Updated: Jun 16, 2021
Book Title: The Cotillion Brigade (A Novel of the Civil War and the Most Famous Female Militia in American History)
Author: Glen Craney
Publication Date: 15th March 2021
Publisher: Brigid's Fire Press
Page Length: 399 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Sherman’s Yankees are closing in.
Will the women of LaGrange run or fight?
Based on the true story of the celebrated Nancy Hart Rifles, The Cotillion Brigade is an epic novel of the Civil War’s ravages on family and love, the resilient bonds of sisterhood in devastation, and the miracle of reconciliation between bitter enemies.
“Gone With The Wind meets A League Of Their Own.”
-- John Jeter, The Plunder Room
1856. Sixteen-year-old Nannie Colquitt Hill makes her debut in the antebellum society of the Chattahoochee River plantations. A thousand miles north, a Wisconsin farm boy, Hugh LaGrange, joins an Abolitionist crusade to ban slavery in Bleeding Kansas.
Five years later, secession and war against the homefront hurl them toward a confrontation unrivaled in American history.
Lagrange, Georgia May 1856
“Nannie, come sit with me,” said Senator Ben Hill.
Thrilled to be offered the chair next to the most admired man in western Georgia, Nancy accepted the assistance out of the carriage from her elder cousin, who had been elected to the state senate earlier that year. She held onto his arm as he walked her to the grandstands built for the occasion. Shaded by a canvas panoply, the podium for dignitaries overlooked the finish line at the county’s horse racing track in Mountville, a few miles east of LaGrange. Hundreds of conveyances arrived carrying ladies and gentlemen from as far away as Savannah and Selma for the faddish spectacle sweeping the South: The Tournament of the Rings.
“I’m told last month’s joust at Charleston drew five thousand,” said the senator. “The winning Hussars team may compete today.”
Nancy patted his mottled hand. “You were born twelve centuries too late. You should have been a knight at King Arthur’s Round Table.”
The senator met that observation with a wistful sigh. “I wish the breaking of lances between two knights could resolve our problems.”
“The election of that Illinois agitator worries you.”
The senator found their reserved box and seated her. “The Northern states refuse to enforce the fugitive slave laws.”
“Did Lincoln not promise to avoid meddling with our property?”
While acknowledging with a forced smile his constituents’ greetings, the senator explained the political impasse to her under his breath. “The slippery fellow plays both sides. Lincoln says he personally abhors the institution, but he will not allow opposition to it to rend the Union. He swings with the wind. It will be only a matter of time before the New England Abolitionists gain control of his marionette strings and make him dance to their tune.”
“So, you are for secession?”
“Between us ... no.” The senator no longer could sustain the pretense of confidence. When the fawning spectators filed back to their seats, he slumped, dispirited. Propping his chin on his fist, he turned inward as if debating anew a question that had plagued him for years. After several moments, he lifted his shoulders by sheer force of will. “It’s the Christmas season. Let’s put aside our woes for the day and enjoy the festivities.”
“Agreed.” Nancy looked behind them and waved at Caroline and Mary, whose husband, Peter, was taking part in the matches. Below the stands, Leila, dressed up as the Greek goddess Nike, pranced across the grass carrying around her neck the victory wreath she would award to the champion. All present put on a show of gaiety and good cheer, but Nancy felt a tension beneath this façade of merriment. Earlier that week, South Carolina seceded from the Union, and Governor Joseph Brown set a vote for the day after New Year’s to choose the Troup County delegates for the state convention at Milledgeville. The town’s patriarchs sponsored this joust, they said, as a diversion from the war talk.
She knew better. The tournament rules committee changed the format from the traditional runs with wooden lances and medieval helmets to a competition more practical for honing modern military prowess. The scaffolding along the track resembled the ribs of a long, unfinished barn. Bronze rings dangled from the rafters and poles, and at the finish line, effigies of Abraham Lincoln and the Abolitionist firebrand, William Lloyd Garrison, sported rings around their necks. The cavalier who sweeps off the most rings with his saber at a gallop would be the Knight of the Black Plume. That honor brought with it the privilege to present the Lincoln Ring—a less grisly proxy for the vanquished’s severed head of yore—to any lady in attendance, crowning her the Queen of Love. She whispered to the senator, “You don’t fool me.” When he feigned innocence, she fluttered her fan over her mouth to prevent anyone from overhearing. “This is training for the home guards.”
Senator Hill studied her afresh, astonished by her perceptiveness. “I mistook you for a romantic. You are as hardened as Toledo steel.”
A graduate of Indiana University School of Law and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Glen Craney practiced trial law before joining the Washington, D.C. press corps to write about national politics and the Iran-contra trial for Congressional Quarterly magazine. In 1996, the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences awarded him the Nicholl Fellowship prize for best new screenwriting. His debut historical novel, The Fire and the Light, was named Best New Fiction by the National Indie Excellence Awards. He is a three-time Finalist/Honorable Mention winner of Foreword Magazine’s Book-of-the-Year and a Chaucer Award winner for Historical Fiction. His books have taken readers to Occitania during the Albigensian Crusade, the Scotland of Robert Bruce, Portugal during the Age of Discovery, the trenches of France during World War I, the battlefields of the Civil War, and the American Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. He lives in Malibu, California.
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