First, a writer must be inspired.
Publication of The Home Guard, a Novel of the Civil War, marks the end of a nine year effort to research and write a story that I hope will please readers. The idea for the book was born more than a decade ago as I learned more about my own family’s history in Beaufort. The book, while set in Beaufort, makes no effort to recount that family history, but its influence on the final product is unmistakable and undeniable because it inspired me to write the novel.
Carter Barnwell, the twelve-year-old protagonist of The Home Guard, bears the surname of my mother’s family. The Barnwells arrived in Beaufort around 1703. Credit for founding the town in 1711 is generally given to Colonel John “Tuscarora Jack” Barnwell, so named for leading a local militia into North Carolina, where they successfully defended white settlers against Tuscarora Indians in revolt. To borrow biblical phrasing, Tuscarora Jack begat Nathaniel, who begat Senator Robert Gibbes Barnwell, who begat William Hazzard Wigg Barnwell, who begat Robert Woodward Barnwell, who begat a son by the same name, who begat Susannah Woods Barnwell Warley, who begat . . . me.
This string of ancestors lived and thrived in Beaufort until . . . wait for it . . . the Civil War, which not surprisingly changed everything for every Southerner. Just as portrayed in The Home Guard, the lives of every man, woman, and child, black and white, were forever altered by the events of November 7, 1861, the day of the “big gun shoot.” On that day, the Barnwells abandoned the family residence on Bay Street, known as “Barnwell Castle.” The imposing residence, perched on a bluff overlooking a vast expanse of the Beaufort River, became at first Hospital No. 5 for Union soldiers, then a courthouse, then a smoldering ember as fire destroyed it in 1881.
The Barnwells’ wealth, which was considerable, included the 400 acre plantation known as Laurel Bay and the slaves necessary to plant, tend and harvest the source of that wealth: sea island cotton. In the twentieth century, this plantation became the living quarters for Marines and their families based at the Marine Corps Air Station. My Citadel classmate and longtime friend Pat Conroy lived there with “the Great Santini,” his fighter pilot father. The fate that befell Laurel Bay after the Civil War mirrored the fate of so many other plantations--the same cotton was planted and harvested by many of the same people who did it before the war, except those people were paid and no longer slaves. Had my ancestors the foresight to put into place a system forced upon them by Appomattox, the family’s fortunes would not have gone from plenty to nothing overnight, as they did on November 7, 1861.
I moved to Beaufort in 2005, surrounded by history I came to know well after my arrival. It is a rich history unique in the Southern experience, inspiring the novel that will be published March 4, 2019. In the days ahead, I’ll share some of that history with you, as well as some thoughts on the book and writing.