Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Genteel Spy

Last year, memoirs and books about history were popular at the Mountain Spirits Festival. One book that combines both history and memoir—Judith Riker Damon's A Genteel Spy—will be available at this year's festival.

During the Civil War, Judith's great-grandmother, Martha Broyles Royce of Franklin, Tennessee, was a spy for the Confederacy. She used the hem of her seven-year-old daughter Betsey's dress to send secret messages to her neighbors—messages that contained information about Union troop movements.

About a year after her husband Moses enlisted as a scout for Confederate General John Bell Hood's army, Union forces discovered Martha's spying activities. Martha and her two young daughters—Betsey and Sally—were thus forced into exile. Alone and facing an uncertain future, Martha and her daughters made a 1,200 mile journey that lasted two years. Ten years later, when Betsey was  in college, she wrote the story of their odyssey. Betsey's granddaughter Judith inherited the manuscript—and the rest is, well, history.

Judith Riker Damon explains her reason for publishing the manuscript:

Having taught young people, I felt it is vital to share this more personal side of the Civil War. Today's generations need to understand that wars are fought through the perseverence and sacrifice of thsoe left at home as well as through soldiers on the battlefield.
A Genteel Spy provides a rare look into the personal lives of a real family during the Civil War: little girls who must learn to play outdoors between practice firings of cannon balls over their heads; taking refuge in the cellar when a battle surrounds their house; salvaging guns from the battlefield afterward; and finally being exiled by the Yankees from their beloved home and friend. Grandmother's memoir reads more like a novel, with full dialogue and "stranger than fiction" characters. It serves as a reminder that sometimes, in the darkest hours, faith and determination are all that stand between life and death.

A Genteel Spy is illustrated by Judith, who is also an accomplished artist and sculptor. In fact, she'll have some of her art in the authors tent with her book.

A Genteel Spy is a compelling book. If you like history and memoir, you'll love this book. Stop by the authors' tent and take a look.

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