I wanted to save my posts for this Women’s History Month to highlight the lesser known contributions of women to the war effort. The soldiers, spies, and healers who defied traditional gender roles and took action to effect the course of the war instead of letting the war happen to them. At first glance, Sarah Morgan, a 19 year old young woman living in Baton Rouge with her family when the war started, may not exactly fit the bill. Though she never donned a uniform, or slipped secrets of the enemy’s whereabouts to her army’s commanders, Sarah Morgan’s candid writing made her one of the best known diarists of Civil War America and her words have helped countless generations understand the ravages of the war on the southern home front.
Sarah Morgan’s published diary, The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman, measures 615 pages and spans a time period from January 10, 1861 through June 15, 1865. A tome of that size might prove intimidating for an adult, so, author Debra West Smith decided to make it more accessible to a middle school audience. By editing the source volume and creating dialog from the material, Smith has crafted an engaging, and largely faithful recreation of Morgan’s diary.
The key to Sarah’s relevance is that she observed life from a young woman’s point of view, and much of it was emotional and visceral writing. That comes through in Smith’s adaptation and enhances the value of such a book to engender critical thinking and discussions with middle school students or family members.
One of Sarah’s earliest revelations is that the Union soldiers are not the monsters that prevailing sentiment claimed them to be. Sarah, feeling defiant with her friends, wears a homemade Confederate national flag pinned to her shirt when she goes to the State House. There she unexpectedly sees fifteen to twenty Union soldiers standing on a terrace, being watched like animals. Sarah says she is ashamed that she drew attention to herself, and claims she felt humiliated and conspicuous. At first, she lays the blame for her feelings on the idea that she has not been ladylike in her behavior. Just one paragraph later, she reveals the true issue…she hadn’t expected the Yankees to be such gentlemen--fine and noble looking “showing refinement and gentlemanly bearing.”
Sarah’s later interactions with the occupying Union force shows her earlier revelation about the Yankees drives her actions--taking food to the injured Union troops because she acknowledges that they have loved ones at home. She also hopes that someone would do the same for her brothers fighting with the Confederate forces.
Her revelation that she can be compassionate to men who wear another uniform and not compromise her loyalty to her brothers and her cause is described as doing the right thing, and is a lesson appropriate today.
There are some really good discussion opportunities for families and classes to discuss attitudes of slaveholders and how they perceive the motivations of their slaves as is evidenced in the passage in which Sarah watches the Linwood “servants” (Sarah uses “servants” much more frequently in her diary than she uses “slaves”) laughing in the sugar house while the master’s young guests play games and try their hands at stirring the boiling kettles of sugar. Smith’s Sarah says “It occurred to her that if Abe Lincoln could spend grinding season on the plantation he would recall his Proclamation. Never in her home, nor at Linwood, had she seen the cruelty abolitionists railed about, and the dark faces that joined her silly songs seemed far from miserable.”
In her diary, Sarah Morgan includes a lament of the same nature on November 9, 1862: “ And to think, Old Abe wants to deprive us of all that fun. No more cotton, sugar cane, or rice! No more old black aunties or uncles! No more rides in mule teams, no more songs in the cane field, no more steaming kettles, no more black faces and shining teeth around the furnace fires!
“If Lincoln could spend the grinding season on a plantation, he would recall his proclamation. As it is, he has only proved himself a fool, without injuring us. Why last evening I took old Wilson’s place at the baggasse shoot, and kept the rollers free from cane until I had thrown down enough to fill several carts, and had my hands as black as his. What cruelty to the slaves! And black Frank things me cruel too, when he meets me with a patronizing grin, and shows me the nicest vats of candy, and peels cane for me! Oh! Very cruel! And so does Jules, when he wipes the handle of his paddle on his apron, to give ‘Mamselle’ a chance to skim the kettles and learn how to work! Yes! And so do all the rest who meet us with a courtesy and ‘Howd’y young missus!”
This scene raises questions such as:
“I am going away to the Great House Farm! O, yea! O, yea! O!”
This they would sing, as a chorus, to words which to many would seem unmeaning jargon, but which, nevertheless, were full of meaning to themselves. I have sometimes thought that the mere hearing of those songs would do more to impress some minds with the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subject could do. I did not, when a slave, understand the deep meaning of those rude and apparently incoherent songs. I was myself within the circle; so that I neither saw nor heard as those without might see and hear. They told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; they were tones loud, long, and deep; they breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness. I have frequently found myself in tears while hearing them.”
Since the text of Sarah Morgan: The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman is available online, advanced readers can verify Smith’s version of events by checking it directly with the source material as they read along.
The only thing that keeps this from being a 5 star book is some confusing writing that results in Sarah’s mother magically appearing in the story several times without explanation. She was miles away and suddenly, there she is, back at the house in Baton Rouge or ministering to wounded soldiers in Sarah’s presence after she has tearfully taken her goodbyes and moved away. It is likely this is the result of the heavy editing required to trim 600 pages to 173 pages, and the excluded material probably helps with context, but more careful editing could have avoided these issues entirely.
Unlike many of the families in the area of Virginia the Boyds lived (which was so against secession that it broke from Virginia to create the Union-loyal state of West Virginia), the Boyds had deep southern roots and supported the cause of the Confederacy. Belle’s father volunteered for a Virginia infantry regiment which was commanded by Colonel Thomas Jackson before he had earned his famous nickname for standing like a stone wall. After a skirmish between Confederate and Union forces at the Battle of Falling Waters, just 8 1/2 miles north of the Boyds’ home, Union forces came through Martinsburg. One of the Federal soldiers entered the Boyd home and confronted Belle’s mother. Belle would not tolerate the disrespectful and harassing language and behavior. She shot the man. The Union officer sent to investigate determined that Belle had been in the right and she escaped punishment.
Belle was not considered beautiful, but because she was tall, vivacious, well-dressed and young, she was able to charm unsuspecting Union officers into revealing information which she would then pass to the Confederates through her neighbor or her slave. Eventually, she became an official operative for Generals PGT Beauregard and Stonewall Jackson.
In May 1862, after having been detained by Union forces, she was at her aunt’s home near Fort Royal. The home was now the headquarters of Union General James Shields, who was on a mission to whip Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. The General called a Council of War--a meeting with his subordinates to set a course of action--held in her aunt’s drawing room. On the second floor, directly above the drawing room was a closet. And in the floor of the closet was a hole.
Belle gathered her intelligence while in the cramped closet, then when the Council ended at 1 a.m., she set out for Confederate lines on horseback, her pockets holding cast off passes for Confederate heading south. The papers fooled the sentries, and she was able to get her information to Confederate cavalryman Colonel Turner Ashby.
On May 23rd, Jackson’s men approached Front Royal. Belle had more valuable information that she believed could ensure a victory for the Confederate forces. She knew the size and disposition of Union forces in the lower (northern) Shenandoah Valley. Though she approached several men who had professed Confederate sympathies to carry the information to Jackson, none agreed to do so. So she went herself.
Belle’s escape from the Union lines was harrowing, with Federal picket fire hitting the ground near enough to spray dirt in her eyes and other Union bullets tearing holes in her dress. When she was safely behind Confederate lines she was greeted by Jackson’s aide Henry Kyd Douglass who recognized her and took her notes to Jackson himself. Jackson was so grateful for her daring that he wrote her a note of thanks:
May 23d 1862
Miss Belle Boyd,
I thank you for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today.
Hastily I am your friend,
T.J. Jackson, O.S.A
Only two months later, Belle was captured and imprisoned at Old Capitol Prison on Washington, D.C. She spent a month there before being exchanged. She went back to her career in espionage and again, she was capture and imprisoned, this time for five months. After her release the second time, she was banished to the south, but instead of retiring, she simply decided on a change of base, and set sail for England. While enroute, her ship was stopped by the Union navy and again, she was arrested as a spy.
Belle went on to captivate one of her Union captors, Samuel Hardinge, who she hoped to convert to the Confederate cause. Whether his loyalty to his country was compromised or simply his heart, he did serve time for giving aide to Belle.
A few weeks ago, I told you about the ironic tale of young Tod Carter who had experienced quite a lot of army life--battle, capture, prisoner of war camp, and a daring escape from a train--only to be mortally wounded a few hundred feet from his family’s home near the center of the Union line at the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864.
Nancy Gentry has written a young adult historical novel about the last few days of Tod’s life--beginning her tale on November 29, 1864--and his family’s anticipation of his homecoming. This book is engaging and well written but its main premise, that the family was preparing for an expected homecoming, doesn’t seem to be born out by the facts. Brad Kinnison is a tour guide with the Battle of Franklin Trust, a not for profit preservation organization that now owns and operates several landmarks that played important roles in the Battle of Franklin including Tod’s family home, Carter House. According to Kinnison, the Carter family had no way to know where Tod was at the beginning of the battle. It wasn’t a secret that it was the Army of Tennessee, including Tod's regiment, approaching Franklin, but during his army experience, there had been times when Tod had been detailed for duties away from his unit. One of those times, Tod had escorted prisoners to Virginia. Though the Carter family may have hoped to see Tod, and worried over the possibility of him being engaged in the battle as they huddled in the basement, nothing was confirmed for them until a Confederate soldier found them as they emerged from the basement. He told them that Tod had been wounded and was nearby.
I understand why Gentry took this liberty. The Carter Family’s anticipation of the homecoming was fraught with a sense of impending doom. If there had been a soundtrack for this book, much of the first half would have been underscored by the ominous sounds of low brass and timpani rolls. The final culmination is both sad and inevitable.
The story uses a few fictional and composite characters to fill out life on the home front. Sarah Beth, Tod’s love interest (in the most PG way), brings a unique perspective to the narrative. She illustrates the often overlooked story of the women left behind after the men go off to war. She is the voice of lost hope for an entire generation of a society where many young men didn’t come back and those who did were damaged by the ravages of war.
Gentry uses Sam as a way to insert the slave’s viewpoint into the story. I don’t mind the character’s inclusion, however, whether intentionally or unintentionally, she chooses to ignore factual history in favor of a popular myth that continues to be perpetuated in today’s media (I’m looking at you, Underground).
In Gentry’s narrative, Tod’s father, Fountain Branch Carter, “had quietly given all his slaves a written pass to freedom.”
Unfortunately for slaves, manumission (granting a slave his or her freedom) was not as simple as giving them a piece of paper as Gentry describes here. According to the 1826 Statute of Laws of Tennessee, the process was much more involved and wouldn’t have been quiet in any regard. Chapter 22 of the Statute outlines that if a slave owner chooses to grant his slaves freedom, he must petition the court. The petitioner (the slave owner) must explain his motives for freeing his slaves and if two thirds of the justices of the county court deem it in the best interest of the state, the petition will be filed with the court. The petitioner was then required to enter into a bond with sufficient financial security to ensure the county would be able to seek recompense from the former slave owner if the newly freed slave caused damages.
Given the prevalence of this myth in popular media, I am inclined to believe that she simply didn’t consider that the accepted method of freeing slaves she describes was not factual.
While I would have enjoyed a look at the road Tod traveled to make it back to Spring Hill before the book commenced, the book still has enough action to entertain. The pivotal part of the story was told with grace and the dialog is natural and the situations and motivations are, by and large, believable. This is a good book to introduce not only the Battle of Franklin to a young reader, but also to explore timeless themes of honor, duty, family, hope and disappointment. Families can discuss the different reactions between James Cooper (a real person) and Tod Carter upon finding out battle was eminent. They can also discuss Fountain Branch Carter’s options of staying or leaving and what they themselves may have done. Families can explore reasons that freed slaves would stay with their former masters instead of heading North.
This is a very readable historical fiction work for young adults, but will get dinged 1 1/2 stars for the lack of historical accuracy and the continued perpetuation of myth.
He looks like a child, but by the time the war began, Theodrick “Tod” Carter was 20 years old and a lawyer with a promising future. When Tod’s older brother, Moscow, decided to raise a company of men from around Franklin, Tennessee to support the Confederate war effort, Tod joined what would become Company H of the 20th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry.
For more than two years, Tod’s service was largely unremarkable...except for his side gig as a war correspondent for the Chattanooga Daily Rebel under the pen name Mint Julep.
All of that changed on November 25, 1863 when Tod’s 20th Tennessee was defending Missionary Ridge outside of Chattanooga. Union General George Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland rushed the commanding Confederate positions high on the mountain ridge overlooking Chattanooga. Confederates abandoned their positions and fled east in a route. At least the lucky ones did. The unlucky ones were dead, wounded or captured. Tod was among the latter.
By this time in the war, both sides had largely given up the rather ineffective policy of paroling captured soldiers---sending them home on their own recognizance with their pledge not to take up arms against the enemy until they had been formally exchanged. Instead, large prisoner of war camps had been established, north and south. Tod Carter was heading for one of those camps, Johnson Island outside of Sandusky, Ohio.
Prisoner of war camps were bleak places at best, death traps at worst. But Tod survived Johnson Island and was in the process of being transferred to Point Lookout, another prisoner of war camp, located outside of Baltimore, Maryland, when he escaped from the train transporting him.
He was in the wilderness of Pennsylvania, alone and hunted, but Tod was determined to find his unit. He made his way on foot over 600 miles to Dalton, Georgia where he found the 20th Tennessee and rejoined his original unit in the Army of Tennessee.
Two months after the fall of Atlanta to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman on September 2, 1864, Sherman set off on his March to the Sea and the Confederate commander of the Army of Tennessee, General John Bell Hood decided to strike at Sherman’s supply line rather than follow him to Savannah. So Hood turned his back on Sherman, and started north to Nashville.
Among the soldiers marching north into the Middle Tennessee towns of Columbia and Spring Hill was Captain Tod Carter. He was close to home. Perhaps he had despaired of seeing his family ever again. But in his pocket was a furlough allowing him leave from the army to spend precious little time with his family.
Carter House tour guide Brad Kinnison explains that in Franklin, in a small, overcrowded brick house next to the main street leading into town from the south, the Carter family gathered, knowing that Tod’s old unit must be close by. They may have known that Tod wasn’t dead as they had first feared when his horse had returned to the regiment riderless after the Battle of Missionary Ridge, but how could they know that their intrepid son had escaped from a train, and traveled across country to join up with his old unit?
On November 30, 1864, Tod Carter was still with his unit when General Hood decided to launch an attack against entrenched Federal forces in Franklin. The large frontal assault was launched against the center of the Union line, which happened to stretch across the land owned by Tod’s father, Fountain Branch Carter.
Tod was part of what has been called the Pickett’s Charge of the West. Legend has it that as the 20th Tennessee approached the Union lines dug across the Carter family property, Tod shouted to his comrades, “I’m almost home! Come with me boys!”
Only 525 feet from the home in which he grew up, Tod Carter was hit by 9 bullets and lay in the family’s garden severely wounded.
After the battle, as the Union troops moved northward toward the safety of the Union garrison at Nashville, Confederate soldiers sought out Fountain Branch Carter to inform him that Tod had been engaged in the battle and had fallen on the family’s property.
Tod was brought home and laid in a bedroom just across the hall from the room in which he was born. After a journey of hundreds of miles that stretched to Ohio, Georgia and back to little Franklin, Tennessee, Tod Carter died in the comfort of his family’s bullet ridden home on December 2, 1864 at the age of 24.
Capt. Tod Carter’s Tragic Death, A Life Lost Too Soon
Captain Tod Carter
Check out the young adult historical fiction novel Tod Comes Home by Nancy Gentry.
Imagine you are 19 (again?). What is your plan for your life? Was your answer earning a statue and eternal fame?
Well, to be honest, if he was asked that same question on the morning of December 13, 1862, it is likely Sergeant Richard Rowland Kirkland wouldn’t have answered that way either. The 19 year old was in the 2nd South Carolina Infantry and positioned behind a stone wall that fronted a sunken road called the Telegraph Road near the top of Marye’s Heights. Below him, he would have seen an empty field gradually sloping from his position to the edge of the town of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and beyond it, the Rappahannock River. From across the river, lines of blue-clad troops tromped across pontoon bridges and up through the streets of the town.
As they reached the edge of the empty field, Union soldiers moved into line of battle and began their march toward the strong defenses anchored by the four foot stone wall in front of 9,000 Confederate troops, the 2nd South Carolina and Richard Kirkland among them. Kirkland would have seen 14 separate attacks come up the plain and falter hundreds of feet from their goal of the stone wall, the Union troops cut down in rows by the withering infantry and artillery fire. It turned out that Confederate artillerist E. Porter Alexander’s prediction had been true. “A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.”
Not a chicken, or very many men. The most successful of the repeated charges only came within 40 yards of the stone wall before breaking.
That night, thousands of Union soldiers lay on the slope, some dead, some dying, and many wounded. Those who were still alive were cold. Those who could still grip their weapons were taking shots at the Confederates who remained behind the wall and who were returning their fire in measure.
There was moaning, crying and prayers going up from the men on the field. Men begged for water, and peace.
The cries were not easy to ignore for young Sergeant Kirkland. They continued all night and into the next day. By the afternoon of December 14, Sergeant Kirkland had had enough. He approached his brigade commander, General Joseph B Kershaw to ask permission to give the suffering Union wounded water. Kershaw attempted to dissuade him by pointing out the possibility—rather, the likelihood—of getting shot for his efforts, but Kirkland persisted. He asked if he could take a white handkerchief with him on his errand but was denied. He chose to go anyway.
Kirkland stepped over the wall, and reached the nearest wounded soldier. “He knelt beside him, tenderly raised the drooping head, rested it gently upon his own noble breast, and poured the precious life-giving fluid down the fever scorched throat. This done, he laid him tenderly down, placed his knapsack under his head, straightened out his broken limb, spread his overcoat over him, replaced his empty canteen with a full one, and turned to another sufferer.” (Kershaw, Humane Hero of Fredericksburg, Letter to Charleston News and Courier, January 2, 1880).
Once soldiers understood his purpose, they ceased their fire. For an hour and a half, Kirkland ministered in this way to the fallen enemy before returning to his lines.
Kirkland survived the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg before being sent to north Georgia with the rest of Longstreet’s Corps in September 1863. He arrived on the battlefield at Chickamauga too late to participate in the first day’s action, but was heavily involved in the second day’s route of the Federal army from the field. He was shot on Snodgrass Hill and killed.
In 1965, the National Park Service installed a statue to Richard Kirkland along the stone wall and sunken road at the Fredericksburg battlefield near the site where he gave so much comfort to the wounded enemy. It is called The Angel of Marye’s Heights.
There has been recent scholarship that calls into question the accuracy of this story. Did it happen the way General Kershaw told it? Did it happen at all?
There is no mention of the act in the after action reports. None of his fellow soldiers mention seeing it. There does not appear to have been the hour and a half cease fire during which Kirkland carried out his mission. Does this mean it didn’t happen?
The story came to the attention of the general public when, in 1880, General Kershaw, Kirkland’s brigade commander, recorded Kirkland’s daring acts in a letter written to, and published in, the Charleston News and Courier.
Kershaw’s letter was written during Reconstruction, a time when the country was being put back together piece by piece. It is possible that his intention in writing his letter was to demonstrate a friendship and mercy between the two sides that illustrated the hope of the mending country. The erection of the statue by the National Park Service in 1965 may also be symbolic of a desired peace between enemy combatants that was missing during the height of the cold war.
Read Richard Kirkland, The Humane Hero of Fredericksburg and Is the Richard Kirkland Story True?
1. Do you think the story of Richard Kirkland is true as Kershaw presents it? Is Kershaw’s tale an embellishment? A fabrication? Why?
2. What lesson can be learned from the story of Richard Kirkland? Does that lesson change if the story is exaggerated or fabricated?
3. Have you ever been in a situation, or known of someone in a situation, where they risked personal safety to provide comfort to someone? Under what circumstances, if any, could you imagine yourself doing so?
Toni is a wife, mom and history buff who loves bringing the Civil War to life for family members of all ages.