Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Undaunted Heart by Suzy Barile

book cover

Undaunted Heart:
The True Story of a Southern Belle & a Yankee General
by Suzy Barile

Trade Paperback: 244 pages
Publisher: ENO Publishers
First Released: 2009

Link to book on Amazon

Source: Review copy from publisher.

Book Description from Publisher's Website:
When a brigade of General Sherman’s victorious army marched into Chapel Hill the day after Easter 1865, the Civil War had just ended and President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. Citizens of the picturesque North Carolina college town had endured years of hardship and sacrifice, and now the Union army was patrolling its streets. One of Sherman’s young generals paid a visit to the stately home of David Swain, president of the University of North Carolina and a former governor of the state, to inform him that the town was now under Union occupation.

Against this unlikely backdrop began a passionate and controversial love story still vivid in town lore. When President Swain’s daughter Ella met the Union general, life for these two young people who had spent the war on opposite sides was forever altered.

General Smith Atkins of Illinois abhorred slavery and greatly admired Abraham Lincoln. Spirited young Ella Swain had been raised in a slave-owning family and had spent the war years gathering supplies to send to Confederate soldiers.

But, as a close friend of the Swains wrote, when Atkins met Ella, the two “‘changed eyes’ at first sight and a wooing followed.”

The reaction of the Swains and fellow North Carolinians to this North-South love affair was swift and often unforgiving.

In Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle & a Yankee General, author Suzy Barile, a great-great-granddaughter of Ella Swain and Smith Atkins, tells their story, separating facts from the elaborate embellishments the famous courtship and marriage have taken on over the generations. Interwoven throughout Undaunted Heart are excerpts from Ella’s never-before-published letters to her parents that reveal a loving marriage that transcended differences and scandal.

Undaunted Heart gave an interesting look at post-American-Civil-War conditions and how citizens of both the North and the South felt about the changes occurring around them. The book was an easy read and covered details of Ella and Smith's life before they met (including how Ella and Smith felt about the War and the issue of slavery), how they met, and their life after they married. Their life together contained many sorrows, but the marriage was a happy one. Letters, neighbor's journals, and newspaper reports were frequently quoted, giving an inside, personal look at events.

The book briefly touched on the greater issues of the time period--the hardships faced due to shortages and prejudice, the problems with unifying the nation after the War, and how various people dealt with the freed slaves. But these issues were only revealed where they impacted the lives of Ella and Smith and their families.

The level of vivid detail was excellent in some parts (especially after Ella and Smith moved North and she wrote vivid accounts of her life in her letters to her parents) and much less in others (like the few known details about how Ella and Smith met and courted, which mainly seemed to come from a neighbor's journal and a few surviving love poems).

There were black and white pictures of Ella's family, Ella, Smith, and the surviving children from Ella and Smith's marriage. There was no bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the post-Civil-War era as seen through the eyes of a well-to-do family in both the North (Ella and Smith) and the South (Ella's parents).

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Easter Sunday 1865 in Chapel Hill was unlike any other. Despite the brilliant spring day, villagers were anxious. The news was grim: Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, had fallen; so too had Raleigh. Rumors of General Robert E. Lee's surrender had just been confirmed.

The small Southern town that was home to the University of North Carolina, the nation's oldest state university, braced itself as the Union army approached. About mid-day, a paroled Confederate prisoner arrived, wrote local merchant Charles B. Mallett to his soldier-son, alerting everyone to a brigade moving "at full force on the town road, which of course produced great excitement."

Intensifying fears were reports that the brigade was under the command of the notorious General Judson Kilpatrick, nicknamed "Kill-Cavalry" by his own men. He was rumored to have once boasted that his route through the South would be marked by "chimney stacks without houses."

Everyone had thought Chapel Hill would never be captured. The war that had raged through much of the South for four years had never come close enough for town residents to worry about their safety, much less that of the university. When Union General William T. Sherman's troops left Savannah and marched north toward the Carolinas in early 1865, Raleigh resident Kemp Plummer Battle sent "a silver coffee-pot and other silver articles for safekeeping" to his parents, Judge and Mrs. W.H. Battle, in Chapel Hill.

Now nothing seemed safe.

Chapel Hillians prepared for the worst. Judge Battle buried five packages of money, jewelry, and a silver service (possibly the same one his son had sent earlier) in the woods near his home. Professor Charles Phillips and his family hid their silver in a horseradish bed and their watches in the university's telescope, assuming Sherman's cavalry would have no interest in stargazing. Out of concern for the university and its property, library books and other valuable papers were moved to Old East, the students' dormitory, and President David Lowry Swain's home.


Tex Willer said...

buon anniversario per il tuo blog
many wishes for yr blogoversary
from Italy
ciao e auguri

Genre Reviewer said...


Thanks! The funny thing is that I had completely forgotten that today was my blog's one year anniversary until you mentioned it. :)

Teena in Toronto said...

Happy new year!

Happy blogoversary!

Genre Reviewer said...


Thank you! And Happy New Year to you, too. :)