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The Cotillion Brigade
A Novel of the Civil War and the Most Famous Female Militia in American History
By Glen Craney
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.
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.
“‘… Such feminine gallantry recalls the grand exploits of another Georgia heroine of glory past, Nancy Hart, the patriotic spy for General Washington’s colonial army, who outwitted a pack of armed Tories to defend her frontier cabin. We salute these modern Nancies of LaGrange and do hereby bestow upon their company the agnomen: The Nancy Hart Rifles.’
Sixteen-year-old Nancy “Nannie” Colquitt Hill has a bright and promising future. Her head is filled with romantic notions towards a certain lawyer - Jeremiah Brown Morgan. But Nannie’s rival, the beautiful Sallie Fanny Reid, has also set her sights on the handsome lawyer. War was the last thing on her mind.
Oscar Hugh LaGrange was a farmer, who, whilst labouring, spent some of his time quarrelling with his younger brother on the Bible’s definition of slavery. On one auspicious day, he meets Professor Edward Daniels. This acquaintance sets him on a path he could never have foreseen. Instead of arguing about slavery, he is determined to do something about it.
Based upon a true story, The Cotillion Brigade: A Novel of the Civil War and the Most Famous Female Militia in American History by Glen Craney tells the truly fascinating story about the female militia of LaGrange during the American Civil War.
Craney has presented his readers with a country that is divided. What is unusual about this novel is that we witness the conflict through the eyes of a woman. When the men go off to war, there is no one left to run the businesses and the plantations except for the women. Nannie, as young as she is, can see the danger that the war presents—LaGrange is a railway town, which comes with both benefits and detriment and, with no men to defend it, it is left to the women to take up arms and defend what is theirs. Nannie takes it upon herself to lead and teach the women drills. They must become a militia capable of protecting themselves and those dependent upon them. With the help of Dr. Augustus “Gus” Ware, one of the few men left behind due to ill health, Nannie readies her militia to defend their town against any Yankees that may come their way.
Nannie is an exceptionally strong woman, fuelled by a stubbornness and determination to prove Gus wrong at every turn. But she is also passionate and a fierce protector of her community. And despite their rivalry, Nannie depends on Gus to teach her how to lead, and how to fight. She uses the challenges that Gus throws her way to strengthen her forces. Nannie is not hindered by fear or inability, and seems able to achieve anything she puts her mind to, whether that be defending her town or playing matchmaker. I thought Nannie’s depiction was not only fabulously written but also one whose life has been throughly researched.
Hugh was a character that fascinated me. Hugh has no sympathy for the South, but he studies, in-depth, Joseph Wheeler’s handbook (Joseph was a cavalry general in the Confederate States Army). This handbook, written by the enemy, becomes something of a blueprint. Hugh uses the knowledge he now has to train his men. When Hugh meets Wheeler in battle, he has the advantage of knowing his opponent’s strategies, the way his mind works, but Wheeler always seems to be one step ahead. It turns into a battle of wills, more about beating the other than about winning the battle, although both harbour some respect, on a military level, for each other. Despite his reliance on Wheeler’s strategies, Hugh’s respect can only go so far and his continued losses make him determined to capture, or kill, his competitor, and I found myself thinking how war forced people to do things they would never normally consider—how does a farmer, or teacher, stoop to murder to solve his problems?
Hugh is a man of two sides. He is either a gentleman, offering aid to women and doing what he can to keep his men in one piece, or hell-bent on winning the war, and will stop at nothing to do so. He is not without help as he rises through the ranks, for his brother follows him to war and he makes friends among the other officers. Hugh’s determination, however, gives him an almost blinkered vision. When offered furlough, he refuses, preferring to stay with his men and fight the Rebs, then go home to his wife.
Both Hugh and Nannie are very similar leaders, each with their own manual to follow with which they used to train their troops, but as this novel progresses, their goals waver, change. Hugh focuses on Wheeler, and LaGrange became a hospital town. Nannie's militia spend their days treating the wounded rather than drilling and preparing for battle. Nevertheless, as the war progresses, and Hugh’s forces find themselves facing a town that bears his surname, with a female militia standing in their way, the pace of the story really picks up as if the drums were beating faster, urging you to turn those pages. I became immersed in the history, and the hours flew by as I lost myself in this spellbinding novel. Even after finishing this book I felt slightly bereft, wanting more.
The story is rich with detail, which will entrance you and, while you are distracted, circle around and cut off your escape, leaving you with no choice but to keep reading until there are no pages left to turn. Craney’s understanding of the historical period, including all of its controversy and acts of heroism, shines through in every sentence. It is fair to say that Craney has breathed life not only into the lungs of historical characters long dead but also into the era as well.
The Cotillion Brigade: A Novel of the Civil War and the Most Famous Female Militia in American History by Glen Craney is a novel of resistance, hope, loss and determination, to carry on and fight until the last breath leaves your body, to protect what you love and what you are passionate about. It is a book that once read, is impossible to forget.
I Highly Recommend
A group of nobles seize St Andrews Castle foiling all attempts to re-take it. Local lad Will is among them, fighting for the Protestant cause. His treasonous activities place his family in grave danger, forcing his sister Bethia into an unwelcome alliance. As the long siege unravels, Bethia and Will struggle over where their loyalties lie and the choice they each must make — whether to save their family, or stay true to their beliefs and follow their hearts.
This debut novel closely follows the true historical events of the siege of St Andrews Castle, and its dramatic re-taking.
Mary Anne: It is so lovely that you could drop by today and have a chat. Would you mind introducing yourselves to our readers?
Bethia: I am Bethia Seton, a young woman living in St Andrews, the foremost town of Scotland. It is the year of our Lord fifteen hundred and forty six (1546) and a most perilous time to be alive. The wee Queen Mary of Scots is upon the throne. She is no more than three years of age and all fight over who should wed her. The most determined is King Henry VIII of England who wants her for his son, Prince Edward. This king is not to be gainsaid and his attacks upon our country are cruel and relentless. Thanks be to Cardinal Beaton who protects our Queen and resists King Henry’s bullying of Scotland.
Will: I am Will Seton and my sister does not tell this story correctly. Cardinal Beaton may be Queen Mary’s great champion, but he is an evil man who had the Protestant George Wishart burned at the stake —a kind preacher who did not deserve such a terrible end. For this reason we took St Andrews Castle, Cardinal Beaton’s home, and hold it against all comers. We call ourselves The Castilians, and I am sure it cannot be true that some among us are in the pay of King Henry of England.
|St Andrews Castle in 1580.|
Mary Anne: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Bethia: This is one thing my brother and I can agree on. There is no town greater than St Andrews. Pilgrims come from as far away as Russia to do penance here, and our town is known as the second Jerusalem.
Will: We can agree our town is most magnificent but not for the pilgrims who follow Papist practices and swell the coffers of a rich church by paying for indulgences. Our town is great because here is where John Knox is finding his calling. Last week he preached his first service in Holy Trinity, the church of the people, unlike that ower-grand cathedral.
Mary Anne: What would you consider to be your greatest strength?
Bethia: My mother cannot read but she can write her name. She thinks a girl need do no more than this. My father, a merchant of St Andrews, has allowed me learning and now I can read Latin and speak French and help him with his accounts. This makes me happy.
Will: I am but fifteen years of age and most tall. I am called Will the Giant but my strength is not great, especially after months stuck inside this mouldering castle — which stinks, and all the Cardinal’s food stores have been eaten so we are always hungry. One day I hope I to grow into my strength, and become a man who is both powerful and true.
Mary Anne: What is your biggest regret?
Bethia: I should have stopped my brother. There was a chance and I missed it. Now I have entered the castle secretly from the seaward side, which was both terrifying and the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. But I could not persuade him home with me. He has a most unaccountable loyalty to those wicked Castilians.
Will: I did not know my fellow Castilians would attack the people of St Andrews, otherwise I would never have joined them. And they told me Cardinal Beaton would stand trial and a sentence be passed; I was misled here too. But they are my fellows and I believe our cause is right, so I will not desert them but stay until this terrible siege ends — regardless of what may happen to me.
Mary Anne: If you could choose a magic power, what would it be?
Bethia: I am a young woman of the sixteenth century and the the word magic is most perilous. I do not have choices but will do what is best for my family, and obey my father. They say I must marry to save the family from punishment from my brother’s treasonous actions. I fear the man they may choose will be old. I would ask, most humbly, for the power to make my own choices — and for men to stop this turmoil about reform. Surviving this life is treacherous enough, without religious strife.
Will: For all to know and understand that the church must be reformed. Listen to the words of the great John Knox and we shall all be saved. But still, I would wish for the power to make change happen without this peril for the people of my town.
All images are mine – the drawing of the castle was done by my husband taken from the Geddy map of 1580, which I have permission from the National Library of Scotland to use ( and which is also the cover of the book)
‘Castilians,’ Will says with a cheeky grin, and for a moment she sees again the little brother she loved to play with.
‘We are “The Castilians”.’ He thrusts his hips out, folding his arms and flings his head back, so that his cap falls off.
She cannot help but laugh. ‘But you’ll soon run short of food.’ She waves her arm around.
The smile fades from Will’s face and he sniffs. ‘Aye, ever the wee merchant, counting stock.’
‘If you’d put the time into learning Father’s trade you wouldn’t be in this mess.’
‘You think I want to spend my life bent over an abacus?’ He bangs his hand down on an empty barrel. ‘What will I say to St Peter at the Gates of Heaven, when he asks me to reflect on my life; that I counted and added and bought and sold? There must be something more, some higher purpose, and that’s what we’re working for here. The right way to live in God’s true faith.’
‘How is it that this whole escapade is about faith, and yet your fellows are running wild in our town? Our town, Will!’
All the fight goes from him and his shoulders droop. ‘I do not leave the castle, I do not condone their actions.’
She notices how his wrists dangle from the too-short sleeves of his jerkin. He may be tall, but he’s not yet come to manhood and, despite his broadening shoulders and beard growth, he can still sound like a lost boy.
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17th March – 19th May 2021
Publication Date: February 2021
Publisher: Feed a Read
Page Length: 335 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
‘A king must have sons: strong, healthy sons to rule after him.’
On the unexpected death of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, his brother, Henry, becomes heir to the throne of England. The intensive education that follows offers Henry a model for future excellence; a model that he is doomed to fail.
On his accession, he chooses his brother’s widow, Catalina of Aragon, to be his queen. Together they plan to reinstate the glory of days of old and fill the royal nursery with boys.
But when their first-born son dies at just a few months old, and subsequent babies are born dead or perish in the womb, the king’s golden dreams are tarnished.
Christendom mocks the virile prince. Catalina’s fertile years are ending yet all he has is one useless living daughter, and a baseborn son.
He needs a solution but stubborn to the end, Catalina refuses to step aside.
As their relationship founders, his eye is caught by a woman newly arrived from the French court. Her name is Anne Boleyn.
A Matter of Conscience: the Aragon Years offers a unique first-person account of the ‘monster’ we love to hate and reveals a man on the edge; an amiable man made dangerous by his own impossible expectation.
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To engage in a war on all fronts is difficult enough. But to fight a war when you are already being persecuted by those who are meant to be leading your country to victory is a catastrophe. For the residents of Leningrad, the war with Germany brings a new set of challenges. If they are to be victorious, then the Red Army must hold its ground and the government must look after its people. But this is Soviet Russia, a place where mistrust spreads quicker than misinformation and the Great Purge had already stolen some of the Red Army’s most talented generals. The peace treaty Stalin agreed with Hitler had turned out to be a worthless piece of paper—another terrible betrayal for Stalin to come to terms with. For the citizens of Leningrad, however, the battle to survive has only just begun...
From the devastating aftermath of the Great Purge to the desperation of a people whose city is surrounded by enemy forces, Leningrad: The People’s War by Rachel R. Heil navigates the horror of the Siege of Leningrad during World War II.
Heil has presented her readers with a historically rich tale, where nothing is beneath her attention. The fear of the NKVD, and the horrors of the Great Purge resulted in a nation that lived in constant terror. The immediate threat to life was not the distant rumblings of the German army, but Russia’s own Communist government, whose paranoid leader saw danger even where there was none. When the threat of war becomes something that can no longer be ignored, Stalin begins to blame, for the most part, imagined foreign enemies for all of their internal problems. Heil has depicted a country conflicted. Could Hitler be any worse than Stalin? Was it better to stick to the devil you know rather than risk it all with the devil you don’t? Stalin’s Iron fist reaction to every problem meant innocent people were persecuted, and this fear is depicted in this novel with a careful understanding of what it must have been like to live in Russia during this period.
This novel, as the name suggests, is about The Siege of Leningrad. What we witness through the pages of this remarkable book is the systematic genocide of a city due to starvation and deliberate destruction of the city’s civilian population. At times this makes for some harrowing reading, especially as people start to slowly starve to death. Heil does not whitewash the horrors that the citizens of Leningrad faced. Through the eyes of Tatiana Ivankova we witness everything, including the disturbing desensitising of death.
This deeply haunting novel tells the intimate and harrowing story of Tatiana Ivankova. Tatiana has good reasons to loath Stalin’s cruel and dangerous regime. She has already lost two members of her family, and she fears that it is only a matter of time before Stalin orders another purge. She will do anything to ensure that the lives of her immediate family are not threatened, even if it does mean agreeing to do whatever Josef Krasnoff, a newspaper reporter with an influential father, tells her to do. What she could never have imagined was that he would force her to join a unit of female volunteers who would help protect the city from the fascists that surrounded her. They were to represent the Party and Comrade Stalin. Failure was not an option. Tatiana’s initial response to this news was a desperate sense of despair. She felt utterly powerless. Tatiana had been forcibly conscripted into the army, and although she loathes Josef for what he has done to her, she excels at the job. Tatiana is a character that I came to care about. She is this bright and really lovely young woman who just wants to live in peace, to be free from both the Party and the German invaders, but life dictates otherwise. There is also an air of vulnerability about her which made her character very appealing. She is forced into the dangerous game of espionage, and there is nothing she can do about it. I thought Tatiana’s depiction was sublime. She is a character that a reader can get behind and root for.
The other character of interest is Heinrich Nottebohm, a German officer with a mysterious past and who, like Tatiana, feels utterly disgusted by what they are being asked to do as well as what they are witnessing. Heinrich was a breath of fresh air, and a stark contrast to his commanding officer, Max. He is a quiet soul, but that does not make him weak. He knows how to play the game, he just wishes he was not playing it.
There are many harrowing scenes in this novel, but there is one scene that stood out from the rest. Tatiana overhears a conversation, where a Russian Jew declares that he would rather have a German head of state than the one they currently have. He was not at all worried about being taken to a camp, for he was so sure that he would be released when they realised what a good citizen he was. This scene is very brief, a couple of sentences no more, but the innocent portrayal was utterly heartbreaking.
Heil has explored the use of propaganda to inform, or misinform more often than not, the citizens of Leningrad. I thought Josef’s character was really interesting because he is a journalist who refuses to see the truth even when it is staring him in the face. He toes the Party lines and tries to turn every disaster into a victory and those who don’t agree with him are traitors. I could not decide if this blinkered vision of events was caused by fear, or by an unshakable arrogance and determination to make a name for himself.
The dropping of leaflets from the Germans onto Leningrad to frighten them into compliance backfired because the residents were not even allowed to look at the leaflets, let alone read them, unless they wanted to be accused of treason. It must have been so confusing and frightening to know that the things you were told were probably not true, but then, as Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany, once said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it...” Stalin promoted an image of himself as a benevolent ruler and champion of the Soviet Union, but his increasing paranoia meant his country was in no fit state to fight a war with Germany. Not yet, anyway. Heil demonstrates the destructive nature of propaganda and how some citizens were not so hoodwinked by what they were being told. They saw through the lies.
As a tutor of modern history which encompasses Russia during this era, I am very familiar with the Siege of Leningrad, which made this story all the more poignant, and although I don’t know how this story will end, I do know how the siege ends. As I neared the end of this book, I wondered how Heil could fit in the rest of the story but, to my relief, I discovered that this is book one of a series, and thank goodness for that, for I am not done with these characters yet and I am looking forward to following their journey in the following books.
This novel is a must-read for fans of quality Historical Fiction set in World War II.
May 11th – July 13th 2021
16th March – 18th May 2021