many models in use at the time were 10 feet long or 10 feet, four inches. The heavier wagons required 4 horses to pull them while lighter ones needed only 2.

Some carried 10 patients—4 prone and 6 seated. The driver and 2 patients sat on a closed chest holding medical supplies.

A lighter model carried 5—15 wounded, depending on how many needed to lie prone for the journey.

It seems almost certain—with the number of wounded requiring transportation to Southern hospitals—that folks squeezed onto wagons meant to hold fewer men.

I confess that I got lost trying to figure the length of an average horse—it seems the larger horses are about 6 feet long. An ambulance 10 feet in length with a two-horse team might require about 20 feet. A four-horse team and wagon might need 30 feet.

Allowing 30 feet for each wagon to estimate how many ambulances might have been in this ambulance train … a staggering 4,752 wagons. The actual count was probably less because some patients with minor injuries walked.

Some ambulances held only 5 patients. If folks had to travel in a laying down, less patients could ride with them.

7,000 were left in Gettysburg. Going with the highest estimate of 18,000+, some 11,000 wounded traveled south. That means 2-3 folks traveled in each wagon.

If we allow 50 feet of space for each wagon, there are about 2,851 or 3-4 patients per wagon. If this is true, then lots of soldiers were in bad shape along the way. Possibly greater numbers of slightly injured weren’t included in the total count.

Has anyone run across this in their research?

-Sandra Merville Hart


“Battle of Gettysburg,” Encyclopeadia Britannica, 2018/06/15

“Battle of Gettysburg,” HistoryNet, 2018/06/15

“Battle of Gettysburg Facts,” Stone Sentinels, 2018/06/15

“Civil War Ambulance Wagons,” Civil War Home, 2018/06/17

Compiled by Editors of Combined Books. The Civil War Book of Lists, Da Capo Press, 1994.

Edited by Kennedy, Frances H. The Civil War Battlefield Guide, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990.

“Gallery: Field Medicine,” Trans-Mississippi Theater Virtual Museum, 2018/06/17,

Long, E.B and Long, Barbara. The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac 1861-1865, A Da Capo Paperback, 1971.

Sheldon, George. When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg: The Tragic Aftermath of the Bloodiest Battle of the Civil War, Cumberland House, 2003.


Fireside Talk Radio Podcast about A Rebel in My House


Cathy Krafve of Fireside Talk Radio interviewed Sandra Merville Hart, author of A Rebel in My House, a Civil War romance set during the turbulent Battle of Gettysburg. Cathy is a talented host and made Sandra feel a warm Texas welcome!

Here is Cathy’s introduction to the interview:


Outside the Box. Her Wisdom, Translating Compassion into Fiction Writing with Sandra Merville Hart

“Award-winning Author Sandra Merville Hart joins Cathy Krafve to talk about her wonderful Civil War era book, A Rebel in My House. Both sides of the conflict receive tender grace from Sandra in this engaging, action-packed story. With compassion, Sandy creates characters to love. Cathy asks questions about her inspiration and decision-making when it comes to handling history respectfully.  With five books out by this time next year, Sandra is a rising star in publishing circles. For Sandy, climbing out of the box means creating stories that reflect compassion for people and respect for history.”

Here is the podcast for those who’d like to download and listen:  Fireside Talk Radio A Rebel on My Land Interview

Thank you for a fun visit on Fireside Talk Radio, Cathy!

-Sandra Merville Hart

The Story Behind the Story-A Rebel in My House

After I wrote A Rebel in My House, my Civil War romance set during the turbulent Battle of Gettysburg, other authors and readers asked me why I wrote the novel. Since the anniversary of the historic battle is almost here, I thought I’d share the “story behind the story” with you, my readers and blog family.

Something drew me yet again to Gettysburg. I knew there was a story waiting there for me. My husband and I walked the battlefields. Ideas stirred when I found Tennessee troops in Archer’s Brigade, part of Heth’s Division who began the fighting on the first day. Nothing solidified so I kept digging. I discovered fascinating history at the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum in Lutheran Theological Seminary. Surely my story touched this place. Spending several hours exploring the museum and surroundings sparked no ideas so I trudged on.

I explored Gettysburg museums, spending hours at the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center, Gettysburg Museum of History, Gettysburg Railroad Station, General Lee’s Headquarters Museum, and The David Wills House where President Lincoln stayed. I learned captivating facts at the Jennie Wade House, Shriver House Museum, and “The Women of Gettysburg Tour,” an evening walking tour.

Ideas swirled as my husband and I walked the town’s streets around the “Diamond” or the town square. This is where the women and children suffered through a nightmare from which they didn’t awaken for many months.

Then we spent another afternoon and evening at the battlefield.

Three Tennessee regiments fought the beginning battle on July 1st. They didn’t fight again until they joined in Pickett’s Charge.  

The sun sank low on the horizon as I stood alone on Cemetery Ridge. The expansive field crossed by Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863, captured my imagination. Though the land is peaceful once more, it still tells a story. My imagination soared while the sun disappeared.

As an author, I had to tell what the townspeople endured. What if a Gettysburg woman fell in love with a Confederate soldier? What if they both made promises to loved ones? Some promises are impossible to keep …

I reluctantly left the ridge. I had a story to write.

-Sandra Merville Hart

Release Day for Audiobook!

Thrilled to announce Release Day for my first audiobook!

Robin Jasper does an excellent job at narrating A Stranger On My Land, my first Civil War romance. Robin has a way of captivating listeners and not letting go. I wrote the story and she drew me in!

A Stranger On My Land is set on Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, at the time of the famous Civil War Battle Above the Clouds. A Southern woman finds a wounded Union soldier on her land after the battle. He will die if she doesn’t help him.

Buy the audiobook today or get it free with Audible trial. Please leave a review as encouragement to both author and narrator. Thanks for celebrating this release with us!

Civil War Battle of Gettyburg’s Numbers

Post and rider fence common around Gettysburg in 1863 — at Gettysburg Battlefield


 With the July 1st—3rd anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg approaching, I thought it would be fun to dig into some “number” facts pertaining to the battle.

How many soldiers fought in the famous Pennsylvania battle?

Sources disagree on this number due to inaccurate, incomplete, and missing records.


 82,289 Union soldiers

75,000 Confederate soldiers

157,289 Total

Stone Sentinels

93,700 Union

 70,100 Confederate

163,800  Total

Book of Lists

93,693 Union (Corps Strength)

 70,136 Confederate (Corps Strength)

163,829 Total

Some sources reported round numbers:

Encylopaedia Britannica

94,000 Union

 71,000 Confederate

165,000 Total

The Civil War Battlefield Guide    

170,000+ soldiers fought

When the Smoke Cleared At Gettysburg

172,000+ soldiers fought

As you can see, some of these numbers are very close. The difference between the lowest and highest estimates is 14,711.

How many casualties did both sides suffer?

We first have to understand that casualties were broken down as follows: Killed, Wounded, and Missing. Sources also disagree on this number for the same reasons as above.


3,155  Union killed

14,529 Union wounded

  5,365 Union missing

23,049 Total Union casualties


3,903  Confederate killed

18,735  Confederate wounded

  5,425  Confederate missing

28,063  Total Confederate casualties


23,049 Union (all casualties)

28,063 Confederate (all casualties)

51,112 Total casualties

Stone Sentinels*

3,150  Union killed

14,500 Union wounded

  5,165  Union missing

22,815  Total Union casualties


4,400  Confederate killed

12,950 Confederate wounded

  5,350  Confederate missing

22,700  Total Confederate casualties


22,815 Union (all casualties)

22,700 Confederate (all casualties)

45,515 Total casualties

*Stone Sentinel acknowledges their estimates are conservative, with actual casualties possibly as high as 51,000.

Book of Lists

22,807 Union (Corps)

22,557 Confederate (Corps)

45,364  Total casualties

When the Smoke Cleared At Gettysburg

3,155  Union killed

14,530 Union wounded

  5,365  Union missing

23,050  Total Union casualties


4,500  Confederate killed

18,750 Confederate wounded

   5,250 Confederate missing

28,500  Total Confederate casualties


23,050 Union (all casualties)

28,500 Confederate (all casualties)

51,550 Total casualties


Some sources reported round numbers:

Encylopaedia Britannica

23,000 Union casualties

28,000 Confederate casualties

51,000 Total casualties

The Civil War Battlefield Guide    

50,000+ Total casualties

Again, some numbers are close. The difference between the lowest and highest estimates is 6,186. It’s been surprising to find so many discrepancies in these numbers. As an author of a Civil War romance set during the Battle of Gettysburg, A Rebel in My HouseI’m often asked these numbers. It’s not an easy answer.

-Sandra Merville Hart


“Battle of Gettysburg,” Encyclopeadia Britannica, 2018/06/15

“Battle of Gettysburg,” HistoryNet, 2018/06/15

“Battle of Gettysburg Facts,” Stone Sentinels, 2018/06/15

Compiled by Editors of Combined Books. The Civil War Book of Lists, Da Capo Press, 1994.

Edited by Kennedy, Frances H. The Civil War Battlefield Guide, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990.

Long, E.B and Long, Barbara. The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac 1861-1865, A Da Capo Paperback, 1971.

Sheldon, George. When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg: The Tragic Aftermath of the Bloodiest Battle of the Civil War, Cumberland House, 2003.

Cherokee General Watie Surrenders First Indian Brigade

Degataga, Cherokee for “stand firm,” was the name given to Stand Watie at his birth. He was baptized as Isaac Watie so Stand Watie is a blend of his Cherokee and English names.

Watie supported the relocation of the Cherokee Nation to Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma.) Even though Chief John Ross and the majority of the Cherokee opposed the removal, Watie and a few other tribal members negotiated and signed the Treaty of New Echota. The treaty with the United States forced the Cherokee to leave their lands, traveling what was later called the Trail of Tears.

The treaty signers weren’t popular. A friend’s timely warning allowed Watie to escape being killed with other signers in 1839.

He joined the Southern cause in 1861. As colonel, he raised a Cherokee regiment, the Cherokee Regiment of Mounted Rifles. He and his troops helped drive pro-Union Native Americans from Indian Territory to Kansas.

Watie and his men excelled as scouts and skirmishers. His courage was noticed and he became Brigadier General Watie on May 6, 1864—the only Native American to receive this rank in the Civil War. He commanded the First Indian Brigade, made up of Cherokee, Seminole, Osage, and Creek soldiers.

After General Kirby Smith surrendered the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, Watie knew his turn was coming.

On June 23, he surrendered at Doaksville in Indian Territory.

The last Confederate general to surrender was Cherokee chief Stand Watie.

-Sandra Merville Hart



“Conclusion of the American Civil War,”, 2018/03/21

“Conclusion of the American Civil War,”, 2018/03/22

Long, E.B. and Long, Barbara. The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac 1861-1865, A Da Capo Paperback, 1971.

Plante, Trevor K. “Ending the Bloodshed,” National Archives, 2018/03/21

“Stand Watie,” Civil War Home, 2018/04/22

“Stand Watie,” Civil War Trust, 2018/04/22

Hazelelponah Wood: A Noteworthy Puritan Woman

Today’s post is written by fellow author, Donna B. Gawell. Her debut historical novel, In the Shadow of Salem, releases this month. Congratulations on the new release, Donna!

Hazelelponah, Haselelponah or Haselepony?  How did Hazelelponah really spell her name or did she even care? This remarkable woman is the bearer of a unique name but has an equally amazing life story from the early years of New England.

Hazelelponah’s unique name is shared by a woman in the Old Testament in the genealogies of Judah. You can find it in 1 Chronicles 4:”These were the sons of Etam: Jezreel, Ishma, and Idbash. Their sister was named Hazzelelponi.” Feel free to use her name to quiz your pastor or rabbi.

In the Shadow of Salem features Hazelelponah as a proprietor of an ordinary tavern. This real Puritan woman was born in 1636 in Exeter, NH and was the oldest daughter of Balthazar and Hannah Willix. In 1648, her mother was attacked, robbed, murdered on the road leading from Dover to Exeter,  and her body was thrown into the river. Balthazar became despondent and moved the family to Salisbury.

Soon after, Hazelelponah was sent into service, a typical practice in Puritan times for many young women and men.  She met and married John Gee, fisherman, but he was lost at sea on December 27, 1669.

The widow Hazelelponah moved with her five children to Boston for several years.  There Hazelelponah met Obadiah Wood, a widower with ten children who lived on East Street in Ipswich and was a “biskett baker.” Obadiah and Hazelelponah married and were proprietors of an ordinary tavern in Ipswich. The couple added another ten children during their years of marriage.

Hazelelponah experienced so much tragedy in her early life, and we can only hope she was revered by her twenty-five children and stepchildren! This impressive woman survived her second husband and died in Ipswich in 1714 at the age of 79.  Her grave is located in the Old North Burying Ground in Ipswich, MA.

-Donna B. Gawell

About the author:

Donna is a writer and genealogist who enjoys writing novels about her infamous and more humble ancestors. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mark. Her website  features history and travel articles.

 Back Cover Blurb

In the Shadow of Salem is a historical novel about the life of Mehitabel Braybrooke, a Puritan woman born in 1652 in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Mehitabel is accused of crimes−the first for arson and the second for witchcraft. History has not been kind to Mehitabel, but what was the real story behind her scurrilous reputation? Would she ever be redeemed from her lifelong curse? Or was Mehitabel as wicked as her numerous Essex Court Records imply?


Brig. Gen. Wofford Surrenders Department of North Georgia

William T. Wofford served as a captain in the Mexican War. After the war, he was in the Georgia state legislature. As a member of the state convention in 1861, he voted against secession. When Georgia seceded, he joined the 18th Georgia Infantry as colonel.

His regiment was later assigned to General John Bell Hood’s Texas Brigade. As part of this brigade, Wofford and his men fought at Yorktown, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Sharpsburg, and Antietam.

In November of 1862, 18th Georgia was transferred to the Georgia Brigade. Wofford was promoted to brigadier general on January 17, 1863.

He served with the Army of Northern Virginia until Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown asked him to assume command of the Department of North Georgia around the end of 1864.

Georgia’s citizens needed protection from guerrilla attacks. Wofford strengthened his forces with stragglers, deserters—any available men. He commanded this department until May 12, 1865.

Lee and others had already surrendered when letters between Union Brigadier General Henry M. Judah and Wofford were exchanged. Union Colonel Louis Merrill believed there to be about 10,000 soldiers in Wofford’s command.

About a third of this number surrendered—the rest deserted.

A sign in Kingston, Georgia, located at the intersection of Church Street and West Main Street, marks where the surrender occurred.

-Sandra Merville Hart


“Conclusion of the American Civil War,”, 2018/03/21

“Conclusion of the American Civil War,”, 2018/03/22

Long, E.B. and Long, Barbara. The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac 1861-1865, A Da Capo Paperback, 1971.

Plante, Trevor K. “Ending the Bloodshed,” National Archives, 2018/03/21

“W.T. Wofford (1824-1884),” New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2018/04/21