THE WHY AND HOW OF MISS BLAYLOCK’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS
“We want to know what happened to Carrie!” I heard that from readers of my first novel, Painted Trillium. While set in 1863 during the Civil War, the prologue to Painted Trillium is set in 1884. The idea for Painted Trillium grew out of my own ancestors’ experience surviving the Civil War plus what I knew about Middle Tennessee in 1863 from non-fiction books and articles I’d written. I knew very little about the mid-1880s, the period of Miss Blaylock’s School for Girls.
Two books gave me much of the background I needed, both by then Vanderbilt professor Don H. Doyle: Nashville in the New South, 1880-1930 and New Men, New Cities, New South: Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston, Mobile, 1860-1910.
The expansion of secondary and higher education opportunities for females following the Civil War is at the heart of the story. I studied Mary Ellen Pethel’s All-Girls Education from Ward Seminary to Harpeth Hall, 1865-2015. Another source of local interest was Vanderbilt professor Paul Conkin’s Peabody College: From Frontier Academy to the Frontiers of Teaching and Learning. Of more general interest were The Southern Lady: From Pedestal to Politics, 1830-1930 by Anne Firor Scott; In the Company of Educated Women: A History of Women in Higher Education in America by Barbara Miller Solomon; and Southern Women at the Seven Sister Colleges: Feminist Values and Social Activism, 1875-1915 by Joan Marie Johnson.
The women’s suffrage movement figures prominently in the story, and to learn more about it, I studied Votes for Women! The Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee, the South, and the Nation and New Women of the New South: The Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States, both by Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, as well as The Perfect 36: Tennessee Delivers Woman Suffrage, by Carol Lynn Yellin and Janann Sherman.
To learn about pregnancy and childbirth I studied The Complete Guide to Pregnancy After 30 by Carol Winkleman [Carrie Blaylock was 43 when she delivered her first and only child] and What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff. Childbirths today are obviously different experiences than in the mid-1880s, so to learn about that era, I studied Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America, 1750-1950 by University of Wisconsin medical historian and woman’s studies professor Judith Walzer Leavitt.
Through Internet searches I learned about women’s fashion in the 1880s, including maternity wear, which was just coming into fashion. An irreverent guide to the lives of women of that era is Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill.
GENESIS OF PAINTED TRILLIUM:
UNION ARMY’S OCCUPATION OF MIDDLE TENNESSEE
The Army of the Cumberland’s stay at Murfreesboro for the first half of 1863 was one of the longest periods an entire Union army stayed in one place in the South during the Civil War. When I dug deeply into that period for non-fiction writing projects, I became curious: what type of relationships develop when 55,000 soldiers stay in one place for so long? Murfreesboro was then a small city of around 4,000.
I studied two excellent secondary sources: When the Yankees Came: Conflict & Chaos in the Occupied South, 1861-1865 by Stephen V. Ash and two volumes by Walter T. Durham, Nashville The Occupied City: The First Seventeen Months—February 16, 1862, to June 30, 1863 and Reluctant Partners: Nashville and the Union—July 1, 1863, to June 30, 1865. Dr. Ash is emeritus professor of history at the University of Tennessee and the late Mr. Durham was the official Tennessee State Historian, a prolific writer of the Volunteer State’s story.
The experiences of citizens in occupied areas varied widely, influenced by such factors as the level of local resistance and the army’s response to it, whether early or late in the war, policies adopted by local Federal commanders, and geographic location. Citizens in so-called “garrison towns” where Federal troops remained for long periods, often had it better than those in ever-shifting “no-man’s land” between the warring armies.
Many aspects of Painted Trillium were suggested by my study of secondary sources and more than fifty diaries, memoirs, and reminiscences of both soldiers and civilians (more about the first-person accounts later). These topics include women taking over roles that had been the domain of men, the use of the oath of loyalty to the Union and passes to control the local population, smuggling and the often ruthless effort to stop it, thieving and plundering by soldiers, and, of course, fraternization. Both Ash and Durham document courtships and even marriages between local girls and Federal soldiers.
I did not start writing Painted Trillium with an eye toward romance. Only friendship. But the friendship evolved into something more. The evolution of the plot was like the wartime experience itself. It just happened.
SOUTHERN WOMEN IN THE CIVIL WAR
PAINTED TRILLIUM is told through the intersection of the lives of Carrie Blaylock, a 21-year-old Tennessee woman, and John Lockridge, a young Union officer from Ohio. They become acquainted in 1863 during the army’s unusually long stay around Murfreesboro. That was the only aspect of the story firmly set when I started imagining it. After studying about life in general in Union occupied areas, I turned my attention to women in particular. Since the 1970s, there has been an upsurge in scholarship about women in the Civil War—and other non-combatants as well, including slaves. It’s no longer just about battles and generals.
I started my quest to learn more about the impact of the war on Southern women with Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, by Drew Gilpin Foust, the Civil War scholar now president of Harvard University. Foust explores every aspect of women’s lives and includes a chapter titled “To Be an Old Maid: Single Women, Courtship, and Desire.” Another good source is Confederate Daughters: Come of Age during the Civil War, by Professor Victoria E. Ott of Birmingham-Southern College. The fundamental message in these books is the dramatic transformation of lives of women living in the South. That is the theme of another excellent book by Professor Laura Edwards, now of Duke University, with the intriguing title of Scarlett Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: Southern Women in the Civil War Era.
Suffer and Grow Strong: The Life of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1834-1907, by Carolyn Newton Curry, is an excellent source. Dr. Curry traces Thomas’s transition from a pre-war slaveholding plantation owner to a post-war leader in the women’s suffrage movement. I also learned a lot from reading about the post-war life of Sarah Morgan, one of the main wartime diarists I relied upon. The Correspondence of Sarah Morgan and Francis Warrington Dawson edited by Giselle Roberts and Upheaval in Charleston: Earthquake and Murder on the Eve of Jim Crow by Susan Millar Williams and Stephen G. Hoffius, both are in part about Sarah Morgan’s remarkable life as a writer after the Civil War.
Nearly all scholarship about Southern women in the Civil War era is about the elites. The poorer women did not leave much of a record. And too, as one writer pointed out, it was the lives of elite women that were transformed by the Civil War. Poorer women’s lives probably didn’t change much. They were filled with drudgery before, during, and after the war.
WARTIME DIARIES OF SOUTHERN WOMEN
How did a man writing in the 21st century accurately portray the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of a young woman in the mid-19th century? In addition to the secondary sources previously described, I studied more than fifty diaries of Southern women. Some have been published as books and expertly edited with explanations of the identity of people and places the diarists mentioned. Some shorter diaries or ones with only fragments remaining have been published in journals such as the Tennessee Historical Quarterly. One book reproduces excerpts of many diaries, Heroines of Dixie, edited by Katherine M. Jones.
I also studied original unedited diaries at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University, and the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina. Those are usually on microfilm, but in a few instances I had access the originals. The Tennessee archives maintains a list of diaries in its collection. I identified the ones at Duke and UNC from references in the secondary sources I studied.
Two diaries that influenced me the most were those of Sarah Morgan and Eliza Frances Andrews: Sarah Morgan: The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman, edited by Charles East, and Wartime Journal of a Georgia Girl: 1864-1865. Andrews’s Journal of a Georgia Woman: 1870-1872, was also enlightening. Many of the attitudes of those women, the same age as Carrie in Painted Trillium, found their way into Carrie’s psyche. One reason the diaries of those two were so important is that both of them went on to be successful writers after the Civil War, leaving a paper trail of their life experiences right up until their deaths, Morgan in 1909 and Andrews in 1931.
The diary of a Clarksville, Tennessee woman I studied in its original form has since been published, The Diary of Nannie Haskins Williams: A Southern Woman’s Story of Rebellion and Reconstruction, 1863-1890, expertly edited by scholars at Austin Peay State University. Another diary has been expanded into a full biography by Carolyn Newton Curry, Suffer and Grow Strong: The Life of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1834-1907. A diary I did not know about while researching the novel has since been published, In the Shadow of the Enemy: The Civil War Journal of Ida Powell Dulany. Like the others, it is painstakingly edited.
EXPERIENCES OF UNION OFFICERS
Carrie Blaylock isn’t the only main character in Painted Trillium. The other is Captain John Lockridge, a Union army brigade adjutant. In addition to learning about the experiences of Southern women in occupied areas like Murfreesboro, I needed to know more about the experiences of Federal officers. I already knew quite a bit.
Before I even thought of writing a novel, I’d painstakingly researched the period between the battles of Stones River and Chickamauga—the first ten months of 1863—trying to solve the mystery of when and where my great grandfather Lewis Washington Myers was captured. (Manchester, Tennessee, June 27, 1863). That led me to dig deeply into campaign of June & July 1863, that forced the Confederates out of Middle Tennessee. It has come to be called the Tullahoma Campaign, and I used my knowledge of it write articles for the Tennessee Historical Quarterly and the Tennessee Conservationist.
But I hadn’t paid much attention to interactions between Union officers and local citizens. So I took another look at two accounts I’d already studied: Memoirs of a Volunteer by John Beatty and Three Years in the Army of the Cumberland by James Connolly. Beatty’s is a memoir recounting in detail the Ohio banker’s experience as a brigade commander. The Connolly book comprises letters the lawyer-turned-army major wrote to his new wife back in Illinois. Both men were amazingly perceptive, paid careful attention to detail, and were lucid writers. Many of the attitudes and experiences of the fictional Captain Lockridge were suggested to me by the real Beatty and Connolly. Both of them, by the way, went on to serve in the US Congress after the war.
Some observations about original sources. Just as researching the experiences of Southern women is mostly limited to the elite—they were literate and could take the time to write—most of the journals, memoirs, and letters are from Union officers, not the men in the ranks. And too, I’ve observed that the lower the officer’s rank, the more likely the recollection is to be accurate. High ranking officers felt the need to justify themselves to history. Officers of lower rank felt no such need. They could tell it like it was.