Irish American History and the Civil War

A lot has been written about the Irish in the US. Even more’s been written about the American Civil War (or Civil War 1.0 as we call it around here.) Writer Ellen Alden has a documented family history that includes both topics, and it drives her work, especially her novel, “Yours Faithfully, Florence Burke.”

So what’s the Ellen Alden story?

My name is Ellen Alden and four years ago I was living a “normal” life. I was teaching fourth grade, playing on a tennis team and raising my three children, two dogs and a hedgehog. Then one fateful day my daughter asked if I had a photo of myself when I was a little girl and it prompted me to sift through old cardboard boxes that my parents had left in my attic years ago. It is then that I made the fortunate discovery of 19 Civil War letters from my great great grandfather, Irish Immigrant, Florence Burke. He was writing to his wife and children back home in West Springfield, MA.

After reading these letters I became inspired  to tell their extraordinary story and to stop everything and research, travel and discover my geneaology. I worked tirelessly to trace their past and to bring their story to life. I discovered that to be a writer, all I really needed is passion and creativity. I am now working on two new novels.

An understandable, if a tad robust, reaction. So what’s the book about?

My book is about my the life of my first generation Irish immigrant ancestors. It is based on the original 19 Civil War letters I found in my attic. It begins with my great, great grandfather signing a legal contract to join the Civil War as a “substitute” for a wealthy man who was drafted in exchange for a small parcel of land for his family.  Florence Burke is 35 years old, happily married and a father of three. It then replays back to his past in Ireland during the Potato Famine, and gives the horrific account of the suffering from both the perspectives of Florence and his love interest Ellen.

At 19 Florence decided to flee Ireland, chasing both his true love and his chance at a better life. But, his family believes he is a traitor. Once in America Florence and Ellen reunite and settle on a farm (as tenant farmers) in West Springfield, Ma. They are very poor and can’t seem to get ahead—and the town councilmen are less than sympathetic to the new Irish Immigrants. In 1864 Florence makes the decision to join the war (without the knowledge or consent of his wife). He knows it is a great gamble, but he feels it could be the last chance to attain land and raise his family out of poverty.

From this point on the perspective of the story is only told by Ellen who is at home with the children. Ellen struggles to prep the new farm, to keep her children warm and safe through the cruel winter and to support her embattled husband, all while secretly holding a grudge that he made this deal without her knowledge. The reader hears from Florence only through his letters—and I used my great, great grandfather’s words 85-90% verbatim. Yours Faithfully, Florence Burke is a book about the sacrifices that the first generation Irish immigrants made in order to survive in America. It is also about the extraordinary love that a father has for his family. I hope you like it!

Obviously there’s the genetic connection, but why is this period so fascinating to you?

I believe the Potato Famine is an understudied time in history. The Irish don’t like talking about it, the English choose to deny it, and most other nations over look it. As For the Civil War, it is monumental. To have our nation so torn apart that we fight our own countrymen and enlist immigrants form other countries to fight for one side (even though they have no great loyalty to either side) exemplifies the desperation and makes this an extraordinary time period in history.

I was lucky enough to find the letters, a window into the past, a first hand account of the battles from an Irish immigrant placed on the front lines. His letters describe unbelievable battles, his feeling of guilt at having made the deal without telling his family, and his longing to come home and reunite with his beloved family. I didn’t choose these time periods; they were already chosen. I just brought them to life.

Writers and pre-destination is probably an argument for another time and a different beverage. What’s your favorite scene in the book?

My favorite scene is set on the farm in March,1864. Florence has gone to war and Ellen’s sister Mary arrives to help her with the children. One evening the oldest son Jerry notices a stranger lurking around the barn, potentially trying to steal the hay or farm animals. He runs to warn his family in the farmhouse and it is the old Aunt Mary who saves the day with her archery skills (which no-one knew she possessed). It’s a great moment in the story when the two women realize they are fighting their own battle on the home front—and they are winning.

Where can people learn more and get the book?

My website and blog


Twitter @ellen_alden

You can get the book on Amazon  or Barnes and Noble

Or you can find it on Goodreads:

Family Letters Inspire Civil War Drama: Greg Seeley

Lately, my email has been filled with authors who’ve written Civil War dramas (henceforth to be referred to as Civil War 1.0, because I’ve got a bad feeling about this.) I’m a bit ambivalent about the time period, maybe because I’m Canadian and don’t really empathize too much with the South on this one. (I’ve heard all the arguments. Bite me.) At any rate, many of the authors have deep family connections to the event. Such a writer is Greg Seeley, whose new novel, “Henry’s Pride,” is here for your consideration.

greg-seeleyGreg Seeley was raised on a farm north of Afton, Iowa. He graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a major in history and received his Master’s degree from the University of Iowa. He is a retired certified public accountant and lives in Overland Park, Kansas with his wife Carolyn, a retired math teacher. Henry’s Pride is Greg’s first novel. He is also the author of
a book verse entitled The Horse Lawyer and other Poems.

So what’s Henry’s Pride all about?

Henry’s Pride is a wide-sweeping novel of the Civil War told from the perspective of two families, one from Minnesota and the other from Georgia. Henry Hancock is a Minnesota tenant farmer who reluctantly but dutifully goes to war to save the Union. Darius Morgan, the son of a Georgia plantation owner eagerly enlists in the Confederate army to save what he considers to be his rightful legacy. Other characters, whose stories are interwoven include Hamilton Stark, the cowardly yet vicious overseer from the Morgan plantation and Adam Kendrick, a gentle but dutiful southern soldier, who must keep his anti-slavery sentiments hidden. Meet also Joshua Gibbons, a Union chaplain and Hosea Billings the vindictive captain of guards at a Federal prison camp.

The story is told through the usual means of narrative and dialogue but also through numerous letters written back and forth between the characters expressing their loneliness, fear, pride, and other emotions associated with what the title character calls “the nation’s nasty business”. The story also portrays the devastating effect of war on soldiers and families alike – wounds both physical and mental as the characters deal with battle injuries and with what is now call PTSD. There is Jonas Hancock, Henry’s brother, who is injured and mustered out early in the war but continuously deals with haunting memories. There is Henry himself, tormented by reminders of what he has had to see and do. Henry’s Pride is a war novel that, in sense, is also an anti-war novel. Characters on both sides examine themselves and must decide whether or not their respective country’s objectives are worth the sacrifices they and thousands of others are called upon to make. Henry’s Pride is not about generals and military strategy or troop movements. It’s about ordinary soldiers and families each trying to find their way through the “madness” that is the Civil War.

What inspired the story? Where’d your passion for the topic come from?front-cover-thumbnail

My great-grandfather, Ira Seeley, served with an Iowa regiment in the Civil War. When I was still in elementary school, my grandmother would sometimes bring out letters he had written home, show them to me, and read me some of them. After college, I took the same letters and carefully typed a transcript of each one exactly as written.

Many years later, after I retired as a CPA, I thought about trying to reconstruct all of the unsaved letters that my great-grandmother might have written to her soldier husband and mesh them with the transcribed letters.  I soon determined the task to be nearly impossible given the time it would have taken for their letters to cross in the mail and the difficulty of determining which letters each would have received when writing to the other. At that point, I decided to write a novel of the period – a fictional account where I could weave into the story letters to and from my characters written in the style of the day.

What’s your favorite scene from the book?

I believe my favorite scene takes place after Henry Hancock has been mustered out of service and has returned home. The traumatized Henry, though of Methodist faith, seeks out a priest to take his confession and absolve him of the things he has had to do. The scene shows a certain depth of feeling shared even now by veterans of more recent wars. Though Henry was a hero of the Battle of Shiloh – even called ‘the Lion’ by his men, he is vulnerable. He is at the same time proud of his service to the country and guilt-ridden over the part he has played.

Where can people learn more about Henry’s Pride?

The book is available at Goodreads and as both an e-book and paperback edition at For signed copies, contact me at

J D R Hawkins Civil War Drama

The US Civil War (actually, given the current mood in this country maybe I need to start referring to it as Civil War 1.0) is a great backdrop for drama. Patriotism, family squabbling, technology-enabled massacre–all come together in one time period.  Today’s author takes all that very seriously.

j-d-r-hawkinsJDR Hawkins is an award-winning author who has written for newspapers, magazines, newsletters, e-zines, and blogs. She is one of only a few female Civil War authors, and uniquely describes the front lines from a Confederate perspective. Her Renegade Series includes A Beautiful Glittering Lie, winner of the John Esten Cooke Fiction Award and the B.R.A.G. Medallion, A Beckoning Hellfire, which is also an award winner, and A Rebel Among Us, which has just been published. These books tell the story of a family from north Alabama who experience immeasurable pain when their lives are dramatically changed by the war. She’s a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the International Women’s Writing Guild, Pikes Peak Writers, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She is also an artist and singer/songwriter. (Editor’s note: Showoff.)

What’s the idea behind A Rebel Among Us?

After David Summers enlists with the Confederate cavalry, his delusion of chivalry is soon crushed when he witnesses the horrors of battle. Shot by a Union picket, he winds up at a stranger’s farm. Four girls compassionately nurse him back to health. David learns his comrades have deserted him in Pennsylvania following the Battle of Gettysburg, but his dilemma becomes much worse. He falls in love with the older sister, Anna, who entices him with a proposition. To his dismay, he must make a decision. Should he stay and help Anna with her underhanded plan, or return to the army and risk capture?

So if you’re a Daughter of the Confederacy and all, I’m guessing you’ve got a deep family interest in the war?

I have always been intrigued with the Victorian era. Living in Colorado, I became enthralled with the old mines and mountain towns. When I visited Gettysburg, I saw for myself the enormity of the battlefield, and was inspired to write a novel about it. However, I wanted to write something from a typical Southern soldier’s perspective; something I felt hadn’t really done before. So I wrote A Beckoning Hellfire. I decided the book was too long, so I cut it in half. Thus, A Rebel Among Us was created. The story wasn’t finished, though, so I wrote another sequel (yet to be published). And then I went back and wrote a prequel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie. I have enough material to write a fifth book in the Renegade Series as well.

What’s your favorite scene in the book?rebelamong

My favorite scene in the book has to do with a secret. And a wedding. That’s all I can say!

Spoilsport. You’re a social media junkie. How can people reach you (and the rest of us should be making notes. I haven’t even heard of some of these!)

Find the book on Amazon here.

·         Website

·         Facebook

·         Twitter – @jdrhawkins

·         Newsletter

·         Pinterest   

·         Goodreads

·         Instagram

·         Google +

·         YouTube

·         Wattpad

Family History Inspires Stories of the Civil War

Of all the niches of historical fiction, the one that continues to fascinate Americans (and perplex the rest of the planet) is the US Civil War. Many of the people I know trace their fascination back to family history. Such is the case with Keith R Baker and his “Longshot” series.

Here’s a bit about the author.

Keith R Baker, author of the Longshot series
Keith R Baker, author of the Longshot series

In addition to being an avid history and genealogy buff, Keith has been an avid outdoorsman his entire life. He has a variety of hats in the business world after completing two periods of duty with the US Navy.  His hobbies apart from reading and research include shooting, teaching others the basics of gun safety & handling. Until recently he took an active role in local and regional politics as a public speaker and campaign consultant.

Keith and his family took up a farming life “off-the-grid” in the Missouri Ozarks for several years in a very rural setting.  Lessons learned from that experience help inform his writings about the era 100 years earlier, before electrification occurred.

In a nutshell, what’s “Longshot in Missouri” about?

Longshot in Missouri Ebook
Longshot in Missouri, a tale of the civil war

The Longshot In Missouri (and the Longshot series) is about an Irish immigrant farmer, Rob Finn by name, who gets caught up in the real politics of the Civil War while trying to do his level best in fulfilling his duty as a citizen, soldier, husband, father and man.  His exceptional talents open unexpected opportunities to see and learn what makes his adopted nation tick.  His perspective expands to see the other side of the war – a side he hadn’t read about and didn’t suspect existed.

What is it that makes this story–and the whole time period–so fascinating to you?

It has been said that no human endeavor presents the level of challenge as does war.  A civil war exacerbates that claim several-fold.  My intrigue was initially stirred by my genealogical research and the revelation that I had ancestors on both sides of the fight. The main character, Rob Finn, is amalgamated from several ancestors and others.  There lives were very real, very challenging.

I am always envious of people who can trace their families back a long way, I certainly can’t.  Without spoilers, what’s your favorite scene in the book?

My favorite scene in the first book occurs after the hero is surprised by events at home and makes amends to his young family in stress.

Where can people learn more about you and your book?






Keith’s Amazon Author page

Deborah Lincoln- Family Roots in Old Missouri

I’m always fascinated by (and somewhat jealous of) people who can draw upon their family histories as the jumping-off place for historical fiction. That’s because I know embarrassingly little about my own roots. I mean, I had ancestors, I just don’t know anything beyond the fact I must have had great grandparents. Deborah Lincoln, on the other hand,  has used family history to write her tale of Missouri before the US Civil War, “Agnes Canon’s War.”

Deborah Lincoln lives and writes in Oregon
Deborah Lincoln lives and writes in Oregon

Deborah Lincoln has lived on the Central Oregon Coast for ten years. S. She and her husband have three grown sons. She was awarded first place in the 2013 Chanticleer Laramie Awards (best in category) and was a 2015 finalist for a Willa Award in historical fiction presented by Women Writing the West.

So tell us what the book’s about?

Agnes Canon’s War is the fictionalized story of my great great-grandparents’ experiences during the Civil War in Missouri. Agnes Canon is 28 and a spinster when she leaves her home in Pennsylvania in the spring of 1852 to join a group of cousins who traveled to frontier Holt County in northwest Missouri. There she meets and marries Jabez Robinson, a doctor who was born in Maine and had traveled to the California gold fields and the army posts of the Southwest during the Mexican-American War. In the decade before the Civil War actually breaks out, both Kansas and Missouri are a battleground of politics and acts of violence, and Agnes and Jabez are in the thick of it. This is the story of two people who watch their family, their town, everything that keeps a society civil, crumble into a chaos they are powerless to stop.

What is it about this time period that intrigued you enough to write the book?

I had access to the basic facts of my ancestors’ lives, which were compiled by a cousin in the 1970s. The characters were so exceptional, the events so

Agnes Canon's War draws on her own family history
Agnes Canon’s War draws on her own family history

extraordinary, that I didn’t want the story to die out. Agnes seemed to me to stand out from other nineteenth-century women, in that she chose to turn her back on her family home in Pennsylvania and venture into the unknown. She left behind six siblings, none of whom ever married or bore children, so her marriage and children were the only links to the next generation.

Jabez, too, was a fascinating and even romantic character: though he was born and raised in Maine, he held secessionist views during the Civil War and suffered from them. He was an adventurer, too, traveling to California and the Southwest in the 1840s, becoming a doctor in the face of all sorts of challenges, marrying his first love after a ten-year separation only to lose her within two months of the wedding. The “plot” was tailor-made for a novel, and though I left out lots of events and made up others, I hope I did them justice.

Without setting off the spoiler alert, what’s your favorite scene?

Several of my favorite scenes would give away too much. So I’ll choose an early one: a scene set in Cincinnati where Agnes and Jabez meet for the first time, an accidental encounter at a marketplace along the riverfront. I like it for the sense of being suspended between civilization and frontier, for the colorful characters and the bustle and excitement of an exuberant young town. It mirrors Agnes’s hope for and optimism in her future.

Where can people find your award-winning book?

Agnes Canon’s War is available on




Twitter:          @dslincoln51

It’s not based on my family, but if you enjoy historical fiction,you can check out The Count of the Sahara, available on Amazon or from The Book Folks