Craney Island — Another War of 1812 Episode

Battle of Craney Island

Bat­tle of Craney Island

In June, 1813, the British were cocky. They had only encoun­tered inef­fec­tive local mili­tia. They had block­ad­ed Chesa­peake Bay and chased the frigate U.S.F. Con­stel­la­tion into Nor­folk, VA. At Craney Island, pro­tect­ing both Hamp­ton Roads and ship­yards at Portsmouth and Nor­folk, VA, was a small mil­i­tary con­tin­gent. In every land bat­tle so far, the Amer­i­cans had run rather than fight over­whelm­ing odds. The British did not expect much oppo­si­tion.

Instead, they planned to cap­ture the island, con­tin­ue on to the larg­er Vir­ginia cities, and cap­ture the strand­ed frigate. Accord­ing to a lieu­tenant from the Con­stel­la­tion who vis­it­ed the blockad­ing fleet under a flag of truce, the British offi­cers said they would strike at the ship soon, vow­ing that “they must & will have it!”

USS Constellation-1812

The British became the vic­tims of their own over­ween­ing arro­gance,” says Mary­land his­to­ri­an Christo­pher T. George, author of “Ter­ror on the Chesa­peake: The War of 1812 on the Bay” and edi­tor of the Jour­nal of the War of 1812.

They thought they were fac­ing ill-trained rus­tics. So they rowed in as if they were just wait­ing to be shot at. They were sit­ting ducks.”

General Robert Taylor

Gen­er­al Robert Tay­lor

As Gen­er­al Tay­lor wrote in his let­ter of July 4, 1813, to the Sec­re­tary of War: “The whole force on the island at the time of the attack, con­sist­ed of 50 rifle­men, 446 infantry of the line, 91 state artillery, and 150 sea­men and marines fur­nished by Capt. Tar­bell. Of these, 43 were on, the sick list.”

He added, “I can­not with­hold my grate­ful acknowl­edg­ments to Com. Cassin, Capt. Tar­bell, and the offi­cers and crew of the Con­stel­la­tion and gun­boats, who have in every instance aid­ed our oper­a­tions with a cor­dial­i­ty, zeal and abil­i­ty, not to be sur­passed.”

The ship’s crew helped, but as British Napi­er lament­ed in his jour­nal, “A sharp can­non­ade from the works on the island cost us 71 men, with­out return­ing a shot.”

The British did not cap­ture the Con­stel­la­tion, and they left the area with­out attack­ing Nor­folk.

The report­ed num­ber of British casu­al­ties var­ied by source. There were approx­i­mate­ly 80 killed, wound­ed and miss­ing. One barge was cap­tured and at least two more were severe­ly dam­aged. The defend­ers did not suf­fer any casu­al­ties in the first major War of 1812 vic­to­ry on Chesa­peake Bay.

The British had all the advan­tages. They had the num­bers. They had the fire­pow­er — and they should have won,” said for­mer Vir­ginia War Muse­um direc­tor John V. Quarstein.

You can’t go vis­it Craney Island today. It’s not immor­tal­ized by a song like the ‘Star-Span­gled Ban­ner,’ ” he adds.

But the bat­tle there was the first big Amer­i­can vic­to­ry in a long string of defeats on the Chesa­peake Bay — and it deserves to be bet­ter remem­bered.”

Five Star Read — THE ANTEATER OF DEATH

Anteater coverNow, you have to admit—The Anteater of Death is an unusu­al name for a mys­tery sto­ry. Okay—crazy! But I tru­ly like it. It’s got a lot going for it.

A. The name attracts atten­tion. (Always good.)

B. The sto­ry lives up to the title. (Also good.)

C. The anteater (in a zoo, thank­ful­ly) is not only a sus­pect in mur­der, but has a devot­ed advo­cate in the hero­ine of the story—Teddy, the ama­teur detec­tive.

This was how I put it a cou­ple of months ago when I read The Anteater of Death:

The plot is full of unex­pect­ed twists, the char­ac­ters are most­ly known to each oth­er (for gen­er­a­tions) and quite indi­vid­ual. The sus­pense is right up there, along with enough humor to fit the title. But there is also sus­pense to keep the read­er on the edge of her (or his) seat. The book starts and ends with a chap­ter in the anteater’s viewpoint—quite a bit dif­fer­ent than a human view­point. In between it’s Teddy’s sto­ry. She’s relat­ed to the wealthy zoo donors and work­ing at the zoo. And yes, there is death. Great sto­ry for those look­ing for the unusu­al sub­ject. Spiced with zoo and ani­mal infor­ma­tion.

Right now the Kin­dle ebook is $.99. Bet­ty Webb is the author. She has two oth­er zoo books, and a desert series of mys­ter­ies.

War of 1812 — Kent Island

In August, 1813, Cap­tain Charles Gor­don, U.S.N. said, “MARYLAND INVADED…it appears the ene­my have tak­en pos­ses­sion of Kent Island, and that the inhab­i­tants of every descrip­tion have removed to the main land…From the cir­cum­stance of land­ing can­non on Kent Island, it appears to be the inten­tion of the ene­my to keep pos­ses­sion of it for some time; and cer­tain­ly a more eli­gi­ble sit­u­a­tion could not have been select­ed for their own safe­ty and con­ve­nience or from which to annoy us.”

Burning in Kent County

Burn­ing in Kent Coun­ty

Indeed, on August 5, the British, with two thou­sand men and sev­en­teen ships, took over the island. British Admi­ral John Bor­lase described Kent Island as a “valu­able & beau­ty Island which is half as large as the Isle of Wright…a cen­tral Point between Annapo­lis, Bal­ti­more, Wash­ing­ton and the East­ern Ports of the State of Mary­land.” After they pre­pared the island, they launched raids on St. Michaels and Queen­stown. How­ev­er, they left on August 27 to sail to their win­ter quar­ters.

One rea­son they left so soon was because of the heavy storms they had encoun­tered in the pre­vi­ous Sep­tem­ber.

This bit of his­to­ry and oth­ers that I’ve shared added to the reen­act­ment of the for­got­ten War of 1812 in my upcom­ing mys­tery—For­got­ten Body. In fact, some I’ve read today means I have to change a few things in that upcom­ing man­u­script. Saved me from a major his­tor­i­cal boo-boo. Of course, since all the char­ac­ters live in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, any mis­state­ments they make could be blamed on igno­rance. But Jo (my amateur/reluctant sleuth) is smarter than that.

I just said that, didn’t I? My char­ac­ter is a person—not an exten­sion or imag­i­na­tion of my brain. As a writer, does that hap­pen to you too? As a read­er, do you think of the char­ac­ters as paper dolls or real peo­ple? As a read­er, when I enjoy a book, I’m firm­ly in the “real peo­ple” mind set.

 

New Writers’ New Book

5-25-5th grade coverI’m one of the retirees who have been help­ing ten fifth graders who want to write. (When oth­er kids see us pass­ing through the school halls, they ask, “Are you the grand­mas?” Yep, that would be us.) This week we will deliv­er their fin­ished book. They will each get two copies—one to keep and one to give away to a favorite per­son. (Or, two to keep—their choice.)

All of the chil­dren wrote one, or more sto­ries, we edit­ed them, made sug­ges­tions, they learned that writ­ing is also rewrit­ing. Some illus­trat­ed their sto­ries. One cre­at­ed the cov­er. One boy was def­i­nite­ly writ­ing a book, but he man­aged to make a sto­ry out of the first two chap­ters. One of the girls seems des­tined to take Steven King’s place, but since she was also pro­lif­ic, we encour­aged one of her sweet sto­ries.

They accom­plished quite a bit in a half hour a week, espe­cial­ly since 5-25 5th grade kidsthere were sev­er­al late days for snow that seemed to always hap­pen on our Tues­day morn­ing at the school. They did their writ­ing on a com­put­er eas­i­ly using a hunt-and-peck sys­tem they had each worked out for them­selves. (Although it was easy to trans­fer their work, I real­ly do think it might be bet­ter to teach typ­ing skills before using the key­board. But I’m def­i­nite­ly of the old school—learned how to type in high school on a man­u­al type­writer.)

But, enough of that. I enjoyed work­ing with the kids. I’ve got to say, at least one inner city school is giv­ing the chil­dren lots of choice in their edu­ca­tion, for we could not have done this with­out some coop­er­a­tion from the over­worked teach­ers.

A War of 1812 Prank

One of my favorite sou­venirs from our years sail­ing Chesa­peake Bay waters was a small book from St. Michaels, Mary­land, The Town That Fooled The British. Besides detail­ing day-to-day activ­i­ties and prepa­ra­tions for war and telling the sto­ry of sav­ing the ship-build­ing com­mu­ni­ty from British attack, it told about Jacob Gibson’s Prank.

In April 1813, Mr. Gib­son farmed Sharp’s Island (now most­ly sunken). The British sized the island, impris­oned Mr. Gib­son, and con­fis­cat­ed his cat­tle and sheep. How­ev­er, they short­ly released him and even paid him for the ani­mals.

A few days lat­er, Jacob Gib­son, who was well known for his prac­ti­cal jokes, must have been feel­ing his oats. He and some of his slaves rowed and sailed a barge up Broad Creek toward St. Michaels, about fif­teen miles away. He tied a red ban­dana to the mast, and when they neared St. Michaels, he ordered one of the sailors to beat on an emp­ty rain bar­rel. (It might have been on a bright, moon­lit night.) The videttes (mount­ed sen­tries) rode to alert the town. The res­i­dents grabbed their stores of food and ani­mals and vacat­ed the town while the St. Michaels Patri­ot­ic Blues (the local mili­tia) stood ready to fight the ene­my. For­tu­nate­ly, they rec­og­nized his boat, and since Jacob was a quick talk­er as well as a big jok­er, he escaped with­out bod­i­ly injury. How­ev­er, he did give the town two six-pounder can­nons as a peace offer­ing.

And, those can­nons may (or may not—let’s not for­get these sto­ries were passed down by word of mouth before they were writ­ten down) have been help­ful in the lat­er defense of St. Michaels.

 

A Five Star Read-Under Any Title

Original Cover

Orig­i­nal Cov­er

The book is the first of the Perse­phone Cole Vin­tage Mys­tery Series tak­ing place in the ear­ly 1940s. The author is Heather Haven. I read this mys­tery a cou­ple of years ago. Was it called Perse­phone Cole and the Hal­loween Curse (the orig­i­nal title) or The Dag­ger Before Me? I don’t remem­ber. Was the cov­er the orig­i­nal one (pic­tured left) or the new one? Think it was the orig­i­nal, but, I read the book on my Kin­dle, so I’m not sure.

As I remem­ber the sto­ry, I like the first cov­er the best. Perse­phone (Per­cy for short) is big and beautiful—extra large size. She’s a sin­gle moth­er, liv­ing with the extend­ed fam­i­ly (space was a prob­lem) and help­ing her father in his detec­tive busi­ness. She’s deter­mined to suc­ceed at her first solo case. It’s in the the­ater, which is an added complication—since she doesn’t know that much about the­ater. But, she’s a good fak­er (she hopes). And so does the reader—pulling for Per­cy with every page.

There are so many great reviews of this title, I’d like to quote from a cou­ple of them:

Second Cover

Sec­ond Cov­er

Per­cy is cer­tain­ly not the stereo­typ­i­cal moth­er of the 1940s. She’s a tough woman with an atti­tude big enough to match her 5’11” frame. She pos­sess­es a sharp mind and an even sharp­er tongue. I love the way she han­dles peo­ple, men in par­tic­u­lar, who doubt her abil­i­ties as a detec­tive. Though she can be brash at times, Per­cy also knows how to turn on the charm when she needs to. I can just as eas­i­ly pic­ture her but­ter­ing up a poten­tial wit­ness with free food or rough­ing up a hos­tile one.

Here’s what anoth­er review­er had to say:

I found Per­cy engag­ing. I liked her mox­ie. Not exact­ly fem­i­nine, peo­ple “often remarked that between her wild hair, thin body, and daffy per­son­al­i­ty, she remind­ed them of a Dan­de­lion caught in a wind­storm.” (I like that word-pic­ture.) Per­cy does things like: “she popped a nut into her mouth and sep­a­rat­ed the meat from the shell with her teeth.” Haven offers delight­ful and “pun­ny” prose: “What col­or the inte­ri­or was sup­posed to be was dif­fi­cult to say. I’m going with drab.” Or how about this one—when Per­cy looks up at a man, we read: “It was nov­el, look­ing up to some­one not stand­ing on a steplad­der.”

And here’s my review:  Perse­phone Cole (Per­cy for short) is a female detec­tive in ear­ly 1940s New York dur­ing World War II. There’s great his­toric atmos­phere (sweaty because it’s a non-air-con­di­tioned heat spell) deal­ing with strange acci­dents in the the­ater dis­trict. She detects under­cov­er as a man­ag­er who doesn’t real­ly know that much about man­ag­ing, but she’s right up there with detect­ing, includ­ing gun-han­dling. The nice­ly con­vo­lut­ed plot kept me guess­ing, and the end­ing was whol­ly sat­is­fy­ing. Def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend­ed for read­ers of his­toric mys­tery (with sassy women).

I’m won­der­ing, why the title and cov­er change? I under­stand an author wish­ing to present the best face to her read­ers. And, since I do love this series, I hope it was a good choice. But I have to ask, which cov­er and which title do you like?

 

Does My Book Need a Vocabulary List?

5-14 Paper and penOkay, that’s a ques­tion I sel­dom ask myself. I write mys­tery (most­ly) tak­ing place in the cur­rent time, and in the coun­try where my books are sold. I don’t have any char­ac­ters speak­ing a for­eign lan­guage.

Oth­er books, often ones I read, are set in past cen­turies or oth­er coun­tries. They might have a list of names, or words that are unfa­mil­iar. That’s handy. There are oth­er instances that neces­si­tate word lists—often involv­ing unusu­al occu­pa­tions, or even hob­bies. But cozy, or almost cozy mys­ter­ies? Most read­ers know enough of the words used to describe recipes, needle­work, antiques, pets, and the var­i­ous occu­pa­tions of our favorite ama­teur sleuths.

Now, back to my ques­tion. One of my mys­ter­ies involves boat­ing. The fol­low­ing is a para­graph that may have non-boaters think­ing I must have missed a few gram­mar lessons in ele­men­tary school.

The coiled anchor rode smelled musty, even though it was 5-14 anchorcom­plete­ly dry. Lit­tle col­ored plas­tic tags lay, woven into the fiber to mea­sure off the feet as the line payed out. Would I have to remove all that line to see if there was any­thing under­neath? Not tonight. Too much trou­ble. I flashed around the inte­ri­or one last time. There was a small piece of paper stuck low, under a few coils of the rope. I pulled it out.”

Did I mis­spell some­thing? I checked a boat­ing site from the Great Lakes. This is a sen­tence describ­ing how to anchor a boat. “When all the rode has been payed out, gen­tly back down on the anchor to set it in the bot­tom.”

RODE — anchor chain or line (rope) that attach­es the anchor to the boat

TO PAY OUT, or PAYED OUT — to allow the rode to uncoil and leave the anchor lock­er so the anchor is low­ered

Or, is that just too much? Per­son­al­ly, I think so. I don’t mind read­ing a book with a few things I have to infer from con­text. What do you think?

Book Party for THE CLIENT’S WIFE

cover-The Clients Wife2Yes, I went to a book par­ty last week, and I tell you—Thomas Wig­gin knows how to par­ty. Big room with chairs set up—check. A show­ing of a full movie—check. Cook­ies and popcorn—check. Adult beverages—yeah! Cof­fee and tea, sure—but choice of wine as well as mar­ti­nis, both gin and vodka—check! And, icing on the cake—the read­ing of a scene by the author who made it come alive. (After all, he had a long stint as a star­ring actor of both day­time and night­time TV—not to men­tion writ­ing episodes of the day­time dra­ma, then per­form­ing a one-man show he wrote.)

Of course, that’s beside the point. The impor­tant part of a book par­ty author signing 2is the book. And, get­ting a new slant on the where, why, and how of the author’s inspi­ra­tion and car­ry-through of that book.

Thomas Wig­gin was inspired by his par­ents, the Gersh­win music they loved, and the Nick and Nora Charles movies of the 1930s. So how did those things all come togeth­er?

Mr. Wig­gin had an answer for that. In those old movies, Nick and Nora had a son, Nick, Jr. What we didn’t know is that Nick, Jr. was not into the detec­tive scene, but his daugh­ter Emma was. Yes, Emma Charles spent time with her grand­par­ents. She learned to love Gersh­win, inves­ti­ga­tions, and mar­ti­nis. As the book, The Client’s Wife begins, Emma has left her job with the police depart­ment and has begun her own detec­tive agency. All she needs is to find a man who appre­ci­ates the fin­er things of life. Gersh­win, good Eng­lish, and the kind of rela­tion­ship her grand­par­ents had. (All this, of course, while solv­ing crime cas­es.)

I’ve only start­ed read­ing my new, signed copy of The Client’s Wife. It’s head­ing toward my five-star cat­e­go­ry.

 

Battle of St. Leonard Creek — 1814

St Leonards Creek MD mapWhen I think of war in the days of sail­ing ships, I envi­sion bat­tles on the ocean. For the War of 1812, I must include the large estu­ary of Chesa­peake Bay and even deep rivers. But a bat­tle on a creek? Espe­cial­ly a creek that fam­i­ly sail­boats and cruis­ers might anchor in for an overnight ren­dezvous? (More espe­cial­ly, one where my hus­band and I met with oth­er boaters for a friend­ly week­end.) But in June of 1814, it did hap­pen.

The British con­trolled Chesa­peake Bay, allow­ing lit­tle trade with St Leonards battleoth­er coun­tries. In an attempt to open the bay, for­mer pri­va­teer, Com­modore Joshua Bar­ney took his fleet of eigh­teen small gun boats, barges, and sloops down the bay. He was able to harass the British ships, then escape into small­er trib­u­taries. Barney’s Chesa­peake Flotil­la clashed with the British from June sixth to the twen­ty-sixth, end­ing that day where the Patux­ent Riv­er meets the mouth of St. Leonard Creek. (Jef­fer­son Pat­ter­son Park and Muse­um, the unnamed green sec­tion in the cen­ter of the map above. is locat­ed at the site and com­mem­o­rates the bat­tle.)

Dur­ing the ensu­ing bat­tle Bar­ney, with 360 sailors and 120 marines held off an over­whelm­ing force that bet­tered him ten to one. One source says that Pres­i­dent Madi­son, him­self, took con­trol of the land forces when Bar­ney was severe­ly injured. After four hours, beat­en, they retreat­ed. Had they won, they might have pre­vent­ed the burn­ing of Wash­ing­ton.

Note: Jef­fer­son Pat­ter­son Park and Muse­um coop­er­at­ed with a mid­dle school in a UTube video of a pre­sen­ta­tion of Com­modore Barney’s tale of the bat­tle.

Agatha Winners

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Hank Phillip­pi Ryan

For writ­ers of cozy, or almost cozy mys­ter­ies (think Agatha Christie), Mal­ice Domes­tic is the con­fer­ence to inter­act with their read­ers. Of course, the Agatha award—a teapot—is cov­et­ed. I was there in spir­it only. Nat­u­ral­ly, I await­ed the final word from Sat­ur­day night’s award ban­quet. And, I want­ed to see how my picks fared.

Since I men­tioned all short sto­ry authors, I can claim a vic­to­ry for that! (Art Tay­lor won.) I scored again with my write-up of Writes of Pas­sage. It won for best non-fic­tion. I’m won­der­ing, since I was one of those who con­tributed an essay, can I claim one six­ti­eth of an Agatha? (Good ques­tion.) The edi­tor who did claim the teapot, Hank Phillip­pi Ryan, also won for best con­tem­po­rary nov­el. Anoth­er of my favorite authors, Rhys Bowen, won for best his­tor­i­cal nov­el.

This is the offi­cial line-up of Agatha win­ners:

Best children’s / YA: Code Buster’s Club, Cast #4 by Pen­ny Warn­er
Best short sto­ry: The Odds Are Against Us, by Art Tay­lor
Best non­fic­tion: Writes of Pas­sage, edit­ed by Hank Phillip­pi Ryan with Elaine Will Spar­ber
Best first nov­el: Well Read, Then Dead by Ter­rie Far­ley Moran
Best his­tor­i­cal nov­el: Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen
Best con­tem­po­rary nov­el: Truth Be Told by Hank Phillip­pi Ryan
In addi­tion, Cyn­thia Kuhn won the Mal­ice Domes­tic Grant for Unpub­lished Writ­ers.