In this historical novel, Warley (A Southern Girl, 2014) draws on actual events to tell a story set in Beaufort, South Carolina, which was occupied by the U.S. military for the duration of the Civil War.
While most white families hurry to leave the city before the soldiers arrive, the aging Missma refuses to abandon her home. Missma’s 12-year-old grandson, Carter Barnwell, stays with her in the family’s hunting lodge on nearby Cane Island, and the two find ways to outwit the soldiers and make a home. The novel also follows Carter’s mother, Anna, as she takes refuge with other members of the family; his brother Preston, off in the Confederate army; his cousin Gabriel Heyward, a lady’s man who turns Carter into a spy; Swedish-American mother and daughter Christina and Sonja Sunblad, who travel from Pennsylvania to teach freed slaves in Beaufort; and Lt. Newton Spruill, who resents the Southerners he oversees in the occupation. The novel follows Carter and the other characters through the war as they fight to survive and, in many cases, preserve a way of life that has left them behind. Warley is a knowledgeable writer, weaving in period detail and historical fact to develop a rich, engaging narrative, although it is primarily sympathetic to the white Southern viewpoint. Black characters speak in painfully rendered dialect (“Me peoples yere. Uh ‘spect uh gwine stay. Barnwells bin good to ole Rosa. I tank ya fo’ dat;” “Dem forts fall, we gwain stay right ‘chere”), and Christina and Sonja’s students are portrayed as largely ignorant (“They did not know they lived in a state called South Carolina, or in a country called the United States, or on an ocean called the Atlantic”). Missma explains that the Barnwells sold off most of their slaves and quietly freed two but is committed to the South as she knows it. Spruill, who attacks Sonja and persecutes Carter, is a prototypical villainous Yankee.
A well-researched Civil War novel sympathetic to the Confederacy.