In this grandly ambitious masterpiece of Civil War fiction, noted novelist and historian William R. Trotter has created nothing less than an epic re-creation of the whole experience of the warfrom secession to Gettysburgwithin the microcosm of North Carolina, a theater of war never before brought to life in a major novel of the Civil War. Trotter's powerful story follows the intertwined fates of over two dozen major charactersreal and fictional, Union and Confederate, combatants and civiliansswept up in the hurricane of war. In The Sands of Pride, he chronicles the exploits of bold blockade-runners like Southerner Matthew Sloane, intrepid naval warriors like Federal officer William Barker Cushings, sadistic bushwhackers like Cyrus Bone, and spies like the Confederacy's seductive Belle O'Neal. The novel's center of gravity is the beautiful coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina, in the midst of a vibrant, bawdy "Golden Age". It was the South's most vital port and guarded by the largest, most formidable earthen fortress ever built in America, Fort Fisher, a stupendous feat of engineering and a symbol of Southern defiance. After every other significant Rebel port had been vanquished, Fort Fisher's guns kept open Wilmington's boisterous docks, which poured supplies from Europe that kept the Confederacy alive. The Sands of Pride tells a story both vast and intimate. Civil War buffs will be stunned by the stirring events depicted here. All readers will be fascinated by its colorful, passionate characters and swept along by its page-turning momentum.
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Read an Excerpt
The Sands of Pride
By William R. Trotter
Carroll & Graf Publishers
Copyright © 2002 William R. Trotter.
All rights reserved.
$10 REWARD"Run-away" from subscriber, about three months hence, a negro woman named "Bridgett." She walks lame but quick, of dark complexion, low built, between about 35 or 40 years. She is supposed to be lurking on the Sound near Wrightsville. The above reward will be paid upon her confinement in the Wilmington jail, by the Subscriber: Jere. J. King.
On the last day of the year 1860, John William Ellis sat alone at his desk in the governor's mansion in Raleigh, North Carolina. Beyond his window the sky was a curdled mass of charcoal-colored clouds, and a slow, cold, miserable rain nibbled at the leaves of the noble old elm trees that shaded the mansion's front lawn. From the tall flagpole in front of the porte cochere the flag of the United States hung like a soggy dishrag, flattened against its staff as though in shame and in fear of the elements. Ellis wryly observed that the North Carolina flag had been lowered conscientiously and taken in by someone on his staff. A small but significant sign of the times, he thought.
Rising slowly, his joints protesting against the chill, Ellis walked to the fireplace and threw another scuttle of coal on the ebbing flames. Then, impatient for the fire to grow, he poured a glass of sherry into a goblet embossed with the Great Seal of North Carolina and its motto, "Esse quam vederi""To be, not to seem."
Warmed by the wine, he returned to his desk and began methodically to read through the document that he had only had time to scan this morning. Fresh from the printers, still fragrant of ink, this volume too bore the Great Seal and motto. Ranked upon its pages were the vital signs of North Carolina, the final tabulations of the census of 1860. With a scholar's eye, Ellis extracted the more salient data and stored it in his mind, trying to extrapolate what the numbers would really mean if the growing political crisis could not be resolved peacefully.
He presided, it seemed, over a population of almost 1 million souls, a fact that made North Carolina the twelfth most populous state in the Union. The economy was still primarily rural and agrarianbarely one quarter of the population lived in towns and cities, and of that number, only one percent was engaged in manufacturing.
There was a good railroad network serving the central and coastal regions, but not a foot of track west of Salisbury, the gateway to the Appalachians. Inhabitants of the mountain counties were almost as isolated from the rest of their state as they had been a century earlier. Where primitive roads existed, the unforgiving grain of the mountain ranges made it easier for them to trade with their neighbors across the borders of Tennessee, Virginia, and northwest Georgia than with the more prosperous regions of their own state.
While North Carolina's coastline was vast and the state's major rivers wormed deeply into the central Piedmont, most of the ports were small and dedicated mainly to modest intracoastal commerce. Only the bustling city of Wilmington, tucked snuggly beyond reach of the often-furious storms that battered Cape Fear, enjoyed regular commerce with the outside world. Elsewhere, poor roads retarded agricultural development, and the South's most valuable commodity, cotton, did not thrive in the state's red-clay soil. Corn, on the other hand, did just fine, as did long-leaf tobacco, rye, sweet potatoes, and barley, so that even the poor enjoyed a healthy if monotonous diet.
And what will happen to that fragile way of life if war comes and the farmers are off bearing arms instead of tending their crops?
Ellis sighed. The state was fertile but defenseless, and the treasury barely took in enough taxes to maintain the essentials of administration. Four-fifths of the voting males owned no slaves and never expected to. While the average citizen voiced anger at the troublemaking activities of the abolitionists, the passionate and biblically buttressed defenses of slavery that rang so shrilly in the state assemblies and editorials of the Deep South states were, in most of North Carolina, muted and morally ambiguous. Only in the coastal counties, where Negro labor was essential in maintaining the big rice plantations and turpentine groves, did such stridency prevail.
In the two generations since North Carolina's delegates had scratched their pens on the Constitution, the Union had been good to and for the state. Until the galvanizing bolt of Lincoln's election in November, politics, like horse racing, had been a gentleman's hobby. But in the seven weeks since that event, passion and polarization had increased beyond reason. When South Carolina declared secession, five days before Christmas, the hotheaded secessionists of Wilmington had wheeled forth some dusty cannons from a militia warehouse and fired a salute of one hundred shots. Ellis's first reaction to that piece of news had been to exclaim: "For God's sake, don't waste the powder!"
Ellis knew the electorate of his state; he had worked the stump hard in his last campaign, and at that time the general populace had seemed industrious, hardworking, God-fearing, and quite preoccupied with minding its own business. Such was no longer the case. Now, at one polarity, there were growing numbers of secessionistsmost of them motivated more by fear and envy regarding the North's economic and industrial power than by any heartfelt love of slavery as an institution; on the other extreme, particularly in the mountain counties, there were increasing numbers of pro-Union zealots. The only thing that kept the lid on, for the moment anyway, was the preponderant majority in between those polespeople who only sought, with diminishing success, to remain neutral, to go on about their customary activities with only an occasional glance at the storm clouds gathering overhead.
As governor, however, Ellis could not afford to turn away from the very real possibility of civil war. Setting aside the census report, he contemplated the legislative agenda he would present to the General Assembly when it reconvened in early January. His highest priority was the appropriation of $300,000 for modernizing the militia and fortifying the coast; next came the extension of rail service westward to Asheville; thirdly ... Ellis glanced up at the diffident knock that sounded on his office door. "Yes, come in." There stood his dour but efficient secretary, Theophilus Hart, gripping the doorknob as though it was a living creature struggling to escape his fist.
"Excuse me, Your Excellency, but a delegation has just arrived from Wilmington, and they insist on seeing you. Shall I tell them to make a proper appointment and come back tomorrow?"
"What difference will tomorrow make? Show them in, please, and be gracious about it."
Ellis was not totally surprised. The day after Christmas, he had received a rather breathless telegram from one Colonel John Cantwell, recently elected commander of a group calling itself the Cape Fear Minute Men. Until that moment, Ellis had never heard of such a unit, but that, too, was no surprise; volunteer "regiments" (usually not much larger than a company) were springing up all over the state, many of them adopting bellicose or historically reverberant names: the Goldsboro Grizzlies, the Lexington Wildcats, the Rockingham Invincibles. So many of these reports had crossed Ellis's desk since Lincoln's election that he could no longer keep track of them all.
"Colonel" Cantwell's telegram had requested the governor's permission to seize two lightly manned Federal posts in the Wilmington vicinity. The proposition made military senseif war seemed imminent, Washington would certainly dispatch reinforcements to those posts as quickly as they could be loaded onto transports. Why not forestall these reinforcements by preemptive seizure? Ellis was, for a moment, tempted to give authorization, but after some reflection he wired back a negative reply. For the moment, North Carolina was part of the United States and the action proposed by Cantwell would be illegal as well as rashly provocative.
Brushing rudely past Mr. Hart, four men crowded into the governor's office. Each man had apparently selected his "uniform" from whatever he could lay hands upon: ostentatious caps, cartridge pouches stitched together from stable leather, tunics of various colors, home-sewn insignia of rank; and each man dragged behind him a clanking sword of varying length and vintage. If the expressions on their faces had not been so grim, the delegation would have looked like the chorus from a comic opera.
During a half-minute of awkward silence, the men from Wilmington and the governor regarded each other warily. Then a tall, clean-shaven man with bristling eyebrows stepped forward and saluted.
"Colonel John Cantwell, Your Exellency, representing the Southern patriots of Wilmington."
Ellis rose and shook hands with Cantwell, then with the other three men.
"Welcome to Raleigh, gentlemen. I assume you are here to press the case outlined in your recent telegram."
"Indeed we are, sir!" Now that Ellis was physically close to the men, he could feel their frustration, their coiled-spring energy. Whatever might happen, they were ready for warhungry for it as so many hot-blooded young men were who had not seen its face. Cantwell removed his cavalier's hat, a broad-brimmed accessory garishly trimmed with peacock feathers, and held it respectfully in front of his waist, twisting the brim in red-knuckled fingers. How earnest he is, thought Ellis, and how faintly absurd.
"Governor Ellis, we are here to plead with you in person. We have received intelligence from several sea captains, recently arrived from various Northern ports, that a Federal cutter is being loaded with troops, guns, and provisions. The vessel's destination is well known: in a few days, a week at the most, it will bring reinforcements to Fort Caswell and Fort Johnston. If we act before those reinforcements arrive, we can occupy both positions without bloodshed and set about strengthening them for the conflict to come."
Ellis thought that might take considerable doing. "Fort" Johnston, located in the small fishing port of Smithville, thirty miles south of Wilmington, was an empty barracks, not really a fort at all; and Fort Caswell, guarding the western shore of the older of the two Cape Fear River inlets, was a crumbling pile of obsolete masonry. Both places held a "garrison" of just one man, a fort keeper who was supposed to keep things tidy in case the Federal government suddenly decided to occupy the positions in strength.
"Colonel Cantwell, I too have heard this rumor, but so far it is only that. Rest assured that if a Federal warship had set sail on such a mission, I would have learned about it within the hour. For the moment, sir, North Carolina remains part of the Union, and I am bound by my oath of office to discourage any acts which may be construed as illegal, not to say inflammatory. I am not insensitive to your argument, nor without sympathy. Only yesterday, I telegraphed President Buchanan and asked him bluntly what were his intentions with regard to those two locations. His reply, which arrived this morning, plainly states that Washington has no plans to garrison either post."
"Buchanan will not be president much longer," responded Cantwell. "And Mister Lincoln will not be so timid, once he is installed in office. He will surely act on this matter."
"And if it comes to that, sir, if Lincoln masses troops against us, then everything will be changed, and our state must take its stand alongside the states which have already seceded. I pray to God that does not happen, that reason and diplomacy might still prevailNorth Carolina has invested eighty years in the Union, and played a vital role in its creation. Such a relationship cannot be swept away overnight by suspicion and petulance."
Cantwell bristled at those words. "By God, Mister Ellis, 'reason and diplomacy' have availed us nothing! War is coming, sir, war!"
Ellis stared coldly at the red-faced Rebel leader. "You forget yourself, sir. The first duty of a soldier, even an amateur soldier, is to obey the orders of his superior. As governor, I am entitled to your respect and obedience. If you and your men act rashly, I shall call you to heel. Is that clear, Mister Cantwell?"
Suddenly deflated, Cantwell pulled himself to attention and bowed. "Forgive me, Your Excellency. I spoke from passion."
Ellis nodded. "And in all likelihood, the South will soon have need of such passion, Colonel. But for the time being, we must not provoke the Federal government. Buchanan has but a short time to remain in office and is most unlikely to take aggressive steps. Mister Lincoln, on the other hand, is already under tremendous political pressure to take stern measures against the secessionists as soon as he takes the oath. If that happens, my orders to you will be more to your liking, for the actions you propose are strategically sensible." Ellis opened his arms to include the whole delegation. "Be patient, gentlemenevents are moving in your direction, though I wish with all my heart that they were not."
Chastened and somewhat mollified, Cantwell saluted. "As loyal sons of North Carolina, we will of course comply with Your Excellency's orders."
"I thank you for that loyalty, gentlemen. Now that our business is concluded, let me invite you to stay the night as my guests. My secretary will show you to comfortable quarters, and you may rest from your journey until dinnertime. We dine promptly at six o'clock, and the kitchen staff sets a good table. Until then ..."
Cantwell took the hint and bustled his men out of the office.
When he was alone again, Ellis took a deep breath, surprised at the tension knotting his shoulders. He poured another glass of sherry and observed, with a curious intellectual detachment, that his hands were trembling.
Outside, the storm had grown stronger. Rain came down in sheets and gusts of wind moaned against the window. As he drank, Ellis stared morosely at the downpour. Manhandled by a powerful wind, the rain-soaked Union flag stirred fitfully and slapped against the flagstaff, in a rhythm suggestive of marching men.
William Lamb woke just before dawn, to face another February day in the coldest winter Norfolk had seen in many years. He could see his breath, despite the darkness. On the street outside, a wagon rolled past, and he could hear ice cracking under its wheels. He was in no hurry to rise from his cocoon of quilts, for he had fallen asleep spooned against the heated silken back of his wife, Daisy, the two of them murmuring sleepy endearments, the fireplace still blazing, the air still vibrant with the no-longer-mysterious but always wonderful scent of their lovemaking.
Ritualistically, Lamb prepared his body for the first shock of cold air. Two deep breaths, a determined knotting of muscles, and his customary phrase of self-admonition: Prepare thyself, Young Soldier of the Lord!
Soldier or not, the first contact between his bare feet and the icy wooden floor brought a shudder. Shaking it off, he scurried across to the fireplace, poked some life into its coals, threw in some kindling and pine knots. A series of huffs and puffs rewarded him with spurting flames and the cheerful sputter of pine resin. Hunkering down on his haunches, Lamb toasted his face and hands by the burgeoning fire, then stood, still naked below the hem of his nightshirt, and turned his buttocks toward the heat.
Now that the room was bright again, William Lamb could see his wife as she lay sleeping. Black and glossy as a raven's wing, Daisy's hair spilled down her pillow like a dark river. Her cheeks seemed to glow as if they welcomed the firelight and its warmth, and her lipsso proper and delicate in everyday conversation, so avid when they made lovewere slightly parted.
Excerpted from The Sands of Pride by William R. Trotter. Copyright © 2002 by William R. Trotter. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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...a fascinating adventure story, made all the more exciting because it's based on truth.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book has a ton of characters. After a page or 2 of 1 character you get switched to another and so on then the author comes back to a previous one. All of it is intertwined it makes perfect sense as you read it. I live on the potomac river in virginia and have been to alot of the places described in this book which makes it interesting to me to have something I see everyday written with a different point of view. I agree that there are some dull moments but the book has a whole is fantastic. Excellent detail, worth reading if you like historical fiction.
Overall, this is a great book even though it does get slow at times. The author does a great job of developing the characters. He also throws in some interesting turns of events.