Friday, March 30, 2007

Women In the Ranks - Part V

Why Did They Do It?

In this final installment of my series on women Civil War soldiers, now that I've explained how women managed to join and fight in an army that didn't admit female soldiers, the next question is, why did they do it?

Why would women want to pretend to be men and fight in a war?

One of the reasons was pure and simple patriotism. Louisiana's Sarah Morgan wrote: "Oh! If I only were a man, then I could don the breeches, and slay them with a will! If some few Southern women were in the ranks, they could set the men an example they would not blush to follow." All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies, p. 200.

Other reasons for joining the military were to stay with a husband, sweetheart or brother. Many of these women were recognized by friends or family visiting the camp. Mary Burns "... followed her love into the 7th Michigan Cavalry under the alias 'John Burns', and succeeded in maintaining her disguise for two weeks." All the Daring ... p. 208

"Florina Budwin and her husband enlisted together, served side by side in battle, were captured at the same time by Confederates, and both sent to the infamous Andersonsville prison."

Her husband died there, but she survived and was sent to another prison, where a Southern doctor discovered she was female. Despite receiving better treatment, she also died after being "stricken by an unspecified epidemic."

These women went to war by choice, even though they knew the risks involved. Although patriotism and the wish to be by the side of loved ones were reasons, others were the chance for travel, adventure and money. Bounties and regular paychecks were incentives for poor women who needed to help support large families.

In 1865, Sarah Edmonds wrote: "I could only thank God that I was free and could go forward and work, and I was not obliged to stay at home and weep."

Since women soldiers in our own time are barred from combat units, these Civil War women soldiers were definitely ahead of their time. And since most of them served undetected, the examples listed here are just a small sampling of the women who fought in the Civil War armies.

Hope all of you enjoyed this look at an event often ignored in historical records.

Sources: All the Daring of the Soldiers: Women of the Civil War Armies by Elizabeth D. Leonard, pp. 199-225

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I have a convert!

OK, she's a friend, and would read anything I wrote, but that isn't the point. She's actively interested in Victoria & Albert. The A&E movie, but it's something. And I'll take it.

It started with Pride & Prejudice. She needed to read it for a college class, but couldn't get through it. Not because she didn't like it but because she always read late at night after work and all and would fall asleep. A&E's wonderful movie came in (ok and me) and she got an A on the paper. Then she watched Wuthering Heights. The TNT one, not the Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon one, though I personally love that one.

She adored it. Emma, Sense & Sensibility, Jane Eyre she's on a roll! Then she says to me last week, do you know anything about Victoria and Albert?

Ha, I say, do I know anything about them…

It should arrive in a week or 2, but I’m sure she’ll love it. How can she not? And if she doesn’t, there’s always The Scarlet Pimpernel. And Horatio Hornblower, The Great Gatsby, or possibly Ivanhoe.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Strolling to Church in the Victorian Era

Thanks to my fellow-blogger, Dee, the topic of transportation modes during the Victorian era has been discussed within one of our writing clubs. The topic brought to mind the traditions around walking, particularly for the gentility. The mode of walking to a destination was still very much part of a Victorian’s lifestyle. The natural locomotion was still a mode of 'transportation.'

Transportation evolved quickly and even dramatically during the Victorian era. Still, walking, for many a Victorian, followed traditions and rules about how and where to walk.

A quaint tradition that lasted well past the implementation of public transportation was a tradition of walking to church. Among the elite, who had every luxury at their fingertips, the contemplative mode of strolling to church, or synagogue, helped to prepare them for the messages of the religious service. Such public self-effacement was a popular posture within Society’s line of sight.

The Princess Royal of Great Britain, Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise, “Vicky,” was known for walking to church as was customary with many of her ilk. However, she set tongues to wagging by walking with her husband, the Prince Frederick William of Prussia, “Fritz.” Not only was their side-by-side strolling unusual, it also caused shockwaves among Society due to their natural affection for one another. Their adoration wasn’t an affectation. Vicky had met Fritz when she was a child, and they’d corresponded during his years of military service. By the time they married, they were close friends who enjoyed each other’s company. In today’s world, this type of friendship in a marriage would be an expectation. But, not during the Victorian era which held other expectations of higher import. Again, not scandalous, but the royal couple's affection was cause for comment. Other couples were not seen in public together walking to church as a general rule. Nor were they even seen arriving at the same time in carriages, for example, for the most part.
[Crowned in a Far Country: Portrains of Eight Royal Brides, by HRH Princess Michael of Kent]

The tradition of walking was not limited to the Christian sects. The Rothschilds, who rose to power in England during the Victorian era, were also known to walk to synagogue along with the rest of their social circle. Although Lionel and Charlotte Rothschild were not known to frequent synagogue (some accounts say they didn't attend), they nevertheless put on a good front for Society. Their published journals explain that walking to synagogue was expected in the society they entered, partly for religious reasons.
[Charlotte and Lionel: A Rothschild Love Story, by Stanley Weintraub]

Not everyone adhered to traditions of walking to church services, by some indications. Populations were moving about, and new traditions were being formed. In some parts of the Western world, it was considered socially acceptable for a proper lady to walk or arrive at church in the company of a male, and possibly even for the sake of romance.

For the historical author, allowing a fictional character to carry on a walking tradition can provide a welcome contrast to the hullabaloo caused by the newly available modes of modern transportation. At the same time, it can possibly set the scene for a scandalous or shocking romantic interlude.


Monday, March 26, 2007


It’s time consuming, distracting, and annoying. It’s also very fascinating, and, thanks to the internet, oh-so handy. Thank God, because I can’t imagine doing this kind of nitpicking research any other way.

My WIP takes place in England during August, 1882. It’s AU in that there is a very prevalent if illegal community of magic-practitioners. Everything else is the 1882 of our history.

Like telephones. There’s a scene where my heroine must call London from Yorkshire. Panic – when did the telephone come into common use? After 1882? Before? That year? Would they have been in the country, as opposed to cities?

The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) and first exhibited at American Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in June 1876. Telephones did not appear in England until the following year, when W H Preece, electrician to the Post Office, brought two telephones back from a visit to America and, although he himself remained sceptical as to their usefulness, demonstrated them to the British Association.

OK, phew. Good. And all for one 8-worded sentence. Check!

Railroads… Forgetting the earlier versions, even the 18th century ones, I’m talking about the ones we’re familiar with now. The ones powered by coal or wood. The ones I KNOW were in use by 1882, but not entirely sure where. Did they go to Leeds? Was that a main station, or merely a by-pass? Yup, they were.

But then there was the whole ‘newer’ invention of electric trolleys. Ack!

OK, OK, forget that…a vague mention of trains will do just fine. Check!

But that brings me to the electricity portion of my story. The turnover from gas lamps to electric bulbs.

My WIP takes place at a country manor, not a London townhouse. Would they have bulbs there, or still use gas lamps? And why did I have to set my story in the country? What’s wrong with London?

Yes. Bulbs for the rich and titled were in use. Check!

I won’t even go into the pain-in-the-*ss research that went into Victorian Mourning/Funeral Rites. And I don’t just mean a person’s mourning – I mean the house’s mourning. It’s unbelievable. Still, I Check! it off my list.
The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England from 1811-1901 by Kristine Hughes

Sigh…ok, so far not so bad. I’ve managed not to get lost in the research, had found what I needed, wrote it down and saved the sites do I could find them again should I need them, and haven’t gone insane.

And I still have 5 chapters to go.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Full Metal Corset

Susan has done a wonderful series on women fighting in the Civil War. The History Channel has a 1-hour show on them, too. This is from their site:

In April 1861, the newly inaugurated President Lincoln calls for 75,000 men to fight for the Federal cause. What he does not anticipate is the shared desire by hundreds of women to fight for their country. Forbidden by laws of society, these determined women become the "Secret Soldiers of the Civil War." Travel back in time and hear the story of two of the Civil War's most interesting female soldiers--Sarah Emma Edmonds and Loreta Janeta Velazquez. Hear their tales of passion, recounting the sacrifice of identity, fear of discovery, and constant need for duplicity...even under fire.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Taking A Break From Contests

In the past I've entered numerous contests for my Civil War time travel romance, Erin's Rebel. First it was for the feedback, then to get an editor or agent's attention.

And while I've won a few contests, I usually get one judge who just loves it and two or more who like it, but think it's just so-so, or outright hate it.

Before getting the request for a full from Medallion Press, I had entered three more contests as part of my New Year's Goals that I hadn't gotten the results of.

I just got one back and, as I said, one judge loved it, the other thought it was just so-so. And some of the comments I got were baffling. One said I had relied too much on spell and grammar check. Huh?

It's time to take a break from contests. For one thing, I'm now a member of an excellent critique group. They give me all the feedback I need. And I've gotten the attention of the editors at Medallion Press with my partial.

So, I'll save my time and energy for writing my next book.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Vincent Van Gogh—Victorian Stalker?

So my current WIP has a stalker in it. I love to take matters from modern life, especially criminal matters, and bring them back to the Victorian period, so I can discover how Victorians would react. Actually, for me that’s often a major reason for writing at all—the discovery.

But before I discover I do need to do a little research and so there I was thinking, okay, I’ve got this stalker, but how does he stalk my heroine (I don’t call him a stalker by the way—that’s a modern term. He’s her secret admirer—gone horribly wrong!)? They don’t have email or cell phones or answering machines or even portable cameras. My characters might, conceivably have a phone as I’m writing in 1885 and the family is very wealthy. But still, that’s not a whole lot. And suddenly, I’ve got it! Vincent Van Gogh! He was so enamored by some woman that he cut off his ear and mailed it to her, right? He must have had some other stalking behavior beforehand. All I need to do is research Vincent, right?


Man—the best laid plans of writers almost always go awry, at least once. I always thought Van Gogh cut off his ear and mailed it to a woman. But I was wrong. Apparently he cut part of his ear off after an argument with Gauguin and gave it to a prostitute.

He seems like he might have been a little bit of a stalker—when rejected by one woman, he went to her house and put his hand over the open flame of an oil lamp. He swore to her father that he would keep his hand there until he got to see the woman. Her father simply put out the lamp. Thus ended Van Gogh’s stalking.

So there, that was also the end of my first attempt to find a Victorian stalker. But I thought I’d post about it anyway, because I know there are quite a few people who have my misconception about Van Gogh’s ear.

For more reading on Vincent Van Gogh—not a Victorian Stalker:

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Montreal’s Victoria Bridge

On this St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to tell you a little bit about Montreal’s Victoria Bridge.

Sometimes called Montreal’s Eighth Wonder of the World, the Victoria Bridge was the first bridge to span the mighty St. Lawrence River. It opened in 1859 and was initially named for Queen Victoria. After renovations in 1897, it was rededicated as the Victoria Jubilee Bridge. It’s approximately three miles long and includes 24 ice-breaking piers.

Prior to the bridge’s construction, it was difficult and at times impossible to cross the St. Lawrence River during the long winter season as freeze up and thawing in the fall and spring made for treacherous conditions. Summer river crossings took place by boat and in winter by sleigh.The bridge is still used today, carrying both road and rail traffic.

It is also a memorial to the hundreds of Irish immigrants who lost their lives in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

The memorial can still be seen today in the Black Rock, also known as the Irish Stone, which stands at the approach of the Victoria Bridge. During the construction of that bridge, workmen discovered human remains of Irish immigrants to Canada. They decided to erect a large black stone that bears this inscription:

To preserve from desecration the remains of 6000 immigrants who died of ship fever A.D. 1847-8, this stone is erected by the workmen of Messrs. Peto, Brassey and Betts employed in the construction of the Victoria Bridge A.D. 1859

A stirring memorial to a brave and valiant people.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Women In the Ranks - Part IV

How Did They Do It?

Women soldiers were more prevalent in the Civil War armies than anyone thought. The main reason being, they were dismissed by historians chronicling the era, because they were thought to be a rarity.

But the fact is, many more than thought sneaked into the ranks and this fact was only discovered years later by researchers reading diaries, letters, and journals of the period, as well as obituaries.

At the time of the Civil War, women were not allowed to serve as soldiers. Newspapers writers of the late nineteenth century grasped this point. "The actions of Civil War soldier-women flew in the face of mid-nineteenth century society's characterization of women as frail, subordinate, passive, and not interested in the public realm.

But, how did all those women in disguise get into the armies in the first place?

Part of it had to do with the physical exam given to new recruits. The modesty of the Victorian era helped, as well as the many men swarming to join all at once. "In most cases, the physical examination was so hastily administered that most women had no problem passing and went on to fulfill their enlistment."

Most didn't have to disrobe when undergoing the physical. Women who encountered a doctor who required this, would just decline to be examined and find another recruiter who they could slip by.

The estimated number of disguised women serving in the armies, was between 500 and 1000.

In most cases the medical exam consisted of "... holding out his hands to demonstrate that he had a working trigger finger, or perhaps opening his mouth to show that his teeth were strong enough to rip open a minie ball cartridge." All the Daring of the Soldier: Women In the Civil War Armies, p. 202

"... women soldiers picked male names. Army recruiters, both Northern and Southern, did not ask proof of identity. Soldier-women bound their breasts when necessary, padded the waists of their trousers, and cut their hair short. Loreta Velazquez wore a false mustache, developed a masculine gait, learned to smoke cigars, and padded her uniform coat to make herself look more muscular."

Also Civil War armies didn't have anything resembling modern day bootcamp. The emphasis was on drill. "Many privates had never fired a gun before entering the army. The women soldiers learned to be warriors just like the men."

That there were so many young men and even boys serving in the army, also helped women to avoid detection. Also the dress of the nineteenth century dictated that "... if it wore pants, it was male." All the Daring ... p. 205

As for taking care of personal needs, all a woman soldier had to do was claim modesty. She could take care of her needs in the woods away from prying eyes and no one would think anything of it. As for menstruation, a lot of researchers surmise that with all the hard physical activity of army life, most women would have stopped menstruating. If not, they could always hide the evidence after a battle among all the bloody bandages and clothing.

It seems the fact that no one expected women to be in the ranks, was what helped them to maintain their disguises for so long.

Sources: All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies by Elizabeth D. Leonard, pp. 199-225

In Part V, I'll talk about why they did it.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I Survived My First Signing!

It’s late Sunday night and I’m still too excited to sleep, so I decided to post a blog tonight.

I survived my first book signing! I was signing my first book, In Sunshine or In Shadow, at my local library today, an event that brought with it a lot of anticipation and a truckload of trepidation.

It was a lovely spring day, which I think might have brought me a little bit of luck. It was also the last day of school spring break, and lots of people were coming back from vacation and needed to return their books. Another good sign.

The library had set up a table for me, with a poster advertising the signing, as well as postcards featuring my gorgeous cover design. I got there a few minutes early to set up, and I put out my stacks of books, my pens, my list of things to write in the book (I always found just signing my name and “Best wishes” was too impersonal). I put out my basket of candy and my bookmarks. And I had my best friend there to do a little introduction.

Scarcely had I finished setting up than people began to arrive asking for books. I even had three reporters from the local media asking for interviews! Three! I guess I was the celebrity of the month! I was also informed that In Sunshine or In Shadow was this month’s choice for the local book club.

My friend gave a touching little introduction, and then I was on. I had chosen to read the first chapter because that’s really where the book starts (the prologue takes place a few months earlier). My knees were literally shaking, but I took advice from an actor friend and took a few deep breaths, then imagined I was reading for just one person. And not only did I get through it, but people came up to me afterward and told me they really enjoyed it, and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next!

I ordered 25 books from my publisher. I sold every one.

All in all, it was a very good day!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Got That Request!

Okay, I finally got what all writers want. A request from a publisher to read the full of my manuscript.

My first reaction was to jump up and down. I finally found an editor who likes my story! My second reaction was panic. I hadn't finished my edits because I hadn't expected to hear back from the publisher so soon. So, now what do I do?

Luckily, I was able to jump on-line and consult with other writers who've been there. The first advice I got was to take a deep breath.

Then I was told to figure out how long it would comfortably take me to finish, pick a date when I figured I could get the full to them, then email the editor with the date of delivery.

This was very good advice, because now, I'm starting to obsess about every word in the manuscript. Having a solid deadline will make it easier to send my baby out, since the object is to get it out, so it can have a chance of being accepted and published.

It's so hard to let go, but I will do it. I have a deadline that I plan to keep.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

It’s the (slightly-late) 1 year anniversary of our first post, though I think we all came together about a week or so before to discuss actually doing this and whatnot.
It’s been a busy year for me, so much going on: stress, writing, not writing, you name it. I’m sure we’ve all been through similarities. Eh, it’s life.

The bad news first:
Sleep? A thing of the past.
Any movie I might’ve been interested in? Who’s got the time?
Books? I mean the reading-for-pleasure kind. Audio. It’s the only way to go.
Dinner with friends? Um…I’m a bad friend. Hey, I email….
Family? OK, yes, they’ve got my time.

Now for the good news:
I’m (we’re) nearly finished our Victorian paranormal
Our website is as finished as a perpetual WIP can get
Our blog…huh. It’s updated. Sporadically, but it’s updated.

I spend more time in the writing world, critiquing, meetings, blogs, email, etc., etc., etc than I do with anything else. It’s not bad, especially since I really want to get published. The family understands. In that distant intellectual ‘Sure, okay, you go for it’ way. But understanding is understanding. I’ll take that and all the support they can heap on me.

I do miss the sleep, though…

Friday, March 02, 2007

Women In the Ranks - Part III

Sarah Wakeman

Sarah Rosetta Wakeman was born in 1843 in Afton, New York. She was the oldest child of Harvey and Emily Wakeman. Like Sarah Edmonds, she was raised on a farm.

Sarah did receive some formal education and at the age of 17, she worked as a domestic servant close to her home.

By the age of 19, she decided that wearing men's garb and seeking employment as a man would better help her large family, since she didn't believe marriage to be in her immediate future.

In a letter to her family, she wrote: "I know that I Could help you more to leave home than to stay there with you, So I left." All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies, p. 191

A family conflict may have been the cause of her leaving home, because she wrote that she hoped they would put their problems behind them. She wrote her mother: "I want you should forgive me of everything that I have done, and I will forgive you all the same ..." All the Daring ... p. 191.

In August of 1862, Sarah accepted a job as a boatman in New York Chenango Canal disguised as a man. While employed there, she was approached by soldiers who urged her to enlist. She did, earning $152 in bounty money in Company H of the 153rd New York State Volunteers under the name Lyons Wakeman. All the Daring ... p. 152

Like Jennie Hodgers, Sarah was small, only five feet tall. But she adjusted well to army life. She served for two years with the troops defending Washington, D.C. She also was involved in the 1864 Louisiana Red River Campaign.

In a letter she wrote home, she said: " ... but I sleep as warm in the tents as I would in a good bed. I don't know the difference when I get asleep. We have boards laid down for a floor and our dishes is tin. We all have a tin plate and a tin cup, and a knife and Fork, one spoon. We have to use the floor for a table. I like to be a soldier very well." All the Daring ... p. 193

Her letters home that her family carefully preserved, showed her to be happy in the life of a male soldier. She wasn't afraid to be sent out in battle and didn't fear death. In one of her letters, she wrote that she was proud to have bested another soldier in a fight, despite being half a foot shorter than the man.

Unlike Sarah Edmonds and Jennie Hodgers, who survived the war and continued to live as men, Sarah Wakeman died while still in the army. She wasn't killed in battle, but succumbed to chronic diarrhea. Despite being hospitalized, her sex was never discovered by the army.

She died on June 19, 1864 and was buried as "Lyons Wakeman" in Chalmette National Cemetery in New Orleans.

Sources: All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies by Elizabeth D. Leonard

An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864, edited by Lauren Cook Burgess with a Foreward by James M. McPherson

In my next blog in this series, I'll talk about how these and other women soldiers managed to hide their identities.