Posted in History

Christmas During the Civil War: On the Homefront

2047_1229winter20130134The following excerpt was taken from: L. Virginia French’s War Journal 1862-1865
Lucy Virginia Smith French was living in McMinnville, Tennessee during the war. Her journal tells the perspective of the Southern Homefront.  

Christmas 1862

“…On Tuesday evening Brooks Trezevant came to spend Christmas with us. He brought me as a Christmas gift 25 lbs of nice sugar, than which nothing could be more acceptable. On Wednesday having “made a rise” of a few dozen eggs (butter I could not get,) some turkies etc. I set to work cooking “Christmas goodies,” and succeeded “beyond my most sanguine expectations.” We had to be “Santa Clause” ourselves this season for cakes, apples and a little candy, and some picture books were all that could be procured for the children. We had to tell them Santa Clause couldn’t get thro’ the pickets, Jessie wanted to know why “the old fellows couldn’t go to his Quartermaster and get him a pass?” They seemed to enjoy their Christmas quite as well as usual however, notwithstanding that Santa Clause was blockaded. Indeed I often feel rebuked by the way the children take what is set before them never complaining or repining that it is not better, or that they must now do without this, that, and the other to which they have been accustomed…”

I loved hearing their explanation about Santa in her own words. I had found the “Santa and the blockade” fact during my research some time ago, so it was a treat to see it in an actual journal. I had incorporated this bit of information in the short story, The Hands and Feet of Christmas. You can read it here. You can also see my take on an 1860’s Christmas tree in last month’s post here.  

I also feel rebuked at the children’s ability to accept whatever is given to them without complaint. This is an area that I desperately need to grow in. 

Now, she goes on in her journal to talk about the gifts they exchanged that year and the activities. Keep reading to learn more about her experience…

“Mollie gave me a beautiful silver waiter for a Christmas gift, I got her a handsome pair of pins and cousin John a set of shirt buttons – gold and enamel. Mollie’s pins were gold and turquoise, I got Bouse 2 sets linen collar and sleeves – Ting and Bee white dresses – the Col. some new socks, and Brooks 6 pair of the same. (*Notice here that Brooks receives 6 pairs of socks. It pays to give a little sugar. 😉 ) To each of the servants I gave something, and so did Mollie…
On Christmas Eve we were “stormed” by some of the young folks, the members of the “dancing club” and they danced until about 2 o’clock. The children were delighted with the exhibition and sat in the dancing room, watching with all their eyes, until those sweet eyes closed of their own accord and they nearly dropped asleep in their little chairs. The Col. was showing the children to Capt. Butler, and had Jessie to play and sing for him. I was in the back room at the time. Soon the house became so still that I noticed it and went out to see what was the matter. I found all hands had quit dancing and adjourned to the other room to hear Jessie play. She acquitted herself very well indeed and was greatly complimented by her audience. I danced twice during the evening, once with the Col. and once with Capt. Butler. Sallie Rowan and Bettie Reed seemed to be the belles of the evening. We all noticed that Capt. Butler paid great attention to Sallie, and I could not help thinking what a beautiful couple they would make. Capt. B. I think very handsome, graceful, easy, and gentlemanly more so indeed than any man I have seen for years. He is really an elegant gentleman, and Sallie is a very lovely girl. I thought as I looked upon them both that night that I never had seen two persons whom I could more wish Walter and  Jessie to resemble, when they are grown, and this is the highest compliment I could pay either…”


Posted in History

An Inside Out Look at Ladies’ Fashion in the 1860s

Before I share what I know, let’s play a quick game. I’m going to share some pictures of a lady’s undergarments during the 1860s. Let’s see if you can put them on in the right order. Just jot down your answers, then I’ll explain things further down the page. Have fun, but nooo peaking! 😉

A. Crinoline    B. Drawers   C. Corset

34 3032

D. Chemise    E. Corset Cover  F. Petticoat


Have you had time to make your guess? Are you ready for the answer? 🙂 Keep scrolling…


3031First, we’d put on B. Drawers and D. Chemise. Clearly these pieces could have been slipped on in either order, but if we wanted to split hairs over it, the drawers go underneath the chemise and could be considered the bottom layer. Also note, a lady would have worn stockings which are not pictured.


Next, we have C. Corset

Since this piece was so similar to a bra, I thought it should go first, but it doesn’t. The idea during this time was to have as little contact with the clothing as possible. With the Chemise and drawers in place, the rest of the clothing wouldn’t touch your body aside from your arms. This kept your clothing cleaner longer since your body oils never touched the large elaborate dress.

33Then E. Corset Cover

The corset cover went on over top if one was being used. They didn’t always use a corset cover, but the purpose was to smooth out the strict lines that the boned corset gave.

34Next is A. Crinoline

Crinoline was the next layer to be piled on this delicate woman. The crinoline, while looking awkward, allowed the women to reach the desired shape with fewer layers. After the war, when the bustle came into fashion the crinoline changed its shape, but we’ll look at this in a moment.


Then F. Petticoat

We’re almost done now!! The petticoat went on over the hoops to disguise the harsh lines the hoops made. Before the hoops were invented, women wore multiple layers of petticoats to fluff out the shape of her dress. You can often tell an earlier century dress from a Civil War era dress because they weren’t as full. The “cage” made all the difference. And finally a lovely dress to drape over all of that.


So how did you do on that little quiz? Don’t be ashamed if you couldn’t dress your inner 1860’s self. 😉 I wouldn’t have been able to get them in order either if it wasn’t for purposeful research and a cheat sheet.

Our model to the side is a great example, but can you spot the 2 missing pieces?

This model isn’t wearing a Petticoat or Corset Cover.

Let’s look at anther example…

40The lady in front is wearing her petticoat while the lady in back is not. Notice how you can see the ribs of the crinoline on the lady in the back? Also, now that we know the chemise went on before the corset, we take notice of the shirt like piece that is layered underneath the corset. I’ve noticed the corset and white shirt look before in a more modern…risque…look, but I never knew it was so historically accurate. 😉 Also, notice that neither of these models are wearing corset covers. I want to show you 2 more fun examples…

37 After our talk last week about the changing styles, I wanted to show you a crinoline later in the century. Remember how we looked at the change from the bell shape to the flat front and extended bottom look. Based on the shape of the crinoline, I would guess that this one was worn in the late 1860s or 70s. Also in this crinoline, we see that it already has a cover. This helps the petticoat out and became an option sometime after the invention of the hoops. Sorry, I don’t remember the year. But look at this one…

21939Who would have thought this hid under those lovely gowns we drool over? I bet you’ll never look at them the same again!

I hope you had fun with me and learned something new. And if you missed the discussion last week on ladies’ fashions, you can check it out here.  Please comment below and tell me which of these garments you were most surprised to learn about. I’d love to hear from you!

Posted in History

Ladies’ Fashion in the 1800s


 We’re going to take a quick little tour through a lady’s changing wardrobe through the 1800s. This is not meant to be an extensive study, but I hope you’ll enjoy this bite-sized take on history. 🙂

1840s: This dress is an example of something that was in fashion around 1840. Women at this time wore multiple layers of petticoats in order to create the bell shape that was becoming popular.

291855-1865: In the late 1850s and early 1860s, dresses reached their largest shape. This was only created by the use of hoops or crinoline. Ladies dropped the layers of petticoats in exchange for a skirt with built in hoops. As awkward as this contraption sounds, it was a blessing since it allowed the women to shed several extra pounds.

In fact, the purpose of the wide bell shape was to make the waist appear smaller by comparison. Women during this time believed the best way to create a tiny waist was to widen both the top and bottom portions of their bodies. They wore pads (think of shoulder pads from the 1980s) on the sides of their chest to make their chests wider. Again, the idea was to make the waist look smaller by comparison. These pads were NOT worn in the front to fill them out in the top but on the sides.

28The picture above of the green-plaid dress with long wide sleeves is an example of a day dress. The picture to the right is an example of a ball gown. You can easily tell the difference by the length of the sleeves. A day dress has long sleeves and a high neckline for propriety and possibly even sun coverage. While propriety wasn’t near as strict in their idea of evening wear. A ball gown is recognized by the low neckline and short sleeves.

251865-1874: By the end of the 1860s, the now iconic bell shape was beginning to change. This dress is an example of something worn in 1869. Notice the front of the skirt is flatter while the back of the skirt is larger. This trend would continue to alter.

215Fashionable women would say goodbye to the perfectly round bell shape until 100 years later when the shape reappeared in the 1950s.


1875: It’s often been said that women are quick to change their minds, and our lesson in fashion certainly proves it to be true. This lovely dress is an example of fashion in 1875. The front is now completely flat and the bustle is all the rage. But this too will change in just a few short years.

2181880s: Here’s an example of a dress from 1885. Notice that the bustle is now beginning to slide off the dress. The bustle has an interesting history. Originally, it was added to keep help the dress keep its shape under the heavy material. In its early days, it helped the lady keep the image of a tiny waist intact, but as the years went on, it became more of a fashion statement. The bustle even disappeared between 1878 and 1882 but returned with greater popularity than before. Before the bustle faded into fashion history again, it would reach new heights. During its existence, the bustle took on various shapes and sizes. Here are some examples:

111 112 113


1890s: The bustle stuck around for some ladies into the 1890s, but most of them were ready to send them away for good. Here’s an example of a dress from 1890. After the fling with the bustle, it seems that fashion is taking a simpler approach…but don’t be so easily fooled. Over exaggerated sleeves would rule this decade. Here are some examples: Notice how tiny her waist looks when set against those huge sleeves!

114 115 116

2161905: Eventually, both the sleeves and backside would return to normal and take on a simpler look in the early 1900s.

I hope you enjoyed this quick little stroll through the history of ladies’ fashion. Join me next week as we take a different look at women’s clothing.

There are so many wonderful fashions through out history. Which decade are your most drawn to from the 1800s?
Which would I choose? I’d be honored to strut around wearing either of these styles(Yep, sleeves, bustle and all, I’m afraid!), but I’ve always been smitten with the large bell shapes of the Civil War era. In fact, it’s what first drew me into this particular time in history.

Posted in History

Civil War Letters: A Letter from a Father

2015_0413Appomattox0186As you can see by the date below, this letter wasn’t written during the Civil War, but the author of the letter is so closely associated with the war that I didn’t think you would mind. 😉 

Robert E. Lee writes to his daughter, Agnes, in the summer of ’56 while he is serving in Texas and she is away at school. Agnes has become rather restless at school and complained a great deal about it in her previous letter. What I love most about this letter is the timeless voice of a father. As we study the war, we sometimes forget that the great men involved were family men. They loved their wives. They adored their children. And, at times, they even disciplined them through whatever means available. Listen to the affections of a father in this timeless letter: 

Camp Cooper, Texas 4 Aug 1856
I cannot send off my letters to Arlington dearest Agnes without writing to you. But what shall I tell  you more than you know already. How glad I was to receive your letter (May 24) to hear from you, to talk to you. Oh, that I could see you, kiss you, squeeze you! But that cannot be Agnes and I must not indulge in wishes that cannot be gratified. That reminds me I must take  you to task for some expressions in your letter. You say, “our only thought, our only talk, is entirely about our going home.” How can you reconcile that with the object of your sojourn at Staunton! Unless your thoughts are sometimes devoted to your studies, I do not see the use of your being there, and if it was “so hot” (May 24) as to render it “impossible for you to study,” in the mountains of Virg. how can  you expect to exist in Texas in July and August? It is so hot in my tent now, that the spermaceti candles become so soft as to drop from the candlesticks. Sturine candles, have melted, and become liquid in the stand. The chair I sit in and the table I write on is hot, disagreeably so, to  the touch, and feel as if made of metal. Do not speak of heat Agnes, for you know not what it is and I shall have to relinquish all hope of ever having you here with me.     …I must now bid you goodbye. Give love to everyone. Your affectionate father
R.E. Lee

Source: Growing Up in the 1850s: The Journal of Agnes Lee *Letter was copied as written. **The letter in the picture was not written by Lee.

Posted in Christian, History

The Legacy We Leave Behind

2050_1231spring20140276I was forced to consider the legacy I’ll leave behind after reading the obituary of Jacob Sliter. Jacob is the great- great grandfather of a dear friend, Dana Kamstra, who passed away in May of 1884. May we read what his pastor had to say about him as we consider what people will one day say about us. Are we living in way that will force people to say the nice things that we would like to be remembered for?

SLITER.- Thus we lost our best brother. God is no respecter of persons. God’ s ways are not our ways. Although Brother Sliter was suddenly taken from us and in the prime of life, he being only thirty-five years , ten months and five days old, the brother has left one of the best of Christian examples for his friends and the church to follow. His kind admonitions will not be buried with him; especially with the church and young people. He was a man that was highly esteemed by all with whom he was associated…Funeral services were conducted by the writer. Text Amos iv. 12. Prepare to meet thy God. It was the largest procession that I ever saw in the county. He was a kind husband and a loving father. His home was a home for the homeless. We were always greeted with a smile , and we shall be lonesome without him. While we mourn his loss, yet we know that our loss is his great gain. If we are faithful here below we shall meet him on the resurrection morning. May the Lord sustain his companion. May the children often think of a father’s good advice and kind admonition. To the young folks let me say, Seek the Lord while yet he may be found, and remember the request Brother Sliter so often made to meet him in heaven. Farewell to Bro. Sliter. May we each one strive to meet him over on the golden strand.
Wm. H. Prescott, Pastor.

“His kind admonitions will not be buried with him.” This phrase really struck a cord with me. The general thought is that death is the ultimate ending. But that’s not entirely true. Not only does death bring forth eternity, but death is far from the ending for those that knew you. Every good word we’ve spoken, every healing touch, every good deed will live on in the lives of those we knew. Just like every scornful word, every broken promise, and every spiteful touch will continue even after we’re gone. This man, Jacob, lived his life for the Lord. And because He lived to honor Christ, his good deeds would continue on without him. How do you feel about your current deeds living long after you’ve expired? If you left earth today, would you be satisfied with the deeds you’ve left to carry on or will you regret them?

Every good eulogy takes the time to prepare the reader to meet Christ. Once again, Jacob becomes the example for us by his shocking death at the young age of 35. “Prepare to meet your God.” Jacob was young and healthy, so no one expected that when he ate breakfast that morning, it would be his last. His wife never imagined that she had just served him his last lunch. Jacob Sliter died as a result of a tragic accident. There was no warning. No illness to count down his days by. He was working one minute and gone the next. Yet, his sudden death didn’t leave Jacob regretful. It didn’t leave him wishing he had done something more before it was too late. He had already purposed in his heart to live every day as if it would be his last. He had already made peace with God and lived every day in light of that. Jacob didn’t put off the important things in life — the spiritual things. May we learn from his example and turn to Christ today. “It is given to man once to die then is the judgment.”

Posted in History

Experiencing History: Pictures from Appomattox: Part 5 Stacking of Arms Ceremony

The Stacking of Arms Ceremony. The very reason why I, and hundreds of others, made their way to Appomattox, Virginia. 150 years ago on April 12th, Lee’s army marched between 2 rows of Union soldiers and surrendered their weapons. It was a solemn moment for everyone involved. You can read 2 first-hand accounts of the event that I shared here on my blog.

I was able to see the ceremony twice that weekend. Once in real time. It was a wonderful experience!

The Union Army filing in:







The Confederate Army filing in:








Touching the flag for the last time:




Prepare and Stack:






Surrendering Ammunition:



It is finished:




Walking away:





The End:

















The long awaited homecoming:




I hope you enjoyed the entire Experiencing History series. You can catch up on anything you missed by clicking on the “#ExperHist” tag on the right. 🙂

Posted in History

Experiencing History: Pictures from Appomattox: Part 4 Museums

Today, I’m bringing to you a collection of interesting displays from various museums. I hope you enjoy. And don’t forget you can catch up on the entire series by clicking on the “ExperHist” tag on the right. 🙂

This is one the flags that laid across Lincoln’s coffin during his funeral procession. His procession lasted 2 weeks.



This is the doll nicknamed, “The Silent Witness.” There are several books written about the doll’s experience and you can buy replicas today, but here is the original doll, once owned by Lula McLean. Before Lee and Grant met in their home, Lula accidentally left her favorite rag doll in the room. After the men left the room it was found by one of Grant’s officers and dubbed, “The Silent Witness.”


This is Lee’s copy of the surrender terms penned by Grant himself. What lovely handwriting he has!



Below is a picture of a cracked plate. It may not seem like much, but the story behind it fascinated me. It was once owned by Emily H. Booton. Family legend has it that a detail of Union raiders visited her home looking for food. When a soldier picked up the plate of bread and butter, she snatched the plate away and hit him in the face with the plate. It’s said that the plate cracked and the hit knocked him out cold. Another Union soldier stepped in to protect the woman from the angry soldiers. 😉 I have a feeling a similar story will find its way into the pages of one of my novels someday.


Lady’s glove pattern


Below is a bodice sleeve pattern made from a newspaper page. This was just one of several ways the southern women made due with what they had.


A corn shuck cap


Lol this doll became the joke of the weekend. It’s hard to imagine her ever being a lovely play toy, but she certainly led an interesting life. She was used to smuggle medicine into the South during the war.


In this xray, you can see the hole cut into the doll’s head where they hid the medicine.


This is called the Bullet Rosette. A Union and Confederate bullet met and formed this rosette. It was found on the Spotsylvania battlefield.


Before Valentine cards were commercially made, they were homemade. This beautiful card was made by an unknown Confederate soldier.


And here’s another lovely example of a homemade Valentine. This one was made by a Confederate soldier while in the hospital. I can’t make out everything it says, but it starts off saying, “Valentine BUT by a Confederate soldier in…” The way he included the word “but” leads me to think he might have given it to a nurse, likely a Union nurse. And it doesn’t sound as if he knew her personally. I can’t help but wonder what the story behind this Valentine is…or better yet, what story I might create based on it. 😉
It is very lovely and very well done. You can see that in the close-up pictures below.




Posted in History

Experiencing History: Pictures from Appomattox: Part 3 Soldier Life

Today, I’ll share a collection of photos about the life of a soldier.


Can you imagine, opening  your front door and finding this on your lawn? Everywhere they went, they were on someone’s property. Someone’s field. Someone’s barnyard. Someone’s home.






The men used tents of various shapes and sizes. Basically, whatever was available. Here’s a nice example of a group of men that chose to throw their lot in together and build a palace.



If they were lucky, they had hay. Our friends in the picture above didn’t.





And here we have the kitchen.






We complain about school food, but they had it far worse. Since they didn’t have the food preserving technology that we have now, their rations were often served with maggots. It’s sad but true.


Infantry Drill:








The United States Christian Commission was a vital operation to the soldier. There were several other organizations like this one, but the USCC is the most well known and the most organized during the war. Their purpose was to collect and distribute common items like: food, clothing, blankets, medical supplies, and Bibles. Here are a few pictures showing these angels at work.

🙂 In this picture, the men are enjoying a game of cards, but don’t worry, they’re not gambling! And yes, I did ask. 😉







Artillery Demo:






Cavalry Demo:




One of the most important people to any regiment was their flag bearer.






But not all their fighting was done on horseback.


Last but not least. Another important member of the army was the band. No army was complete without one. These men helped give orders, wake up calls, and boosted morale.



Posted in History

Experiencing History: Pictures from Appomattox: Part 2 Personal Collection

Today’s blog post is a miscellaneous set of pictures from the weekend. You’ll find a few selfies, breathtaking scenery, and historic buildings. Enjoy!

First,  those lovely mountain shots….





The hills were just as lovely as the mountains. 🙂


I took some wonderful pictures of American flags at Civil War graves a couple summers ago, so I was thrilled to add these to my collection. 🙂



Historic Buildings:

I snapped this picture at a red light in Richmond.


The next 3 photos were taken inside a summer kitchen




The next 4 are from the inside of 2 different slave quarters.





A general store:






The next 3 pictures are of the Courthouse.




The next 2 pictures are of the McLean home. This is the home where Lee and Grant met, and where Lee actually surrendered. I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside the home, but I can tell you that it was MUCH smaller than it looks in the pictures.

There were so many people around the house at all times. Tons of yellow rope and things that ruin pictures. Lol I did the best I could.


You can’t see much of the house here, but I love the view of the brick home from behind the pink-blooming tree.


I forget which building they used to print the paroles, but here are a few pics from the inside. Each man in the Confederate army needed a parole certificate. They hung ropes across the room and draped the paper across until the ink dried.




I found this music box in a gift shop in Richmond. If you’ve read Where Can I Flee, you’ll remember that Frank sent Claire a small music box for her birthday. This was also the same day she walked past the Haynes mansion and saw…someone she’ll never forget. 😉 But what a pretty little box!



I also took time to try to blend in 🙂


Here’s a picture of me with my two traveling buddies. The one up front is my aunt Mary and the other is our friend, Sandra.


But not everything was fun and games. I brought my work with me and took the time to keep track of the giveaway I was running that week. Here’s my desk away from home.


You can click on the “#ExperHist” tag on your right to catch up on the Civil War blog series that I ran earlier this month and the previous photo albums. 🙂

Posted in History

Experiencing History: Pictures from Appomattox: Part 1 Reenactors

I love attending living history events, but the hardest thing about these events are the civilians. Lol I know, I know, I’m one of them, but hear me out. It takes a great deal of patience to wait for the perfect moment, the perfect angle, to shoot the perfect picture withOUT any civilians in the background. I was pretty fortunate to have walked away from an event this large and actually have some really terrific shots without civilians and/or modern junk in the background. So as you scroll through these pictures, please excuse anything that slipped in that doesn’t belong, and when you find those pics that are without modern influence, be amazed. 😉 I know I was!

This whole post will be dedicated to the those beautiful shots with the reenactors. They really do a wonderful job bringing history to life!! Please, continue following the blog all week as I bring a new collection of pictures every morning.

We’ll kick this post off with a pic of Grant and Lee posing for a picture.


This is one of my favorite shots. Through various journals, I read about how both armies mixed and mingled after the surrender and this picture captured that idea beautifully.


Ok, man on a horse may not seem like much, but look! No civilians…or yellow rope around the house in the background. Lol


I love the simple shots like this. It puts such a refreshing idea on life. It wasn’t just drill and march for the soldier; they had chores to do too!


Another amazing shot! Can’t we just imagine Frank, George, and Eddie palling around by the fence?!







I love this pic!! This is a good example of a soldier during the down time.


This was another example of a beautiful shot ruined by a busy, modern background. 🙂 I think I took six pictures before getting this one. Does this scene remind you of anything? Think back to Frank’s opening camp scene in Where Can I Flee, where he’s sitting under a tree beside Eddie and George with a group of men sitting off the side? Ok, so they’re totally in the wrong uniform, but it’s still a neat resemblance.




This is one of my favorite pictures of the weekend! So simple. So beautiful. The story behind this picture is kinda funny. I was standing in line at the bookstore (notice the armed guards in the picture above 😉 ) when I noticed that only reenactors were visible in the doorway. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity! So, paying no attention to the long line of strangers behind me, I dropped to my knees and took a few pictures. I’m so glad that I did!




I hope you enjoyed the first of five blogs featuring my pictures from Appomattox. I ran a blog series featuring the major events surrounding Lee’s surrender to Grant earlier this month. Click on the “#ExperHist” tag to your right to read the series. It’s too late to enter the giveaway that accompanied the series, but it’s never too late to enjoy history! 😉