Tag Archives: Civil War

Lights, Camera, Novel: Allan Gurganus’s Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.

Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells AllOn-screen, the Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All is much like its novel counterpart. Clocking in at a hefty 718 pages, Allan Gurganus’ debut work is no quick read. And the miniseries isn’t exactly a half-hour sitcom either. Given the length and the detail of the novel, it’s not surprising it would take four hours to adapt the epic life story of Confederate widow, Lucy Marsden.

Lucy’s life story was heavily influenced by her marriage at age fifteen to Captain Willie Marsden, thirty-five years her senior, and, until his death, the last surviving Confederate soldier. Gurganus’ celebrated novel is told from the perspective of the still spunky ninety-nine year-old Lucy who resides in a North Carolina nursing home.

Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All spent eight months on the New York Times Best Seller list and sold more than four million copies. The novel also won Gurganus the Sue Kaufman Prize from The American Academy of Arts and Letters. All this proving it was worth the seven long years it took to Gurganus to write Confederate Widow.

Gurganus was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He drew a great amount of inspiration from his grandmother, Willie Ethel Pitt Gurganus, who he would visit during his lunch breaks when in grade school. Despite their time together, she never shared her life stories with him. Lucy is his imagination of his grandmother’s experiences as a Confederate-era woman.

Right around the release of the novel in 1989, New York Magazine wrote a detailed profile on Gurganus, still available here through Google Books. The miniseries, which was broadcast on CBS, starred Diane Lane, Donald Sutherland, Cicely Tyson, Anne Bancroft and Blythe Danner. Lane played Lucy from teenage to middle age. Bancroft portrayed elderly Lucy.

Confederate Widow Miniseries

Photo courtesy of the Sonar Entertainment website.

The adaptation won four Emmys (Art Direction, Costume Design, Hairstyling, and Best Supporting Actress) out of its nine nominations. The miniseries was filmed in Madison, Georgia rather than North Carolina. The novel was set in the fictional town of Falls, North Carolina.

Gurganus did not write the screenplay, which was instead adapted by Joyce Eliason. The New York Times review of the miniseries indicates that Gurganus played a small part in the production. And, Gurganus in turn spoke positively of the television adaptation.

In 2003, Ellen Burstyn starred as Lucy in a theatrical adaptation of Confederate Widow on Broadway. A critic from Variety notes that it was a very long two hours and twenty minutes, attributed partially to the fact that the page-to-stage adaptation was conceived as a one-woman show. Apparently the production closed after one official show. A few years later in 2007, the novel was adapted again for the stage, this time by Gurganus, as a part of the Theater of the American South Festival. The production was pared down to a one-act, one-woman play that was better received than its ill-fated Broadway predecessor.

Visit Sonar Entertainment’s site for a short clip from the miniseries and some production shots. But if you’re interested in watching the miniseries for yourself, copies of the movie are available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog in two locations in addition to the novel. The original blog post on Gurganus’ novel is available here.

Sources consulted: Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, New York Times, News & Observer (two different articles), People, Sonar Entertainment, Variety (two different articles), Wikipedia (Allan Gurganus, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All)

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Filed under 1990-1999, 1994, Gurganus, Allan, Historical, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Lights, Camera, Novel: Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.

Cold MountainNorth Carolina has been a popular setting for movies and television shows, yet that setting is most often fictitious. Of the 600 movies and shows nominally sited in North Carolina between 1980 and 2002, 95 percent were actually filmed outside of the state. Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Cold Mountain was one of them. Charles Frazier’s novel depicts Confederate deserter W.P. Inman’s long and arduous journey from a hospital in Raleigh to his home near Cold Mountain and his sweetheart, the genteel Ada Monroe from Charleston, who struggles to survive on her own following the death of her father. British director Anthony Minghella scouted locations over a period of five years before deciding to film the adaptation in Romania. Filming in North Carolina would have been a boon to state tourism. When the novel was released in 1997, it created a small increase in tourism. Local businesses and state officials knew that filming here would both make jobs and increase tourism.

Romania was a more attractive choice to Minghella because the rural landscape is much more intact than in North Carolina, where elements of modern life, like telephone poles and paved roads, are present, and logging has altered the area’s appearance. Minghella also noted that there were too few period buildings around Asheville and its environs. By contrast, Minghella could more easily manipulate the Romanian countryside to look like Civil War era North Carolina. The majority of the film was shot in Romania, though a few locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia were used.

The real Cold Mountain at its highest point is a daunting 6,030 feet. The mountain is located within the Pisgah National Forest. Asheville’s tourism site advises that only experienced hikers should dare to take on 11-mile hike, which has no trail markers. Visitors can view the mountain from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Inman, Frazier’s protagonist is based on relatives–chiefly his great-great-uncle, but also his great-grandfather. Frazier retrieved information about Inman’s service from the North Carolina State Archives, whose records state that Inman deserted twice, although conflicting records throw doubt on the second desertion. Inman’s neck injury sustained during the Battle of the Crater and his death at the hands of the Home Guard are verified facts, represented in the novel and the movie adaptation.

Overall, the movie, featuring Hollywood stars Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renée Zellweger, is faithful to the book in terms of plot, though there are differences in mood. The romance between Ada and Inman and the violence (specifically the brutality of the Home Guard) are accentuated on-screen. Most of the characters are appropriately scruffy and disheveled, given the tough conditions, but Charles McGrath of the New York Times notes that Kidman’s Ada Monroe remains improbably radiant throughout the film.

Treatment of race and slavery drew some critical remarks. Both the book and movie’s portrayal of the Battle of the Crater downplayed the important presence of black soldiers on the Union side. Brendan Wolfe made a counterpoint during a critique of the first chapter of Kevin Lenin’s Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder. Wolfe is not troubled by how the novel and the film skirt around these tense issues since the focus of the story is not strict historical accuracy or a panoramic view of the war. Cold Mountain is the story of a disillusioned man on an epic trek home that parallels The Odyssey. But race and slavery are difficult topics to broach, and the representation of the American South throughout film history is varied.

 

The clip above from Movie Clips shows Jude Law as Inman in the beginning of the film resting in the trenches and looking at a photo of Ada shortly before the Union soldiers blow up a mine beneath the Confederate trench. After the fuse is lit, there’s a grand and dramatic cinematic explosion.

Minghella’s Cold Mountain was recognized with over 70 awards following its release in 2003. Renée Zellweger won Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards, and the film was nominated for Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song twice:  for T-Bone Burnett and Elvis Costello’s The Scarlet Tide and Sting’s You Will Be My Ain True Love. For those interested in the music of the film and Appalachian folk songs, look at this interview of Charles Frazier in the Journal of Southern Religion. Cold Mountain was the seventh film directed by director-producer-screenwriter-actor Minghella who died in 2008.  The movie is available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog, as is the novel.  The original blog post on Frazier’s novel is available here.

Sources consulted here: Augusta Chronicle, Book Browse, Chicago Times (two different articles), Encyclopedia Virginia, Explore Asheville, History Extra (of BBC History Magazine), Journal of Southern Religion, Los Angeles Times, Movie Clips, New York Times, Prologue Magazine (of NARA), USA Today, Wikipedia (Anthony Minghella, Cold Mountain [film], Cold Mountain [novel], Cold Mountain [North Carolina])

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2003, Frazier, Charles, Haywood, Historical, Mountains

Terrell T. Garren. The Secret of War. Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Co., 2004.

With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War upon us, many libraries, including this one, have digitized diaries, letters, and other documents that bring the realities of the war–for both soldiers and civilians–to light in a way that our school textbooks did not.  We now can know more about what drew men to fight for one side or the other, how they experienced the routines of military life, and how they felt about what they saw and did in battle.  Life on the home front also can come alive in these documents, showing us that the war changed the lives of people who never left their communities.

Terrell Garren covers this subject matter using fiction–fiction based on the experiences of his great grandparents.  Joseph Youngblood’s military service took him from Henderson County to battlefields across the  South and as far as a Union hospital in Indianapolis.  Delia Russell stayed on her family’s farm, but the war came to her in a devastating way.  Joseph and Delia’s stories are at the heart of the novel, but they are surrounded by a community of people–good and bad–and better known historical figures whose actions altered the lives of Mr. Garren’s ancestors. Mr. Garren does a good job of portraying the mixture of political allegiances in the western part of this state, the chaos at the end of the war, and the way that actions from those war years could reverberate through the decades.

The Secret of War is the fruit of many years of research.  Readers who are drawn to historical topics will be delighted by the historical photographs that Mr. Garren has included and by the index of names, places, events, and military units at the end of the book.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

Interested in the Civil War? Click here to read today’s entry for Wilson Library’s The Civil War Day by Day blog.

 

 

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2004, Garren, Terrell T., Henderson, Historical, Mountains

Perry Comer. Dead Man’s Clothes. United States: CreateSpace, 2012.

In the winter of 1864-65 Wilmington, North Carolina was the last open Confederate port on the Atlantic Coast and as such it was an important lifeline for the Confederacy.  Wilmington was protected by a huge earthwork fort eighteen miles downstream, Fort Fisher.  Every man in the fort knew that it was only a matter of time before the Union launched a coordinated attack on the fort and that the attack would involve the massing war ships of the Union navy and a sizable landing force of veteran fighters.  It isn’t hard to imagine how the men in the fort felt as they anticipated the battle of their lives.  But what would others at the fort–civilians–be thinking?  Dead Man’s Clothes attempts to answer that by imagining how the battle would have been experienced by three boys, Willie, Jeremy, and Tom.  The boys are orphans who have attached themselves to the Confederate encampment at the fort.  By performing personal chores for the soldiers, begging, and scrounging leftover food, clothes, and provisions, the boys attempt to stay alive in that cold winter.  Their survival is as precarious as their loyalty to each other is strong.  Knowing that a great battle is coming, Willie has made  a hideout for himself and his friends.  But how successful can a boy be in anticipating the chaos and horrors of a naval bombardment and a massive invasion?  Dead Man’s Clothes provides readers with an interesting perspective on a well known battle.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Coast, Comer, Perry, Historical, New Hanover

Robert Heffner. Alma’s Prayer. Indianapolis, IN: Dog Ear Publishing, 2012.

alma Now that we’re in the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, we’re being treated to movies, websites, and articles about the politics and battles of that sad war.  But all wars have a home front, and the Civil War home front is the setting for Alma’s Prayer.  Alma is Alma Hawkins, a widow living the the mountains of western North Carolina.  Despite Alma’s pleas, her oldest son, Virgil, left their mountain farm to join the Confederate army. Virgil volunteered for a six month enlistment, but as the novel opens CSA President Jefferson Davis has just signed a new conscription act which calls all men eighteen and over into service and cancels all discharges.

Virgil’s letter telling his family that he’s not coming home reaches them shortly after his wife Jenny announces her pregnancy and Virgil’s brother, Luke, discovers the violence inflicted on a neighboring family whose husband deserted the army.  Luke’s concern for his mother and sister-in-law compels him to visit Virgil’s camp to ask him to come home.  Soon both brothers are on the run from the very posse who so brutally dealt with their neighbors.  This crisply-written novel covers some of the same literal and figurative territory as Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.  It is a timely reminder that in wartime sacrifice, fear, cruelty, and bravery are not confined to the battlefield.

 

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Heffner, Robert, Mountains

William F. Kaiser. Bloodroot. Deep Gap, NC: Bloodroot Books, 2007.

It’s 1860, and Billy Jack Truehill thinks he’s a goner for sure. Bitten by a giant rattlesnake while hunting alone in the North Carolina mountains, the tough woodsman knows he’s likely to perish. But Providence must smile on Billy Jack, for instead of dying in the forest, he stumbles onto the Widow Johnson’s humble homestead.

Elvira May Johnson was gently raised in New York City, where she was married off to the affluent Methodist preacher, Reverend Hiram Johnson. At twenty years her senior, Reverend Johnson was not her ideal match, but Elvira May bowed to the wishes of her father and brothers. But a sudden, unexplained assignment to a parish in western North Carolina meant Elvira May was uprooted from all she knew and loved, and taken out of civilization into the mountain wilds. Yet, the twenty-four-year old Elvira proved stronger than anyone thought, learning herb-lore from local granny-women and how to care for her humble living space. When Hiram died, the self-sufficient Elvira was more than prepared to cope on her own. Or at least she thought she was, until the day Billy Jack falls over in her cornfield.

Elvira heals Billy Jack’s snakebite, and it doesn’t take long for them to begin courting. Unfortunately, the day they marry is just after the formation of the Confederacy, and it doesn’t take long for the simmering mountain communities to boil over. Now Elvira and Billy Jack must fight to defend their country, their neighbors, and their very lives. But can a young woman with strong ideas about abolition and a young man with a stubborn streak a mile wide survive in the wartime mountain wilds for five years? With bandits, soldiers, and feuding neighbors roaming the highlands, it will take a lot more providence to see them through.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2007, Historical, Kaiser, William F., Mountains, Novels Set in Fictional Places

William F. Kaiser. Hellebore. Vilas, NC: Canterbury House Publishing, 2011.

In this rousing sequel to Bloodroot, the Civil War has ended and peace has been declared. Billy Jack Truehill and his wife Elvira May have retired to a small farm deep in the high mountains of fictional Afton County, North Carolina. But while peace may be the official state of the once more United States, life is far from peaceful in a North Carolina undergoing Reconstruction. Billy Jack must face raiders from both the former Union and Confederate armies, an ongoing feud with the treacherous McBigger clan who killed his parents, and the willful ways of his own wife, who insists that in order to be a true husband, Billy Jack must always stay by her side. Unfortunately for Billy Jack, veteran of two armies and a seasoned hunter and tracker, the pastoral tranquility of farming is not very exciting. He longs to once more take to the Blue Ridge as the wild, fierce mountain man he knows himself to be at heart. But soon he’ll have all the excitement he can stand, as a terrible new power known as the Ku Klux Klan begins to rise and wreak havoc on an already destitute community. Billy Jack must once again take up arms to defend his life, his family, and what he knows to be right.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Historical, Kaiser, William F., Mountains, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Jimmy C. Waters. The Bender Legacy. Toccoa, GA: Currahee Books, 2011.

The story of the Bender Family, begun in Waters’s New Bern: 1710 in the Carolinas, continues in this account of the Civil War in and around the family’s hometown of New Bern, North Carolina. Since Martin Bender built the family plantation in the 18th century, life has been good for the Benders- they have become successful cotton farmers and dry goods merchants. This novel begins in 1854 at the deathbed of John Knox Bender, the current Bender patriarch, as he instructs his sons in a shocking legacy passed down from father to son since Martin’s time. John Knox’s three sons, Philemon, Bryan, and Jake, are as different as can be: Philemon, the eldest, is boisterous and commanding, while Bryan, the middle son, is a quiet, bookish young man with a crippled arm. Jake, the youngest, is the sharply intelligent first mate on a ship transporting cotton to Britain. Although each reacts differently to their father’s surprising command, they all agree to honor his wish and keep the family legacy.

Soon, though, they will be tested. The dying John Knox Bender foresees what none of the rest can imagine: war will strike the South in just six short years. As the three sons scatter to the winds in an attempt to defend their homes and homeland, we accompany them to witness the war in different places: from the trenches on battlefields, through the eyes of a blockade runner out to sea, and where the conflict was perhaps the most brutal: on the farms and homesteads of Southern families. As these young men and their compatriots fight for their lives and for everything else they hold dear, some will emerge from the conflict, while others will fall.

Half history and half historical fiction, Jimmy C. Waters weaves statistics, facts, and a plethora of imaginary characters together in this stirring sequel to New Bern. Witness every battle that took place during the War Between the States in North Carolina, on the front lines with the brothers Bender.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Coast, Craven, Historical, Waters, Jimmy C.

Eileen Clymer Schwab. Shadow of a Quarter Moon. New York: New American Library, 2011.

“Jacy Lane, you are nothing more than a foolish quarter moon!” While Jacy is the pride and joy of her father, the wealthy plantation owner Mr. Bradford Lane, she is often the subject of her mother Claudia’s anger. Raised to be a fine southern lady in northeastern North Carolina, Jacy has enjoyed a comfortable existence marred only by her mother’s inexplicable bouts of rage. But her mostly happy life comes to an abrupt halt, first when a cruel landowner foists his ungentlemanly attentions on her, and then when Bradford Lane dies suddenly. When Jacy refuses to submit to the fate her mother Claudia has planned, the woman finally reveals the reason for her ill-treatment of Jacy: Jacy is the illegitimate child of Bradford and his true love, a half-white, half-black house slave. When the young Jacy heard her mother call her a “quarter moon”, she was really saying “quadroon”- a term for a person who is only three-quarters white. Naturally fair-skinned and kept paler with wide-brimmed sun hats, no one, not even Jacy, had guessed her true parentage.

Stunned by this revelation, Jacy begins a transformation. Galvanized by the further discovery that her birth mother and full brother are still enslaved on the plantation, she decides to deliver them, and the handsome horse trainer Rafe, to freedom. It is only when the three are safely away that Jacy realizes her true home is with them, no matter where they are or the color of their skin. Abandoning the relative safety of the plantation, Jacy strikes out to follow her family through the Underground Railroad to the north, true love, and acceptance of her own identity. Along the way she encounters great danger, temporary defeat, and the worst kind of human indecency, but ultimately emerges as a triumphant, strong woman with the ability to look her fears in the eye.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Camden, Coastal Plain, Gates, Historical, Pasquotank, Romance/Relationship, Schwab, Eileen Clymer

Sharyn McCrumb. The Ballad of Tom Dooley. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2011.

If you grew up in the Appalachians of western North Carolina, chances are you’ve heard the tale of Tom Dooley at least once. You may even have heard the song made famous by the likes of Frank Proffitt, the New Lost City Ramblers, and Doc Watson: hang down your head, Tom Dooley…hang down your head and cry… a sordid tale of love, betrayal, and murder set in the years following the Civil War. But fact often proves more shocking than the tale. Author Sharyn McCrumb, after spending hours consulting the legal evidence, trial transcripts, and speaking with experts, determined that something didn’t add up. The answers she found in her lengthy research hint at a dark, Brontë-like pentagon of individuals trapped by disease, starvation, racial boundaries, and the after-effects of armed conflict.

Zebulon Baird Vance, the educated sometime-Governor of North Carolina,  represented Tom Dooley during his trial for murder. In McCrumb’s telling, he is convinced that Dooley is innocent. While his narrative reflects on the aftermath, the voice of servant-girl Pauline Foster recounts the tale from its origin. Survival during the war meant Pauline had to sell her body to passing soldiers for food, but she escaped death. Unfortunately, she didn’t emerge entirely unscathed. Infected with syphilis, she makes her way from her home county of Watauga to neighboring Wilkes, in hopes of staying with one of her cousins there while seeing a doctor. She chooses her wealthy relation Ann Melton, who allows her room and board in exchange for servant work. Ann is narcissistic and spoiled, and the sociopathic Pauline quickly determines that she will bring suffering to her cousin’s door, no matter the consequences for others. When Pauline realizes the depth of love between the married Ann and Tom Dooley, a former Confederate soldier and Ann’s childhood sweetheart, she hatches a terrible plan for revenge that inflicts tragedy across the entirety of Wilkes County. Expertly researched and written, history and fiction lovers alike will find this a fascinating read.

Frank Proffitt and his banjo

Click here for a clip of “Tom Dooley” as sung by Doc Watson, and here for a clip as sung by Frank Proffitt, both courtesy of the Southern Folklife Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill. The songs, and many others, are available on CD and vinyl in the Southern Folklife Collection, which like the North Carolina Collection, is located in Wilson Library. While you’re here, check the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog for the availability of The Ballad of Tom Dooley.

 

 

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Historical, McCrumb, Sharyn, Mountains, Watauga, Wilkes