Saturday, April 05, 2014

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse

The American and British armies clashed at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781. The 233rd anniversary fell on a Saturday this year, allowing reenactors to "fight" on the actual day. 

Pulling artillery back to the Second Line
Shooting started that long-ago morning in New Garden, a Quaker village that is part of modern-day Greensboro. Many history books call it a skirmish. Algie Newlin makes the case for a separate battle in his book, The Battle of New Garden.

A surprise bayonet attack against musket fire
I finally made it this year. The Battleground park is huge. The announcer told the spectators that we were postitioned on the actual hill where the Americans had claimed the high ground in this hilly, wooded area; however, the actual armies were much bigger and the different groups were out of sight of each other.

The calvary attacks!
General Nathanael Greene had organized his army into three main lines. As General Charles Cornwallis' troops advanced, the Americans fought, then moved back to the next line.

An orderly retreat

They finally retreated to Virginia, but after giving the British heavy losses.

Greene lost the battle, but won the campaign, leaving most of his men alive to fight another day.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Wordless Wednesday — Carolina Colonial Dancers


The Carolina Colonial Dancers demonstrate country dances before the Battle of Guilford Courthouse anniversary reenactment.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014: A Writer's Calendar

New Year's brings out all the goals and resolutions for the coming year (especially for bloggers).

I don't know how people do it.

I like goals to keep me on track, but the holidays (preceded by NaNoWriMo) are so crazy. I need time to ponder important decisions, like how I might spend a precious year of life.

I don't want to wait too late, though. In 2010 I didn't make goals until June! Last year, I wrote a retrospective of my writing year in April, my blogiversary and Wordsmith Studio's anniversary.

As I work on goals over the next few days, I'm considering all the writing events and opportunities coming up in 2014. This list might be useful for other writers, too. If you know of similar events (especially free ones and month-long challenges), please add a link and short description in the comments.


Robert Lee Brewer of Writer's Digest will help us kick off the year with daily ideas or prompts starting Jan. 1 at the Get Started Write Challenge. Look for the latest challenge here or follow @robertleebrewer or Twitter hashtag #gswc.

Joy Weese Moll encourages people to read books that will help them with their goals — writing or otherwise — in her New Year's Resolution Reading Challenge.

National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) starts every month at BlogHer. Sign up by Jan. 5 to join this month's challenge. (See November for more.)

Cartoonist and encourager Debbie Ridpath Ohi hosts the 250-500-1000 Words A Day Challenge.  You choose your goal and start anytime during the year. Debbie has links to fun word-count widgets you can add to your blog.


I've always wanted to do The Month of Letters Challenge, hosted by author Mary Robinette Kowal. People love to get real letters in the mail. The challenge is simply to mail something — a letter, card, postcard — each of the 23 days that the mail runs.

Lynn Palermo hosts the Family History Writing Challenge throughout the month of February, a great nudge for those who've always wanted to put those stories or that research in writing.


Two Camp NaNoWriMos are planned this year, one in April and one in July. The camps, similar to NaNoWriMo (see November), match you up with a small group of fellow writers in your genre.

If you're more interested in poetry than noveling, Robert Lee Brewer also hosts the April PAD (Poem-A-Day) Challenge at Poetic Asides.


I'm a member (and social media admin @quakerquip) for Quakers Uniting in Publications, an organization for writers and publishers. Their annual meeting is in New England this year, May 1-4, at Woolman Hill Quaker Retreat Center in Massachusetts.


Camp NaNoWriMo — see April.


Writers' Police Academy is not a free event, but I always participate and have an awesome time. Registration will open soon for the Sept. 4-7 event in North Carolina (fills up fast!).


For nonfiction inspiration, Jane Ann McLaughlin () hosts the October Memoir and Back Story Blog Challenge


November means National Novel Writing Month! It's not just about writing 50,000 words in 30 days, it's the huge motivation from doing it with other writers cheering you on. We have an active group of local wrimos and love to meet up in person for that extra writer mojo.

For poets, Robert will encourage you to write a chapbook at the November PAD Chapbook Challenge.

November is peak time for NaBloPoMo — the challenge is to write a blog post every day. BlogHer provides optional prompts from the month's theme. One participant has a list of FAQs on an unofficial guide site.


Did you write a poem a day in November? Poets follow up by editing in December, then submitting their manuscripts!

Welcome to Wordsmith Studio's New Year's Bash Bloghop! Did you just arrive from Janice's Inspiring Quotes for 2014? Hop on over to MobyJoe Cafe for the... well... Jeannine's different perspective on New Year's Eve.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas at Elmira, 1864

What was Christmas like in a Civil War prison camp? Perhaps a white one in 1864 Elmira, N.Y.

My great-great-grandfather, Thomas Swain Maness, didn't read or write, but some of his fellow prisoners left journals and accounts of life in Elmira prison camp. The winter of 1864 brought bitter cold and smallpox raged through the camp. Amidst constant cold and hunger and the fear of that disease, prisoners tried to find a little fun when they could.

Fellow North Carolinian Lewis Leon wrote:
November and December - Nothing, only bitter cold. We dance every night at some of our quarters. Some of the men put a white handkerchief around one of their arms, and these act as the ladies. We have a jolly good time. (1)
Wilbur W. Gramling, a South Carolina soldier who arrived at Elmira about the same time as Thomas, wrote in his journal (the last part missing or unreadable, as quoted):
Saturday, Dec. 24, 1864. Weather fair & has moderated a great deal. Jeff Davis has poisoned himself. Bob had whipped Grant. There is 40 cases of smallpox. 4 have died. Prospects are bad for Christmas.
Sunday, Dec. 25, 1864. Fair and very pleasant. Christmas but it seems no more than any other day. ground is melting which makes it very slippery. Today is The snow on
A heavy snow arrived that Thursday. (2)

1. Leon, L., Diary of a Tar Heel Confederate Soldier, Charlotte, Stone Publishing, 1913; p. 68.

2. Triebe, Richard H., Fort Fisher to Elmira: The Fatal Journey of 518 Confederate Soldiers, Coastal Books, 2013; p. 148.

3. Photo — Holmes, Clay W., Elmira Prison Camp: A History of the Military Prison at Elmira, N.Y., July 6, 1864, to July 10, 1865, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London, 1912.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Journey to Elmira — Civil War prisons, part 4

As President Lincoln and General Grant banned prisoner exchanges by August 1863, and the Battle of Gettysburg added to the influx of prisoners, military "prisons became less of a temporary detention center and more like long-term concentration camps." (Triebe, 105) After over a month at the overcrowded Point Lookout Prison Camp, my great-great-grandfather Thomas Swain Maness was transferred to the new prison at Elmira, New York.

I promised at the end of a previous post to write about Elmira. I didn't know how daunting that would be. First of all, I haven't found anything that directly relates to Thomas, other than his transfer and release. He didn't read or write, so his name doesn't come up in the many extant letters and journals. Secondly, expanding the search to the writings of others has turned up volumes of conflicting information. If you think our country is divided and partisan today, imagine how it was when the two different "parties" literally tried to kill each other!

Author Clay Homes painted the camp in a positive light in his thick 1912 tome. He blamed many of the deaths and starvation on the state of the prisoners' stomachs after their previous ordeals, even claiming that hookworm disease came from an excess of cornmeal in the Southern diet. (Holmes, 317-318). Author Richard Triebe quoted a former prisoner as saying, "If ever there was a hell on Earth, Elmira Prison was that hell...." Even primary documents are suspect, because the prisoners' letters were censored.

Here are my current conclusions from skimming different sources, without the intensive research of all materials available (which would take years).

- Although Elmira had one of the highest death rates at 24% (Holmes, 255), prisoners saw it as an improvement over Point Lookout. They had fresh water to drink, and left the vindictive guards and random shootings behind. Within the year, many had barracks to replace their tents.

- Despite the good drinking water and buildings, the men bathed (or not) in the backwash pond that served as a mass latrine. Fatal diseases, as well as scurvy and lice, were rampant.

- Secretary of War Edward Stanton and other high officials carried out an unofficial retaliation policy of persecuting the prisoners through bureaucracy  and delays. For example, a large shipment of beef was sent to the prison. It was rejected as low quality, but then sold to the townspeople. Books of both northern and southern perspectives depict an underground trade in rats and punishment for eating dogs. A drainage project for the latrine pond was delayed by "paperwork," keeping conditions unsanitary. Firewood rations were scarce, despite an unusually cold winter with temperatures below zero.

- Many northerners and local officers showed kindness to the prisoners — or tried to. A New York textile company tried to provide clothing for the freezing men; the shipment was turned away because of the policies mentioned above. Any provisions had to meet strict rules, such as only coming from close family members. Some guards sold handcrafts in town for the prisoners. Inmates weren't allowed to have money, but it was kept on file for them at the commissary, including money in letters from home. Within the prison walls, inmates used tobacco for currency.

- A couple of entrepreneurs built stands by the prison walls for spectators. The stands were taken down later for fear of spying or communicating with prisoners.

- Neglect and cemetery moves resulted in lost records and mass burial at Pt. Lookout. In contrast, John W. Jones, a former slave, kept meticulous records and marked the graves of every soldier who died at Elmira. 

Main sources:

Holmes, Clay W., Elmira Prison Camp: A History of the Military Prison at Elmira, N.Y., July 6, 1864, to July 10, 1865, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London, 1912. (Photos are from Holmes' book.)

Triebe, Richard H., Fort Fisher to Elmira: The Fatal Journey of 518 Confederate Soldiers, Coastal Books, 2013 (revision of 2010 book).

Beitzell, Edwin W., Point Lookout Prison Camp for Confederates, St. Mary's County Genealogical Society, 2007 (reprint of 1972 book).

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ideas for your gift list

Some people, you know. And some people — like the name you just drew in your family's Christmas gift exchange — you don't see that often and have no idea what they like. This year's annual round-up of Black Friday-to-Cyber Monday deals includes books, genealogy, and my secret weapon for folks who aren't into books and genealogy.

Used, New and Hard-to-Find Books

Tannery Books is now online. I closed the bricks-and-mortar bookshop in July, then spent October verifying everything in inventory. To celebrate, every book is 10% off from now through Monday, Dec. 2.

New History Books

Get 30% off History Press publications if you order from me by 4:00 pm Friday, Nov. 29. Titles include Growing Up in the Piedmont Triad, The Wilmington Shipyard, North Carolina in the Civil War, Remembering Old Jamestown: A Look Back at the Other South, Remembering Randolph County: Tales from the Center of the Tar Heel State, and Wicked High Point. Their titles normally run about $20. Call the bookshop or e-mail me by the deadline: tannerybooks at gmail dot com.

NOOK® eReader — just $39?

Barnes & Noble's Black Friday offer starts on Thanksgiving.

Barnes & NobleYou can get a NOOK Simple Touch or the 7-inch HD tablet for just $39, or get fancier tablets for up to $50 off by clicking the ad.


Family Tree is having a big sale now through Monday. Some exclusions apply: I looked around their website, and it appears that magazine subscriptions and scanners are excluded (you can still buy them through the link), but most books, CDs and DVDs, individual magazine issues, and software are on sale.
Save 50% at Shop Family Tree

DNA Genealogy

If you've followed this blog you know how DNA helped me break through a brick wall with my great-great-grandfather, Thomas Swain Maness. I'm a big fan of Family Tree DNA. Although competitors have started popping up the past year or two, I recommend Family Tree because, as an older company, they have the largest DNA database. What good is it to compare your DNA with a small sampling of other people? Odds are, they won't be the ones you're looking for. 

If you've been thinking about it (or someone on your list has), here's your chance. Family Tree DNA is having their annual sale, good through December 31.

Writers Store

For Writers

The WritersStore Sale Items include marked-down software. They have plenty of writing books, but look under the "Supplies" menu to find cool gifts, from literary action figures to typewriter jewelry. And trust me, "Moleskine" is a happy word to writers. Save 20% now through Monday with the code WSBF13. (This book gives a clue why the blog has been so quiet this month.)

Writers Digest is also having a sale, with lots of great books 50% off through Monday! Again, some exclusions apply (like subscriptions). Items on Sale from Writers Digest Shop.



Other Gifts

Let me share a secret. I love my great-nephews. No, that's not the secret! Finding the right gift can be a challenge. I don't have children and I grew up in an all-girl family. Even if I'd grown up with boys, we're in the digital age now. Toys are different, and I can't afford to buy expensive electronics.

I love Barnes & Noble. I patronize their stores because I don't want bricks-and-mortar bookshops to disappear. But guess what? They sell more than books and they give gift suggestions by age. For example, I click on Toys and Games (just below the search box), then search by age for great, often educational, gifts. You can also search by price.

That cousin you only see once a year? You can click the link below, select Home & Gifts, and send them a cinnamon tea gift set or Godiva chocolates. I use my membership for free express shipping. Now you know my secret! Use code BFRIDAY30 to get 30% off through Friday.

Barnes & Noble - the Internet's Largest Bookstore | Shop Books, DVDs, Music, Toys, Gifts and More

This post contains affiliate links. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Murder in Jamestown

A "Brutal Murder" in a quiet Quaker town. Examination of the body, multiple weapons used. Boot imprints taken at the scene. A search of the suspect's clothes for blood. A trial. A verdict — an appeal and another trial.

The year, 1856.

One of our interns at the archives was processing a collection of old letters. She couldn't resist reading a few, and one day she exclaimed out loud how interesting they were. Corresponding sisters mentioned a horrible murder and ongoing news of the trial, then turned abruptly to family matters. Judy threw up her hands. So, then what? Did they catch the murderer?

My coworker Liz asked, "Who was the victim?"

Judy scanned the letter she held in gloved hands. "Martha Pinix."

Liz turned to the internet to see if they could find out what happened. They were delighted to find a book: The Murder of Martha Pinix, A True Tale of Old Jamestown and Deep River. Then Liz laughed. The author was Mary Browning. "I should have known!" If anything had ever happened in Jamestown (North Carolina), historian and author Mary Browning would know about it. And she happened to be our docent that day.

Liz introduced an incredulous Judy to an unassuming little white-haired lady sitting in the next room — the lady who literally wrote the book on murder. This one, at least.

Despite her long list of publications, Mary doesn't currently have a website. Her latest book is here and you can read some of her newspaper articles here.

Each one of us devoured Mary's book. At around 30 pages, it didn't take long. But the well researched story — from 19th-century news articles, court records and early 20th-century recollections — reads like a novel, including a death-row escape and a major plot twist. (That's all I can say, no spoilers!) You can get your own copy here to read the details and decide the verdict.