Today's guest, Jessica James, is here to talk about her romantic historical novel, Noble Cause.
Holiday History Tour
Thanks so much for hosting me today and letting me talk about my romantic historical fiction novel Noble Cause. In July it won the coveted John Esten Cooke Award for Fiction, which is presented annually to encourage writers of fiction to portray characters and events dealing with Southern history and the War Between the States in a historically accurate fashion. It has also won the 2011 Next Generation Indie Award for Regional Fiction and was a Finalist in the Historical Fiction category in the USA “Best Books of 2011” contest.
When I started writing this novel, I had some reservations about the plot involving the heroine dressing as a man and serving as a Union scout and spy. What I discovered after doing some research however, is that the premise is not the least far-fetched. In fact, records exist for as many as 400 women who dressed like their male counterparts and served on the front lines of battle. Many were promoted to officers—actually at a higher rate than men—demonstrating their effectiveness in this unusual role.
Perhaps the most unbelievable component of their service is that most women were only discovered after being wounded, falling ill, or being killed outright on the battlefield. According to the book They Fought Like Demons by Deanne Blanton and Lauren Cook, wounded female soldiers were discovered after the battles of Shilo, Richmond, Perryville, Murfreesboro, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Green River, Lookout Mountain, Peachtree Creek, and the Wilderness, among others. And burial parties discovered the remains of women after First Manassas, Second Manassas, Shiloh, and Gettysburg, as well as along the lines at Petersburg and Appomattox.
Interestingly enough, there was another way women were discovered among the ranks. At least six soldiers are known to have performed their military duties while pregnant, and two Confederate prisoners of war gave birth while incarcerated. Here is the text of an actual telegraph message from a very angry Union General William Rosecrans concerning the news of a birth by an officer in his ranks: The Medical Director reports that an Orderly Sergeant in Brig. Gen Johnson’s Division was today delivered of a baby—which is in violation of all military law and of the army regulations. You will apply a proper punishment in the case and a remedy to prevent repetition of the act.
(Actually, Rosecrans was wrong. There was no written rule against a soldier having a baby).
Considering the secret nature of the women, there were almost certainly more of them who served without discovery. Even after the war, a corpse disinterred in Resaca, Ga., elicited excitement because of the smallness of the feet. Upon further examination, it was discovered the remains were of a female shot through the head. There is no record of her, thus her true identity will never be known.
Of course, some women were discovered during the course of their duties without falling ill. One, a Pvt. Frank Deming was discharged for “disability” near Corinth, Mississippi. The certificate of disability noted that Private Deming was unfit for duty “no days” during the previous two months, but nevertheless cited the soldier as being “incapable of performing the duties of a soldier” because of “a congenital peculiarity—being a woman.”
Women’s service in the Civil War is a story that is largely untold. Yet history proves that courage under fire is not an attribute of men alone. I hope you get a chance to read Noble Cause, and that it helps provide a new understanding of the boldness, strength, and temerity it took to live during this turbulent period in American history.
EXCERPT FROM NOBLE CAUSE:
In this scene, Confederate Colonel Alexander Hunter and his men have destroyed a section of railroad tracks and are lying in wait to capture the loot from an expected train. Hunter believes he sees the woman he loves approaching by horseback, and desperately wants to talk to her after learning he wrongly accused her of causing an ambush on his men.
Winter hit northern Virginia with no warning and little mercy. Snow and sleet fell all day, putting down a cold blanket of discomfort that slowed the horses and froze in the beards of Hunter’s men. Although the enemy was in winter quarters, Hunter did not lessen his attacks. Nothing—not sleep, not exhaustion and not the weather—stopped him.
His Command had now assumed the size of a full brigade, and his activities had become even more widespread as a result. Many in his ranks were no longer boys, but officers who had resigned their commissions in the regular army for the honor of serving under him.
Retreating a small distance from his men, Hunter pulled his buffalo robe from behind his saddle and laid down. The train would be another hour at least in coming. Despite the numbing fatigue that weighed upon his body, he feared he would not be able to sleep. Ignoring the strange feeling of dread that had hung over him all day, he put his saddle blanket under his head, closed his eyes, and was asleep before taking another breath.
But sleep did not seem to last long. Hunter heard what sounded like a single horse coming at a trot, its hoof beats muted on the frozen snow-covered ground. Crawling to the edge of the pines, he listened as the sound grew closer to the bend in the road. He felt the anticipation of his men around him as they too hugged the ground and strained breathlessly. Seconds ticked by slowly, painfully. Sweat trickled down his face, and his heart raced with anticipation. When a nearby branch gave way to the weight of its burden, his nerves reacted with a painful jolt.
Steadying his breathing once again, Hunter watched the shadowy image of a horse and rider appear from around the curve. A full moon shifted in the sky just then, casting a beam of light in front of them like an ethereal pathway. Hunter’s pulse quickened at the sight. Somehow he had known, had hoped at least, it would be her. She rode perfectly relaxed, one hand on loose reins, the other on her thigh, seemingly oblivious to any danger.
Hunter watched mesmerized as she glanced up at the moon in all its glory, then reached down and patted the skittish horse on the neck as it shied at the strange shadows created on the crystalline snow. They were nearly in front of him now, so close he could see every detail—the frozen whiskers on her horse’s muzzle, the frost-steamed breath pouring forth from its nostrils. He stepped out onto the road to greet her, and thought how beautiful the night star looked shining its light down upon her.
Yet now the scene before him began to blur and move in slow motion.
The sharp crack of a revolver startled him. He saw her lurch to one side, then scramble to right herself. She looked down at her chest, her brow wrinkled in confusion at the redness blossoming there. Then, slowly, in disbelief, she raised her head and met his gaze. She appeared bewildered, surprised for a moment. Then her eyes glazed over with the pain of recognition.
Hunter tried to go to her, but his legs remained planted where he stood. He wanted to tell her it was not him. It was not his shot. But he was left voiceless by the utter madness of the scene. She continued to stare at him as she put her hand to her chest, and he stared back in utter confusion when it seemed to disappear inside her. She sighed heavily then, and the pain in her quivering eyes turned to sadness, betrayal, disappointment. But even as she fell forward, she never removed her pitiful eyes from him. She held his gaze with a questioning stare, never blinking, yet seeming to accept the fate that had befallen her.
“Wait! Let me help!” Hunter thought he said the words out loud, but if he did, she did not listen. She slumped off the side of her horse to the crystal earth, almost at his feet. He heard the dull thump when her body hit the ground, stared in awestruck horror at the scarlet-spattered snow all around her. He looked to her face, now devoid of all color, then to the brilliant green eyes that stared blankly at the full moon overhead.
“Andrea! No!” He knelt by her side in frantic horror, blinking in disbelief as he watched the light flicker and go out of those once-expressive eyes, just like a match suddenly extinguished.
“Can you hear me?”
But she couldn’t. Couldn’t possibly. Not now that the green was gone. Gone! Melted away! Those beautiful windows to the soul were now two gaping, vacant orbs.
Hunter’s gaze took in the pure, white snow contrasted now against the shocking red flow of gore that seemed ever spreading. He looked toward heaven, hoping for some refuge there, but now even the sky—Lord have mercy—even the sky had turned to a crimson sea of horror, as if her lifeblood ebbed from her body to saturate the very heavens. Panicking, Hunter looked around for his men, but they had all vanished.
There was no movement. No sound anywhere. It seemed the world had stopped.
“Andrea.” He reached out to touch her, to somehow stop the vital current that continued to spurt like an endless fountain from her motionless form.
That’s when he noticed the gun, still smoking, in his hand.
Blog Tour Schedule:
Friday, Dec. 9: http://www.romconinc.com
Friday, Dec. 9, 8-10 p.m.: Chat on Romantic Historical Fiction Lovers
As part of my Holiday History Tour that continues the week of Dec. 12, I will be writing about different historic homes I’ve visited, on my Life in the Past Lane blog (www.jessicajamesblog.com).
On Dec. 16, I’ll be giving away goodies that will include a signed copy of Noble Cause, a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card, and the e-book “From the Heart: Love Letters and Stories from the Civil War.”
There are numerous ways to enter, and no limit to the times you can get your name entered.
- Leave a comment on any of the blogs on my Virtual Tour (including this one!)
- Follow my blog at www.jessicajamesblog.com and/or my main web page www.jessicajamesbooks.com.
- Leave a comment on my blog during the week of Dec. 12.
- LIKE my Facebook Fan Page at www.facebook.com/romantichistoricalfiction.
- Spread the word on Twitter by tweeting about the #contest using @jessicajames.