Today, I’m delighted to welcome Glen Craney to the blog with a fascinating post about the historical research that went into writing The Cotillion Brigade.
Thank you, M.J., for inviting me as a guest on your blog.
As part of my research process, I try to travel to the historical locations of my novels. And one of the first things I do is head first for the local cemetery. More than once, I’ve made discoveries from the headstones that changed the trajectory of my stories.
LaGrange, Georgia, is the setting of my latest novel, The Cotillion Brigade, which is based on the true story of the Nancy Hart Rifles, the most famous female militia in American history.
When I pulled into the scenic town of LaGrange to learn more about the Nancy Harts, I parked the car and walked among the monuments of Hillview Cemetery, where many of my characters from The Cotillion Brigade are buried. To my astonishment, and not a little chagrin, my protagonist, Captain Nancy Colquitt Hill Morgan, was nowhere to be found among her comrades in arms. How could she not be buried in the town she helped save?
I learned later that she is buried in Decatur, more than seventy-five miles away. I wondered if this was her wish. Had she moved to Decatur late in life to reside with family? I knew from my research that many Southern families, devastated by the war, could not afford to transport deceased members back to the homesteads.
Nancy Morgan’s Grave
Still feeling a little sad for Captain Nancy in exile, I drove across town to the smaller Stonewall Confederate Cemetery, where I was unprepared for another tragic discovery. Most of the three hundred soldiers buried there died from wounds and disease. After the bloody battle of Chickamauga and during Sherman’s Atlanta campaign, thousands of Confederate wounded were shipped south along the Atlanta and West Point rail line, one of the last surviving transport arteries in the heart of the Confederacy. Cities on the way, like Newnan, LaGrange, and West Point, became hospital centers, and the Nancy Harts took time from their military drills to help nurse the men.
The Stonewall Cemetery sits near the railroad tracks, and as I studied the names on the stones, the horrific reason for this location suddenly dawned on me. Many of the wounded men would not have survived the jarring journey from the battlefields northwest of Atlanta. Their bodies were likely removed from the train cars to be buried immediately.
John Gay-Stonewall Cemetery
Captain Nancy’s close friend, Carolyn Poythress, was widowed very young before the war. She fell in love with another man, Lt. John Gay of the Fourth Georgia infantry regiment, who came back to LaGrange to convalesce from an artillery chest wound received at Antietam. After they married, Lt. Gay returned to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. He fell mortally wounded at the siege of Petersburg, only two weeks before the surrender at Appomattox. Caroline, accompanied by the daughter her husband never lived to see, insisted he be buried with his comrades at Stonewall Cemetery. Caroline lies in Hillview.
A thousand miles away, another plot revealed a secret about my second protagonist, Colonel Oscar Hugh LaGrange. The Union officer who confronted Captain Nancy and her militia during the last days of the war lies buried in the Bronx’s Woodland Cemetery. Next to his stone is that of his third wife, Susie Gray LaGrange, who goes unmentioned in the history books. Strange as it seems, the ardent Abolitionist colonel from Wisconsin married not one, but two, Southern plantation belles. That discovery would lead me to a new understanding about the officer’s transformation and the impact the Nancy Harts of Georgia had on him.
Colonel LaGrange’s Grave
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s always fascinating to understand the discoveries made while researching, and how they add to the finished story.
Here’s the blurb
Sherman’s Yankees are closing in.
Will the women of LaGrange run or fight?
Based on the true story of the celebrated Nancy Hart Rifles, The Cotillion Brigade is an epic novel of the Civil War’s ravages on family and love, the resilient bonds of sisterhood in devastation, and the miracle of reconciliation between bitter enemies.
“Gone With The Wind meets A League Of Their Own.”
— John Jeter, The Plunder Room
1856. Sixteen-year-old Nannie Colquitt Hill makes her debut in the antebellum society of the Chattahoochee River plantations. A thousand miles north, a Wisconsin farm boy, Hugh LaGrange, joins an Abolitionist crusade to ban slavery in Bleeding Kansas.
Five years later, secession and war against the homefront hurl them toward a confrontation unrivaled in American history.
Meet the Author
A graduate of Indiana University School of Law and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Glen Craney practiced trial law before joining the Washington, D.C. press corps to write about national politics and the Iran-contra trial for Congressional Quarterly magazine. In 1996, the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences awarded him the Nicholl Fellowship prize for best new screenwriting. His debut historical novel, The Fire and the Light, was named Best New Fiction by the National Indie Excellence Awards. He is a three-time Finalist/Honorable Mention winner of Foreword Magazine’s Book-of-the-Year and a Chaucer Award winner for Historical Fiction. His books have taken readers to Occitania during the Albigensian Crusade, the Scotland of Robert Bruce, Portugal during the Age of Discovery, the trenches of France during World War I, the battlefields of the Civil War, and the American Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. He lives in Malibu, California.
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