On May 7, one of my biggest dreams will come true: my Civil War novel, THE YANKEE WIDOW, will be released in hardcover by Mira Books.
This is a big, sprawling rough-and-tumble brawl of a story, with strong characters and lots of research behind it.
In early July of 1863, as many of you will know, two massive armies collided in and around the small but bustling market town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The resulting 3-day battle was, of course, horrendous, with terrible casualties on both sides of the struggle.
Caroline Hammond is a farm-wife, with a young daughter and a husband away fighting for the Union side. She’s a competent, hard-working woman, determined to preserve the farm (and that year’s crops), with the help of a free black man named Enoch. The land has been in her husband’s family for several generations, and Caroline wants to keep the place running until Corporal Jacob Hammond comes marching home again. If he comes marching home again. Both Union and Confederate soldiers are killed, maimed or struck down by disease every day of the week, in huge numbers, and civilians are subject to raids by renegades, deserters and other outlaws.
Gettysburg is such a peaceful place that it’s hard to imagine it as a battlefield, this little gem of a city nestled in a lushly verdant, sun-washed countryside, but on July 1, 2 and 3, 1863, the fields ran crimson with blood; there were shrieks of pain, from men and from horses and mules, too. The cannon-fire was so deafeningly loud that it was heard as far away as Philadelphia. Just imagine what it would have been like for people like Caroline, just a few miles outside of town–soon, there will be hospital tents in her side yard. She will work tirelessly, as so many of Gettysburg’s women did, tending the wounded, both friend and foe. She will look into the true face of war, up close and personal, and she will stand her ground.
This book is not a glorification of war, full of gallant generals and battle strategies, but a study of the way ordinary people, primarily women, coped with such enormous challenges–and with the often nightmarish aftermath: nursing the fallen and dying with few, if any, medical supplies, burying the dead, human and animal, looking after homes and children and protecting property. THE YANKEE WIDOW, to me, is a celebration of the human spirit and the power of common courage, faith, determination and compassion.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey into our nation’s turbulent past, with all its joy and sorrows, saints and sinners, valor and cowardice. Come along, and meet a diverse group of characters–young Jacob Hammond, Caroline’s husband, far from home and grievously wounded, strong, wise Enoch, who is both friend and hired hand to the Hammonds, Jubie, the runaway slave, Captains Rogan McBride (Union), and Bridger Winslow (Confederate)–best friends since boyhood, and fighting on opposite sides.
I’ll have more to say about the book, and the Civil War in general, in coming days. You’ll hear about my research, my motivation for tackling such an unwieldy subject, the sequel I am writing now, and the disturbing parallels I see between the political climate of then and the division and polarity we’re seeing now.
My message is the same as it would have been back then: We are ALL Americans. We are all entitled to our opinions; good people have died to preserve that right. We need to stop shouting each other down, cool it with the petty squabbling, roll up our sleeves, and get to work. Remember: Together we stand, divided we fall.