Follow by Email

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Harriet Tubman and the Raid on the Combahee

[On June 2, 1863, Harriet Tubman led 150 black Union soldiers on a raid to free slaves from plantations along the Combahee River in South Carolina. The following is a description of that raid taken from my "Left by the Side of the Road."]

Colonel James Montgomery was the first to disembark at Beaufort. He strode to General Saxton, saluted crisply, and shouted so that all could hear. "Sir, I have the honor to present to you some 750 former slaves, newly liberated from the plantations along the Combahee River through the efforts of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers under the leadership of Miss Harriet Tubman."

A gasp went up from the crowd and then applause and cheers filled the morning air.

The passengers now poured off the boats and for a while, chaos reigned. Saxton had planned well for this moment, however, and his officers soon sorted the newcomers into manageable groups. A hundred or more strong young men had volunteered to join Montgomery's regiment, and a couple of black sergeants soon had them lined up and marching toward a makeshift camp. Miss Tubman bustled about, identifying the elderly and ailing so that Dr. Rogers and his staff could assess their conditions and arrange for their medical needs to be treated in one of the local hospitals. The remaining family units assembled close to the docks. Each group of fifty or so had its own military officer and one of the teacher-missionaries.

General Saxton addressed these groups last. "I have arranged for you to be transferred to St. Helena Island, where your needs will be met. Military rations are already there and will be distributed to each family, along with temporary shelter in the form of tents. As soon as we determine how many houses will be needed, we'll be assigning you to empty dwellings on the island. If we need more room, our Army engineers will provide building materials to help you erect your own new homes. Please tell your leaders about any special skills you may have that can help us build your new community. We'll want to identify the cooks, the carpenters, the farmers, the stable hands, and so forth. Welcome to the United States and freedom!"

At last he turned to Laura Towne. "Sorry to keep you in the dark about all of this, but we wanted to make sure the boats made it back safely before any announcement. I've asked Colonel Montgomery and Miss Tubman to join my staff in the mess tent for a debriefing. Would you and Miss Forten care to join us? I'm sure you must be curious about how all this came about."

Col. James Montgomery opened the meeting by describing Miss Tubman's efforts. "She has been prowling around the interior for the past month with her small band of spies. They infiltrated the plantations, talked to the slaves, and learned where the river had been mined to prevent any invasion. She promised her people that they would be rescued when they heard gunboats blowing their whistles. Yesterday she met my gunboats at the mouth of the Combahee and served as our pilot, guiding us around the Confederate torpedoes and taking us straight to the banks of the richest plantations in the area. But she should describe what happened from there."

Harriet beamed with pride as she stood. She described the scene as slaves dropped whatever they were doing and ran to the banks of the river when they heard the whistles. Some tried to wade out to the boats while others clambered into rowboats. A few overseers tried to hold the slaves back. Others, frightened lest this be a trap, hesitated on the banks.

[The following passage is a direct quote from Miss Tubman's own account, as told to Sarah Bradford and published in "Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman." (1869) ]

"I tol' de soljers to take der caps off an' let de people see der wooly heads," she laughed, "but some uh dem slaves stil dint trust us, even if we was black like dem. So I stood on de prow uh de boat an' I sang to em:

Of all the whole creation in the East or in the West,
The glorious Yankee nation is the greatest and the best.
Come along! Come along! don't be alarmed,
Uncle Sam is rich enough to give you all a farm.

"Dat was a song I jist made up 'cause I don't know de Gullah language an' we had trouble unnerstandin' each udder. But dey unnerstood bout Uncle Sam. Dat did de trick an' dey all come on da boats.

"I nebber see such a sight," said Harriet; "we laughed, an' laughed, an' laughed. Here you'd see a woman wid a pail on her head, rice a smokin' in it jus' as she'd taken it from de fire, young one hangin' on behind, one han' roun' her forehead to hold on, 'tother han' diggin' into de rice-pot, eatin' wid all its might; hold of her dress two or three more; down her back a bag wid a pig in it. One woman brought two pigs, a white one an' a black one; we took 'em all on board; named de white pig Beauregard, and de black pig Jeff Davis. Sometimes de women would come wid twins hangin' roun' der necks; 'pears like I nebber see so many twins in my life; bags on der shoulders, baskets on der heads, and young ones taggin' behin', all loaded; pigs squealin', chickens screamin', young ones squallin'." 

Monday, February 6, 2017


Yep. You read that right. I'm pulling down the shades on this blog for a while. Why? Well, let me tell you a little about sabbaticals and what they are intended to do.  In an ideal world (admittedly, that's fantasy!), a college professor gets to take every seventh year off. That's not because they hate what they do, but because they need time to replenish their creative juices--to experience the world outside the ivory towers, learn something new, try a new approach to an old problem.

While I taught at Rhodes, I had two sabbaticals. The first came in 1995, right on schedule. Although I loved teaching, I had just been offered an additional position, as editor of a brand new online research website aimed at people who were involved in some form of medieval studies--not just historians, but students of literature, music, art, architecture, political science, religion. The list went on and on.

The idea was to make available to anyone who needed such information a collection of facts, translations, bibliographies, new studies, databases, and ongoing controversies. The idea first arose at a well-known medieval conference and had the support of scholars from all over the world, but when we sat down to discuss what was involved, only a few individuals volunteered their time. I was headed into a sabbatical year without a clear plan; this seemed to be an ideal proposal. And so it turned out to be.  I spent my year working at my computer, learning to do HTML coding, devising outlines of subject areas, and then hunting down experts to make contributions. The whole experience did much to make me the medieval scholar I became. It broadened my knowledge, made my name familiar internationally, made me a better teacher, and sharpened my organizational skills. By the time I gave up the editorial position, the website had over 200 contributors and was receiving nearly a quarter of a million hits a week.

The second sabbatical came in 2003-2004, as I was preparing for retirement. This time I concentrated on my own studies, with the intention of continuing a writing career after I left the classroom. I needed a change of pace, so I set myself the task of learning the geography of two states in which I had never lived--Pennsylvania and South Carolina--and the history of a period I had studied only casually--the American Civil War. The result, as you know, has been a whole series of biographies and historical novels.

And now, I'm overdue for another break. I've been writing for twelve years and have published eight books. Each of those books has had some connection to the ones that came before it, so I could never see a clear space to refresh and re-define what I was doing. It's time to do that.

Oh, I'm not giving up writing. I already have another book brewing inside my skull. But it's different. Although it will once again be set in Civil War South Carolina, it will deal with topics I don't know enough about. I need to learn about international treaties and diplomatic maneuverings, about law-breakers and scoff-laws like pirates, smugglers, and blockade runners. I've never written a mystery, let alone a murder-mystery, and this one will involve all sorts of evil-doings, including murder and kidnapping. And then, just to keep me on my toes, many of the clues will be written in code, which will require me to learn how to create a code and how to break one.

I'll be busy for quite a while. I'm not even guessing at a publication date for the new book. We'll have to see what happens. It will be ready when it's ready. And when that happens, I'll be back here again, to give you a "heads up," and to fill you in on some of the details. Until then, you can follow my research adventures over on my other blog site on the Katzenhaus website.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Nine Women Who Would Have Adored A Dozen Cats

I think all this election craziness has finally gotten to me.  I opened Facebook and saw this kitten picture:

And it immediately reminded me of this picture on the back cover of my new book, "Yankee Daughters."

Would my grandmother, my mother, and my aunts all be horribly offended by the comparison? I hope not. There's something sweetly endearing about both groups.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

What's All This Stuff about Pre-Orders?

Let’s talk about pre-orders. If you spend any time exploring Amazon’s Book Department, you know that major publishers almost always offer their books for pre-ordering — sometimes as much as six months to a year in advance of the publication date. if you order the first book in a series from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, you are almost certain to get an e-mail inviting you to pre-order book number two.  Now Kindle Books are also offering pre-orders.  Why? What’s in it for the author or publisher?  And what’s in in for you, the reader?

Take a look at the reader first, using my upcoming book as an example.  it’s early November, and Yankee Daughters won’t be available until December 7, 2016. Why would you want to order it now? Well, first, there’s the simple matter of forgetfulness (and that’s something that happens to everybody, not just us seniors.) Between today and December comes the whole holiday season that starts this month, with all of its distractions. And when December arrives, you’re going to be exhausted. Will you remember to order my book on December 7th? Probably not. But if you have pre-ordered it, it will arrive, just when you need an excuse to take a break from wrapping packages and baking cookies.

You’ll find cost-savings, too.  Most pre-orders carry a reduced price tag. Yankee Daughters is available for pre-ordering at $2.99.  On December 7th, the price will be $4.99.  What’s even better, you don’t have to pay a thing until the book ships. So order it now and by the time your bill arrives in January, you won’t even notice that you’re paying for it.

Here’s the link:

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Giveaway for Launch Day


A Giveaway for Launch Day
One day.
Two winners.
Three Books

On December 8, 2016, two lucky readers will be chosen in a computer-driven random drawing to receive the complete trade paper set of the Grenville Trilogy: Damned Yankee, Yankee Reconstructed, and Yankee Daughters -- a $55.00 value. Copies will be signed and bookmarked.

How do you get in on this giveaway? There are three paths--the choice is yours.

1. Volunteer to receive and read an advance review PDF copy of Yankee Daughters. Then, on Wednesday, December 7, 2016--(the date is important!)-- post a brief review of the book on its Amazon page. You don't have to give it five stars.  You don't even have to like it. Just leave a comment or two that will be helpful to other readers. (If you choose this option, please act quickly and contact the author directly here to find out if copies are still available.)

2. Pre-order the Kindle version, which will be released on December 7, 2016. Then send me a screenshot, or a snapshot, or forward an email copy of your receipt from Amazon to this email box:

3. Visit our Katzenhaus website to learn more about our books. Then fill out and submit the "Please Keep in Touch" form on the 2016 Publications page. It asks only for your name and e-mail and will be used solely to send you very occasional newsletters about our latest books. We never sell our subscribers' names or e-mail addresses.

That's all there is to it, but your entry will help to promote Yankee Daughters and send it off to a roaring start. Thanks for your participation.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Farmhouse Lessons

From time to time, I'm going to post some clippings from my Pinterest board entitled "Words of Wisdom from a German Grandmother." Each of them plays a role  in my upcoming book, "Yankee Daughters."

Jamey ducked out, barely missing Nora, who came in with a pail of milk, and Millie, carrying a small basket of eggs. “That red chicken is hiding her eggs again,” Millie reported. “I thought she was pretty when we got her, but she sure is ornery!”
Katerina grinned without turning around. “Schön, wie schön tut,” she replied.

“Yes, Mama, we know! Pretty is as pretty does,” Nora replied.