Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Guest post + giveaway from Christine Blevins: "Following an Army"

Today I'd like to welcome Christine Blevins back to Reading the Past.  Back in 2008, I interviewed her about her debut, Midwife of the Blue Ridge, about a Scottish midwife who becomes an indentured servant in the wilds of frontier Virginia in the mid-18th century.  She returned the following year with a guest post discussing things she unexpectedly discovered during the research process.

Her newest historical adventure, The Turning of Anne Merrick (Berkley, Feb., $15), shows readers a different side of colonial America.  The novel opens as Anne, a fervent Patriot, and her friend Sally go on campaign with British general John Burgoyne as he and his army advance down the Hudson Valley in 1777.  As one of Washington's spies, Anne obeys the requests of her superiors even if it means her separation from Jack Hampton, the man she loves.  The novel can be read as a sequel to The Tory Widow or on its own.

Christine has an informative guest post today - complete with many illustrations! - about what it meant to be a "camp follower" during the American Revolution.  At the end, you'll have an opportunity to win one of two sets of historically-themed goodies.

Following an Army

“Would ye just look at the amount of linen they have flaffin’ on the breeze!” Sally noted. “The campwives are the true workhorses of any army.”

It was not unusual for armies in the 18th century to go on campaign with a large contingent of “campwives” or “camp followers”. These women marched along with their armies, doing the laundry, cooking the meals, nursing the sick and wounded, and all the while carrying and bearing children along the way.

For some reason, the term “camp follower” is often thought to only refer to prostitutes, or women of ill fame who followed after armies to peddle their easy virtue and spread disease to lonely soldiers desperate for companionship. In the broadest sense, a camp follower was anyone, man or woman, not enlisted in the army, but who traveled along to provide vital services. It seems as long as there have been armies, there have been camp followers. Non-combatant lixae followed the Roman legions providing food and drink for the soldiers. Vivandières and marketender were the French and German terms used for the wives who served as cooks, wash women and sutlers for the French and Prussian troops. Even today camp followers AKA “independent contractors” perform services and tasks helpful to the well being of the American troops abroad.

During the American Revolution the armies on both sides of the conflict hired teamsters and wagoneers to transport baggage. Sutlers and peddlers sold food, drink, and sundries like tobacco, wig powder, writing paper and ink. Slaves like General Washington’s manservant Billy Lee, followed their masters into the army to serve as valets and groomsman. The wives and children of soldiers and officers who followed the armies also fall under the category camp followers.

In The Turning of Anne Merrick, using the guise of a peddler, Anne Merrick and her best friend Sally Tucker infiltrate the Burgoyne’s “Canada Army” in order to gather intelligence for the Patriot army. While researching this “Saratoga” portion of the novel, I became fascinated with the lives of the wives and children who "belonged to the army" and lived "on the strength of the regiment."  No matter their social rank, these women all chose to face danger, discomfort and hardship in order to be with their men. The more I read about Burgoyne’s 8,000-man army making its way down into the Hudson River Valley, building roads and waging war along the way, the more amazed and determined I became to learn all I could about the women who trailed behind with the baggage train with children in tow, ready and willing to do what they could in support of their men and their regiment.

Anne Merrick and her best friend Sally Tucker joined these women in Burgoyne’s army— from the infrantryman’s wives working as wash women and cooks, to the titled and privileged officer wives, such as the very pregnant Lady Harriet Ackland, General Burgoyne’s “ammunition wife” Fannie Loescher, and the wife of a Brunswicker General, Baroness Frederika von Riedesel.

The 31-year old Baroness von Riedesel crossed an ocean with three young daughters—the youngest an infant in arms—with the sole intent of being a help to her husband. She eventually published an account of her experience— Letters and Journals relating to the War of the American Revolution and the Capture of the German Troops at Saratoga. This memoir is a fantastic primary source, and gives insight into the lives of these women. I’ve picked just a few short excerpts to quickly illustrate the Baroness’s odyssey as a camp follower, beginning in Germany where she so earnestly begged her husband’s permission to travel, to the horror of battle, besiegement, retreat and ultimate surrender.

“I therefore wrote and urged and implored my husband to allow me to come with him. I told him I had sufficient health and pluck to undertake it, and that no matter what happened he would never hear me murmur, but on the contrary, I hoped to make myself very useful to him on many occasions.”

“It was a terrible cannonade, and I was more dead than alive. About three o’clock in the afternoon, in place of the guests who were to have dined with me, they brought in to me, upon a litter, poor General Fraser (one of my expected guests) mortally wounded. Our dining table, which was already spread, was taken away, and its place they fixed up a bed for the general.”

“As the great scarcity of water continued, we at last found a soldier’s wife who had the courage to bring water from the river, for no one else would undertake it, as the enemy shot at the head of every man who approached the river.”

“The greatest silence had been enjoined; fires had been kindled in every direction; and many tents lest standing, to make the enemy believe that the camp was still there. We traveled continually the whole night. Little Frederika was afraid, and would often begin to cry. I was, therefore obliged to hold a pocket handkerchief over her mouth, lest our whereabouts should be discovered.”

“Often my husband wished to withdraw me from danger by sending me to the Americans; but I remonstrated with him on the ground, that to be with people whom I would be obliged to treat with courtesy, while, perhaps, my husband was being killed by them, would be even yet more painful than all I was now forced to suffer.”

So yep—the record does show that prostitutes did indeed follow the Patriot and the British armies, but the record also shows these bigger and better stories about the many courageous women—Patriot and Loyalist—who willingly went to war, and fought as best they could for their cause. These are the truelife experiences I love weaving into my fiction.

Giveaway #1: A copy of The Turning of Anne Merrick and a Bayberry Candle Bundle – The perfect candles to light your tent while on campaign, and their pleasant scent will help to keep biting mosquitoes at bay.

Giveaway #2: A copy of The Turning of Anne Merrick and a Stationery Bundle – just the sort of sundry Anne Merrick peddled to those bloodyback scoundrels in Burgoyne’s camp. Decorated with a quill pen and wrapped for convenient stowing amidst your gear, these sheets and envelopes are perfect for scrieving all manner of secret messages – invisible ink not included.

Author Christine Blevins writes what she loves to read – historical adventure stories. The Turning of Anne Merrick is the second in a 3-book series set during the American Revolution, and the companion book to The Tory Widow. A native Chicagoan, Christine lives in Elmhurst, Illinois, along with her husband Brian, and The Dude, a very silly golden-doodle. She is at work finishing the third novel inspired by a lifelong fascination with the foundations of American history and the revolutionary spirit.

Visit Christine’s website for more details.


And for the giveaway info... we have two fun opportunities this time, thanks to the generosity of the author.  Please fill out the form below for a chance to win either one of the book + goody bundles above.  This contest is open internationally.  Deadline Friday, March 9th.  Best of luck!


  1. Great post and thank you for the wonderful giveaway!

  2. Great post. In the past, I considering reading "The Tory Widow" but never really got around to it. This description of "Turning of Anne Merrick" and the American revolution in the Hudson Valley (where I grew up) convinced me to seek out the books. Many thanks for posting!

  3. Thank you. This book fascinates me

  4. Lovely giveaway - I'm getting increasingly interested in American history so this book will be welcomed (if I win, of course!)

  5. I have both books on my wish list at Amazon.

  6. Anonymous11:49 AM

    I read the later Outlander books recently, and Claire certainly went through a lot as she went with Jamie during the early part of the Revolution. Very enlightening. But then, there was a lot of "encamping" during this war.

    Sarah Other Librarian

  7. Thanks for commenting and for entering the giveaway. Great to see so much interest. I agree - it's exciting to see more historical fiction set in America. One of these days I'll get to the later Gabaldon novels...

  8. Just found you site from Goodreads, I love to read the historical stories and this sounds like a real good author.
    I would be thrilled to be in a drawing to win this great giveaway, thanks for sharing
    Paula O(

  9. Absolutely beautiful giveaway! First time i'm coming across one that includes a quill! lovely...cant wait to win! The synopsis is in detail and really gets me on my toes to get the book. Many thanks