Art For A Novel: Bringing A Scene To Life

We form ideas based on our first impressions – it’s a fact of life. It’s not really fair and can lead to some bad conclusions. (Ask me about General James Longstreet!) So even though there’s the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”, in the literal, visual world of publishing that’s exactly what happens.

Blue, Gray & Crimson Cover3

Aware of this fact, I knew I needed to convey a very specific image and feel on the cover of my first historical novel. I wanted it to be eye-catching in a beautiful, traditional way, and was blessed to meet and work with an award-winning artist. Continue reading

General Buford’s Gettysburg: Such A Time As This

“No, we’re not spies,” the commander said. “I am General John Buford. These are my staff officers. We have a division of Union cavalry coming behind us on the road.” ~Excerpt from Blue, Gray & Crimson

On June 30, 1863, Union General John Buford and his cavalrymen arrived in Gettysburg. The commander’s decisions and his troops’ tenacity would be crucial to the northern cause. Buford’s previous life and military experience made him one of the best leaders for such a time as Gettysburg.

General John Buford

General John Buford

Military Training

Born in 1826, John Buford spent his childhood in Kentucky and later moved with his family to Illinois. He spent a lot of time working around horses and became a skilled rider. Buford received an appointment to West Point and graduated in 1848, just missing the Mexican War. (He graduated 16th out of 38 cadets, and some of the generals he would fight against at Gettysburg had been his friends at West Point.)

Buford served in the U.S. Dragoons (cavalry) and had frontier duty in Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, and Utah. Forming part of a “peacekeeping” expedition in Bleeding Kansas – the 1850’s battleground between abolitionists and slave holders – he must have sensed the sectional division that would tear America apart during the Civil War.

The years of equestrian combat and scouting in the west built Buford’s skill set and gave him the experience he would use during the Civil War. He also read military manuals and believed a skirmish line would be important in battlefield warfare.

In 1854 after a three year courtship, John Buford married Miss Martha “Pattie” Duke. They would have two children: James (b. 1855) and Pattie (b. 1857).

The Rising Commander

When the Civil War began, the South offered John Buford a military position, but he declined. During 1861, he served as an assistant inspector general of fortifications near Washington D.C. The following year he became a reserve commander of cavalry and fought at the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) in late August and was severely wounded.

He recovered and became chief of cavalry for the rest of 1862. When the cavalry was re-organized in the spring of 1863, Buford got a brigade which he led on a daring raid in May 1863. His skill as a raider and scout were recognized.

"Hold at All Costs" by Mort Kunstler

“Hold at All Costs” by Mort Kunstler

Buford’s Battlefield

By the Gettysburg campaign, Buford was commanding a division of Union cavalry and an artillery unit. Riding ahead of the main Union army, Buford probed the mountain passes and lightly skirmished with Confederate soldiers. He arrived in Gettysburg, heard reports from the local civilians, and spotted Confederates to the west of the town.

Using his military skills and trained eye, Buford realized that the hills near Gettysburg could provide an amazing defense position for an army. He worried what might happen if the Confederates secured the position first. (General Meade had been anticipated a defensive battle, but on a different line which was a little farther south.)

Buford determined to hold off the Confederates and, on the evening of June 30th, sent messages to the infantry commander directly behind him on the march, asking for re-enforcements in anticipation of the fight.

The fight did come. Throughout the morning of July 1st, Buford’s troops fought in a dismounted, skirmish formation, contesting every backward step of ground and forming a final defensive line along Seminary Ridge. Anxiously, Buford sent messengers, watched the fight, and scanned the roads from the vantage point of the Lutheran Seminary’s cupola, watching for infantry re-enforcements.

The infantry came and Buford withdrew his men for a few hours. The battle became an infantry and artillery fight, but when the Union lines collapsed around 4pm, Buford’s cavalry covered the retreat, and the general played a large role in calming the fearful infantrymen.

Other Union commanders agreed with Buford’s assessment of the Gettysburg high ground, and they adopted his choice as the winning defensive position for the army.

Union Cavalry Flag

Union Cavalry Flag

Though John Buford and his cavalry had “guard duty” throughout the rest of the battle, the general’s wisdom and his troops’ will to “hold this ground” helped secure the Union victory at Gettysburg.

The Last Days

During the autumn of 1863, John Buford and his cavalry accomplished several exciting raids into Confederate territory, returning as heroes. But the hard work wearied and wore down the general. His men began to notice that he did not look well.

In December, Buford – who probably had typhoid fever – left the army, intending to regain his strength at a friend’s home in Washington D.C. His condition worsened, though. John Buford died on December 16, 1863 – on his death bed he was presented with a major general’s commission from President Lincoln.

Colonel Charles S. Wainwright described Buford’s character: “Straight-forward, honest, conscientious, full of good common sense, and always to be relied on in any emergency.”

Concluding Thoughts

In the Book of Esther in the Bible, the young queen is told “…yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) She gathers her courage, prays and fasts, and then goes to the king, begging that the lives of her people be spared. (The king grants her request…in case you didn’t know that already).

Wait a second! you might be thinking – this is “Back to Gettysburg Tuesday” so why are you mentioning an ancient Persian queen?

Because people are placed in certain locations or situations for providential reasons, and this certainly seems clear in the life of Gettysburg general, John Buford. When we consider Buford’s experience, skill, and knowledge and realize he lived only five months after the Battle of Gettysburg, we see God’s providence as He prepared John Buford for such a time as Gettysburg. He was the cavalry commander with exceptional scouting skills and the iron determination to hold a position to give his side the ground for victory.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

General Ewell’s Gettysburg: Prudence or Folly?

The debate is endless…who’s to blame for the Confederate’s loss of the Battle of Gettysburg? While Longstreet and Stuart are primary scapegoats, General Richard Ewell acquires his share of blame too.

But, if this blog devolves to “blame-fest” and character besmirching, then I am not doing my job of teaching the facts. So, today, we’ll explore some biographical facts and another facet of Gettysburg history…and you can draw your own conclusions about the general.

A Warrior

Richard Stoddert Ewell was a warrior. Born in 1817, he grew up in Virginia, not far from the future site of the Battles of Manassas. He attended West Point, graduating in 1840, 13th in a class of 42 cadets. Commissioned in the U.S. Army, Ewell served during the Mexican War, and later had many adventures in the American Southwest. He returned to the east in 1860, suffering from bad health.


General Richard S. Ewell

Resigning from the U.S. Army in 1861 and offering his services the Confederacy, Ewell started his Southern military career as a brigadier general and was promoted to major general the following year.

Jackson’s “Trusted” Subordinate

During Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson’s Valley Campaign of 1862, General Ewell and his army were crucial reinforcements which allowed Jackson to undertake more daring moves against the enemy. Ewell and his troops won the battle of Cross Keys on their own toward the end of the campaign.

While Ewell held a key role in the Valley Campaign, he had some…um…challenges with Jackson. You see, Jackson didn’t tell anyone his battle plans, his strategies, or his military thoughts to anyone. Subordinate generals got seemingly random orders which they were supposed to obey to the letter, even if they didn’t understand them.

This annoyed Ewell! He was ready to fight, but he wanted to know the plan. Ewell eventually came to the conclusion that Jackson was crazy, yet he continued to serve with him for the next few months.

An artist's idea of a Confederate prayer meeting. General Jackson is standing at the center. The second man to the right of Jackson in the image appears to be General Ewell.

An artist’s idea of a Confederate prayer meeting. General Jackson is standing at the center. The second man to the right of Jackson in the image appears to be General Ewell.

A Changed Man

There was another thing that Ewell found disturbing…and intriguing about General Jackson. That was Jackson’s faith and complete trust in God’s providence. Profane, hard-fighting, and too busy for religion, Ewell could not escape the clear evidence of faith’s power that he observed in Jackson’s life.

Time marched on…the Valley Campaign ended in victory, the Seven Days’ Battles around Richmond were also a Southern victory, Cedar Mountain – Jackson’s wins again. Then the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) was fought on August 29 – 30, 1862. On the first day of that battle, Ewell was badly wounded in the left leg; the shattered leg was amputated and Ewell was sent home to recover.

Ewell spent part of his recovery time with a distant cousin, Lizinka Brown – a widow. By the time he returned to the army in the spring of 1863, Ewell had “got religion” and he’d married Lizinka.

There was a definite change in Ewell’s attitude when he returned. His soldiers noticed that his profanity was diminishing. He was more calm, more at peace with life. His newfound faith had changed his life.

A Corps Commander

Around the time Ewell returned to the Confederate army, General Lee was reorganizing his troops. General Jackson had died in May 1863, and his corps needed a new commander. General Ewell was assigned to the position and took command of the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Ewell’s first campaign as a corps commander was the Gettysburg campaign. Wooden leg strapped to his saddle, he rode the dusty roads northward, leading his men through the Shenandoah Valley, across the Potomac, through Maryland, and deep into the heart of southern Pennsylvania.

Receiving new marching orders, Ewell started his corps toward a crossroad town on the map. It was called Gettysburg. He was following General Lee’s orders.

A Gettysburg Dilemma

On July 1, 1863, Ewell’s Second Corps found their route barred by Union soldiers north of Gettysburg. To the west of town, a battle was already raging, so the seasoned fighters of the Second Corps plunged into the fight, eventually breaking the Union lines and sending them fleeing for shelter on Cemetery Hill.

Twilight came. Some of Ewell’s subordinates were anxious to press on and attack the Union position on Cemetery Hill – or at least occupy Culp’s Hill, farther to the east. Ewell received a message from General Lee to occupy Culp’s Hill “if practicable.” Taking stock of the situation, Ewell was wary to launch attacks against unknown positions and foes in the gathering darkness. His men had been marching – and some had been fighting – most of the day. Ewell decided not to push them. He decided to avoid potentially high casualties by attacking unknown positions. To the disgust of his subordinates, Ewell waited and did not attack on the night of July 1st.

A sketch of the fighting on Culp's Hill on July 2nd or 3rd

A sketch of the fighting on Culp’s Hill on July 2nd or 3rd

On July 2nd and 3rd, Ewell’s men launched fierce attacks on Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill. Despite spirited attacks and hard fighting, the Confederates were not able to successfully gain and hold ground.

A Prudent…or Foolish Decision?

Was Ewell’s decision not to attack in the evening of July 1st wise? It’s a big debate.

At the time, some division commanders and staff officers wanted to press the attack. (At least according to their memoirs – written after the war!)

With hindsight – the blessing and curse of historians – Ewell should’ve occupied and fortified Culp’s Hill. No question. But at the time, with the limited knowledge he had, maybe Ewell made the right decision?

Surely Ewell knew about the Union debacle at Fredericksburg the previous winter, when a Union general launched endless attacks against a strong position. Maybe Ewell didn’t want to sacrifice his men. Maybe he was trying to earn the trust of General Lee by careful, cautious evaluation of the situation.

Ewell was a warrior, so it seems unlikely that he was afraid to fight. Perhaps a feeling of compassion for his troops or a spirit of prudence came over him. He was unwilling to make a risk – that ultimately proved disastrous to his cause. But can we blame him for caution in an unknown situation?

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I want to know what you think. With the knowledge he had of the situation, should Ewell have pressed forward or was caution more prudent at the time?


Eliza Thorn: “Ever Ready To Help”

Eliza Thorn - Women's Memorial at Gettysburg (Photograph from

Eliza Thorn – Women’s Memorial at Gettysburg (Photograph from

Meet Eliza Thorn. In modern day Gettysburg, Eliza Thorn is one of the few civilians to be immortalized in a sculpted memorial to civilian valor. One of the things I love about her memorial statue is the humanness captured in her action and stance. It doesn’t take much imagination to bring the bronze to life in the mind’s eye. Who was she really?

An American Citizen

Eliza Masser Thorn’s first homeland was Germany, but in 1854 she and her parents immigrated to America and eventually settled in Gettysburg. What their occupations were in their new homeland or specific details of why they left Germany aren’t clear. Coming to Gettysburg, they were likely welcomed by other German-American immigrants, but may have faced some mild prejudice from their “English” neighbors.

Miss Eliza Masser had left a sweetheart behind in Germany, but in her new Pennsylvania home she determined to look ahead and create a new life for herself. She met Peter Thorn – also a German immigrant – and in 1855, they married. While it may not have been love at first sight, Peter and Eliza Thorn respected each other and one day Eliza discovered how much she loved her husband. The original suitor from Germany arrived on the Thorn Family’s doorstep, asking Eliza to run away with him. She refused, realizing how much she loved her husband, her new life, and her children. (Peter Thorn was obviously pleased with his wife’s committed choice and shortly thereafter he brought her a new dress!)

A Homemaker

About a year after Peter and Eliza Thorn’s marriage, Peter took the position of caretaker at Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery. His duties included opening and closing the cemetery gate, keeping the grounds and fences in good condition, and preparing the graves for deceased citizens. The pay was good and it came with a house. Eliza did supplement the family’s income by doing housework for their nearby neighbor, the elderly Captain John Myers.

The Thorn Family moved into the Cemetery Gatehouse, a building shaped somewhat like the Arc De Triomphe in Paris, with the arched opening spanning the road into the cemetery. Mr. and Mrs. Masser (Eliza’s parents) lived in one side of the building and the Thorns lived in the other side; they shared the kitchen and parlor.

In the seven years between the Thorn’s marriage and the beginning of their war experiences, three boys were born – Frederick, George, and John.

This is the Cemetery Gatehouse, where the Thorn family lived.

This is the Cemetery Gatehouse, where the Thorn family lived.

A Soldier’s Wife

In 1862, Peter Thorn enlisted in Company B of the 138th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. He left Gettysburg with other men and boys from the community and marched off to war. It would be interesting to know what motivated Peter Thorn to enlist and what Eliza thought. But this is not clearly recorded, and it seems wrong to speculate.

By December 1862, Peter Thorn had been promoted to corporal, and in early 1863, it seems he got a brief furlough to visit his family.

With her husband away, Eliza Thorn shouldered the responsibility of caring for Evergreen Cemetery. Overall, the work was probably not too difficult, and her father likely helped with the more difficult tasks. Keeping the grass trimmed, the weeds pulled, and digging a grave occasionally would seem like child’s play compared to Eliza’s experience in the summer of 1863.

A Civilian Caught in the Path of War

In June 1863, Eliza Thorn was about six months pregnant. Like the other Gettysburg civilians, Eliza Thorn, her little boys, and her parents were caught unawares by the Confederate raid on June 26, 1863. Cavalrymen rode into the cemetery shooting pistols, demanding some to drink, and stealing her neighbors’ horses. Eliza wrote that she nearly fainted from fear, but managed to regain her courage.

As the next four days passed with the arrival of Union cavalry and the burning of Confederate campfires on the distant western ridges, Eliza Thorn must have worried and yet tried to convince herself the war would not come to her community. If it did, what would she do?

On July 1st, hungry Union soldiers devoured the Eliza’s delicious bread while her young sons pumped water from the well until their hands were blistered. When the Union lines collapsed in the late afternoon, the generals rallied their men and built a defense position in Eliza’s backyard: Cemetery Hill. At some point during the day, she volunteered to show a Union officer the best view of the western battlefield area and came under enemy fire while on her “scouting mission.”

She returned home safely though and hid in the cellar with her family. Later, she was requested to prepare food for the generals. Eliza later wrote that she was embarrassed to only have simple bread, a little meat, apple butter, and coffee.

Surrounded by Union troops, impending battle looming, and with disorganized field hospitals in her yard, Eliza asked General Oliver Howard (one of the dinner guests) if she should leave. He advised her to prepare but not to leave until he sent word.

Peter and Eliza Thorn

Peter and Eliza Thorn

A Refugee

Before daybreak on July 2nd, General Howard’s message arrived, and Eliza Thorn took her family and fled south along the Baltimore Pike for several miles. They endured a difficult refugeeing experience and they did not all return home until July 7th.

The Thorn boys noticed a wagon rattling down the road with all their furniture in it – obviously stolen. They begged their mother to get their things back, but there was nothing she could do.

Eliza Thorn returned to her home to find extensive carnage and ruin. The actual Gatehouse structure had survived the artillery barrages and fierce fighting, but all the windows were blown out, dead horse bloated in the yard, and all the linens were ruined. In despair, she asked a Union officer if she would ever obtain financial recompense for her possessions – he angrily told her “no.”

A Self-less Woman

For six weeks, Eliza Thorn did not change her outer dress. She had no clothing other than what she had left home wearing. She and her family lived in a tent in the cemetery.

Eliza’s job was to manage the cemetery, and that included burial of the dead. She took this very seriously in the post-battle world. At first she tried to hire acquaintances from outside the Gettysburg community to do the work, but they fell ill and fled the horrific scenes at Gettysburg. With all the men of the community pre-occupied with the same burial work or care of the wounded, Eliza took a shovel, dug graves, and buried Union soldiers. Her father assisted her. She was afraid that disease would strike the Gettysburg community and felt it was her responsibility to help prevent this.

In three weeks, Eliza Thorn buried 91 Union Soldiers in properly prepared graves in Evergreen Cemetery. (It should be noted that Evergreen Cemetery stood over some of the rockiest ground in Gettysburg). She was never paid for her work.

A Mother

On November 1, 1863, Eliza’s baby was born. Named Rosa Meade Thorn, she was weak and sickly; she lived fourteen years. Eliza Thorn believed her own health and her daughter’s health were permanent affected by the hard work and worry in the summer of 1863.

Eighteen days after Rosa’s birth, Eliza attended the dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery. Her son, George, – much to his mother’s chagrin – ran directly in front of President Lincoln as that famous gentleman was leaving the speaker’s platform!

A Kind-Hearted Christian Woman

Peter Thorn survived illness and injure and returned safely to his family in the summer of 1865. The Thorn Family continued to manage Evergreen Cemetery for many years. They had four more children after the war.

In later years, Peter and Eliza Thorn managed a hotel in Gettysburg. They lived contented and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1905. Eliza gave an interview describing her Gettysburg battle experiences and it is a valuable and informative primary source. After their deaths in 1907, Peter and Eliza Thorn were buried side by side in Evergreen Cemetery.

Perhaps the best tribute to Eliza Thorn comes from members of her community after her death. This was the quote that inspired me and guaranteed Eliza Thorn a prominent role in “Blue, Gray & Crimson”:

Mrs. Thorn was the most kind-hearted Christian woman; she was ever ready to help those in distress or affliction. She possessed an extraordinary sunshiney disposition and her life was typically and nobly happy. The realization that she possessed many warm friends gave her a merry heart. 

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah