Mary Bowser, Confederate White House Spy

Even now, it’s hard to get a clear description of Mary Bowser, who greatly aided the North by spying on the Confederate White House during the Civil War. Maybe that’s because she wanted it that way.

Here is the closest we can come to facts about her life. Mary Bowser (AKA Richards) was born a slave to the Van Lew family in Richmond, VA, and later freed by Elizabeth Van Lew, heiress to the family fortune. Van Lew sent Bowser to school in the North and later as a missionary to Liberia, a nation of free blacks. Upon her return to the U.S., she lived in Van Lew’s household as a servant and was eventually hired out to work in the Confederate White House.

Successful Spy Network

Van Lew disguised her activities by presenting herself as mentally ill—“Crazy Bet,” they called her. She had a very successful spy network of a dozen men and women who were both white and black. Even though Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina knew that there was a spy in their midst, they never suspected Bowser, who appeared as an illiterate, dumb servant. After all, very few black men in the South could read and write, even less likely a woman.

Van Lew said, “Most generally our reliable news is gathered from negroes, and they certainly show wisdom, discretion, and prudence which is wonderful.”

Teacher of Former Slaves

After the Civil War, Mary Bowser quickly went to work educating formerly enslaved people for the Freedmen’s Bureau; her only known correspondence was from this period of her life. During this time, she single-handedly taught a hundred Sunday school pupils as well as 70 day students and 12 adult night students. Two years later, after meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, she disappeared entirely from the historical record.

Here is a link to a historical novel about Bowser.

Here is a link to a historical novel about Van Lew.

Civil War Nurse Who Outranked General

For those who prefer to read, here’s the text of the video.

Mary Ann Bickerdyke, Civil War Nurse
Mary Ann Bickerdyke, Civil War nurse

I love Mary Ann Bickerdyke for her fierce devotion to the soldiers she called “her boys.” As a Civil War nurse, she was a particular favorite of the soldiers.

Bickerdyke set up more than 300 field hospitals for soldiers and made sure they were clean in an era when many wounded died of contagious diseases. She gathered nutritious food and medicines for them and set up laundries, often finding that their clothing was in rags.

Nineteen times she accompanied troops to warfare, going with a lantern at nightfall to take wounded men off the battlefield.

Mother Bickerdyke, as the men called this Civil War nurse, had no patience with officers who didn’t treat their men right. One morning when a surgeon was late because of a drinking spree, she called for his discharge.  When he protested about her to General Sherman, the general replied, “Well, if it was her, I can do nothing for you. She ranks me.”

In my Civil War era novel The Truth About Daniel, Annie Anthony works with a local chapter of the Sanitary Commission to supply soldiers with sewing kits called “housewives,” because it helped them to repair their own clothing.

New Underground Railroad Exhibit at Niagara Falls

A whole new source of information on the Underground Railroad is opening next weekend in Niagara Falls, starting May 4. I’m excited because it will offer more in-depth background for my historical novels in The Dauntless Series, featuring abolitionists Daniel Read Anthony and his sister Susan.

Here’s the scoop on the new museum:

Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center

825 Depot Avenue W.
Niagara Falls, NY 14305

Why is this new museum important?

States bordering Canada, particularly in the East, were the last frontier for enslaved people seeking freedom before the Civil War. Niagara Falls, NY, just across the river from Canada, admitted many freedom seekers traveling through New York State. I am familiar with many such stories that took place near my home in Rochester, and always wondered what happened to those travelers after they left here.

Gala Opening

The opening weekend includes a gala on Friday, a dinner on Saturday, and community day (for the general public) on Sunday. Thereafter it will assume a regular schedule.Read all about it here.

Their website offers some intriguing and detailed stories about an organized group of African-American waiters who risked their lives and businesses to help enslaved people to cross the border. Click on the tab “Underground Railroad Sites” to read about these individuals and some of the places where those escapes occurred.

For those of us who love the grandeur of the falls at Niagara, it’s just one more reason to visit this well-known northern city. Hope to see you there!

The Anthony Connection

Daniel and Susan B. Anthony lived in Rochester, about 60 miles from the famous falls at Niagara. Each of them, but especially Daniel, lent a hand to escaping fugitives. It would not have been unusual for either of them to visit Niagara Falls, since it was already a well-known tourist attraction during their time. Already my mind is conjuring up images of them speaking to a waiter and setting foot on one of the paths that led to river crossings.

For my next novel

Here are some of the books I’m reading for my next novel in my Dauntless Series. They focus on contemporaries of Susan B. Anthony’s brother Daniel Read Anthony, who lived and fought on the Missouri-Kansas border before the Civil War and in its early days. Annie Osborn Continue reading

All for Suffrage, part 2

Susan B. Anthony’s five siblings, like her parents, were all for suffrage. They supported the right of every American Continue reading

All for Suffrage, Part 1

Susan B. Anthony’s family members were all for suffrage, each in his or her own way. Some supported voting rights by actually casting ballots, while others supported campaigns for African-Americans and women to vote. She had Continue reading

“Impressively Crafted” Novel Now on Kindle

It’s so rewarding when a professional book reviewer “gets” the book that you’ve worked on for several years. That happened recently when Midwest Book Review praised The Truth About Daniel. And to celebrate, we made the book available on Kindle! Click here to get a copy on your own device. And PLEASE review it. Reviews convince Amazon that it’s worth publicizing.

Here’s what Midwest had to say:

Synopsis:

Jeanne Gehret became acquainted with Susan B. Anthony’s family in 1992 when she docented at the reformer’s house museum. After writing Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All in 1994, she curated an exhibit at the Rochester, NY museum and began portraying Susan in costume. She blogs at http://SusanBAnthonyFamily.com

In “The Truth About Daniel” she turns her talents to writing the first volume of what promises to be an impressively entertaining new series of historical novels called ‘The Dauntless”.

Annie Osborn was fascinated by everything about Daniel Read Anthony including his service as a Civil War colonel who battled slavery; his courage and endurance settling the wild West; and his family ties to Susan B. Anthony, Annie’s own heroine. Nevertheless, she has doubts about his suitability as a husband. Did he risk his life for unselfish reasons or because he enjoyed danger?

From the fiery conflict of Kansas to the prim parlors of Martha’s Vineyard, “The Truth About Daniel” portrays lovers who forge new bonds through their willingness to take chances as author Jeanne Gehret deftly weaves historical strands about D.R. Anthony to delve into his improbable choice of a bride, a socialite half his age from the whaling capital of Martha’s Vineyard.

Critique:

As a novelist, Jeanne Gehret has a genuine flair for deftly creating memorable characters and embedding them into an original and consistently entertaining story. The descriptive writing brings a bygone era in American History to vivid life. An impressively crafted and consistently entertaining read from beginning to end, “The Truth About Daniel” is unreservedly recommended, especially for community library Historical Romance collections and the personal reading list of the dedicated Antebellum romance fan.

Quelling Charlottesville Fury Avoids Historic Mistake

 

 

In Charlottesville young white nationalists tossed verbal grenades against blacks and Jews that quickly exploded into injury and death. Sadly, it coincided with the August 1863 Lawrence Massacre, which I discussed in my last post. Then, a band of racist ruffians killed 180 men and boys. Unlike this month, the 1863 officials made a historic mistake by upping the ante on revenge.

They may have felt justified in attacking Lawrence. After all, the two states had been duking it out on their common border for almost a decade in the escalating conflict over slavery. Those who launched the Lawrence Massacre wanted revenge. And they got it. But like the young demonstrators of Charlottesville, they didn’t bargain for all that they received.

In the wake of Charlottesville, other cities are hastening to remove their Civil War statues to preclude more violence. If what the nationalists really wanted was their statues and their symbolism, they ended up worse than they started.

Upping the ante on revenge

The Missouri ruffians’ satisfaction, like that of the marchers in Virginia, must have been short-lived. On August 25, 1863, General Ewing retaliated by issuing the infamous Order No. 11, which authorized the depopulation of the Missouri farmland where the Confederate raiders resided, foraged and took shelter. Not only that, but Union soldiers burned the very land. They, too, got worse that they gave.

Who started it?

In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act (drafted by Senator Stephen Douglas and President Franklin Pierce) decreed that the Kansas Territory could decide by popular vote whether it entered the Union as a slave or free state. Whenever a vote was taken, proslavery Missourians squatted on the land and stormed the ballot boxes.

In response, eastern abolitionists (including D.R. Anthony) emigrated to the territory, founding an abolitionist stronghold at Lawrence. Anthony later led Jennison’s Jayhawkers to defend Kansas and conduct counter-raids on Missouri.

You could say that the ill-conceived Kansas-Nebraska Act began the border wars in Kansas and Missouri, which escalated into a nationwide Civil War. Let us hope that our legislators respond more wisely than Stephen Douglas and Franklin Pierce in laying down decisions with far-reaching effects. And that those involved in Charlottesville realize that violence begets violence, and that everyone loses.

As a nation, we should treat Charlottesville as a warning and do what we must to heal before it escalates into a tragedy on the scale of the Lawrence Massacre and Order No. 11.

Click here to read more about the artist and painting above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defenseless town massacred

A band of 400 proslavery ruffians–many teenagers–led by a madman named Quantrill conducted the Lawrence Massacre in 1863 in Kansas on this day.  Most of the the town’s men were off fighting for the Union. As a result, 180 died and the town became ashes.

Personal Experience

Daniel Read Anthony knew the town of Lawrence like his own child because he helped to establish it. Therefore, he suffered its loss. In this excerpt from The Truth About Daniel, he visits just a few days after the attack:

Early on their fourth day in Lawrence, D.R. and Chas rode by the homestead of Martin Townsend, a farmer from Vermont who had settled in ’fifty-four. They found him pouring water from a bucket into a stone trough for a pair of oxen.

 

“Marty!” D.R. hailed him before swinging down from the saddle.

 

As the man turned, D.R. took in his friend’s face covered with grime and a four-day stubble. He asked Townsend how he had escaped.

 

“The day before the raid, I took my team a few miles outside of town to help my cousin. On my way home, I saw the town on fire and heard that Quantrill was singling out men old enough to bear arms. So I hid in the ravine where raiders wouldn’t go.

 

“I felt like a coward leaving my wife and children inside, but how would they have farmed if I turned up dead?” His house was ablaze, he said, but he was relieved to see his family out front. He gestured to a crude tent partially supported by a scorched tree. “We all survived, thank God, but this is all I have left of my home.”

 

D.R. wanted something to do, but there were no tools, not even an extra bucket.      “Apparently Quantrill’s raiders didn’t come to fight, but to murder and steal.”

“They never would’ve gotten away with it if so many of our men weren’t off to war.”

 

“So what happened when the army finally did come?” asked Chas.

 

Townsend leaned on his shovel and gestured toward the road. “The ruffians turned tail and ran south. Cavalry followed them right through town and out again.”

 

D.R. pictured how he would’ve handled the operation. The Jayhawkers and the Seventh Kansas were trained to grip their horses with their knees and shoot with both hands at once. Having faced Quantrill’s raiders in Missouri, he knew many of them to be teenagers with no training at all. At least the army will have extracted its toll on them, he consoled himself. Hopeful of a good report, he asked, “How many did Quantrill lose?”

 

Townsend sighed deeply. The anger blazing from his eyes contrasted with his dusty face. “One,” he replied.

 

“One!” roared D.R. “They caused all this damage and got away with only one casualty? What the hell was the army doing?”

Next time: Read how the Lawrence Massacre of 1863 fueled a Union retaliation.

Read more about this fateful day in Lawrence at History.com.