Sunday, July 31, 2011

strange but true

I watched Disc 1 of Ken Burns' Civil War last night, and--to my surprise--there was no mention of Colonel Ellsworth!! How could this oversight have occurred?? Not only that, but in the middle of one of the photo montages of soldiers in the Union Army--the regular Union Army--is a photo of Corporal Brownell, in Zouave uniform with a mourning band tied around his arm. Has anyone else noticed this? I guess maybe I am obsessed . . .

I think it is too late to mention this to Mr. Burns--

Saturday, July 30, 2011

just about there

I am almost ready to write about EE's death. I just discussed the convo he had with Captain Wildey about choosing "the suit in which he is to die." It is difficult to do the next part--it will probably be too long and sound like a term paper in the first draft--all Battles & Leaders. The particulars are not that important to the story, but there should be enough detail to adequately convey the "militaryness" of the mission to Alexandria. Of course, I am tempted to veer off into a discourse about Andrew Carnagie and the Long Bridge or something else, just to avoid the fact that my guy dies!!

In the writing class I taught, we talked about having characters die-random deaths, expendable characters, can you kill the hero?, etc. We looked at the King Arthur legends--pretty soon, everyone is dead, even if they are planning on a return in the distant future. The students seemed a tad upset--we talked about Old Yeller--the classic for having a character die to kids--and the Harry Potter books/films. It was a good discussion. When I told them about EE having to die, however, they were upset. I explained that it was not fiction, even if some parts have to be reconstructed and guessed at based on sources. Still, they concluded that it was up to me if he died or not. They suggested I just stop the book before it gets to his death! Well, that just won't work. He has to die--not once, but in every rewrite!! I'm starting to feel like Carrie!

I got Ken Burns' Civil War movie--Vol. 1--from NetFlix. I am going to watch that tonight and see if he covers EE at all. Anybody know where I can get a good deal on t-shirts?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

b'hoys in DC, fire at Willard's

These are speaking trumpets. The fire departments used them mid-century to give orders that could be heard above the noise and din of fighting a fire. Ellsworth used one to direct his men when they fought the fire which threatened Willard's, the hotel in Washington where politicians met and lived and made deals. I thought they were pretty cool.

The next chapter is one I don't want to write. Maybe a rough draft won't be so bad. Probably that last polish will be difficult. If it isn't then I haven't done my job. It was a terrible death in many ways, but it was fast for EE, and it galvanized an already patriotic North to support Lincoln's efforts to maintain the Union. I just want to do justice to Ellsworth, and in some way do justice to all those who have worn the uniform. It is not popular today to think of a wartime death as honorable, because somehow war is no longer honorable.

As the daughter of a Naval Officer, the step daughter of an Army volunteer, the former wife of an Army sergeant and the stepparent of a young man who is serving in Afghanistan, I shall respectfully disagree.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

not too much to report

I thought I may get the chapter finished tonight, but I am very sleepy. It is difficult to concentrate and refer to resources when your brain just wants to go to bed and sleep. Here is a picture of the NY Zouaves leaving NYC on their way to Annapolis, then on to Washington. More tomorrow?? I hope?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

sworn in

I've gotten the b'hoys sworn in by General McDowell. Tomorrow they fight the fire at Willard's and move to Camp Ellsworth. Except for preferring to stay home and write, camp is going well. The kids are nice, and I can actually let them just write! I don't have to entertain them! My EE t-shirt came today. I think I will wear it Friday, maybe bring in the manuscript so far. I think it will impress the students. Some of them are still printing with a pencil--Geez! The older group is bringing in laptops--that is promising. If I were the ruler of the universe, writing would be taught much differently, that's for sure. Don't ask for the particulars--it would just be different!

Monday, July 25, 2011


Well, I got the 11th NY Zouaves out of New York harbor tonight. Hopefully they will be in the Capital by tomorrow.

I taught writing today. We made maps. I told them about the maps I had to find in order to write about AL in Chapter 1. I also showed the kids maps of everything from Hogwarts to Middle earth--I think most of them got the idea. tomorrow we outline possible stories.

I think I'd rather be home writing. Here is a picture of some of New York's firefighters who signed up in 1861--regular B'hoys!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

in NY

I am working on the Chapter for the B'hoys--again, lots of great first person stuff, thanks to 11th NY Fire Zouave reenactors & their efforts. EE has recovered from the measles and is recruiting in New York. I am hoping that by the time I get the B'hoys to DC, there are enough words left to cover the fire at Willard's--or next to it. I haven't paid much attention to the word count, actually. I am thinking it will take care of itself. I want the chapter where EE dies to be ONLY about that, so I don't think much else matters. I just keep writing.

I reread that paragraph, and feel I should explain that I have only one thing in common with Michele Bachman--we both get migraines. Well, OK--we both be female. That makes 2 things. So--I have a migraine. I took my meds, but still, thinking is muzzy. No more writing for me tonight.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

back at it

Writing today--going well so far. Lots of primary source material for this part of EE's life. Sometimes the guy actually caught a break! The picture above is when he was 17. Put your hand or some paper over all but his face, and you'll see just how young he actually is. I don't think many kids could do what he did--I'd hate to think of what would happen if they tried! Poor Mr. & Mrs. E, pulled into family court--"What do you mean, you didn't know he was too young to work selling newspapers on a railroad line?" "You LET him move out when he was fifteen? A likely story!!" Then EE is put in foster care--the horror, the horror!

Friday, July 22, 2011

my bad

OK--I fell off the writing wagon today. I have, however, been to the shrink, gotten my hair dyed purple (again, yeah, I know . . .), had a mani-pedi experience that was close to overwhelming, anf got home by 3:00 in time to see the Obama-Boehner fight. I am so sick of those guys--and I am such a wonk that I will be back at it tomorrow. Politics! Can't live with it, can't live--you know the rest.

I outlined the next chapter, informally. It is from the time Lincoln & Ellsworth get to DC to the time he either leaves for New York or returns from New York, word count will determine. The chapter after this one is where EE dies. I sort of don't want anything else in that chapter--it would be short, but intense. We shall see. Last time I thought I was doing a short chapter, it was over 7,000 words. Up early tomorrow, and to the computer. It is only 8:30-ish, but I feel exhausted, for some reason. Here are a couple of pix of the U.S. Zouave Cadets--in all their Rock Star glory!! Good night.

PS--I will get better with the pictures--:-/

Thursday, July 21, 2011

pressing forward

Even though the Union is losing at Manassas, I am writing. I just finished a very difficult chapter--the one about the tour of the U.S. Zouave Cadets during the summer of 1860. It will either be one of the best chapters or one of the worst. It is so filled with information, but much of the actions are repetitive. Never mind! The rough draft is done, and I can work on it this fall. It was a hard one, though . . .

Next? I need to go to Staples and buy more ink for the printer, and pick up some supplies for the class I am teaching next week at San Jose State. It is only a week long, and it is for Middle School age kids. It is a writing class, and my topic is Speculative Fiction. Maybe I should tackle the chapter about mourning practices in the late 1800s and wait a week before more EE. I will tell you right now, I am NOT looking forward to the chapter where EE dies. That will be very emotional to write. I would not have thought it before, but I know now that this kind of writing is consuming, and even when you know what is coming up next, sometimes it is a surprise anyway.

No more today--rest well!

‘Turn back! Turn back. We are whipped’”

Even 150 years later, it is painful--

WE WON!!! not . . .

It is heartbreaking to read the tweets claiming a Union victory at Bull Run, knowing that the hope will be short-lived--

Tweeting the Civil War

If you are not following this exciting use of technology, shame on you! Google up/Tweet up the Washington Post and start following. Right now--as I write!--the Battle of First Bull Run/Manassas is being tweeted in "real time." It brings chills, I tell you--CHILLS!! Plus it is fun. I was at the 125th Reenactment back in the day--it was one of the thrills of my life.

The weather is terrible back East just now, and I am hoping there are plenty of Sanitary Commission aid stations to help the reenactors. No more Civil War casualties, please. I will dig around and find some links that might be enjoyable. The New York Fire Zoauves--what was once Ellsworth's brigade--will be fighting, so "Go B'hoys! Remember Ellsworth!"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I had a headache all day yesterday, got stuck getting dates from 3 sources to line up, and ended up sleeping until 10:30 this morning. This can't be good!! I am going to have a cup of coffee and wade into the fray once again. After all, we are still in Massachusetts on the Grand Tour, and I know there is not enough analysis of mob mentality and what Adam Goodheart alludes to in 1861--the Beatles effect. If you have any interest in the Civil War at all, 1861 is a marvelous book.
I have no idea if there are more--1862, 1863, etc.--probably not. It is such a new, fresh, refreshing look--not in the "Battles and Leaders" mode at all. He is my newest god.

Now: m-a-k-e- c-o-f-f-e-e!!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

moving right along--or not!

Here is Mary CATherine, a true EE fan, as you can see. She frequently sleeps on my reference material, making it difficult to write. A couple of things have teeth marks where she decided to gnaw them. She is a good friend, though. She stays near and is encouraging.

I had not planned to do as much on the 20 City Tour as I am ending up with. It is sort of repetitive, but important because it made EE such a well-known person in his own right before he worked with/for Lincoln. Also, the whole militia movement--pre-Ruby Ridge, of course--is important for setting up the information about gathering troops to fill out the ranks in the Union Army. Lincoln asked for 70,000, and the regular Army had only 16,000. It was losing soldiers rapidly as many resigned and "went South." I think it is very necessary to try to explain the mindset of the country (or at least the Northeast) at this time, as it helps make sense of what happens later. So, it is an added chapter, but maybe a shorter one. It is going along nicely so far, with a lot of great old newspaper articles to read. Summer is too short!

Monday, July 18, 2011


Nine chapters down, six (or so) to go!! I set the goal of roughing in all of the book during the summer. I have the time, and it is good to have something to do other than garden and take math classes. If I could get most of the rough draft done before school starts, then, when I had less time and had to put energy into my teaching, I could rewrite things, add as more research is done, etc. When I finished "Interregnum" this morning, it was the first time I felt like I might actually get most of it done. It is now definitely over half, for sure! I made phone calls, then took a looooong nap!

I got a great email today from the woman whose own blog helped give me inspiration to write this one. She bought a "Jack the Doll" zouave doll at the Lincoln Library and included a picture of it in her blog. That is his picture--all he needs is a mustache. I will write more about her tomorrow--I want to get her permission to do so--but she was enthusiastic about everything. And . . . I learned how to put pictures into the blog--so that is good!

I have a long evening/night of writing ahead. I am going to go back and add much more about the Zouave Cadet Tour. "Interregnum" was more about Lincoln--"Rock Star Summer" will look at the phenomena that Ellsworth's tour created. "Rock Star Summer!"

more pictures and maps!

Every time I read a history book, from those written for pre-readers to those written by the great historians of our times, I always want more pictures. More pictures and more maps. I want to see how people and places looked, how artists drew things before photography. I want to see what the land looked like then, and how it looks now. I went to Plimouth Plantation one time, and the museum there had a great installation. The time of year was winter--Thanksgiving had just passed--and the exhibition was about how the image of the "First Thanksgiving" had morphed through time. An artist had rendered what it probably looked like at Plimouth, accompanied by reconstructions of the foods served, and surrounded by artifacts of the time. Then the change was chronicled--from very romanticized Victorian depictions, with handsome Indians and lovely Pilgrim maidens to covers for The Saturday Evening Post by Norman Rockwell. There were photos of historical interpreters, photos from typical "American Thanksgivings," just everything you could imagine. It made such an impression on me. I realized how very visual I am, and how powerful images are in creating opinions and memories. Just think how great it would have been to have YouTube clips of Jefferson at the Revolutionary Congress, arguing with John Adams.

I hope I will have the opportunity to have plenty of illustrations in this book--I even want to include a CD of music of the time, especially those pieces composed for Ellsworth or the U.S. Zouave Cadets. Well---I can dream-------

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Civil War--#4

The Lincolns--ALL of them--are safely in Washington, D.C. Tomorrow, I will try to get up to the Inauguration. Then I will be going backward, to the U.S. Zouave Cadet Tour, I think. Plums, Nuts, Elmer Ellsworth, and I are going to bed.

Elmer Ellsworth #3

Well, it is certain now--I am lost in this book. I woke up convinced it was Monday. I made my list of things I needed to do, made coffee, and turned on the TV. Meet The Press was on--"imagine my surprise!" So by tonight, NASCAR notwithstanding, Lincoln will arruve in Washington, D.C.

I don't know if anyone is reading this, but if you are, and you are of a more Confederate persuasion, I'd like someone to look at the chapter on James Jackson. I really want it to be fair and unbiased. This is hard for me--I think it is OK now, but there might be lingering bias. He wasn't world's nicest fellow, but I have tried to present him fairly, as well as present the legal argument that what Ellsworth did--entering the Marshall House without permission, taking the flag before Jackson had a chance to "comply" with the request to remove it (I am pretty sure he would have laughed in Ellsworth's face)--technically, Ellsworth broke a lot of search-and-seizure laws. I hope I have made this clear--if you'd like to help with the Jackson chapter, leave a post.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Elmer Ellsworth #2

Writing is not easy. The work of researching is only part of it--then I have to tell the story. I am writing about Lincoln's Inaugural Trip from Springfield to Washington, D.C. Elmer Ellsworth was in charge of crowd control, and everything was fine until Philadelphia. That is where detective Allan Pinkerton told Lincoln about an assassination attempt planned for Baltimore. I will write that part tomorrow. It is complicated, and there is a ton of information. How much should I include? Is it too much about Lincoln and not enough about Ellsworth? Do I have enough sources? If the newspapers I am using come from an online site, does this still count as a primary source? Sometimes I wish I were back at college--there would be answers to my questions and guidance from a dissertation committee.

The most exciting part so far has been Election Night in Springfield. It was exciting to write, especially with Ellsworth as a main character in the proceedings. I knew who won, but I could feel the excitement building as the night wore on--waiting for that final telegram from New York with the delegate count that would put Lincoln over the top.

More tomorrow--will Lincoln survive the assassination attempt? Will he get to DC? Did he really dress up like an old lady?-oh no--that was Jeff Davis at the end of the war . . . LOL!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Colonel Ellsworth #1

I have never blogged before, but I've never written a book before either. This blog was created to help people understand what I am doing, and why--

Colonel Elmer Ellsworth? Who? When? Why? Who cares who this guy was? I do. He was the first Union casualty of the American Civil War, and he was killed 150 years ago, May 24. He was a friend and confidante of Abraham Lincoln, a boon companion to John Hay and George Nicolay (Lincoln's private secretaries), and one of the most charismatic, interesting, dynamic public figures of the 1860s. His death was singular, but within six weeks, the first of the 620,000 or so deaths from the Civil War would start to add up. He was mourned in the North, vilified in the South, made headlines in every paper in America and the Confederacy, lay in state in the East Room of the White House--Lincoln wept publicly for the only time in his life for this man!--and then forgotten. His huge state funeral, the right of every soldier, was a distant memory to those who died later in the war, lucky to have a spadeful of dirt tossed over their mortal remains.

I am writing a new biography of this man. There are only two Ellsworth biographies, one by Charles Ingraham, published in 1925, and one by Ruth Painter Randall, published in 1960. Of all the things overdone about the Civil War, this one man has been ignored.

How did I to this point? I teach at a middle school called--here it comes!--E. E. Brownell Middle School. Our namesake was named for Elmer Ellsworth, and is a very distant leaf on the tree of Francis Brownell, the man who shot the man who shot Ellsworth. That, and although I teach math, I love history, the Civil War in particular. It seemed obvious to me . . .

So, I will blog about my efforts here, post parts of the book, ask for comments and corrections, and see my project to completion or be very embarrassed about my public failure. I will detail the writing process as I see/use it, and I will talk about my triumphs and my anxieties. So far I have written six full chapters, and getting at least 6,000 words in each chapter is getting easier. I was afraid I'd only have a Colonel Ellsworth pamphlet when I started, but I think it's going to be good!

Check back, leave messages--please!