Ella Grace Whitford oozed Southern grace, having grown up on her family’s plantation in North Carolina. But two significant events helped shape her life: the death of her mother in childbirth, and, as Ella Grace calls it, the war of Northern aggression.
North Carolina didn’t secede immediately. It took a dictate from President Lincoln, calling for troops from North Carolina to help fill the Union army ranks that finally pushed join the other Southern states in the Confederacy. When the war broke out a year ago, Ella’s older brother Nolan was called to serve the Confederacy as an officer. A graduate of The Citadel, he wasn’t able to turn his country down. They needed the officers. All of a sudden, the only man in her life was her five-year-old brother, Aiden. Ella became responsible for the survival of her family and her home.
Ella and her brother believed as everyone else did, that the war would be over very quickly with a Southern victory. No one believed that New Bern would fall to the enemy. But on March 14, 1862 it did. Thousands of victorious Yankee soldiers poured into the town and made it theirs. Suddenly, the world that Ella Grace had grown up knowing was no more.
ASC: Tell us where and when you were born.
EGW: I was born November 15, 1842 in our home, Silver Moon, a cotton plantation just outside of New Bern (NC). I’ve lived here all my life. A part of the house itself is over a hundred of years old. It was redone when my grandfather came into possession of it, and is now a very large plantation home. When Grandpapa changed things, he built around the first home that our ancestor had built. We have 100-year-old secret rooms and passages that only my family can find.
ASC: What influence did your birth family have on you, your choices and your life. Explain why and how.
EGW: My parents loved each other. I remember my mother reading by the fireplace at night when I was little. Papa would lay on a blanket with me and my brother, Nolan, and we would watch the fire while we listened to my mother read us one of the stories from her books. She loved the classics, like Shakespeare. But she also loved fairy tales. I loved when she read Rapunzel. Rapunzel was taken from her parents and placed in a tower to serve an evil witch. She never gave up hope that life could be better. One day a prince discovered her and climbed the tower to rescue her. I’m short-cutting this, I realize. But the point is, she didn’t lose hope that her life would be better. Mamma used to tell us there was a prince (or princess) out there for both of us—and we would find them one day. She didn’t mean royalty, of course, but rather, that special person. She wanted us to find love like she and Papa had.
My parents were practical and fair people. They taught us to treat others fairly and with respect. We have slaves, or rather, had them before this war. That was life as we knew it, Papa treated ours as sharecroppers. They worked for us, but also for themselves. Our overseer was really what Papa called a foreman. He directed the work we needed, but he also helped the people with whatever they needed – advice on crops, that sort of thing. And we kept the families together. Papa taught us that if you treat people right, they will treat you fairly in return.
The death of my mother destroyed my father. She died giving birth to my little brother, Aiden. He will soon be six-years-old. Because he lost his wife, Papa wouldn’t even look at Aiden. He withdrew and started drinking. He wasn’t mean, but he no longer wanted to be here. My brother, Nolan, took over running the plantation until the war started. He had graduated from the Citadel and was ready to be married. But timing was bad. The Confederacy called on him, asking him to help lead men for the cause. He has been gone over a year now. As it happened, Papa left shortly after Nolan—never telling us he was leaving—and took all of our money. The grief of my mother’s death was too much for him. It left him in a bad place.
Now, it’s just me, my brother and our people—those that chose to stay. They are family to us. I’ve known most of them all my life. I will keep focused on surviving this war and hanging on to my family and my home. Those are my priorities, now.
ASC: What do you want from life?
EGW: If you had asked me that five years ago, I would have said, I want the parties, the dresses and to find my prince. Today, I want peace for my family and my community. I want to see my brother home safely, and I want my home as whole as I can keep it for him when he returns. I want Aiden to grow up having fun as a child, and not fearing life as he knows it will change all the time.
ASC: Can we go back to what your mother told you about finding your prince. Can you describe the type of man you prefer?
EGW: I’ve given this some thought. My prince would be kind and generous of himself and his possessions. I would also want him to love me, even with my bit of a temper. He would be decisive, but fair. I would not want a man that didn’t trust his own decisions and kept things in limbo. I want my prince to be fiercely loyal and protective. That’s all I know—it’s how I was raised. And I want to be a partner to him. I want to be there to help make decisions. I know that isn’t the way things are for everyone, but that is how Mamma and Papa did things. They would talk at the breakfast table about what was going on here. Handsome wouldn’t hurt. My family has always been blonde…except me and Mamma. We got the red hair. I wonder if my prince would have dark hair. That might be nice. But with times being what they are, I don’t think I will find my prince for a while.
ASC: How do you decide if you can trust someone? Experience with others? With that person? Intuition? First Impression? Or are you generally disposed to trust or not to trust?
EGW: That’s hard to answer. Before this conflict, I think I trusted more readily. I normally don’t distrust someone immediately, but if he or she does something that is inconsistent, or mean, or sneaky, I am leery of them. Sometimes I meet someone and immediately trust them, but it doesn’t happen all the time. I think it is because I can read kindness in their face. With so many strangers being thrust upon us – we are occupied you know, and the Yankees have taken over—it’s hard. I want to trust, but I was taught to take my time with strangers and be careful.
ASC: When you walk into a room, what do you notice first? Second?
EGW: I notice where people are standing and their expressions. That tells me a lot about whether I want to hurry up and leave. I also take in how people look – how tall they are, what their smile is like, are they pretty or handsome, that sort of thing. I always look at dresses. I will also notice smell, particularly the smell of alcohol or perfume. I guess that is because of Papa. Papa drank a lot of alcohol after Momma died, and the smell was hard to miss.
ASC: Tell us whether you believe that women are or are not the weaker sex, and why.
EGW: I think women are stronger—at least, emotionally. The women in my life have been tremendous influences, including my mother, Lizzy and Ol’ Indie. Lizzy is my friend, and she helps me run our house. Ol’ Indie used to be our nursemaid, but now she is just one of our family. She is also Lizzy’s mother in law. I’m not saying that men are weaker because obviously they are physically stronger. But men think we cannot handle things. I think otherwise. My brother Nolan and my father, left us alone. My mother always told me to count on myself, first. I will fight for what I need to do to keep my brother and my home safe. I do not to give up easily. I can’t let my family down. When Nolan comes home, I plan to show him we survived and are doing fine.
ASC: If you could re-live your life, what changes would you make?
EGW: That’s easy. One change I would make for sure—I would have sent Carter into town instead of going myself the day that Colonel Jackson saw me. Perhaps that man would never have seen me. He actually planted all of his men on my property to protect me! Calls it a perimeter. We are all still adjusting to having those Yankees in our town. Tarnation! I don’t need them in my home. Of course, there have been some advantages to having the man here. The worst part is he is a Yankee, and it horribly unfair that he is also very handsome. I want to hate him, but he is always so helpful… and nice.
ASC: Why do you think we fall in love? Is it an eternal emotion or simply a trick of nature designed to sustain the species?
EGW: Oh heavens! I hope it’s an eternal emotion. I want to one day experience it myself. Of course, the war has made it seem impossible. My parents—when I was a young girl—were very open with their feelings for each other. I have to believe it exists and that once we get through this horrible conflict, I might have a chance at love.
ASC: If you could live in a different historical period, which would you choose, and why would it appeal to you?
EGW: That question is a tough one. I love my home and my community. But this war… it’s changed things so much. It’s hard not to wish for a better time. (sigh) I think I would wish for the years after the 1820’s. They were more peaceful and hopeful. Those were the years my parents lived through, and when they described their memories, life seemed so blissful and hopeful. I long for a time that the Yankee invaders leave us, and we can go back to living our lives the way they were. But then, they will never be that way again, will they? Maybe the best time to wish for is the future, hoping that we have peace and hope again.
ASC: Thank you for taking the time to share your story with our readers, Ella. We hope that peace comes quickly and that you and all of your family fare well.
Amazon author page: https://amzn.to/2jw4uhY
Anna St. Claire has always been an avid reader, and now author, of both American and British historical romance. She and her husband live in Charlotte, North Carolina with their two dogs and a cat. They have also just become grandparents. Anna relocated from New York to the Carolinas as a child. Her mother, a retired English and History teacher, encouraged Anna's interest in writing, especially, after discovering short stories Anna would write in her spare time. Her fascination with history and reading led her to her first historical romance, Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone With The Wind.' The day she discovered Kathleen Woodiwiss' books, 'Shanna' and 'Ashes In The Wind', Anna was hooked. She read every historical romance that came her way. Today her focus is primarily the Civil War and Regency eras, although Anna enjoys almost any period in American and British history.