Wednesday, February 2, 2011
A Genteel Spy
For years, Virginia artist Judith Riker Damon has been the bearer of a family secret: her great-grandmother, Martha Broyles Royce, was a spy for the Confederacy in Franklin, Tenn., during the Civil War. And she used the hem of her 7-year-old daughter Betsey’s dress to send secret messages to her neighbors that contained information about Union troop movements.
Soon after, Betsey’s idyllic young life was shattered.
First, her father Moses enlisted with Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood’s army. Then Martha, Betsey, and Betsey’s younger sister Sally were forced into exile from Franklin after Union forces uncovered evidence of Martha’s spying.
Alone and facing an uncertain future, the Royce women began an arduous two-year odyssey through the tattered Southern landscape of the American Civil War. Out of those experiences came Betsey’s memoir, A Genteel Spy, which Betsey penned while in college, 10 years after the events it chronicles. Her manuscript was passed down through the family until Damon decided to edit and illustrate it. With the aid of her husband, Herb Detweiler, she then set about the task of getting the book into print.
“Having taught young people, I felt it is vital to share this more personal side of the Civil War,” Damon explains. “Today’s generations need to understand that wars are fought through the perseverance and sacrifice of those left at home, as well as through soldiers on the battlefield. This is a side of the Civil War which is rarely taught or talked about.”
The story chronicles Martha’s courage and determination to see her family through the trials and devastation of the war. Together, the family endures the destruction of their home, the brutal realities of slavery, the threat of Moses’ execution by the Union army, and the chaotic aftermath of war. Betsey aptly describes her mother as “…a finely tempered steel blade sheathed in a scabbard of white velvet.”
Damon says that it is those true anecdotes, along with Betsey’s narrative, that makes the book much more than a history lesson.
She continues: “A Genteel Spy provides a rare look into the personal lives of a real family during the Civil War: little girls who must learn to play outdoors between practice firings of cannons over their heads; taking refuge in the cellar when a battle surrounds their house; salvaging guns from the battlefield afterward; and finally, being exiled by the Yankees from their beloved home and friends when their mother is revealed as a spy for the Confederates. Grandmother’s memoir reads more like a novel, with full dialogue and ‘stranger than fiction’ characters.”
Sometimes funny, sometimes nostalgic, but always honest, Betsey’s chronicle offers a unique insight into civilian life during America’s bloodiest conflict. It serves as a reminder that sometimes, in the darkest hours, faith and determination are all that stand between life and death.
A Genteel Spy (ISBN: 9780984077380) is published by Two Peas Publishing in Columbia, Tenn. It is available for retail purchase online through amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and booksamillion.com. Booksellers can purchase A Genteel Spy directly from twopeaspublishing.com.