Blue, Gray, and Red

This month I offer comments about a great reference book which I recently completed: Blue, Gray, and Red: Two Nurses’ Views of the Civil War. I received this book as a gift from my good friend, John P., whom you may recall gave me Statesmen of the Lost Cause, a reference source about political events at the highest level within the Confederacy.

Blue, Gray, and Red provides us with the reminiscences of two women, one from Concord MA and one from Mobile AL, who went to work in the army hospitals for each side. Most people will recognize the Massachusian: Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), but I suspect fewer know of Kate Cumming (1836-1909). The book is actually a reprint of their two memoirs originally printed in 1869 and 1866 (reprinted in 1895) respectively.

The book’s premise seemed promising in comparing the circumstances of women in parallel situations but that promise is not kept. The two women had vastly different experiences. Alcott served but six weeks in a Georgetown DC hospital (Dec 1862 – Jan 1863) before she contracted typhoid fever and was sent home, while Cumming served in numerous army field hospitals in the Army of Tennessee from the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862 until she was ordered home from Georgia in May 1865. Alcott’s story suffers further from the fact that she chose to tell the story as a novel, Hospital Sketches. This, she wrote in the florid and profligate style of late 19th century novelists with run-on sentences and paragraphs which cover entire pages. Also weakening the narrative is the fact that of the 58 pages assigned to Alcott’s story, nearly a quarter describe how she made the decision to serve and her difficulties in traveling from Concord to Georgetown.


By comparison, Cumming’s writing style, although covering essentially the same topics, flows easily and is quite modern, except for its biblical and mythological references. Cumming saw enough of the destruction of war that her narrative becomes more mature in its outlook as the work progresses.

Unlike Alcott, Cumming’s family found themselves dispersed in England and New York at the start of the war and later, she had a brother and many close friends in the same army where she served. Here is a summary of Cumming’s service, taken from the University of Alabama Reynolds-Finley Historical Library:

Kate Cumming was born in Scotland and, as a child, moved to America with her large family, first to Montreal, then to New York, and finally in the 1840’s to Mobile, Alabama. There she spent the remainder of her youth and early adulthood.  By the 1860s, Cumming had been in the South for many years and identified the Confederacy as home and “the cause” as her own. Several months after the start of the Civil War, Kate was much inspired by an address given by family friend, Reverend Benjamin M. Miller, at a local church. In his speech, Miller called for Southern ladies to help the wounded and sick by becoming nurses at the war front. Cumming was discouraged from volunteering by her respectable Southern family, who thought that “nursing soldiers was no work for a refined lady,”. Therefore, initially she relegated her involvement to assisting other volunteers in their preparation to leave for the hospitals. However, when a regiment of old school and church friends were sent off to war, Cumming was compelled to offer her services to Mr. Miller despite her family’s disapproval and her own lack of hospital training. In April of 1862, Mr. Miller summoned his volunteer ladies to head north to Mississippi to help those returning from the battle at Shiloh.

Conditions in the hospitals of Okolona and Corinth, Mississippi were so horrible that only Cumming and one other nurse stayed beyond a week. Despite the hardships, Kate remained through June and returned to serve in Chattanooga that fall. Her duties were many faceted – delivering food and medicine, managing laundresses, writing letters, keeping clothing and bedding fresh, and even cooking. In September of 1862, new laws allowed the employment of women to be officially recognized by the Confederate medical department, and at that time, Cumming received the rank of matron, or hospital supervisor. She worked in Chattanooga until the summer of 1863, and then traveled with Surgeon Samuel Stout’s medical corps in the Army of Tennessee, which was constantly moving as General Sherman swept through Georgia and the Carolinas. Stout was first hesitant to accept the role of women in the hospital, but was soon convinced, and commended them in his personal narrative. He specifically names Cumming and two others as “the first refined, intellectual, self-denying ladies, who in the midst of the suffering soldiers, served at their bunkside at night as well as day. Their self-denying and heroic benevolence inspirited many other educated and refined ladies to imitate their examples,”.

While traveling with the Army of Tennessee, Cumming faithfully recorded her experiences in a journal, which became her great contribution to history. Hastily published within a year of her return to Mobile after the war, Kate Cumming’s journal did not receive the readership it deserved, perhaps because it was too close to the events or because of the influx of Confederate narratives at the time. However, the journal is invaluable from a historical perspective because it is the most complete and realistic record of the workings of Confederate hospitals and the services of matrons. Later, in 1890, she republished the journal under the title, Gleanings from Southland. This shortened, edited version experienced more success in a market “hungry for ‘the romance of reunion’” . Cumming moved to Birmingham in 1874, where she remained until her death in 1909.

I found Cumming’s narrative both informative and compelling in an area of the Civil War where I had never before paid much attention. Furthermore, in the events she describes, we catch glimpses of the social standards of the era and relationships among the Southern upper class and between the upper class and the lower orders. The reader is also treated to Kate’s understanding of the meaning of the war which I found worth consideration. Throughout the narrative, Kate keeps a restrained tongue in describing the Federal soldiers.  I suspect that in the 1890 edition used in this book, she edited-out the more “colorful” names she may have used at the time. Of course, every single one of the Southern soldiers in her book is a hero.

While she remained a patriot to her state and to the Confederacy, one cannot help but be impressed at the hardships she and the others overcame. The descriptions of the fear of marauding Federal raiders and war-time destruction in Georgia and Alabama at the end of the war were particularly moving for me. As a citizen of a united America, I find it a great shame that the service the Kate Cumming and those women who served with her are not as well recognized as those of Clara Barton or Mary Ann Bickerdyke.

Cumming returned to Mobile after the war, and in 1866 she first published her journal. In 1874 she moved with her father to Birmingham, Alabama. She never married but resided in Birmingham as a teacher and active member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy until her death on June 5, 1909. She is buried in Mobile.


The Tale of Katie Malloy

When I write, I use the close third person point-of-view (POV) to tell the stories in The Shiloh Trilogy. I actually have three POV characters.  First, is Jamie Harper, an officer in the Union army and nominally the lead protagonist in all three books – he is the title character, after all: Harper’s Donelson, Harper’s Rescue, and Harper’s Shiloh. Next is Gustav Magnusson, a corporal in Harper’s regiment and the oldest child and only son of the Friend Leader in a Quaker Meeting at Salem, Iowa.  Lastly is Katherine Malloy, known as Katie, who first appears in the story as a saloon girl and high-priced prostitute.   This month, I want to talk a bit about Katie and how she came to have such a prominent role in these three books.

Katie appears in the first chapter after the prolog in Harper’s Donelson.  It seems that Lieutenant Harper arrives in Paducah Kentucky on the afternoon before his two-month convalescent leave expires and rather than report early to the First Iowa’s duty office he has decided to spend the night in the comfortable feather-bed of the most expensive “soiled-dove” in Paducah. Lafitte’s Hideout is an above-average saloon run by Franklin Bosley, his wife Loreena, and her friend Eleanor. The saloon gets its name from the Louisiana heritage of the two ladies.

When the story opens, we find Harper and Katie in her bed slightly before sunrise, with Harper checking to ensure that none of his valuables were stolen and thinking about his future with the First Iowa while Katie chatters in the way that teen-aged girls sometimes do.

When I first wrote this chapter, it was to meet a class homework assignment: Write an Interest-Grabbing First Chapter. At that time, I was taking creative writing courses at the Extension University of U.C. San Diego and this particular class numbered twenty students: fifteen women, five men, and a lady professor.

The expectation was that the students would offer critiques of each other’s work and given the composition of the class, I expected the worst when it came time to discuss the chapter.  In my turn, I stood and passed copies of the five pages to the instructor and the other students. While I read the work-in-progress, I avoided eye-contact with the people in the room by reading directly from the pages.  Eventually, I reached the end of the piece and sat down to a silent room.

The three Fates smiled on that day. When I looked at the other students, they were busy leafing through the pages and not staring at me as if I had just pooped in the punchbowl. The questions began and I waited with anticipation to collect feedback on their impressions of Jamie Harper.

“Was I really going to use this in a story?”

“Why did you choose to make Katie just fifteen?”

“How did Katie come to be working in the saloon at such a young age?”

“Was indentured prostitution a real thing?”

Etc., etc., etc.

A stream of questions about Katie’s back story and how did she play into the plot of Harper’s Donelson. Meanwhile, I’m waiting to hear just how well I had revealed Jamie Harper’s background as former marshal, a loner, and a man without feelings for the people around him, an anti-hero. So I asked, “What did you think about the Harper character?”

The answers were pretty much: “Yeah, yeah. We get it: The Lone Stranger, Man-with-No-Name, Josey Wales, etc. Got that, but where does Katie go in your story?”

My answer: “Well, she’s a throw-away character. This is her last chapter.”

“Oh no you don’t!” This was the unanimous decision of the class and the professor. “She has to stay!” The women in the class were Katie’s greatest supporters.

So, she stayed and I had to figure out how to get my 67-year-old male engineers’ brain inside the head of a fifteen-year-old girl of the mid-nineteenth century and after that, decide where her character arc would take her across a novel which was already too large to be published. It is largely because of adding the story of Katie and the other inhabitants of Lafitte’s Hideout that the over-sized novel: Harper’s Shiloh became The Shiloh Trilogy.

If I continued to write in close third-person, what do I do with a fifteen-year-old prostitute in the middle of a story about soldiers and fighting and spitting and other guy stuff?  I knew that Katie should exist in the stories as realistically as possible. I also knew that if she survived into Book 3, I would need to find a logical reason why she should become part of Harper’s posse. I found a partial answer from an authors’ group on Facebook when I learned about a website called TV Tropes. It was while visiting TV Tropes that ideas for Katie’s character arc flew off of the page – too many to put into one book. The result of melding several of these tropes is a relatively complex character who adds an entire new dimension to The Shiloh Trilogy.

The trope which I enjoyed using the most was: The Plucky Girl, described thus:

“You might be able to pile life complications onto this young woman to the point where the readers would forgive her if she just refused to go on. She might even have a chapter or so where she does throw in the towel, because human beings can only take so much of what the universe is handing her. But The Plucky Girl always comes back. That’s the bravery part.
“The optimistic part is the rest of it. This character leans toward the sane version of The Pollyanna, blending the agency of the Action Girl with the sweetness and wise charm of the Spirited Young Lady, while exhibiting a strong sense of optimism and an unassailable spirit. You can beat her, but damned if she’ll let you break her.”

I had a lot of fun working within this trope in the first book. It allowed me to throw a series of outlandish mishaps at Katie to see how she would react and bounce back.  The description of The Plucky Girl includes a number of sub-tropes which also helped to frame her reactions.

Another trope which I found I needed to cultivate was the Moe (pronounced mo-eh) :

“The ability of a character to instill in the reader an irrational desire to adore them, hug them, protect them, comfort them, etc. To evoke a sort of Big Brother Instinct, in men and women.”

This was a magic combination. The only thing left to do was to observe modern teen-aged girls in their natural habitat and then speculate how they might respond to the challenges I planned for Katie if they were bound by elements of the two tropes I had chosen. This worked so well that soon, one of the more common comments from my reading group was a sad-faced: “Oh, Katie.”

In Harper’s Donelson, Katie’s fate is set by the circumstances of how she became a saloon-girl and how she responds to the trusted guidance of Eleanor and Loreena.

In Harper’s Rescue, she is forced to confront the degrading reality of life as a prostitute in an Army-town.

And how will the Fates treat her in Harper’s Shiloh? That story evolves still.

Here is an extract from Harper’s Rescue which illustrates Katie’s dilemma.


Alone in the darkness, despair began to tinge her thoughts and she fell into a full-on crying jag. She had been in The Box once before, right after she arrived in Paducah. Then, Loreena told her they must teach her what she would do to entertain the soldiers.

Tonight, she sat alone on the crude bed in the dark, dank cell awaiting her punishment. Eleanor wouldn’t learn what had happened until morning. However, even Eleanor might not be able to stop Loreena from keeping Katie locked here or allowing the workmen at her.

Katie shivered as much from the cold as from her fear. No sheets or blankets covered the bed – not even a mattress. She felt along the walls around the small space but couldn’t find any other objects on the dirt floor except the dry, empty honey bucket. Katie moved her hands along the walls to search for something she could use to keep warm. She found nothing there, only the ladder up to Mister Bosley’s office. The Army had taken everything.

Feeling had left her toes. They scuffed across the dirt floor. She paced the length of The Box several times to keep the blood moving before she sat on the bed to rub them hard and fast. After a minute or so, pain of the cold stabbed at them. Frustrated, Katie pulled her feet under her. She squeezed into the corner, propping herself into a tight ball while covering her feet with the pillow sack. Hoping she had found the daguerreotype of her mother, she pulled it from the sack along with the dagger next to it.

Katie gripped the picture and the knife to her chest. She wished her mother would come visit now, while she waited for her punishment to begin. She rummaged into the sack to find the bottle of opium extract. Her mother came to visit her when she last used the opium. She would come again if Katie used the opium now. Katie pulled the cork stopper to smell the concoction. No odor. She froze. Opium was more powerful than laudanum. If she took any, she might not be able to protect herself.

The noise from some creature scuttling across the floor startled her before she realized it was not a threat. Katie slumped into the corner of the cell. Her shoulders, back, and arms burned from the stings of the riding crop. She wore stinking clothes bought from a stable hand with everything she valued bundled into the sack made from a pillowcase. A single tear rolled along the side of her nose, onto her lips. They would be here in the morning, the way they had the last time she stayed in The Box.

This time, she had her dagger.


Sean Gabhann

Book 1 of the Shiloh Trilogy

Book 2 of the Shiloh Trilogy

General Lloyd Tighman

I will end my series on the biographies of the Confederate generals at Fort Donelson with Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman upon whom fell the unenviable task of constructing Forts Henry, Heiman and Donelson after they had been laid out, and then commanding their garrisons until he surrendered at Fort Henry.

Photo of Lloyd TilghmanEarly Life

Lloyd Tilghman was born in “Rich Neck Manor”, Claiborne, Maryland, great-grandson of a Maryland representative to the Continental Congress and grand-nephew of a man who had served on George Washington’s staff during the American Revolution.  He attended the United States Military Academy and graduated near the bottom of his class in 1836. He was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Dragoons, but resigned his commission after three months. [ed. You could do that in 1836 because of the scarcity of trained engineers in the civil sector.]

He worked as an engineer from 1837 to 1845, before rejoining the Army during the War with Maxico.  He arrived in Corpus Christi in September, 1845, as a sutler but when the army discovered that he had been a lieutenant in the Dragoons and graduated from West Point, General David Twiggs made him aide de camp of the 2nd U.S. Dragoons. Tilghman spent most of the war designing and building fortifications and would later become the captain of the Maryland and District of Columbia Volunteer Artillery, operating six light artillery pieces.

Following the war, Tilghman resumed his profession as an engineer of railroads.  In 1852, he moved to Paducah, KY, with his wife Augusta Murray Boyd, and their sons and daughters to work for the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.  Ironically, he took up residence in a house across the street from the hotel which would become the headquarters of the Union garrison in 1862.


Civil War

Simon Bolivar Buckner commissioned Tilghman as colonel of the 3rd Kentucky Infantry [CSA] on July 5, 1861.  He faced an impossible task: to arm and clothe his unit without help from the state, which was still stating that because of Kentucky’s neutrality, it could not supply arms or accoutrements to men leaving the state to fight for either side.

He became a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army on October 18, after Kentucky troops were accepted into the Confederate Army.

When General Albert Sidney Johnston was looking for an officer to create defensive positions on the vulnerable Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, he was unaware of Tilghman’s presence in his department and another officer was selected.  However, the Richmond government pointed out Tilghman’s engineering background and Johnston appointed him he to the task.

General Daniel S. Donelson, another West Point graduate, but more a politician than an engineer, had already marked the sites for Forts Henry and Donelson.  Tilghman was placed in command and ordered to construct them. The geographic placement of Fort Henry was extremely poor, sited on a floodplain of the Tennessee River, but Tilghman did not object to its location until it was too late. Afterward, he wrote bitterly in his report that Fort Henry was in a “wretched military position … The history of military engineering records no parallel to this case.”  [ed. Read about the Battle for Fort Henry at the Shiloh Trilogy page of this website.]

Construction of both forts, as well as the smaller Fort Heiman across the Tennessee River from Fort Henry, went slowly due to material shortages and quarrels among the leaders managing the task.  Nevertheless, he did manage to do a more credible job on the construction of Fort Donelson, which lay on dry ground, commanding the river.

On February 6, 1862, an army under Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and gunboats under Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote attacked Fort Henry.  Tilghman was still inside Fort Henry when the attack began, having decided to share the fate of the garrison as a rear-guard while the bulk of his forces escaped down the 12-mile road to Fort Donelson.  Of course, the attack on Fort Henry on February 6th need not have taken place at all, since the fort flooded completely on February 8th .

Tilghman joined Simon B. Bucker in captivity at Fort Warren in Boston and was not released until August 15, 1862 when he was exchanged for Union general John F. Reynolds, a hero of Gettysburg.

Returning to the field in the fall of 1862, Tilghman became a brigade commander in Mansfield Lovell’s division of Earl Van Dorn’s Army of the West following the Second Battle of Corinth. Shortly thereafter, General Lovell was recalled and this division passed to William Loring.  Subsequently, the division received orders to Pemberton’s Army of the Mississippi for the defense of Vicksburg.

At the Battle of Champion Hill, May 16th, 1863, Tilghman led his brigade of Mississippians as while Loring was out maneuvered by McClernand  Assigned to be the rearguard during Loring’s retreat, he was killed by a fragment from a Federal shell which passed completely through his chest.  The remainder of the division escaped the Federal encirclement.

After his enlistment with the Confederate Army, Tilghman’s wife, Augusta, had moved to Tennessee for a time.  She returned to New York City after the war. At her orders, Tilghman was removed from his Mississippi grave and placed in a tomb at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City. Augusta died in 1898, and was buried next to the General.

Opinions on Tighman’s actions to prepare the forts vary among commentators.  Although all admit that remaining with the Fort Henry artillerists to the bitter end was an act of gallantry, some have stated that he was dilatory in their construction and as a result, the forts were vulnerable when Grant attacked.  Others state that allowing himself to be captured with the rearguard created a vacuum in leadership which allowed the rapid investment of Fort Donelson and resulted in the indecisive John Floyd coming into command at Fort Donelson.

In my opinion, both of these criticisms are unfair.  It is true that the forts were not complete by the time that Grant launched his campaign.  However, to blame Tilghman for their lack of readiness in the face of materiel shortages and poor siting is unfair.  It also detracts from Grant’s boldness in launching his campaign in the middle of winter specifically to avoid allowing the Confederates time to complete the fortifications, the decision to rely on Flag Officer Foote to maintain control of the rivers for supplying his army at a time when the roads were seasonably unusable, and on the excellent cooperation between Grant and Foote to execute the campaign.