Musing on Behind Enemy Lines in Your Own Backyard #research #historical #war #fiction #author #CivilWar #Unionists #Alabama

A quick reminder that I’ll be onstage for a literary reading at the Panoply Arts Festival in Huntsville, Alabama in just a few weeks! If you’re in the area, I’d love to meet you after I do a short reading on the Art OutLoud Stage at 3:00 p.m. CT on Saturday, April 29. You can find out more and buy your tickets to the festival here.

Discovering how people actually lived in decades/centuries past is often fascinating to me. Not everything, of course, but sometimes I come across an intriguing tidbit I have to share. As I’ve been researching for a new historical romance I have in mind to write, I’ve learned more about how those loyal to the American Union survived during the Civil War, particularly in Alabama where my story will take place. (I promise not all of my books are set in Alabama! I have many that are not. Just pop over to my website to see them all.)

One desperate tactic Unionists resorted to was known as “lying out.” Essentially, the men loyal to the American government who were at risk of being conscripted into the Confederate army—against their will, their principles, and their best interests—set up casual camps in the woods where they hid from the Confederate army authorities. These men were Alabama residents who held the minority view in the state, that of loyalty to the Union. So they were behind enemy lines while living in their own homes. So they had to hide out elsewhere. Just think about that for a minute or two. Let’s pause to contemplate their likely experience.

Alabama has lots of hills and swamps, rainy weather, mosquitos, snakes, wildlife, and varying temperatures from freezing to boiling hot. And tornadoes, lest we overlook them. These men lived out in the elements, for months or perhaps even years—hiding from those they disagreed with, just trying to survive without being shot or beaten or forced into an abhorrent position they didn’t believe in. And from what I’ve read, Unionists who dared to remain in their homes, that is the women, children, and elderly, were accosted, threatened, and even burned out of their houses. Their livestock and crops confiscated or destroyed. So the men lying out had every reason to believe their very life was at risk if they were caught by Confederate soldiers.

I’ve been camping and gone to summer camp for a week or two, but obviously my experiences with outdoor living pale in comparison to what these men must have endured. They must have had some kind of shelter but it would have to be secretive so they wouldn’t be easily detected and thus captured. There are many caves in north Alabama due to the limestone layers in the ground, so perhaps they used caves as shelters when they could. But that was likely an obvious place for the conscription soldiers to look, right? They’d need a hidden cave where they could go to ground.

And food and clothing were needed. For those, they relied on sympathetic neighbors and family members to provide. Which of course put their accomplices at risk for aiding the men lying out. But what other choice did these men have but to rely on their family and friends? They wouldn’t want to light a fire, the smoke leading their enemy to their campsite. They wouldn’t want to waste ammunition hunting, though perhaps they had a bow and arrow they could use. But then how to cook whatever they hunted without lighting a fire? Or finding a place where they could light one without it being seen or smelled… The risks were great!

For that matter, what did they do with their days and nights while hiding? It’s not like they could browse the internet on their phones. Or email their friends and family. They had no direct communication except possibly an occasional handwritten note to request something. (My conjecture!) Perhaps they had a book to read or they did some whittling to pass the time. After a few days I’d be bored. What did they do for months? Like I said earlier, this risky move must have been a last resort.

On the flip side, you have the dedicated family member or friend who steps up. Imagine, if you will, being the sister of one of these desperate men who is lying out and feeling obligated to help. Not only her brother but however many others were lying out with him. To gather food and supplies and carry them surreptitiously out into the woods, the mountains, the caves without being seen or reported. Then returning home undetected so you’re not asked what on earth is a young woman doing traipsing about in the underbrush at dusk? Alone? We’re talking the mid-1800s after all. Women were supposed to stay at home and tend to things, not be gallivanting around in the woods. (Thank goodness I didn’t live back then…I love to walk in the woods! #justsaying)

I can see both sides of this situation: the idea of hiding out could look to the Rebels as admission of guilt, that the men were not doing the right thing by defending the Confederacy. While the Unionists had little recourse to preserve and protect their own lives and loyalties, at least until the Union army arrived in northern Alabama when the Unionists could then join the right side of the conflict. In fact, several Unionists who had been lying out joined the U.S. Cavalry.

Off to do more research. I should start writing the story soon. Check out my other books to see if any strike your fancy, including the one featured below, a WWII home front Baltimore story, which was inspired by my parents’ war and post-war correspondence.

Happy reading!


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Audrey Harper needs more than home and hearth to satisfy her self-worth despite being raised with the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Working as a music critic for the city newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland, during the Second World War, she’s enjoyed both financial freedom and personal satisfaction in a job well done. When she uncovers evidence of German spies working to sabotage a secret bomber plane being manufactured in her beloved city, she must choose between her sense of duty to protect her city and the urgings of her boss, her family, and her fiancé to turn over her evidence to the authorities. But when her choices lead her and her sister into danger, she is forced to risk life and limb to save her sister and bring the spies to justice.

Set against the backdrop of the flourishing musical community during the 1940s in Baltimore, Notes of Love and War weaves together the pleasure of musical performance with the dangers of espionage and spying.

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