Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fall Garden

I was lucky enough late this summer to come by a plot in a local community garden here in Providence.  Who knew September had so many flowers?  The garden is beautiful.  Here are some pics from this morning.

A beautiful giant spray of asters.

Some marigolds and tomatoes.

More marigolds.


Morning glories and orange nasturtiams.

And my fall crops, lettuce, swiss chard, kale and carrots.

And here are a couple pics of Clovis working hard in the garden this August.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

19th Century Falsies

This Scarlett O'Hara thing has got me tuned into hair.  I've been going through the Godey's Lady's Books for 1864 and 1865 (thanks to the always generous and amazing Providence Athenaeum) and have picked up a few interesting items about hairstyles during the period.

In January 1865, the Lady's Book reports:  "The latest folly in Paris is the coloring of the hair red.  We think this fashion not likely to be followed in this country."  Paris, of course, was the source of all things fashion and the focal point of the Parisian fashion world was the red-haired Empress Eugénie, the Spanish-born grandee who married Napoleon III and reigned as Empress of the French from 1853-1870.

The ever-fashionable Eugénie from a portrait by Winterhalter, 1857.
In April 1865, the Lady's Book would print a detailed report of the process of hair-dyeing in use in the French capital to achieve the desired shade (and its cost).

As an aside, in February 1865, the Lady's Book included this recipe for an astringent hair wash:  two drachms of Borax, two ounces spirits of rosemary, and fourteen ounces rosemary water.

A hairstyle from the same issue was described thus:  "The hair is rolled, puffed and curled.  The ornaments are white flowers with frosted leaves and a very brilliant humming-bird."  This style imitates a coiffure by the French Empress reported in December 1864: 
The dress was of pearl gray tulle; three skirts, one over the other, formed of puffs running lengthwise.  The upper skirt was looped up with two bouquets of velvet nasturtiams, with a diamond hummingbird in the centre of each.  A bouquet of the same flowers, with velvet loops of a darker shade, in the centre of the forehead, and a small bouquet of the same at the back.  A band of diamonds was used to connect the bouquets, and a diamond bird was nestling in both.

In March 1865, the Book reports:
For young ladies there are many graceful little coiffures, such, for instance, as the Eugénie.  This is formed of a tuft of roses and forget-me-nots for the centre of the head, another for the back, from which falls a garland of rosebuds seemingly dripping with dew.  Most of the coiffures are composed of separate tufts or branches, or else flexible garlands, which can be twined in with puffs and curls to great advantage.
"Twined in with puffs and curls"?  Where did these women get all this hair?  Of course, many women never cut their hair and would have much to work with, but the reality of the time was that if you wanted to be fashionable, you needed some fake hair, and apparently the more the better.

During the spring of 1865, several issues included features on false hair pieces.

From March, this elaborate hairstyle is described thus:  "Ball coiffure.  The hair is rolled very high in front, and arranged in a waterfall at the back, and an Alexandra curl on the left side."  Tucked in the lower right corner is Figure 11:  "A waved bow of hair, to be worn over the brow."  Another description of a hair style admits:  "Most of these fancy arrangements are false; so also are the coronet plaits now so much in vogue."

Other examples.

Figure 12:  Crimped bow of hair, with a bunch of curls in the centre.  And Figure 14:  False front, suitable for a married lady.  The curls hang behind the ear.

Figure 1:  False plaits of hair, the knot to be place just over the brow.  [This presumably was the piece used to create the coronet plait, where the braid is wrapped around the top of the head like a crown.]  Figure 2:  A waved waterfall, with ball comb and fancy clasp of jet and gold.  Figure 3:  A new style of hair bow, very pretty for a ball coiffure.  Figure 4:  Waterfall bow caught with a fancy clasp comb.

Repeatedly, the Lady's Book advises its readers that "Any application for these articles must be addressed to the Fashion Editor, and not to Mrs. Hale, who is the Literary Editor."  In addition to writing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and helping to create Thanksgiving, Mrs. Hale must have been plagued with the indignity of a flood of requests for false hair pieces.

Advertisements for hair crimpers were also common in the magazine, in spite of the Fashion Editor's admonition against their use. 

"What matchless beauty lingers on every glossy wave and riplet of her lovely hair."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

She-Crab Soup

So I went down to Charleston, South Carolina, last weekend for the Southern Independent Booksellers Assocation (SIBA) Conference.  What an amazing place Charleston is!  I last visited when I was thirteen and it was wonderful to revisit many of the house museums I saw then (yes, even back then I couldn't get enough of house museums!).  I have some great images from a few of them, but first I'd like to talk about some of the amazing people I met.

Almost on arrival, I was embraced by a group of amazing and gracious Southern women, all of them amazing writers.  First, was Patti Callahan Henry, a New York Times bestselling novelist with eight books under her belt.  Her newest one, Coming Up For Air, is on sale now.  I heard her read from it and it is beautiful!  Be sure to pick it up--I got a copy and can't wait to read it!

Patti introduced me to Mary Alice Monroe, another bestselling Southern writer with a book out, The Butterfly's Daughter.  I also got a copy of it and can't wait to read it!

Then the spiritual and lovely Karen Spears Zacharias, whose latest book, Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide?, takes a hard look at "prosperity gospel" and faith.  I am reading another book by her, Where's Your Jesus Now?, and am so impressed by her clear-eyed journalistic style and explication of faith in a time of great fear.

I was quickly taken under the wing of the amazing and dynamic poet laureate of South Carolina, Marjory Wentworth.  Wow!  I can't wait to read a book she co-wrote with Juan Mendez, Taking a Stand: The Evolution of Human Rights.  

And through Marjory I had the great pleasure of meeting Ellie Maas Davis, who wrote the text for a beautiful book of photographs of Folly Island, South Carolina, called The Humours of Folly.  What a great book!

Other noteworthy books from the conference (other than my own!) were Jonathan O'Dell's beautiful and haunting book, The Healing, set amidst black midwives in Mississippi in the 1840's and 1930's.  The book is due out in February and is sure to be a big hit.  It is beautiful!

Equally compelling was Neil Abramson's book Unsaid, which explores the unspoken relationships between humans and animals as well as between humans.  This book is on sale now.

Other noteworthy encounters included novelist Dorothea Benton Frank (new book is Folly Beach), funny woman Shellie Tomlinson (new book Sue Ellen's Girl Ain't Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy), the amazing, AMAZING cook and cookbook author Nathalie Dupree (new cookbook, Southern Biscuits) and exquisite tart maker Holly Herrick (new cookbook, Tart Love), among many others.  What a whirlwind!

And in between all the elbow-rubbing and chit-chat, I was able to visit a few historic homes (four, actually) and see some sites of Charleston.

In Charleston, I found many beautiful "single houses", the local architectural vernacular...

palmetto trees in all guises....

beautiful churches virtually everywhere you turn, Charleston is known as the "Holy City"....

a surprising amount of art deco architecture (the Riviera Theater)....

beautiful avenues....

Confederate memorials....

very rich Southern food (this is an Eggs Benedict made with a fried green tomato on the bottom, a delicious crabcake and then the poached egg with hollandaise and a side of cheese grits...gorgeous...at 82 Queen)...

more churches....

and beautiful house museums...this is my favorite, the Joseph Manigault House (pronounced man-ee-go....?).  Unlike many of the house museums, they welcomed photography inside and out...

As they explained, glassware in the late 18th century was so expensive and difficult to replace, you would typically have one wine glass for dinner and simply rinse it in a tumbler of water between courses.  Gorgeous.

And this mirror is the most extraordinary thing I saw.  Regency, probably around 1800, with heavily stylized gilt palm trees around the glass.  Where can I get one???

And to my surprise, a memorial to the South Carolina poet, Henry Timrod, in Washington Square in the heart of Charleston (right off of Broad and Meeting Streets).  I used an excerpt from a Timrod poem in my novel, The Rebel Wife.  The poem was written in 1866 and called "Addressed to the Old Year".

Art thou not glad to close 
Thy wearied eyes, O saddest child of Time,
Eyes which have looked on every mortal crime,
And swept the piteous round of mortal woes?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Local Curiosities II

I just got back from Charleston where I attended the amazing Southern Independent Booksellers Association trade show.  It was wonderful and I'm going to talk more about that in the very near future.  But right now, I wanted to post a photograph of an oil painting I found in an antique mall in the area.  Very strange....it's unclear who owns that middle arm between them (not to mention the fact that they have the faces of old men)....

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Scarlett's Hair

Dear Windies,

This one is for you.  I will post more comparisons as I find them.

I have been going through the Godey's Lady's Books of 1864 and 1865, looking for interesting details on mourning during and immediately after the Civil War.  I could not help but notice some striking similarities of style and design in certain of the images from the Godey's of that time and the 1939 movie version of Gone With the Wind.  So here is one of them, Scarlett O'Hara's hair in the scene which would have taken place in late 1865, after the war was over.  I have to say, the costuming in the movie is amazing.  Kudos to Walter Plunkett--for more on him, check the web exhibition on his work at the Harry Ransom Center website.

Scene from Gone With the Wind, Turner Entertainment

Scene from Gone With the Wind, Turner Entertainment

Scene from Gone With the Wind, Turner Entertainment

This is an image from the April 1864 Godey's Lady's Book for a "Coiffure for a Young Lady."  Look familiar?

Thank you to the Providence Athenaeum for access to their amazing collection of Godey's!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Do You Think I'll Make a Soldier?

During the Civil War, close to 180,000 African-American men, both free and former slaves, served in the United States Army.  That does not include the tens of thousands of freedmen who worked as laborers and servants to the U.S. military during the war.  Some of their stories have been told, as in the film Glory about the Massachusetts 54th Volunteers, many of whom died in the assault on Fort Wagner in 1863.  In my novel, The Rebel Wife, Simon comments that he was in the 12th U.S. Colored Infantry at the Battle of Nashville.  This piece of history is fascinating and little told.  Below are some of the details I was able to piece together about the raising and fighting of these troops.

The arming of black Americans in the Civil War was a hotly debated topic, both North and South.  In 1864 as Sherman was pushing his way to Atlanta, Confederate Major General Patrick Cleburne advocated the enlistment of slaves, who would then be granted freedom, to fight for the Confederacy.  The war was almost over before Jefferson Davis would pursue this as a policy.  In the North, however, there were individuals who were raising and arming African-Americans well before Lincoln was ready to enact it as military policy.   Frederick Douglass was a fierce advocate of allowing blacks to enlist, saying “Who would be free themselves must strike the first blow.”

In April of 1862, Major General David Hunter was secretly organizing black men on the South Carolina sea islands into troops that would ultimately become the First South Carolina Regiment.  These troops would serve under Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who left a vivid account of his experiences in the book Army Life in a Black Regiment, including a fascinating section on the songs the former slaves would sing.  General Benjamin Butler was organizing black troops in New Orleans about the same time.  In Kansas, James E. Lane was enlisting black troops by the fall of 1862.

Recruiting broadside for heavy artillery, paid meaningfully more than the average black infantryman

But official policy had to catch up with most of them.  By 1862, Lincoln and his advisors agreed that an active enlistment policy for black troops was important.  On July 17, 1862, Congress authorized the president to raise black troops “for any military or naval service for which they may be found competent.”  Lincoln waited for the Union victory of Antietam in September 1862 before announcing his policy, which became a part of the Emancipation Proclamation.  The policy would be effective as of January 1, 1863.

Secretary of War Stanton, who had secretly sent Union uniforms for David Hunter’s troops in South Carolina, began to authorize Northern state governors to raise black troops.  Governor John A. Andrew in Massachusetts was the first to be given this authority and the 54th and 55th Massachusetts was the result.  New Bedford, an important whaling port with a large free black and abolitionist population, was a major source of the recruitment effort, but ultimately there was not enough of a population to complete the regiments.  Philadelphia became a focal point for raising volunteers, in spite of popular sentiment against it.  The capture of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania by Confederate cavalry in mid-June 1863 helped give a push to acceptance and recruitment efforts.

Recruiting broadside that emphasizes the protection of black troops who were not typically treated as prisoners of war by the Confederates.  The sheet states that one Confederate prisoner will be killed for every black Union soldier killed.

In the North, there was still widespread antipathy to black troops and riots and violence ensued in many cities.  Where recruitment in the North was most successful, it seemed to be affiliated with a strong abolitionist community, like around Oberlin College in Ohio, which was an important support for the raising of the 5th U.S. Colored Troops.  The recruiting speeches urged political equality through service.  In other places, a strong Union League presence could be the impetus for raising troops, like in Philadelphia in June 1863 when the 6th U.S. Colored Infantry was raised, or in New York.  In the South amidst a large slave population, the situation would be very different.

Black infantry garrisoned at Fort Negley in Nashville during the Civil War

On May 23, 1863, the Bureau of Colored Troops was created with Major General Lorenzo Thomas in charge.  Another important recruiter was George L. Stearns, a Massachusetts abolitionist and former confidante of John Brown.  Stearns was sent to Nashville in September 1863 and began actively recruiting in that Union-held city, where he signed up 300 African-Americans in one day.  The black population of Nashville was organized and on October 20, 1863, a large meeting was held where black community leaders exhorted the freedmen of Nashville to fight:
Then let every able bodied descendant of Africa rally to arms, for arms alone will achieve our rights.  God will rule over our destinies.  He will guide us, for He is the friend of the oppressed and downtrodden…Slavery can never be what it has been, but let us not sit supinely by, but rather take a share in the great events transpiring.  Let us make a name for ourselves and race, bright as the noonday sun.
Band of the 107th U.S. Colored Infantry at Fort Corcoran
Outside of Southern cities held by the Union, recruitment was a different affair.  Near Union encampments, there also grew large camps of “contraband”, General Butler’s original term to refer to runaway slaves joining the Union for protection and freedom.  Many of the former slaves who gathered around Union camps ended up laboring for the army, digging fortifications or serving as servants, usually (for a man) at about $7 per month (the same rate black soldiers were ultimately paid in the war, less than their white counterparts).

Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, at Fort Lincoln
As an example, General Lorenzo Thomas ordered General S.A. Hurlburt, who was commanding the district of Western Tennessee in mid-1863, to raise six regiments of colored troops (a regiment was normally ten companies of 100 men each, or 1,000 men).  Hurlburt then commanded each head of a division of his brigade to raise one regiment.  These division commanders then appointed captains for each regiment (officers of black regiments were typically white, while musicians, privates and some non-commissioned officers were black).  The captains recruited themselves from the camps and vicinity—and they also relied on professional recruiting agents to help fill out their regiments.  For the regiment being raised by Captian Edward Bouton, he and his recruiting agents covered the area looking for recruits and took about six weeks before the regiment was raised.  This group of regiments was mustered into service on June 27th, 1863 as the First West Tennessee Infantry of African Descent.  The 1st West Tennessee ultimately combined with the 1st Alabama Infantry of African Descent and was redubbed the 59th U.S. Colored Infantry.

Field and staff officers (all white) of the 39th U.S. Colored Infantry at Petersburg, Virginia
Thomas J. Morgan was the colonel of the 14th U.S. Colored Infantry and commanded a brigade of four colored regiments at the Batlle of Nashville.  He was ordered to organize a regiment in November 1863 and wrote this of the experience:
By order of Major Stearns, I went to Gallatin, Tennessee, to organize the 14th United States Colored Infantry…There were at that time several hundred negro men in camp, in charge of, I think, a lieutenant.  They were a motley crowd—old, young, middle-aged.  Some wore the United States uniform, but most of them had on the clothes in which they had left the plantations, or had worn during periods of hard service as laborers in the army...We had no tents, and the men were sheltered in an old filthy tobacco warehouse, where they fiddled, danced, sang, swore or prayed, according to their mood…One by one the recruits came before us à la Eden, sans the fig leaves, and were subjected to a careful medical examination, those who were in any way physically disqualified being rejected.  Many bore the wounds and bruises of the slave-driver’s lash, and many were unfit for duty by reason of some form of disease to which human flesh is heir.  In the course of a few weeks, however, we had a thousand able-bodied, stalwart men…They proved very efficient, and had the war continued two years longer, many of them would have been competent as commissioned officers.
One recruiting agent with a remarkable record of success was Augustus L. Chetlain, Brigadier General of Volunteers.  He kept offices for recruiting black troops in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville, Corinth, Mississippi, and Columbus, Kentucky.  He inspected troops in places as various as Paducah, Kentucky, Nashville, Knoxville, Johnsonville, and Athens, Alabama.  He organized a total of 18 regiments of infantry, three of heavy artillery of 1,700 men each, and one battery of light artillery.

"Marching on!"  The Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Colored Regiment singing John Brown's March in streets of Charleston, February 21, 1865

Another recruiting agent was the elderly former clergyman James M. Ayres.  In his diary on May 4, 1864, when stopping over in Huntsville, Alabama to recruit, he wrote the following about his work:
Sometimes it had been attended with great danger and Risk.  And many unpleasant things has occurred.  I have stood almost as A lone tree where A forest once was, forsaken by all the South, and while my Brother Soaldiers and officers would occasionally meet a smile from Southern faces, in Shape of Southern Women, My Lot was Sneers and Curses.  ‘Ther goes that oald nigger Recrueter, that’s that oald man was at our House the other day and took pops or dads Niggers Away.’ And Oh such Eyes and Daggers I got.
Taylor, a drummer boy with the 78th Regiment U.S. Colored Infantry
The men of the 12th U.S. Colored Infantry, the regiment to which the character Simon in The Rebel Wife belonged, were organized at an army encampment by the Elk River Bridge crossing of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad.  This road went from Chattanooga south-westerly to Stevenson, Alabama and then swung up to Nashville after crossing the Tennessee.  The bridge crossing would likely have been in between the current towns of Winchester and Tullahoma, Tennessee, not far from the Alabama state line.

Check back later for a post giving more detail about the service of Colored Infantry regiments and their role in the Battle of Nashville.  There were eight regiments of African-American troops in the Army of the Cumberland who all did important service in the battle.

Thanks as always to the amazing Providence Athenaeum as well as the resource rich libraries of Providence at Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design and the Providence Public Library.
  Berlin, Ira, ed.  FREEDOM, A documentary history of emancipation, 1861-1867.  New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  Cornish, Dudley Taylor.  The Sable Arm:  Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1966.
  Cowden, Colonel Robert.  A Brief Sketch of the Fifty-Ninth Regiment of United States Colored Infantry.  Dayton, Ohio:  United Brethren Publishing House, 1883.
  Glatthaar, Joseph T.  Forged in Battle:  The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers.  Baton Rouge:  Louisiana State University Press, 2000.
  Lardas, Mark.  African American Soldier in the Civil War, USCT 1862-66.  Warrior/Osprey, 2006.
  Mays, Joe H.  Black Americans and Their Contributions Toward Union Victory in the American Civil War, 1861-1865.  New York:  University Press of America, 1984.
  McPherson, James.  The Negro’s Civil War:  How American Negroes Felt and Acted During the War for the Union.  New York:  Pantheon Books, 1965.
  Paradis, James M.  Strike the Blow for Freedom:  The 6th United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War.  Shippensburg, Pennsylvania:  White Mane Books, 1998.
  Quarles, Benjamin.  The Negro in the Civil War.  Boston:  Little, Brown and Company, 1953.
  Trudeau, Noah Andre.  Like Men of War:  Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865.  New York:  Little, Brown & Company, 2002.
  Washington, Versalle F.  Eagles on Their Buttons:  A Black Infantry Regiment in the Civil War.  Columbia, Missouri:  University of Missouri Press, 1999.
  Williams, George Washington.  A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion 1861-1865.  New York:  Harper & Brothers, 1888.
  Wilson, Keith, ed.  Honor in Command:  Lt. Freeman S. Bowley’s Civil War Service in the 30th United States Colored Infantry.  Gainesville, Florida:  University Press of Florida, 2006.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Triple Time by Anne Sanow

What a great pleasure to discover that someone is as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside.  Anne Sanow, former fellow of the Fine Arts Work Center and winner of the 2009 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, has written a beautiful and moving book and I recommend it to everyone.

Triple Time is a collection of linked short stories about the lives of expatriate Americans in Saudi Arabia spanning World War II to the present.

Kimberly appears several times, as a young girl with a father working as a construction contractor; later as a young American woman testing the limits of Saudi law, constrained by the highly restrictive and yet radically modernizing Arab society; and finally as a woman who has entered into a traditional Saudi polygamist relationship that is for her also a revolutionary rejection of her culture and roots.  With the most beautifully tender prose, Sanow captures the confusion and contradictions of Americans in a land that is strange to them.  For an American reader, the questions seem to bounce off each other.  Who is more different, more strange?  The nomadic Arabs adopting the most modern of Western conventions, or Westerners who arrive in this modernizing place that is still bound up in layers of tradition?

What a beautiful book from a beautiful writer, inside and out.