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Decoration Day, which we’ve come to call Memorial Day, began in 1866 as a way to honor those who fought and died in the Civil War (1861-1865). Until 1971, it was celebrated on May 30. Now we celebrate it on the last Monday of May, usually as a way to start the summer season rather than a way of honoring our fallen soldiers. This year the official Memorial Day falls on the original date of May 30.

When I was young, growing up in a small Michigan town, the day began solemnly with the high school band leading a parade from the high school to the cemetery where a 21-gun salute honored all of our fellow citizens who fought in all the wars since the Civil War. The veterans handed out paper poppies which symbolized the original Decoration Days when women would decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers. Then we marched back to the high school where another civic group handed out ice cream bars, and that’s when the official partying began with backyard barbecues and frisbee tossing. By starting the day at the cemetery, we all knew what we were celebrating.

This weekend, I’m celebrating the holiday with a remembrance of my great grandfather who fought in the war as a Union soldier and rendered his account of the horrors of fighting against fellow countrymen in his journal that I published in 2013. The book is available in paperback and audible formats, as well as Kindle. This week, May 28-June 4, the book may be downloaded for only $0.99 on Amazon.

Here’s an excerpt from the journal of Harmon Camburn who I’m proud to call my great grandfather. In this particular section, he details his company’s actions during the Battle of Fair Oaks.

The Battle of Fair Oaks (AKA Seven Pines – May 31-June 1, 1862

May 31 – Orders came for us to report to General Kearney at Seven Pines Tavern. Without delay, we were on the move. Before we reached the stage road, one of those sudden storms peculiar to the south burst upon us without warning. The sky grew dark. Then quickly came sheets of livid flame, followed by deafening crashes of thunder. In another moment, sluices of water began to pour. Darkness became so intense that nothing could be seen except by the blinding, hissing, crackling flashes of lightning. The scene was one of terrific grandeur, but exposed to its fury as we were, it was not pleasant. Some gained the partial shelter of the trees. Others could not make head against the flood and were forced to stand and take it where they were. In half an hour, this cloudburst was a thing of the past. The only evidence that it had been was the distant detonation of thunder and the lake of muddy water in which we stood over our shoe tops.

As soon as the storm swept by, we marched away in pursuit of orders. Then there broke upon our ears rapid explosions of thunder that we knew too well were not from heaven, followed by an unsteady roll that we knew was not the reverberation of thunder along the clouds. To our experienced ears, it was the sound of deadly strife.

Then came fugitives from the front, saying that Casey’s division which was in the advance had been surprised at Fair Oaks station and “All cut to pieces.” As with increased pace and quickened pulse we pushed forward, the number of fugitives increased and all had the same cry. “We’re all cut to pieces.” To say that our little band felt no misgivings in the face of this wild rout would not be true. Thoughts of Bull Run forced themselves upon us, but when did the 2nd Michigan fail to report wherever they were ordered. Straining toward the front, we met the lion-hearted, firm and true General Heintzelman at a point where the swamp and creek came close together within forty rods. This hair-lipped old general demanded, “What are these and where are you going?” Being told that we were two companies of the 2nd Michigan going to report to General Kearney, he ordered, “Deploy across this muck and stop these stragglers or kill them.” Instantly, the movement was begun at double quick and in another moment, we were facing the mob of excited, terrified men, some hatless, from they knew not what, while the spent balls from the enemy was stimulating their speed.

To stay this tide was to us a harder task than to fight the enemy. They were our friends, and we did not want to hurt them. By the sounds from the front, we knew that our men who had not been stampeded were bravely holding the rebels in check. These men must be made to turn and help them. At first, it required rough treatment and some received wounds here that had escaped unscathed at the front, but when the tide was once stayed, a peremptory order to “Fall in,” enforced by the point of the bayonet, backed by a loaded musket was obeyed without resistance. Each had his story to tell, to which we would not listen. Officers and men alike insisted that “We’re all cut to pieces” and “I am the only man left of my regiment.”

Officers and men resorted to various subterfuges and tricks to get past our line. Two men carrying their brave and esteemed captain, with both legs tied up with handkerchiefs, were stopped to examine the captain’s wounds. When the bandages were removed, no wounds were to be found. Men with heads, bodies, legs, and arms tied up were detected in the cheat and put into the ranks. A colonel of a New York regiment with two men carrying him desired to push through. We sent the men to the ranks, but passed the colonel. He was dead-drunk. We dumped his carcass on the ground in the swamp as of no use. One by one, seven color bearers drifted back to us with their colors and the declaration that they alone had escaped with the colors, the others were “all cut to pieces.” The phrase “cut to pieces” became a joke and many an officer in splendid uniform was asked to take off his clothes and show where he was cut. Some officers were indignant that their rank was not respected, and that private soldiers dared to prevent their passing, but a look into the muzzle of a loaded musket with a resolute eye behind it inclined them to waive their rights for this once. By stationing the various regimental colors in different parts of the field, and directing the men to assemble around their own colors, we rallied seven good-sized regiments of live men that were not “cut to pieces.” We kept our line all night, part of the men sleeping at a time. Our duty had been a very unpleasant one, but we were assured that it was very important.

June 1 – Early in the morning we joined our regiment on the battlefield. Seven companies of the regiment were in the thickest of the fight and lost heavily in killed and wounded, and Colonel Poe had his horse shot under him. Richardson’s division was already pushing the enemy, and long before noon, the lost ground was regained. This two-day battle was called by both names – Fair Oaks and Seven Pines, the fighting being done between a railroad station of the former name and a country tavern of the latter. (The aggregate loss to Union and Confederate – killed 3,690, wounded 7,524, prisoners 2,322.)

[Fair Oaks or Seven Pines, May 31-June 1, 1862, with the total killed, wounded, or captured now recorded as 13,736.]

Purchase Links for Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier

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#NEW RELEASE – A SHORT STORY ANTHOLOGY

Unshod finalUnshod – An anthology of traditional and contemporary western short stories where raw emotions and heartbreaking experiences written by nine female authors will captivate all reading tastes.

It gives me great pleasure to announce the release of this anthology, and it’s a great honor to have my short story “March Forth” placed in the same set with some very talented authors.

From Jan Morrill, Pamela Foster, Staci Troilo, Joan Hall, P.C. Zick, Janna Hill, Michele Jones, Francis Guenette, and Lorna Faith, here’s a peek at what’s in store:

Feel the pain of a young Japanese girl who comes home from an internment camp after World War II and learns it’s easier to go with the flow than to fight the current.

Struggle with an expectant mother on the cold winter prairie while she waits for her husband to come home from a hunting trip.

Journey with a young woman to the Four Corners as she tries to connect with her Navajo ancestors.

Try not to believe in the superstition of the blue moon—if one dies, three more will follow.

Know that one way or another, life will change inalterably that day.

Walk in the footsteps of an old cowpoke who thought he made the deal of a lifetime.

Suffer the torments of a young lady who wants desperately to marry but seems destined never to wed.

Walk the wild western paths and run from unimaginable dangers.

Choose between an unhappy life of luxury or a happy life of simplicity.

Nine female authors pen western tales that you’ll want to retell around a campfire. These aren’t your granddaddy’s westerns. They’re the next generation’s, and they’re darn good. And the collection is free on all major online retail sites!

Download Links

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WE CARRY OUR HOMES WITH US – A CUBAN AMERICAN MEMOIR

IMG_0629I am so proud of my friend and colleague, Marisella Veiga, on the publication of  We Carry Our Homes with Us – A Cuban American Memoir. Yes, I do have a personal relationship with the author so perhaps my comments might be viewed as slanted. However, I can tell you her book is honest, raw, and triumphant. As someone who lived in the same town until I went away to college–thirty miles away–this book astounded me as I attempted to understand what it must have been like to move as much as the Veiga family did during Marisella’s formative years. Not only did they move, but they were ripped from their home only to become exiles in a foreign land where very few understood what it meant to be Cuban.

I’ve known Marisella for more than a decade, but I discovered I really didn’t know her heart and soul until I read her account of what it was like growing up as an exile from her homeland of Cuba. At three years old, she didn’t understand the ramifications of the plane ride from Havana to Miami with her mother and two brothers. Her father joined them later with only fourteen cents in his pocket and dim prospects for work in a city teeming with Cubans who’d escaped the Communist regime of Fidel Castro. Both of her parents were professionals: her mother was an optometrist, and her father a respected accountant. With three young children and a fourth on the way, they were placed with a host family in Minnesota–so far from their culture that even a far cry couldn’t reach the shores of the island just ninety miles away from the United States. But her father would be able to find work there, maybe not at the same professional level as he enjoyed in Cuba, but work in his field nonetheless.

There are parts that are heartbreaking, such as the story of the little Marisella not having any friends in school until the fourth grade, sitting isolated in the classroom in a world of silence because she did not yet speak English. She also looked different from the other students, where most of them hailed from northern European bloodlines. However, her descriptions of growing up in the United States of the 1960s in a community give a nostalgic longing for a time of innocence no longer possible in the age of social media exposure. The children formed their own communities. And the other Cuban families that came in the same program as the Veigas to Minnesota formed yet another, providing comfort in such a different place from Cuba.

I found myself crying, laughing, and cringing at some of her brutally honest explorations of her life of exile in Minnesota. She writes in the very beginning that, “People learn to live in exile–no matter where one sets up housekeeping–by experiencing it. Exile is a state of being that continues for most Cubans who live outside their country if they have left for political, not economic, reasons. It ends when Cuba embraces democracy.”

This statement alone let me know that I was reading about something vastly different from my own experience as a citizen of the United States.

Even though the family settles in Minnesota, movement continues as the family grows in size and in finances. By the age of four, she’d lived in five different places, and the moves continued while living in Minnesota.

The writing of this book took tremendous effort as my friend dug into the past and her feelings surrounding her exile. Through her experience, she learned not to place too much importance on material objects, and she learned to adapt and welcome change as one thing remained constant:

A place is called a home, no matter where the dwelling is situated, for one reason: the sanctuary of home is carried within each person. The material manifestation–trailer, apartment, or mansion–is secondary.

Marisella interviewed many of the folks she knew from the Minnesota days to write this book, and when it released in April, she returned for a book signing. Members of her family’s host family came to see her as did friends she made in the last few years they stayed there. After Marisella completed fifth grade, the family returned to Miami where they remained. Marisella returned to Minnesota for college to the place where her exile began but also where so many parts of her personality were formed. The writing of this book brought her full circle.

This memoir, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, is an outstanding book that should be mandatory reading for all, especially those who find it difficult to embrace a culture different from their own. We Carry Out Homes With Us will open your heart and your mind.

Purchase Links 

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I had the pleasure of helping Marisella put together her Cuban Rice Classics cookbook several years ago. She’s a talented woman who does Cuban cooking demonstrations, speaks about her life of exile, and continues to write.

 

 

 

 

81jowbgkwpl-_ux250_1More about Marisella Veiga: Writer Marisella Veiga was born in Havana, Cuba. She was raised both in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Miami, Florida. Her writings have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, Poets & Writers and Art in America. In 2004, she was given the Evelyn La Pierre Award in Journalism by Empowered Women International. She is a nationally syndicated columnist with Hispanic Link News Service. Many of these are recorded on a spoken word CD, Square Watermelons: Ten Essays on Living with Two Cultures available from Eclipse Recording Studio in St. Augustine. Many of her short stories, one of which won The Pushcart Prize Special Mention in Fiction, are in literary anthologies. Veiga’s essays also appear in Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education and Our Town magazines. Besides teaching part-time at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida writing, she has been giving Cuban cooking demonstrations at various venues around Florida.

 

AN AUTHOR CHAT WITH K.S. THOMAS

51sjn5hbj5l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Please join my fellow colleague Annamaria Bazzi on her Round Table Chat today. She and another fellow author, K.S. Thomas, are discussing Karina’s latest romance, One Last Chapter.

From Annamaria: “All we need is a cup of coffee, maybe a cappuccino and tune into the Round Table Chat to discover the latest news about an author. To indulge in this latest news, grab your favorite drink and join me on the Round Table Chat.”

Click here to enter the Round Table!

 

 

 

 

 

FLORIDA FICTION – GRAB A COPY FOR #FREE!

Florida Fiction Series – First two in the series available for free download this week.

Living Lightly

Good morning – I’m running a special offer this week. If you haven’t read any of the books from my Florida Fiction series, now is the chance to grab the first two for free. All three books are stand alone novels. Each one has its own cast of characters and political, romantic, and environmental issues facing them. Let’s start with the first one.

TORTpsdTortoise Stew – FREE May 11-15 – The first book in the series follows the antics of rural small town Florida politicians, developers, reporters, and environmentalists. All of them have something to hide and the events that start unfold as Monster Mart tries to take over the town with trucks and warehouses.

Blurb:  When a bomb is left on reporter Kelly Sand’s desk, she’s determined to find out who wants her to stop reporting on corporate growth in rural Florida. The open threat thrusts Kelly back into the…

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