#Civil War on New Years Day 1863

free-happy-new-year-2014-clipartHappy New Year 2014. As we enjoy the parties and celebrations and resolutions, I wanted to share another New Years Day. The new year is 1863 and soldiers from both sides of the Civil War enjoyed fireworks of a different nature as the fight between the north and south factions continued their pursuit of victory. President Abraham Lincoln began the new year by signing an important document known as the Emancipation Proclamation.

Here’s an excerpt from my great grandfather’s journal chronicling his days as a Union soldier.

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

From Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier

January 1, 1863

The disagreeable inclement weather of a southern winter was upon us. Wet, slushy snow was falling, making outdoor life very unpleasant. The two armies lay watching each other across the Rappahannock. Batteries of light artillery were stationed at intervals along the picket line. Captain Thompson’s battery of the regular artillery occupied a position opposite the eastern outskirt of Fredericksburgh. Thompson notified the general, commanding that he never omitted the custom of allowing his men unlimited whiskey on New Year’s Eve and requested to be withdrawn from the front for that occasion. Being denied, he asked that a strong infantry guard be posted around his camp, as none of his men would be asked to do duty on that evening.

The 2nd Infantry was detailed for this duty, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, while the men of the battery indulged in the free use of commissary whiskey. The relief on duty splashed their dreary round through the slush of snow and mud, while those off duty huddled close to a big campfire to keep warm. While we toasted one side and chilled the other, the bacchanalian revels waxed strong, and the sounds of ribald songs and boisterous mirth floated out to us on the heavy night air. On duty or off, the wet and cold prevented us from sleeping. During the night the “Grand Officer of the Day,” Colonel Fenton, tarried awhile at our campfire. He told us the officers were having a “high old time” in camp and that considerable of the “creature” was afloat. The private soldiers had nothing to celebrate the advent of the New Year with, nothing to jubilate for, and no spirit for merry making. Discontent was very general. The men were dispirited and gloomy. There was a feeling that we had endured privations and hardships, fought hard battles, and squandered the blood of our bravest to gain ground, that had been lost and yielded to the enemy, through the incapacity of generals and the jealous disagreements of politicians, both in Congress and in the field. The private soldiers felt that they were being used as tools for personal aggrandizement and were unwilling to be sacrificed for such causes.

This feeling, inactivity, and the discomforts of a winter camp began to tell on the discipline of the troops. Three weeks of inactivity dragged away. The absolutely necessary camp duties being all the men were called upon to do.

The view from our camp presented a dreary succession of camps planted in the mud. Fences and outbuildings had all been pulled down for fuel. The very few inhabitants that remained in their houses with intent to save their property were in a strait for provisions. They looked pinched with cold and hunger. Desolation and misery were theirs to the full. Respectable women became wantons from the direst necessity. Virtue was sacrificed for bread. History can never record the woes the private citizens of Virginia suffered. The “sacred soil” reaped a terrible crop from her secession seed.

[On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in territories held by Confederates and emphasized the enlistment of black soldiers in the Union Army.]

#Gifts that Last for a Year


It’s the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and my husband has been eerily quiet down in the den. I’m taking the moments of quiet to lie on the living room couch in front of the lighted tree reading a novel set in Key West. Snow flurries float by the window, but I’m transported to the tropics through the power of words. When I guiltily look at the clock I realize that two hours have passed since there’s been a peep from the den—not a creature was stirring.

I stealthily slide toward the stairs leading down to the den to see if I could spy my husband wrapping presents.

I see the back of his head as he sits on the couch. Newspapers are strewn across the coffee table top with no hopes of visitors arriving soon. I grow more excited with each passing minute of his industrious labor. As I snoop, something different appeared to my wondering eyes. Instead of wrapping my presents as I’d suspected, I note the bucket of soil and trays of onion seedlings waiting to be placed under grow lights. My illusions of big or small presents are shot when I realize the activity taking place in the den.

As I continue to stare, I see him arranging the grow lights in emptied-out cupboards readying them for space to grow.Onion seedlings

After my spy session,  I stir the pot of stew simmering on the stove. I smile as I realize my husband was preparing Christmas presents for us. The soup starter mix we’d frozen in the summer contained some of the onions he’d started la year ago. The ones he begins today, will sustain us next year. Now that’s a gift that lasts.

Here an excerpt from From Seed to Table on growing onions:

S2T-6The seed catalogs appear in the mailbox daily beginning in December. Before Christmas, we ordered seeds for onions, and to minimize shipping costs we also ordered other seeds such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, radishes (both red and the long white variety), lettuce, Swiss chard, parsley, basil, and flowers. After consultation with Llewellyn’s 2013 Moon Sign Book, my husband had determined the best time to start the onion seeds was in the waning days of 2012.

That meant he started sprouting onion seeds while we were in Florida over Christmas 2012. He buys the cheapest and thinnest single-ply paper towels and places a layer of seeds on one sheet. Then he piles sheet upon sheet until the top of the plastic sealable container is full. He dampens the towels with water and keeps the container in a warm place. He treated his seed sprouting container as if it was a pet, carrying it inside wherever we visited and adding water as necessary to keep the towels damp.

This year he sprouted seven varieties of onions—long-day types—of yellow, white, and red, and short-day type of yellow. He places one variety at a time on the sheets. Then he bundles the seed packages together with a rubber band in the same order as he placed them on the paper towel layer. This way he can keep track of which type is which when he plants. When the onions are ready to harvest, it’s easy to distinguish the red and white onions. The others may require a taste test.

By the time we arrived back in Pennsylvania on the last day of 2012, the seeds had sprouted in their paper towel womb. The thin paper towel helps those tiny little sprouts from sticking to the layers.

During the first week of January, he put the seedlings into four-pack containers filled with regular potting soil with a very small quantity of organic and rock fertilizers. He uses a five-gallon bucket for potting soil (two-thirds filled), throws in a handful of the fertilizers, and blends this into a mixture. Once the packs are filled with dirt, he pokes holes in each section with a pencil. Then he “pokes” the onion seedlings into the soil.

Now the seedlings are growing happily under grow lights in cupboards in our family room. Unfortunately, we don’t have a heated greenhouse, but we’ve found a way to manage. Some people use heating pads, but we’ve done all right with four-foot florescent grow lights.


From Seed to Table is now available in a paperback edition for only $5.39 on Amazon.


Last Minute Gift Suggestions


DSC03109Happy holidays to you all. The days for shopping have dwindled down to hours, but there are still gifts to be given in the form of eBooks for new Kindles and hard copy books that might arrive a bit late but still appreciated.

Today I want to give you a little help in the last minute hustle to keep you off the roads and out of the busy malls. These are my recommendations for buying books from authors I’ve featured on Author Wednesday and reviewed on Book Review Friday in 2013. Enjoy! Just click on the links below to read interviews and reviews. You’ll also find links to the books in interviews and reviews. Also check out all the other authors I’ve featured here since March. I look forward to reading their books in 2014.

*Rachelle Ayala

Author Wednesday, March 6

Author Wednesday, November 27

Reviews of Rachelle’s books –

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Snow Inspires Florida Writer

DSC03106I woke to a fairyland of snow-covered trees and lawn on a day when I thought I would be waking up to the marsh and swampland of the Everglades.

I’d planned a writer’s retreat while my husband attended a conference in Reno. We began by spending a week with my daughter and her boyfriend in St. Augustine, after driving there from Pennsylvania the week before Thanksgiving. We played in the surf, walked the beach, walked across the Vilano Bridge to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth site. And then we shared a Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends in Flagler College’s dining hall, replete with one of the largest collections of Tiffany glass in the world. The college is housed in the former Ponce de Leon Hotel, Henry Flagler’s showpiece of grand architecture, art, and opulence during the Gilded Age. My daughter graduated from Flagler in 2005, so it was a grand setting with a bit of nostalgia. The food was tasty and the company even better.

wood stork

wood stork

As our week progressed, the weather warmed. But my husband’s condition that first surfaced in Mexico returned, and we were forced to cancel our plans and come home five days earlier than planned.

As I looked out at the snow-covered yard, I was struck by the beauty of the whiteness against the stark background of naked tree limbs.

We spent those unexpected days at home with no plans or deadlines and delved into keeping warm and getting my husband well.

In the week since we returned, I’ve completed the first third of my new novel, Native Lands. It might be true what writer Harry Crews always said. He needed to write about growing up in Georgia away from there.

Perhaps being in the setting of the Everglades would have distracted me from the work. As the wood storks, great blue herons, and snowy egrets foraged for food in the swamp, my eyes would be glued to them and not to the laptop screen. The gators sunning on the edge of the water and fish slowly swimming by the dock would have occupied my time instead of the writing. The kingfishers, pelicans, and ibis might have forced me to photograph them rather than working on my manuscript.

ibis roaming in a yard in Tarpon Springs, Florida

The warmth of a November day in the Everglades would make me sit with my feet up, a beer in my hand on a lounge chair overlooking the mangrove and cypress trees dripping in Spanish moss. It’s much easier to write when I’m forced to stay inside.

I’ll go back, hopefully in February, for another try. This time I’ll have more of my novel done and during  my time in St. Augustine and Everglades City, I’ll spend time on plenty of porches and sandy beaches warming my toes in the sun checking my facts on whether the surf is stronger at sunrise or sunset and determine whether the pelican or the great blue heron fascinate me more on a lazy afternoon.

That’s good research in any book I write.dsc00466.jpg

Shorebird Love

DSC03093On our recent trip to Florida over the Thanksgiving holiday, many things disappointed me about Vilano Beach (on the Atlantic near St. Augustine) where my daughter lives. The disappearing beach from erosion, dredging the channel at Porpoise Point, driving on the beach, and building of mansions too close to fragile nesting areas for endangered species lead my list.

But one thing gave me gave me hope. Each morning when I walked on the beach I saw these shorebirds standing at attention in the surf. Let’s hope they find a place to nest this year.

Sorry for the short post tonight, but I’m embroiled in working on Native Lands, my next novel on Florida. I hope you enjoy the photo.