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Saturday, November 26, 2016 - 18:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 4 - Bosom Sex

(Originally aired 2016/11/26)

[Note: Spelling follows the original in all direct quotations from the correspondence.]

It’s rare to have access to the internal emotional lives of women in history. Personal correspondence can give us a glimpse of the complex and often contradictory thoughts of women whose lives diverged from expected paths. But it’s not uncommon for such correspondence to be lost after their deaths. Letters may simply be discarded as trash. Or family members may destroy them in order to protect the reputations of the dead. In American history, there is a similar difficulty in finding the self-told stories of the African-American community in its early years. So the correspondence of Addie Brown and Rebecca Primus is doubly valuable for the story it tells.

Addie and Rebecca were black women, both born in the mid 19th century as free women in Connecticut. Their correspondence comes from a time shortly after the end of the Civil War when Rebecca often spent time away. It was Rebecca’s family who preserved the letters, so the collection includes Addie’s letters to her and Rebecca’s letters to her family, but the content of what Rebecca wrote back to Addie needs to be interpolated.

Rebecca's family was solidly middle class and had lived in Connecticut for several generations. She trained as a schoolteacher. And because of that and her missionary enthusiasm, she traveled to the South after the Civil War was over to help establish a school for ex-slaves. She experienced (and wrote home about) serious racial hostility, both because of her vocation and in response to her personal behavior because she saw no reason to automatically defer to white people if they didn’t respect her back.

Addie was an orphan without Rebecca's extensive network of family ties and support. Her correspondence is less literate but full of enthusiasm, passion, and sensuality. She was an avid reader, had a forceful personality, and tended to be judgmental of others. She, too, lived in Connecticut, which was probably where the two met. She made a living in a number of different jobs: as a seamstress, as a domestic worker, in various factory jobs. Shortly before her early death at age 29, she worked as a teamster driving wagons. She was intolerant of racism and segregation and was unafraid to speak her mind to her white employers. This might possibly have something to do with the number of times she changed jobs during the course of the correspondence.

The romantic relationship between Addie and Rebecca appears in their letters in a number of ways. There were regular protestations of love and devotion, but they also spoke of passionate kisses and caressing each other’s breasts. The letters also give clear indications that their relationship was felt to be in competition with potential heterosexual relationships.

The mid 19th century is typically thought of as a time of “romantic friendships” and Boston Marriages. And much of the language that Addie and Rebecca use is similar in flavor. In fact, they discuss the white literary depiction of romantic friendship in their letters, comparing their devotion to that described in Grace Aguilar’s novel Women’s Friendships. Some historians such as Lillian Faderman take the position that these relationships were romantic but not physically erotic. Women might kiss, they might embrace, they might even share a bed without it being considered sexually improper or incompatible with heterosexuality.

Addie and Rebecca give us a closer look--one that may have been a more silent part of other romantic friendships. After all, if we didn’t have these letters, we wouldn’t know it was a part of theirs. In one letter, when Addie mentions that she shares a bed with another woman, she reassures Rebecca, “If you think that is my bosom that captivated the girl that made her want to sleep with me, she got sadly disapointed injoying it, for I had my back towards all night and my night dress was butten up so she could not get to my bosom." And she continues with a protestation that her bosom is reserved for Rebecca.

Rebecca must have regularly expressed jealousy of women that Addie shared living space with. Addie writes that she has no desire to be kissed by anyone else, saying, "No kisses is like youres." She also says, "I imprint several kisses upon your lips and give you a fond imbrace." And later: "I wish that I was going to sleep in your fond arms to night."

Interestingly, Rebecca’s family and their community appear to have recognized and supported the special nature of their relationship, although sometimes with ambivalence. On one occasion, when Addie visited Rebecca’s family while Rebecca was away in the south, she reports that Rebecca’s mother told another visitor that “if either one of us was a gent, we would marry.” Addie was quite happy to hear that. Addie felt comfortable talking about her physical longing for Rebecca to friends and family and that she wished for her embrace and her return.

Both women were also courted by men, and that provides a chance to see how they thought of the parallels with their own relationship. Addie writes, "O Rebecca, it seems I can see you now, casting those loving eyes at me. If you was a man, what would things come to? They would after come to something very quick." and later "What a pleasure it would be to me to address you My Husband." When Addie mentions a male suitor, she notes that although she loves him, it’s not passionately. On other occasions, when she mentions attractions to men, she always compares her feelings to those she has for Rebecca. At times, these mentions seem intended to provoke jealousy. Addie seems to have had fewer occasions to experience jealousy of Rebecca’s other connections, though she once writes, that she dreamed of seeing Rebecca caress another woman, and spoke of how bad it made her feel not to be the object of those caresses.

When Addie wrote more seriously about contemplating marriage to a man, it was in the context of economic security. On one occasion when asking Rebecca how she would feel about marriage for that reasons, she says, "Rebecca, if I could live with you or even be with you some parts of the day, I would never marry." But this was at a time when Rebecca was living elsewhere and the two were unlikely to be able to set up a household together.


Over the course of their correspondence, the language gradually shifted to calling themselves sisters, but even this is ambiguous. Addie sometimes signed her name using Rebecca’s surname. Addie did marry a man eventually, after flip-flopping several times, but died of tuberculoses two years later at the age of 29. At some point after that, Rebecca married. She married one of her co-workers at the school where she was teaching in Maryland. She survived to the age of 95.

Major category: 
Saturday, November 26, 2016 - 07:37

There's a new Lesbian Historic Motif Project podcast up on The Lesbian Talk Show. Check it out!

The correspondece of Addie Brown and Rebecca Primus reveals love between women in the African American community in post Civil War America.

Friday, November 25, 2016 - 08:30

Lauri asked me to save this movie to see with her in NYC, which wasn't hard given the distractions of the last couple weeks. (My book release. Of course I'm talking about my book release.)

Arrival tells the story of twelve vast and mysterious UFOs arriving in scattered locations across the earth, the beginnings of attempts to communicate with the inhabitants, and the impending political disaster as those communications go semantically awry in entirely predictable ways. The central character is linguist Dr. Louise Banks, with hard-science colleage Ian Donnelly as her foil. The central characters are completed by an army colonel who is overseeing the U.S. contact mission...and, I suppose, by the two aliens that Banks interacts with.

There are a lot of pluses in this movie. As a linguist myself, I have to say that they did a good portayal of the nature and process of linguistic acquisition unmediated by a common third language. At least in the flavor, though of course the timeline was vastly sped up from even what a computer-assisted process could manage. There was also a certain glossing over of the extreme luck that human and alien communication both operated on aural and visual channels rather than any of the less filmable possibilities.

The aliens were satisfyingly alien, both in concept and execution. Banks's frustration in trying to explain to the military the difficulting in what they expected her to produce in a single session was quite realistic both in its flavor and particulars. ("What is your purpose here on Earth?" Do you have any idea how freaking complicated and subjective an utterance that is?) I was a bit surprised, given that visual communication was a major tool, that more wasn't done with pictorial representation in order to  build vocabulary. (This is where the unrealistic time-compression comes in. Very hard to develop a grasp of abstract concepts without building on concrete ones.) Anyway, enough about the linguistics.

The climax relies on an interesting (and very SFF-nal) twist on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. One might say the strongest of strong S-W interpretations. To say more would be a spoiler. That twist ties in the running subplot involving Banks's memories of her daughter who dies young of some unspecified condition (the visuals suggest cancer) and of the related break-up of her marriage.

And here comes my one philosophical gripe with the movie (because the linguistic gripes are more logistical than philosophical). Even though we get a very central female protagonist, her story is framed in terms of family, motherhood, and emotional relationships. And we get the classic gendered contrast between the female humanities expert and the male hard-science expert. Furthermore, although there's a good gender balance in the tertiary characters (random crowd scenes, people on tv screens) and although the scenes between Banks and her daughter are key to the movie (though perhaps the sole basis for passing the Bechdel-Wallace test), there's a noticable lack of women among the crowd of secondary figures involved in the contact encampment. One can no longer use the military nature of that context as an excuse for the omission of women. Skimming through the cast listings, of the twelve roles listed with personal names (rather than occupations or functions), only Banks and her daughter are female. So: good job on having a female protagonist in an only-tangentially-relationship-centered movie. But Arrival is still rather marginal in terms of supporting and normalizing women's roles in movies and in expanding beyond what are still highly gendered dramatic functions.

Beyond that gripe, I really enjoyed the movie and will be mulling over the plot implications of the conclusion. It's unfortunate that I can't talk about those implications without entirely spoiling it for those who haven't seen it yet. So go see it, and then we can talk.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016 - 11:00

This continues transcripts of my great-great-grandfather Abiel Teple LaForge's Civil War diaries and correspondence. See here for earlier material and background. The site there contains the original transcripts. The versions I'm posting here have been lightly edited for spelling, but especially for punctuation and paragraphis to add readability.

When you think about “care packages” sent to servicemen in war time, you probably think about the WWII program, or Red Cross deliveries in a similar era. But the longing of a soldier for the comforts of home has existed as long as there have been soldiers serving in the field. (I believe one of the surviving wax tablet letters from the northern frontier of Roman Britain includes a request for more warm socks.) Abiel wasn’t serving in a battle zone at the time of today’s entries, and the folks back home on the farm were close enough that they could send perishable foods by “Express wagon”, though as you’ll read, the handling wasn’t always optimal. For an even more impressive package, check out this letter from February the year before (1863) when the shipment included boiled chickens!

Serving at “convalescent camp” on the outskirts of Washington DC, and duties that regularly included escorting people into the city, meant that Abiel was able to enjoy a number of cultural entertainments: plays, fine dining, attending congressional debates. Not exactly your image of a typical Civil War soldier! But things are moving in the background to get him back to more active duty. His temporary commanding officer has recommended him for promotion in anticipation of this, but the wheels of bureaucracy will grind slowly.

There's one extremely uncharacteristic episode of impulsive stupidity recorded this month, which stands out from what is otherwise a record of very steady character. Interesting, that there never seems to have been any question that Abiel or the friend who witnessed it would report his part in causing it--something that might well have ruined his career!

One of the other interesting incidents this month, from a personal point of view, is Abiel's encounter with a woman who disguised herself as a male soldier in order to accompany her husband in the army. His diary doesn't note how the disguise was discovered, but the consideration and sympathy with which the woman is viewed and treated is interesting.

* * *

February 1864


Diary: Februay 1, 2, 5

Letter: February 5, 1864 - Receipt of the care package, official visitors from Washington

Letter of Recommendation: February 5, 1864

Diary: Februay 9, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24

Letter by Colonel McKelvy: February 24, 1864

Diary: February 26, 27

Letter: February 28, 1864 - Attending plays in Washington, the camp newspaper

February 1, Monday

Rained all day, getting very muddy.

I received a letter from my sister. She says she has sent a box of good things for Oscar Remington and me. They started January 28th so they will soon be here. We were anxiously looking for the Paymaster all day but he did not come, probably on account of the weather. Susan wrote that Joseph's straight finger did not trouble him as much as I might suppose, for he took good care of it. The people were generaly well. All in good spirits.

Tuesday February 2, 1864

Day pleasant over head until evening. Since sundown it has clouded up and is now looking very black. Low muttering thunder is heard, like artillery at a great distance, which I should think it was but for the lightnings which accompany it. This is the first thunder this year.

The Paymaster came out today and paid us off. About half of the Head Quarters boys have gone off on a spree. Thank the lord I have no desire to do any such thing.

Friday 5, 1864

Day warm & clear, as also was yesterday. I received a box from home yesterday with lots of good things in it. Among the rest was a lot of honey, which had got all pressed out of the comb and run all through the box, spoiling some of the things in it. But nevertheless, Oscar and myself enjoyed it very much. Delos Remington was over her to day. He belongs to the company of I.C. doing duty at the Aqueduct Bridge. We had a dinner of good things in the kitchen. Frank Basset was also with us. Lots of visitors were with us today. Our band discoursed their best music for their benefit.


Head Quarters Rendezvous of Distribution February 5th 1864

Dear Sister,

It is now 9 O.C. P.M., but I concluded to write you a short note acknowledging the reception of your box of good things, and also your letter of the 1st which preceeded it only two days, and to return my thanks to you for both.

I received your letter the 1st inst[ance?] and I assure you from that time till the box arrived I was fairly nervous with anticipation. Every time the Express wagon went to town (which it does once a day) I would caution the Agent to be sure and not overlook it at the office in Alexandria, and I would importune him untill I made him promise to be very careful.

The expected good things arrived yesterday, no the day before. Oscar and me went down to get it and were very sorry to find unmistakeable evidence that there was honey amongst its contents, for it was oozing out through the cracks. This we considered a great waste of material, but concluded not to "cry for spilt" honey, for if it was loose in the rest of the things it would only sweeten them the more. We took the box to Oscar's Barrack and opened it, he was saved the trouble of saying it "opened rich" for that was a self evident fact, as was shown by the honey on the outside of the package. The things were considerably smeared with the sweet stuff but we managed to make it prety much all count in some way. The butter and cheese were not hurt, for both had something arround them.

The jell cake too was splendid. "Oh! how I lubie(?)" as Matie says. It was the best thing in the whole package. How is this? There is that fruit cake, but the jell was best after all, though it is rather hard to decide, when there were so many good things. The butter and cheese will out-last the rest for they are the most needed after all. After we opened the thing I ate untill I could eat no longer and if you have any doubts of whether I liked it or not, just ask Oscar, who was a witness of the whole proceedings.

Frank Basset also came in for a share. And today at dinner we had Debs, who came over from Georgetown to pay us a visit. Us four made a rather gay dinner party. We had biscuits with butter and honey, jell and fruit cake, cheese and coffee. These with the jokes that were cracked during our repast made our meal fit for a King, and I dare say we enjoyed it more than most monarchs do. After dining we had a cigar and walk. The latter was very much enlivened by the anecdotes of Charley Bossard which were related by Debs. We tried to get him to stay all night with us but his pass was to go back tonight, so back he sent just like a good soldier as he is would.

We were sorry for we were going to have fun with him tonight. Tell Mr Joseph Potter [note: this is his sister Susan's husband] that I should be mighty glad to accept his invitation to come up and get better things at home, notwithstanding the good things you sent. You must charge the cost of the things on the "Contra" side of our account--$3.34 cents besides the cost of the Express--and consider me your debtor for all your kindness.

Did I tell you the name of our camp had been changed to Rendezvous of Distribution? If I did not I will now. Hereafter none but men fit for duty in the field are to be sent to the command, which will make our duties much lighter and we can also dismiss some of our surgeons, which will in some cases be a benefit to the men. The way the camp will be arranged now will enable us to send all of the men of an Army corps, whenever they are called for, without having them examined by the Doctor before they go, as they have been heretofore, to see if they were fit for duty or not.

We have lots of distinguished visitors out to see us every day now: Congressmen with their wives and daughters, the former homely and the latter mostly pretty. [Note: Although "homely" can mean "comfortable, home-like", a later similar contrasting use indicates that Abiel is using it in the more modern sense of "plain-looking".] I suppose when they go back they entertain their friends with an account of the peculiarities of the animal called "Soldier." It makes no difference to us what they say after they go away as long as they will only enliven us with their cheerful faces once in a while it is all we care about. To crown the rest of our present blessings we are blessed with the most pleasant weather imaginable. The air feels as balmy as spring time. In fact we have had but little bad weather this winter. Last winter we considered that we enjoyed as fine weather as ever this country was blessed with during that season, but even that is beaten by the present season, for which we cannot feel too thankful. I believe if Mother was down here she would grow yong even faster than she did from the time I enlisted till last May.

I have less than eight months to serve now. It dont seem possible that I have been in the service two years and four months, but such is the fact. Yes, two years of the best time of my life and a third is still to be given to my country, and yet this long as it may seem is a small price to be paid for liberty. For perfect Liberty we shall have befor the war is over. Once gained that great boon for the nation, then my struggle to gain a place in the world will commence. I hope it will not wear on the spirits as does the struggle for Freedom.

With much love many thanks and good wishes I must bring my letter to a close. Hoping you will excuse brevity.

I remain as ever

Your loving Brother


(written along edge)

That jell cake is perfectly grand. Very bad pen.


Rendezvous of Distribution, late Convalescent Camp Virginia

February 5th 1864

“To whom it may Concern”

This is to certify that Sergeant A.T. LaForge, 85th Regiment New York Volunteers has been attached to the Head Quarters of this Command for over one Year.

Being Chief Clerk of camp the greater part of the time above mentioned, I had every opportunity of becoming fully acquinted with Sergeant LaForge’s character both as a soldier and a gentleman.

It is with pleasure, at my departure from the Command, that I bear testimony to his upright character, his ever obliging manner & the faithful performance of his duties as a soldier. Being a good clerk I am fully satisfied he would perform any duties assigned to him, either in military or civil life in a manner highly creditable to himself and to the satisfaction of those whom he may have doings with.

H. J. Winters

late Chief Clerk

Convalescent Camp Virginia


Tuesday 9 February 1864

Day clear and cold. I was very busy. We sent all the men not fit for duty to the General Hospitals at Washington D.C.. The rest of the men in camp were arranged in corps preparatory to moving Distribution camp into the barracks camp. Deserters were moved over yesterday. They occupy from 20 to 25 [barracks numbers?] inclusive. 26 to 50 is for the Army of the Potomac, and from 1 to 20 is for men who do not belong to the Army of the Potomac. Part of Distribution Camp was moved over to day. Mrs Thayer, the Assistant State Agent of New York was here to day. The Governer of New York writes that as soon as there is a vacancy he will give me a commission. Yesterday Mrs. Vice President Hamlin, Mrs Colonel Green, Mr George F Train (the great bombast speaker), with about 20 more ladies and the same number of gentlemen, were out here from Washington. They had a ball in the Commisary Depot. The band played for them. Colonel McKelvy did not know they were coming until this morning, as it was an arrangement of Captain Elison A.Q.M. [Assistant Quarter Master?] Colonel was rather angry at first, as he was not consulted, and worked against them all day so that they did not enjoy themselves as well as they might.

Thursday February 11, 1864

Day cold and clear, as also was ysterday.

I was very busy yesterday A.M. examining the Commissary Papers for January 1864. P.M. went with Frank Basset 1st New York Dragoons to Washington. We were to meet Oscar Remington at the corner of Willards Hotel. We did not see him however. Went to the Washington Theater. Saw Laura Keene and her celebrated company play the "Sea of Ice." It was the perfection of the scenic art. When they were froze up in the polar sea, the house was filled with some kind of fog that looked just like a sea fog. I thought Miss Keene rather overdid the part of the Indian Girl "Oberita". Basset seemed to enjoy himself immensely. [Note: I can find references to a play called "The Sea of Ice" that appear to be the correct one, but don't have a good link for it.] We came back about midnight. We had a pretty good time. Could not got anything to drink. Basset was dreadful dry but it was of no use, no whiskey was to be had. Cold as the mischief walking back. All Camp Distribution is moved over now, the tents all taken down and the ground is being cleared up. It is very hard to tell where a man is now, for things are rather mixed up. Division commanders swearing.

Received a letter from Uncle John. Beautiful sentiments in it. All well.

Friday February 12 1864

Day clear and warm.

Wrote a letter to Miss Annie Porter, a young lady I never saw. She lives at Swampscott Massachussetts. I sent Edmonds, or rather started him, for Point Lookout with 19 men of the 2nd, 5th & 12th New Hampshire Regiments. He got to Alexandria too late for the boat, so had to bring the men back. He will try it again Sunday.

Sunday February 14

Day clear & warm.

I went out to see the review of the 1st Com[mand?] Heavy Artillery. They are garrisoning several of the forts along our Defenses of Washington. They are splendidly drilled and make a fine show on parade. On my return, I did what I consider the most foolish thing of my life of the kind, and it has taught me a lesson I shall never forget.

As we were walking down through the bushes beyond the New Barracks, built for the Invalid Corps who do our guard duty, I was struck with the idea that the long dry grass that was growing up among the bushes by the edge of a little brook would burn finely. So I took out a match, and in spite of the Sergeant's (Beaugureau) remonstrances, set fire to it. A gale was blowing from the north, and in a second it sprung into a bright blaze and spread so rapidly as to defy my efforts to put it out.

Then the folly of the deed, and danger too, was apparent, for the wind was blowing directly towards the new buildings. The brushwood ran within a rod of them, and the ground arround them was covered with shavings and old timber scraps of boards etc., as dry as tinder. I knew if it was not subdued before it got there, all the buildings were goners. So I went down to the I.C. Head Quarters. The chaplain was performing divine service. I told one of the officers that somebody had set fire to the bushes and it was running rapidly towards them. He went in and reported to the Major who at once came out on the stoop and intimated the danger to the chaplain, who at once closed the services by singing the Doxology. Never was hymn so long as that. Before I thought the words were a minute long. My heart was fairly bursting. It was finaly done, and the Major told the men the danger, which was now mde plainly visible by the dark clouds of smoke sweeping by, and they at once started for the scene of danger.

It was at once plainly to be seen that no effort could stop it, where it was then burning. The only hope was to let it burn until it came where burning material was less thick, made so by the wise forethought of Lieutenant Colonel Samuel McKelvy, who had this part of the ground burned over before the building were begun. To this part of the ground it soon came, then the work began. The Invalids went at it with a will, and I also. An hour of anxious fighting--more interesting to me than leading a regiment into battle--it was subdued, and I began to breathe easy. The Sergeant says I turned very pale when the danger of my folly burst on me, but that I was perfectly cool as far as actions and orders were concerned.

Mrs Thayer was out here today. She says the A. A. General of New York told her that my commission was to be along in a few days, just as soon as a vacancy occured to which I could be appointed with less rank than that of captain. I wrote a letter to O. L. Barney tonight. I have not written to him before, since he refused to give me half the worth of the revolver he lost for me on the Peninsula. Commenced reading Scott's poems. Have been studying Wilson's Tactics. [Note: A later reference clarifies that the poet is Sir Walter Scott. If anyone has a good idea what "Wilson's Tactics" may have been, I'd love to know.]

A little colder this P.M.

Monday February 15, 1864

Day cloudy and cold. Commenced snowing about an hour before sundown. Is still snowing a little. Sergeant B[eaugureau] and I went over to see the result of yesterday's fire. It had worked back aganst the strong wind, crossed the creek, and burned on this side of the road clear up to opposite "Fort Barnard," where it had been put out by getting to the top of the hill where the [wind] blew so fiercely it could not burn. It had crossed a little branch of Four Mile Run and the road burned two or three acres on the other side, as far as it had any thing to burn. It makes me tremble when I think of what might have been.

Tuesday 16th

Day very cold. P.M. Snowed about an inch A.M. Edmonds returned from Point Lookout tonight.

Wednesday 17th

Day very cold. Sent the men who belonged to the Department of the South (Charleston) to Washington to be sent to Hilton Head on the Steamer D. Webster. They were sent back tonight. A guard of 20 men are to be organized from them and they are to be sent tomorrow to report to Captain Allen A.Q.M. 6th Street Wharf, Washington D C.

Thursday February 18th 1864

Day very cold & clear. I sent the men belonging to the Department of the South again this A.M. I guess they got off, for they have not came back yet. I took some of our boys up to be examined for the Invalid Corps. They are to be put into the 10th Co[mpany] I.C. [Note: the context makes me thinkg "I.C." elsewhere is "Invalid Corps."] Soldiers begin to canvass a little for the next president. I think Lincoln is sure to be reelected. Soldiers take much less interest in politics than could be expected, say very little in regard to elections. This is not the effect of regulations, but they are not stirred up by firey speech makers and, although they keep better posted than if at home, they say little.

Friday 19th

Day clear & cold.

Crosby, our former Chief Clerk, is going on duty in the Provost Marshal General's office. Sergeant Beaugureau takes his place. I received a letter from Sherman Crandall. He is at Alfred Centre College. I rather think he is a little in love. I also got a letter from Bill LaForge. According to his report. he is the most happy mortal alive. Takes solid comfort [and] advises me to get married.

Saturday February 20th 1864

Day warmer than yesterday but still very cold.

Sunday 21th

Day still warmer. Bery pleasant walking without an overcoat. Sergeant Beaugureau and I went nearly out to Balls Cross Roads. I finished reading the 1st Volume of Sir Walter Scott's poetry. "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" is very good, but I do not like him as well as Byron which [I] have just got and am now reading.

Tuesday 23th

Day warm and pleasant. I received a letter from Miss Anne S. Porter of Swampscott Massachusetts, an unknown correspondent. She writes a very pretty letter indeed.

This P.M. Sergeant Beaugureau and myself got an ambulance & went over to Washington. While on the bridge, a train of cars came along and frightened a couple of four horse government teams. One of them got turned halfway round on the bridge and commenced backing aganst the railing which was rotten and gave way, and over they went into the river. That is: wagon and pole horses. The leaders broke loose just as the others went over the side. The driver found they were sure to go and jumped out on the bridge but got tangled in the lines and was pulled off on top of all the rest. He was rescued pretty badly hurt, but not dangerously. The horses drowned, of course.

We went and got our pass countersigned by the Pro[vost] Mar[shall] then came down to Willard's Hotel and told the driver to come back to camp. We went up to the "Sanitary Faire" at the "Patent office." It was closed, so we went down to a saloon, had a game of billiards, then secured seats in the Orchestra at "Grovers Theatre” and got our suppers. Had a good talk on politics and went up to the play, which was "Ruy Blas" written by Victor Hugo. Young Boothe was Ruy, "C. Barrow" was Don Salustio. The only part badly played was the Princess Maria of Neubourge, Queen elect of Spain. Miss A. Placide took the charactor and I must say did not aquit herself with much honor. I concluded with the farce of "The Irish Tutor” (T.I. Donnelly). It was impossible to resist the desire to laugh at him. I laughed till my sides ached. We walked home. A very pleasant night, but that does not prevent my being tired and sleepy notwithstanding enjoying myself so well.

[Note: As best I can determine based on some superficial research, "Young Booth" here is Edwin Booth. "Young" to distinguish from his father, for his brother John WIlkes Booth was younger than Edwin. And purely in the "small world" department, my girlfriend Lauri had a long stint as house manager of the Booth Theater, which was named in Edwin Booth's honor. At some point I may put together an index of all the theatrical and literary references in Abiel's records.]

Wednesday February 24th 1864

Day warm and pleasant. I feel rather tired tonight somehow. Today a woman dressed up in soldiers clothes, who had been in camp two days, attempted to follow her husband to the front. She came with him from the hospital and wanted to follow him wherever he went. When they got down to Alexandria, Major Wood Assistant Pro[vost] Mar[shall], Army of the Potomac would not let her go any farther but sent her back to camp. Colonel McKelvy pitied her. She was such an interesting little thing, so he took her down to Mrs McDonnald's, who keeps a boarding house in camp, and put her to work there until she wishes to change her garb and go home. Her husband's name is Philips and hers [blank space]. A very good looking girl. I received a letter from my sister today. All well. Very cold weather for a couple of weeks back, getting warmer.

[enclosed letter about above case]

Office Assistant Provost Marshal General

Army Potomac, Alexandria

February 24th 1864

Lieutenat Cololel Samuel McKelvy

Comding Rendezvous Distribution

Dear Sir,

I send back to your camp, by the bearer, a woman who came in with the detachment of convalescents this morning, dressed in soldiers clothes. She claims to be the wife of Private V?. B. Phillips 140th Penna. Vols.

Very respectfully

Your Obedient Servant

W.H. Wood

Major 17th ......

Assistant Provost Marshal General


February 26th 1864

Day clear and warm.

Received a letter from father. Mary is somewhat sick. [Samuel’s third wife was expecting a child] Prices high. Wends [probably an editorial typo: sends] me a list and requests me to send him a list of prices here. Weather rather milder than it was, but once this winter it was intensely cold.

Saturday February 27th 1864

Day warm and pleasant.

An order came from the War Department today for me to be returned to duty with the regiment. Col McKelvy wanted to know if I belonged to the Invalid Corps. I told him I was not nor did not want to be. He said I had better see Mrs Thayer and hurry up my commission. I told him I thought my best plan was to go to the regiment and wait for it. Well, said he, if you think that is the best plan, you had better go. I saw I had slightly offended him in thinking different from him, but I had only given expression to my honest feelings. So at my request the paper was endorsed that I would be sent at the first opportunity.

I received a letter from O.L. Barney. He has returned from New York city and is now at home. He had a fine time attending lectures. I should judge he is a pretty good doctor by this time. He is as great a lover of the female sex as ever I should judge. I know I should have objections to employing him for my female friends if I had any until he is a fiew years older.


Head Quarters Rendezvous of Distribution VA February 28th 1864

Dearest Sister,

I have just finished a letter to father, and as my hand is in I think this is my best oppertunaty to answer your short but kind letter of February 13th & 18th 1864. Now I tell you I don't approve of your writing on such small paper. You should use a sheet like this and put in all the local news, and then you may devote about half of a page to scolding me, but not without. You see if you write on such small paper and devote a little of it to a little well-merited scolding, why by the time you are done you have no room to write any more. And that makes me feel bad without doing one any good. Whereas if you used a large sheet it would make me feel so good reading the rest of the letter that I would swallow the advice like a bait, and the first thing you would know, I would fetch myself up with a hook in my nose and give myself a regular going over about my bad habits, and all on account of the long letter.

Seriously, however sister, I thank you for your caution for although there is no great danger of my becoming a drunkard or great smoker, still your kind advice shows me that my sister loves me more than any other earthly being "except Josey" and you may be sure your advice and warning falls not on closed ears or obstinate heart. I have not smoked since the 2nd inst[ance]. I made a compact in a joke with one of the boys that I would not smoke again this month and although made in jest my word is sacredly kept.

I was over to Washington a few days ago and stayed till after midnight. I went to "Grovers Theater" and saw Victor Hugo's celebrated play of "Ruy Blas". The star actor young Edwin Boothe plays "Ruy" and played it well. I saw him play "Richard III" (Shakespeare's) while I was in Boston, but the house was so crowded in Boston that I could not enjoy it much. But at "Grovers" I secured a splendid seat in the "Orchestra" where I could be at my ease and at the same time see and hear everything going on on the stage.

After the first play, we had a finishing tuch[?} called "The Screaming farce" or "Irish assurance and Yankee modesty." This was such an intensely amusing play that I fairly made myself sick laughing so much my sides have been sore ever since with the effects of it. But the finest part of the whole thing was we had to walk back after the whole thing to camp. The ambulance which took Sergeant Beaugureau (Chief Clerk of Camp) and myself over to Washington could not stay, as we had forgotten to get a pass for it to stay all the evening, and it had to return to camp before the countersign was out. The walk was most delightful, however. The moon shone brightly. The air was as balmy as spring, the road dry and hard, and we are the best friends in the world. So you see we had every thing to make our walk agreable and so it was.

It is very dusty indeed now, over in Washington. When the wind blows, it raises such clouds of dust that a person can hardly see. And here too it comes sweeping down across our parade ground sometimes, so it look like the picture of a storm of sand we see in some geography. We are willing to put up with the dust, however, when in exchange for it we have such beautiful weather. The air is warm and has that hazy appearence peculiar to the skies of "Indian Summer." The hills two or three miles off look so blue and soft that it makes me wish to go and roll down their sleepy looking sides. The river flows by in the distance and its glassy surface reflects only the still bluer sky. All nature seems at peace and only men in discord. Why is it we cannot remain at peace also? An answer is too ready. Traitors have attcked our free institutions. Our mother is in danger and her sons fly to her rescue. God cannot be angry with us when we [are] fighting in such a sacred cause, though shame it seems to desecrate his beautiful earth with the foul scenes of carnage which are the necessary concomitants of War.

The colonel of the 85th has sent for me to come back to the regiment, as I will have to go or go into the Invalid Corps, which I hate to do. I have some notion of going, but I will think of it for two or three weeks first.

What do you think of our little paper "The Soldiers Journey" of which I have sent you a couple of copies? It is all done at camp from composing the articles to working the press and all done by soldiers too. I feel proud of it, dont you?

Please give lots of love to all for me, for I have a large stock on hand, and believe me ever

Your loving brother


P.S. I received those socks all safe for which receive my thanks I beg pardon for not acknowledging their receipt before. thought I had done it. Yours, LaF


February 29th 1864

Day warm and pleasant, as also was yesterday. I answered father's letter last night and my sister's also. Today we were mustered for pay for January & February. Will not probably until the last of the month. We did not last pay time.

Major category: 
LaForge Civil War Diaries
Tuesday, November 22, 2016 - 10:00

I'm still considering whether I want to continue posting teasers for Mother of Souls now that it's out. They don't serve the same purpose now that people can actually go read the book, and it's getting harder and harder to pick interesting selections that don't include significant spoilers. So while I'm thinking about what I want to do with Writing Blog Tuesday, it seemed a good time to do a year-end summary of what I've produced this year. At this point, everything that's going to be published is out there.

Within the SFF community, this sort of post evolved as an "award eligibility" reminder--a convenient place to list all the publications of the year for the convenience of those who are contemplating their award nominations. I don't know how useful this post will be for that purpose. I've only published one thing that's solidly SFF this year: Mother of Souls. But there's still a usefulness in reminding myself that I have accomplished some writing goals (even if I'm berating myself internally for not having the next novel solidly in process yet).

So here are what I consider my writing accomplishments for 2016. Many of these are on-going projects, which makes it more awkward to treat them as a "2016 publication." They also don't have a clear unifying theme (other than "stuff Heather writes"). As usual, doing cross-genre work means I don't really have a clear identity in people's minds as "an SFF blogger" or "a lesbian blogger" or "a history blogger", just as my fiction defies easy genre categorization. That's not something I have any plans to change, but it tends to make my work more invisible, I think.

ETA (2016/12/09): I've drawn up a much expanded list of my online non-fiction writing for the year. I really hope that anyone who swings by this current post follows up on the non-fiction link because I'm really very proud of the scope and extent of my blogging and I'd love it if more people were aware of it and found it useful or entertaining.


Mother of Souls - The third novel in the Alpennia historic fantasy series. The ensemble of familiar characters from Daughter of Mystery and The Mystic Marriage are joined by two new protagonists, and the stakes of Alpennia magic expand to take on a sorcery that threatens half of Europe. But the unlikeliest factor is a widowed music teacher who aspires to write an opera about the philosopher Tanfrit.

The book is still too freshly out for me to be able to point to prominent reviews and whatnot. I hope that at least some people read it in time to consider whether they'd want to include it in award nominations.


"The Mazarinette and the Musketeer" - A historical romp, pulling together an assortment of outragous late 18th century women for an adventure that involves a lot less invention in it than you might think. I put this out as a free e-story on my website for a variety of reasons, some more relevant than others. It's hard to say whether that was a mistake and it might have gained more readers if I'd gone ahead and tried to find somewhere to submit it. The major problems with that are that it isn't SFF (the markets I've researched), novelettes are an extremely difficult length to place, and the market for non-erotic lesbian historicals is functionally nonexistent. I have fun writing it, but I'm not sure that it served the purpose of attracting new readers and fans.


The Lesbian Historic Motif Project - I covered 27 new publications for the project so far this year, for a total of about 80 separate posts. (I'll do a round-up post at the end of the year listing them all.) I made a couple of new contacts for publicizing the project from the SFF community where there's a lot of interest in resources for writing diverse characters. Relatively little interest from the lesbian writing community, though, which is a continuing disappointment. This year saw a major overhaul in the format of the project as the new version of the website came online, with a lot more back-end tools for managing and accessing the material, though some of those tools are still having the bugs worked out.

Queer Fantasy Roots - In August I started doing a mothly column at the Queer Sci Fi website entitled "Queer Fantasy Roots" as a sort of spin-off from the LHMP, looking specifically at historic and literary themes relevant to fantasy, but with a broader scope than just lesbians. Topics covered so far include m/m shapeshifting pregnancy in the Mabinogi, gender change in Ovid's Metamorphoses, queer themes in the fantastic fiction of Margaret Cavendish, and the changing perception of Amazons in fantastic literature.


The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Another new project I started in August is a monthly podcast supplement to the LHMP, hosted by The Lesbian Talk Show, a magazine-style podcast with multiple contributors. I hope that as part of a continuing podcast feed it will introduce the project to a larger audience that might not otherwise stumble across it. My current plans are to use it to focus on "human interest" stories and to present some more extended excerpts of texts than would fit well in the blog. Requests are always welcome (if they fit in the scope of the project).


I'll wait until the end of the year to do a round-up of all my reviews, including my extended analysis of Frances Hodgeson Burnett's A Little Princess. Suffice it to say that I've maintained a schedule of reviewing some new item every week.

Civil War Source Material

A reader might possibly find connecting themes among all the above material. My new Wednesday project sticks out as a bit of an odd duck. I've returned to the project of formatting my great-great-grandfather's Civil War diaries and correspondence for the web. (My mother did the original transcription and editing.) This project does connect in with my interests in history and especially the everyday history of ordinary people.

Monday, November 21, 2016 - 08:10

Today's LHMP addition is a Tag Index Page for "Misc. Tags - Households, Relationships, and Groups". The set-up of this type of content page means I currently can't "embed" the index page itself in this blog post. Click through for the full content. Or check out the teasers below.

The tag display page currently has some technical issues that limit the number of entries displayed for each tag, but I hope to have that fixed soon. At the very least, it will give you a taste of what's available. (I know I keep mentioning little technical glitches in the website. I operate by the principle that it's better to get flawed content out there than to wait until the entire thing is perfect.)

* * *

  • Topics about household and living arrangements associated with, or conducive to female same-sex relationships
  • Topics about specific types of relationships or social status
  • A wide variety of occupations, activites, and organizations (both real and fictitious) relevant to lesbian-like lives

Here are some examples of tag descriptions from this group, but check out the tag-page to see the whole set.

  • bed-sharing - In many eras and cultures, same-sex bed-sharing was completely ordinary and even expected, not only among family members, but perhaps by employer and servant, and certainly by close friends. In these cultures, sharing a bed carried no implication of engaging in erotic activity. But conversely, this practice created a context where erotic activity could take place with little notice or comment.
  • women’s communities - Both in literature and life, women-only communities created a focus for speculation on (or the experience of) romatic or erotic attraction between women. This tag includes not only formal single-sex institutions such as convents, but de facto ones such as women’s charitable organizations, or fictitious ones such as amazon societies or separatist utopias.
  • female husband - This tag is used for occasions when two female (or assigned-female) persons entered into marriage with one passing as male to the rest of society.
  • romantic friendship - Romantic friendship refers to a specific set of behaviors and social circumstances, largely confined to the 17-19th centuries, where close and intensely emotional “friendships” between women were normalized by society and even considered expected or desirable. Romantic friendship were generally considered not to preclude heterosexual marriage although they were often seen in conflict with it.
  • courtesans - A courtesan is a professional companion, typically educated and sophisticated, whose duties may include sex. It was a regular motif that courtesans might sometimes have female clients, or that they might enjoy sexual relationships with women as a change from “work.”
  • martial activity - I’ve included this tag not simply because women engaged in martial activities are inherently gender-transgressive, but also because the motif is popular when writing historic or fantasy fiction about nonconforming women.
  • singlewomen - The study of the lives of non-married women, regardless of their affectional preferences, identifies contexts in which women who preferred not to marry men would be unremarkable.
Friday, November 18, 2016 - 07:00

Ordinary historical romance is a bit of a rarity in the lesbian publishing field. The majority of lesbian historicals fall solidly on the erotic side and tend to stick very close to the 20th century (with a small foray into the American West). It is, perhaps, understandable: authors of lesbian historicals report that sales are much lower than for other subgenres, and this doesn’t encourage writers to develop the sort of research background and writing expertise necessary to write the books that could expand readership.

Penelope Friday’s The Sisterhood is a refreshing exception to this trend. Like her previous novel from Bella Books Petticoats and Promises, this story is set in England in the early 19th century, a bit late in date to be a true “Regency Romance” but very much with that flavor.** Although the romance plot is central, The Sisterhood expands beyond the small personal dramas of a young woman whose secret desires set her at odds with society’s expectations for her. Charity Bellingham has been an awkward tomboy all her life, burdened with the knowledge that she wasn’t the son her father wanted. Her older sister accepts an advantageous (if far from brilliant) marriage to a wealthy social climber and when their mother washes her hands of her daughters and decamps to Bath, Charity is left as a dependent on her brother-in-law with no good prospects of escape.

Her life changes when she falls in with a circle of women who secretly share same-sex desires--a circle that cuts across the barriers of class, wealth, and education and gives Charity access to possibilities beyond being an eternal wallflower at balls. Where this book takes a step in seriousness beyond Friday’s earlier endeavor is that “the Sisterhood” as they call themselves, also have strong (if variable) interests in social welfare, and especially in anti-slavery activism. If the activism of the characters sometimes seems naive and superficial, it is true to the times. Also true to the times is the overlap between the communities of female social activism and women-centered women (whether or not romance was involved). In my opinion, Friday’s previous Regency suffered for the lack of a parallel non-romance plot and I’m delighted to find this book much stronger in terms of story.

Just as the non-romance plot adds complexity, the romance is far from straight-forward and the reader is allowed enough hints to be kept on the edge of their seat as Charity stumbles through her choices. I think I would be tempted to classify this as a “sweet” romance, in that there is very little in the way of on-page sex (though much implied off-page activity). The sexual content felt very natural and comfortable. There are a few hanging threads left at the end of the book, but tying up the largest of them would require significantly more writing--possibly another entire book--and the conclusion comes at a natural point for both major plot elements.

[Minor disclaimer: Penelope Friday is a fellow Bella Books author, but people who follow my reviews know that I call 'em like I see 'em and am not influenced by personal connections to authors.]

**ETA: I was confused as to the date of the setting due to having used the keywords "Slave Trade Act" and "William Wilberforce to triangulate. There was more than one act by that name that Wilberforce was involved with and I had mistakenly thought it was a later one.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - 20:45
Book cover - Mother of Souls

The day has arrived!

Let me put that in a bigger font:

The day has arrived!

Mother of Souls is officially released into the wild! People who had pre-ordered from Bella Books could already be reading. (E-book pre-orders, that is. Not sure if the hard copy pre-orders are timed for release day.) If you haven't ordered yet, links are available on the book page. Now I get to bite my nails waiting for the reviews to start showing up. In fact, I'm still biting my nails waiting for my author copies to show up. The UPS e-mail notification says they'll be waiting for me when I get home this evening.

But wait--there's more! Bella has put together an e-book bundle of the first three Alpennia books with an overall discount of approximately $6 over the collective individual prices. So I've you've been meaning to buy the series and haven't gotten around to it yet, here's your chance! Or maybe it would be a perfect holiday gift for someone? 

Book Cover - Alpennia book bundle 1-3

Only available through Bella Books at the moment.

Remember: for those (few) of you who'll be at Chessiecon, I'm celebrating the release at my reading Friday evening and will have a few suprises for those who come.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - 06:30

When I was double-checking something against the printed version of the text, I discovered that the computer file I'm working from didn't have the diary entries for January 1864, only the two letters. So here are the diary entries. (In the published version, the letters and diary entries are interleaved by date.) A more systematic look suggests that this glitch covers the first half of 1864 (the contents of a specific journal) but not later periods (when the "memorandums" were on loose sheets, sent home included in letters). I suspect that I may have gotten a not-entirely-up-to-date version of the one file.

Turning my mother's computer files into something I could use was quite a frightening chore. She was working in some sort of non-standard word processor and it was tricky to turn the text into rtf to export. My mother was a wonderful woman but she had some odd quirks around working with computers. The files for this project include manual hyphenation. (We had, at some point, convinced her that word-wrap could be relied on and it wasn't necessary to hit "return" at the end of each line.) There was a previous project -- I forget which one -- where, after printing out her hard-copy masters to take to the print shop, she deleted the computer files because she didn't need them any more. Unfortunately it means I'll need to double check all the files against the print copy, but OCR has taken care of the bulk of the missing material I've identified so far.

One of the things I love about reading through Abiel's documents is the minute detail of everyday life, without being drowned in irreleancies. Without him ever saying so, it's clear that he's conscientious and reliable in his duties and is gradually being loaded with increasing responsibility. At this time he's well away from the fighting, but that won't last. His primay duties at "Convalescent Camp" are arranging for transport of all manner of groups of men and escorting them to their goals, as well as various clerical duties.

Abiel's not a plaster saint: he writes about drinking and smoking and gambling (though he feels guilty about the last) and about having a glimpse of women's legs when the wind blew their hoopskirts about. He's 22 years old now, 3 years into his enlistment. He writes with equal enthusiasm about training horses and crops back home, about the complex economy of micro-loans that his pay goes into, about getting a day's leave to go into Washington to see plays and concerts and listen to congressional debates, about his thoughts on reading works like Josephus's The Jewish Wars, borrowed from the library. He writes home hungry for news, to semi-flirt with a woman named Janey, and to beg for a "care package" of food luxuries like butter and honey and home-baked pies. He is clear in his own mind why his is fighting: "Traitors have attacked our free institutions...God cannot be angry with us when we fight in such a sacred cause" and specifies the cause as "Freedom versus Slavery."

So here are Abiel's observations on January 1864. As noted previously, I have done some light editing to this version for readability but the original verbatim text can be found here. I've also decided to add a couple of content warnings immediately before certain entries. Nothing really gut-punching at this point, but mild anti-Semitism and use of terms for black people that fall more in the wince-worthy range than offensive. (But I'm probably not the right person to calibrate them.) Accustomed as I am to reading historic texts, I may not always catch things to flag, but I'll try.

* * *

[Diary entries from January 1, 1864 to June 4, 1864 are contained in a leather-bound notebook entitled "Memoirs of A. T. LaForge".]


New Years day 1864

Day opened very unpropitiously, a disagreable drizzling rain setting in before sunrise promised anything but a "Happy New Year." However it turned out to be a very fine day, for it cleared up about 10 A.M. and the rest of the day was a fine sunshiney one. In the afternoon, the wind commenced blowing from the north. By sundown it was freezing very fast. I got Henry Graves examined for a furlough of twenty days. He had a letter from his wife saying she was sick with the diptheria, which has proved very fatal in Allegany Co. for several years. I took dinner at the Hospital. We had oysters stewed and raw and all felt happy enough to enjoy them. 'Pumpkin pie' for dessert went well. Everything was so quiet in camp it seemed like Sunday. The President gave a Levee to day. Colonel McKelvy and staff went over to it. I spent most of the afternoon at the medical Head Quarters playing "Seven up." I shall go to bed early, as I sat up late last night to see New Years in, and for several other reasons I feel rather sleepy.

January 2nd 1864

Day very cold, wind North. Ground frozen. Very busy making up and fileing last years papers.

Sunday January 3rd 1864

Day cold & clear. In reading over my last year's memorandum I found some one who had no business to had been doing the same. I felt very angry. Asked Sergeant Beaugureau if it was him, [and] was sorry for doing so at once for he is the "soul of honor." Sent in with the Orderly Henry Graves furlough for approved by Col McKelvy for 15 days.

January 4th 1864

Day commenced snowing about 10 O.C., has snowed ever since. About four inches deep to night, the first snow of any account this season. Sometime in November there was a slight fal--not enough to see on the ground, but enough to win me a bottle of Champagne which I had bet with a Frenchman named Adolph Otto.

Tuesday 5th

Day cold- Graves got his furlough today it was only approved in Washington for 10 days. I told him when he started that if his wife was very bad I did not think the Colonel would say anything if he stayed two or three days more than his time.

Jany 6"

Day cold. The 3 & 4" Regiments of Pennsylvania Reserves, which have been doing our guard duty for a long time, were orderded to break up camp and be ready to take the cars for Harpers Ferry at an hour's notice. They did so and have waited all day for orders to move which, as they did not come, about an hour ago Colonel McKelvy ordered them to be marched over to be put in our barracks for tonight. We have organised a convalescent guard to take their place temporarily.

Wednesday 6th

Still cold, snow not yet melted.

An order came for the "Reserves" to march about 1 1/2 A.M. I got up and took the order over to Colonel Woolworth, who stayed in his own quarters all night. They had to march to the Soldiers' Rest Washington and take the cars there. After I got them off, I went to bed again. I had an order made out this P.M. to take another squad North, but when I came to investigate the matter I found that they had been already sent.

Thursday  January 7th 1864

Day warm enough to thaw a very little. Lieutenant Stewart was relieved of the command of Camp Distribution by an order of the Secretary of War, to be court martialed for abusing a prisoner last fall when he (Lieutenant) was drunk. If the truth is proved, I think the Lieutenant will be dismissed [from] the service. Snowing a little to night.

Friday 8th

Day thawed a very little. What fun the boys have riding down hill. The uper part of the camp makes a very good place for that kind of sport. The men get barrel staves or boards, logs of wood, in fact any thing that will slip, to ride on and fine sport they have. We had sausages and toast bread as a kind of treat at ten O.C. tonight. Congress is debating wheather they will extend the time for reenlisting in the Veteran Corps. All men in the 3 year regiments who have less than one year to serve get $402 for again enlisting for three years. It is a great inducement to many and they avail themselves of it accordingly.

January 9th 1864

Day cold, snow still on the ground. I wrote a letter to William Hibbard who used to be on duty as Orderly at the office. I have been at work on the Commisary returns of the month of December / 63. I have had this to do for the last four months. After the papers are made out at the Commisary Office they are sent to this office to be approved by Colonel McKelvy, and before he will sign them he requires them to be reexamined. This I do.

Sunday 10th

Day warm enough to thaw a little. Good sleighing yet. My orders are made out to take some men to Annapolis Maryland. Sergeant Beaugureau and myself took a walk this afternoon. We had considerable fun snow-balling. It is the first sport of that kind I have indulged in in two years. Received a letter from Sally Ann Potter. All well. She is afraid little Charly will be lame all his life. I think she does, from the tone of her letter. I finished reading Gil Blas this evening. It is written by "Le Sage," author of "Le diable boiteux." The book undoubtedly contains a great deal of philosophy and wit, but one has to read much in order to get it for it is a large book, Sergt B- [presumably Beaugureau who is mentioned frequently] who has read it in French says it loses a great deal by translation, as it is full of idioms which it is impossisble to translate.

[Content warning: use of the word "darky" in the next entry.]

Washington Monday January 11th 1864

Day very cold. Do not think it thawed any. I started with fourteen paroled prisoners about 10 A.M. Marched over to Washington. Very hard walking it is, so slippery. I was delayed in getting my transportation untill 3 O.C. P.M. The last train that would connect with the cars to go to Annapolis had then left, so I have to stay here in the Soldiers' Rest with my men tonight. It is very cold. I will sleep with two of the men on the floor near the stove. Said stove is red hot and a darkey comes in every little while with a wheel barrow of coals to fill it and the other six stoves in this barrack.

Convalescent Camp Tuesday 12th

Day thawed a very little sleighing still. Got out of the city. The "Oldest inhabitant" says that such another long cold spell has not been experienced in this part of the country for many years. The Potomac is completely frozen up. The Chesapeake is frozen enough to stop navigation almost. I slept very badly last night. Was up by four this A.M. Started for A[nnapolis] at 6 1/2, got to camp Parole at 10'. My orders had been retained at Department Head Quarters and I had no orders to show why I brought the men down. I made a written statement of the facts, which was accepted. As no train came back to W[ashington] until 2 1/2 P.M. I went down to Annapolis about two miles from Camp P[arole]. A[nnapolis] is a small, very old-looking town of 5000 people. It is the capitol of Maryland, situated on an inlet of the Chesapeake. The only celebrities of the place are the U.S. Naval Academy and the State house. The latter is an old Colonial building, square and built of brick. From the center rises the tower to a height of 60 or 70 ft. This part of the structure is of wood and in such an unfinished inside, with scraps of boards thrown around among the timbers, which cross & recross each other in all shapes. I wonder it does not get on fire, for the slightest spark would set it going like a basket of kindlings. I returned to W[ashington] this P.M., getting there after dark. But I went in the Rest and got supper, after which I felt so well I concluded to walk out to camp. Just cold enough to make a brisk walk nice. So here I am at home.

Received a letter from Sherm Crandall. He is still at Alfred Center at school boards at the Hall. Old uncle Haggard is dead.

January 13th 1864

Day quite warm. Snow nearly all gone. Very muddy. General Hentzelman has been assigned to the command of the Department of the North: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and as Colonel McKelvy is one of his staff, I suppose he will have to go with the General. He has gone to town today to see about it. I wrote a letter to father and one to sister this evening. I shall slepp in Head Quarters while B. is away.

[Note: the letter posted in last week's entry comes here. There is a fair amount of duplication of content--even of entire passages--between the diary and the letters.]

January 16th 1864

Day quite warm.

Cololel McKelvy does not go out west now. The General will send for him if he wants him. Oscar Remington and me have made up our minds to send up to our friends for a box of good things. Mr Jno. B. Gough, the great temperance lecturer spoke here this afternoon at the Christian Commission Chapel. He is a splendid speaker--loves to illustrate his points by funny stories. Would change his audience from crying to laughing and from laughing to crying in a single minute. Makes them laugh much more than cry however. Colonel thought it an excellent temperance lecture; went and took a drink as soon as it was over.

[Note: The lecturer is presumably John Bartholomew Gough.]

Sunday January 17th 1864

Day warm and muddy.

Took a walk with Oscar this afternoon. Pretty muddy walking. Went down to Mrs Smiths and ate a mince pie this evening. Very bad pie. It makes me feel so bad that I shall send to my sister for a box with some better ones in it. Charles Jordon is back again.

Monday 18th

Day rained all day. Very muddy. No entry to make. Swain our principal Clerk was drunk all day. Captain Crawford relieved him tonight. He feels very bad [and] will make application to be reinstated in the morning, and I believe if he gives Captain Crawford his word of honor he will not get that way again, he will be placed in his old position.

Tuesday 19th

Day warm. A.M. Cold. Wind from the N' P.M. Was freezing at Sundown. Two large omnibus loads of ladies and five gentlemen came out from Willards this P.M. We could not get them all in Head Quarters. If they had not had hoops, we could. I was up on the hill while they were and saw the wind make some rather bold lifts of their skirts. They were all homely women and so the sight was not ravishing. [Note: in a different entry, I suggested that Abiel was using "homely" in the sense of "comfortable, home-like", but here he clearly means "plain looking".]

Wednesday January 20th 1864

Day clear and cold. Not enough to freeze until sundown. The Court Martial has been in progress for several days. I am reading the "Wars of the Jews" by "Josephus," an interesting history. Shall give my views on it when I get through.

Thursday 21st

Day clear and quite warm. There is a board here examining men for the Invalid Corps. When they are organised, they are to be put on duty as guards of this camp. They seem to work slowly, as no organising them into companies has been done yet.

Friday 22nd

Day clear and warm.

I went over to town with Sergeant Edmonds, a Mass man. [Note: I'm assuming this means Massachussetts] I only had 60 cents but he had two or three dollars, so we had a good time. We went first to see Professor Stinson of the Smithsonion Institute. Then went to a hotel opposite Willards and had dinner. Made a brief visit to the Patent office, then went up to the Capitol. Sat down in the House of Representatives a while and listened to the debates. Came back, got our supper, and Edmonds went and saw a member of congress while I went up to the Provosts and got our pass countersigned, good for all hours. For it makes no difference who a pass is given by, unless it approved by the Provost. As soon as it is dark, a man will be taken up and put in the Guard House. The patrol goes into every theater and other places of amusement and take out all men not having passes so approved. We had a game of billiards, then went to Ford's [Theater] and saw the "Ticket of Seave Man" played. [I suspect this may be a mistranscription. Wikipedia lists a play "The Ticket-of-Leave man" that debuted in 1863.] Miss C[blank space] was the principle actress and M. [blank space] the actor. Walked over to camp after the thing was played. It is now 2 O.C. A.M. of the 23rd. We have just got here and I am pretty tired, but of course must write up my "mem's" before going to bed. I liked the play pretty well for it was a good redition of character.

January 23rd Saturday.

Day clear and warm.

General Cawforth, Pennsylvania Militia, and two members of the Pennsylvania legislature were out here to day. The General was so drunk he he could hardly stand. I believe I must give a little history of Sergeant H. W. Edmonds. He is a native of Cambridge, father died while he was young, mother over-indulgent. Consequently he is rather wild. Went on a trip round the world when about 15, got married while waiting a short time in San Francisco to a Miss Warren. Led his wife to believe he was going to Sacramento when he left for China. The boat she thinks thought he [was] on for the former place was sunk, and he thinks she believes him dead. Has not heard from her since he left San [Francisco]. He is in love with a Miss [blank space]. He says she is the belle of Cambridge. He is now not quite 20. Was wounded at [blank space] and was reduced to the ranks since he was here by a regimental order. He is a good fellow for sport, naturally rather vain.

Sunday 24th

Day clear and warm.

Sergeant Beaugureau returned today. This is the twelfth day since he started. I took a walk with Oscar R-- today. Received a letter from Sml [his father Samuel LaForge] today. He is well. Was drafted, but was exempted. It cost him $30. He will try to break up ten acres in the spring.

Tuesday January 26th 1864

Got up early this morning to take a squad of men belonging the 2nd and 12th Regts N.W. Volunteers down to Alexandria to be sent to Point Lookout where those regiments are stationed. Owing to the sloth of the Chief Clerk of the 3rd Division Eastern troops, I did not get off early enough to get to the boat, which left at 9 A.M. So I took the men up to the Soldiers' Rest. This a a splendidly kept place, much better than the one in Washington or Baltimore. Here they had to stay until day after tomorrow when the boat goes down again. I returned across the hill. The wind was blowing very hard. It was very difficult to keep one's hat on, and if the Ambulance curtains had been down I believe we should have upset. I always have an ambulance when I go on such a trip as that. The driver was unacquainted with the country--the roads crossed themselves in all directions--but I told him which way to drive, for he was lost entirely. It has been a beautiful day, notwithstanding the heavy wind. The sun shone out bright and clear and warm. I thought it would be cold tonight, but it is not.

January 28th 1864 Thursday

Day clear and warm, so warm as to make one perspire while walking. I received a letter from Sister and one from Janey today. All well. They have not received my letter sending for a box yet. I say they were all well, but they were not. Mother and Joseph have bad colds. Frank Bassett is in camp. He came today. Oscar Remington brought him down to see me. He looks just as he did 3 years ago. Colonel McKelvy made me give Miss Thayer my address. She is the assistant State Agent from our State. He also said to Dr. Hunt, our Surgeon in charge, that we must make that application to get a commission for La Forge. I dont know but he is going to try to get me promoted.

Friday 29th

Day warm and clear. We have now had one week of most beautiful weather: clear and warm, dry and pleasant. I suppose it is to pay for the weeks of cold weather previous. The name of our camp is changed by a General Order from the Adjutants Generals to the Rendezvous of Destribution. Camp Distribution is to be broken up.

Saturday January 30th 1864

Warm but rainy. Camp Distribution is to be merged into this camp. No more men are to be sent to this camp but such as are fit for duty in the field. The men will be arranged in corps, instead of states, so that when a corps is called for they will all be togather. No more discharging will be done here, but at our Hospital, which is to be changed into a General Hosptal. And of course will be entirely independent of this command, so quite a change is taking place. Pay Master was not here as expected.

[Content Warning: mild anti-Semitism in the next entry]

Sunday 31st

Warm but cloudy and disagreable.

I answered father's last letter and will answer my sister's tonight and also Janey's. I played 6 games of draughts today with Sergeant Edmonds, of whom I spoke on page 12. I feel very much ashamed of it and will not do so again, for I have several times spoken to other boys about it. [Note: I am guessing that Abiel is feeling qualms about gambling. As his years in the army pass, he sheds his "vices" one by one.] I have had Frank Basset detailed as clerk at the Invalid Corps Examining Board. It is a good position. I guess he will like it. I finished Josephus and returned it to the library today. I think his style rather dry, but the antiquity of the work makes it invaluable. What I principly wondered at was how it was possible for the Jewish nation to lose so many people at that early period and yet so many remain. The 2nd Book, I believe it is, of the "Wars of the Jews", gives the numbers slain in domestic and foreign wars as over 150,000. I set down the separate items, and at the end of the book footed it up, and the amount was as I have stated. It looks like a curse of God that they were divided aganst themselves and in domestic trouble all the time. Even an invasion of their enemies could not unite them. So they would kill themselves at the same time they were being slain by others. I dont think that the Romans could have conquered them if they had been united, for they were very brave under Josephus when he was their General.

I received a letter from Samuel to day. [Note: Abiel's father] He gave me the information I asked for in my last, in regard to my ancestors. He says there is lots of game out there (Wisconsin) and good fishing also. He says he has got a cow, a hog, ten hens, and a cock to commence keeping house with in the spring.

Major category: 
LaForge Civil War Diaries
Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - 13:25

I have't been systematic about posting links to my monthly column at the Queer SciFi blog. I have a new column up on "The Changing Role of Amazons," looking at how the gender-transgressive nature of the Amazon either was or was not associated with homoerotic potential in medieval and Renaissance literature.


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