Thursday, July 27, 2017

Elizabeth Stiles~Union Spy

1862, late October. The day started out as any other in the life of Elizabeth W. Stiles. Household chores to complete, her three, adopted children and her husband to care for, until a gang of men arrived on the Stiles farm.
Union uniform. 
Confederate uniform
The men, dressed in Union uniforms, approached Jacob Stiles and his friend Mr. Becker (or Baker). George Todd stepped up to Mr. Stiles and asked him where his politics lay. Mr. Stiles answered the man—Union. Todd raised his gun and fatally shot Jacob Stiles. Then to be sure the deed was complete, a former neighbor of the Stiles’ stepped to Jacob’s prone body, placed the muzzle of his gun to his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

Elizabeth ran for the house and her children. But leader of the marauding gang, Charles Quantrill, and a few of his men, cornered Elizabeth in her home. As one of the men placed his pistol to her temple, Quantrill halted him, saying Elizabeth was too pretty to shoot. Quantrill’s gang left without any further killing.                            

Fearing for her children’s safety, Elizabeth moved her family to        
Boston Library, Fort Leavenworth
Fort Leavenworth. There she received a letter from General James H. Lane, Kansas Senator and friend of President Abraham Lincoln. The letter stated that President Lincoln had important work for Elizabeth to do. She accepted, moved to Washington D.C., put two of her children in boarding school, and took her daughter Clara (13) with her as she carried out her duties as a spy for the Union Army.
President Lincoln
Dressed as a pipe-smoking elderly, Southern woman, Elizabeth Stiles, a nurse and teacher before her career as a spy, traveled throughout the South gathering information for the North. Part of her disguise included her daughter, Clara, playing the part of Elizabeth’s granddaughter. The pair claimed to be searching for Clara’s father, a wounded Confederate soldier.
Elizabeth was arrested in Missouri on the suspicion of being a Union spy. During her incarceration, she convinced General Sterling Price that she was a Confederate spy instead of a Union spy and he personally equipped both Elizabeth and Clara with better horses, firearms, and supplies before he sent them on their way.

Throughout the year and half that Elizabeth and Clara worked as spies, they collected valuable information that contributed to the victory of the North, but more than the contribution of the information, Elizabeth’s story shows how the strength, fortitude, and intelligence of one woman can help change the world.

Elizabeth and Clara retired in November of 1864 after the President decided the pair had become too well known to the “rebel sympathizers”. 

She died July, 1898. When Elizabeth passed away, her beloved letter from President Abraham Lincoln was found among her belongings. A family member sold the letter to The Western Reserve Historical Society in the 1940's. 

If given the chance, would you be able to do this things Elizabeth did? Would you leave two of your children and put another in the path of danger? I admire Elizabeth for her bravery, but I'm not sure I'd make the same choice. How about you, what do you think? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and ideas.  


Award winning author, Michele K. Morris’s love for historical fiction began when she first read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series. She grew up riding horses and spending her free time in the woods of mid-Michigan. Married to her high school sweetheart, they are living happily-ever-after with their six children, three in-loves, and eight grandchildren in Florida, the sunshine state. Michele loves to hear from readers on Facebook, Twitter, and here, through the group blog, Heroes, Heroines, and History at

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Confederate Sharpshooters and the Whitworth Rifle

So last month I began telling you a bit about my most recent release—Union Pacific Princess, found in the Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection. I filled you in a bit on my socialite heroine and the hardship she faced when she set foot in the gritty world of a Hell-On-Wheels railroad camp.

This month, I get to tell you a little about my hero. Gage Wells is his name, and he is a former Confederate Sharpshooter who, at the end of the Civil War, heads to parts unknown in hopes of leaving war and conflict behind. Of course, I’m sure we all know how that went for poor Gage. I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world we can go that will be conflict-free. But can you blame the poor man? I think I’d want to get as far away from the war as I could if I’d faced the things he might have faced.

So…what was a Confederate Sharpshooter? Here’s a bit about them.

The implementation of Confederate Sharpshooters came about in early 1862, when “General Orders Number 34” was passed by the Confederate Congress. This act made it possible for the Confederacy to create sharpshooter (or, as we would commonly refer to them today—sniper) battalions within each brigade. For various reasons, the battalion idea didn’t work well at first. In those early days, the sharpshooter battalions were more often populated with overflows from other areas, or new transfers. They weren’t much—if any—better marksmen than the average Confederate soldier. But over time, the truly spectacular marksmen became known. That knowledge, coupled with changes in leadership, meant that the leaders made the appropriate moves to get their sharpshooter battalions populated with the right talent.

By 1863, the sharpshooter battalions were becoming more specialized, and by late that year, the officers in charge were training their marksmen extensively each day. These gifted shooters were taught—and expected—to consistently take out man-sized targets from 1000 yards away. Many were able to make deadly shots from farther.
A Confederate Sharpshooter killed at Gettysburg, 1863

These men would be deployed well ahead of the rest of the troops, taking out their enemies among the Union ranks to make the Confederate soldiers’ missions easier. But this highly-specialized position came at a high cost. Those volunteering to become Confederate Sharpshooters were thought to have a death wish. And many did die in their service as old-time snipers. 
For the most part, sharpshooters used the same Enfield Rifle that the rest of the Confederacy was issued. However, a lucky few were issued a British-made Whitworth Rifle, a .451-caliber, single-shot, muzzle-loading rifle that had one distinct advantage above other guns. The Enfield had standard rifling inside the barrel, which allowed the bullet to remain fairly accurate once fired. But the Whitworth had a hexagonal barrel with special bullets to fit. Due to the shape of the barrel, the spin of the fired bullet would be much tighter and more accurate, allowing the shooter to hit his mark far more often than with the other option.

A Whitworth Rifle

A Whitworth bullet and barrel
were hexagonal in shape
Most of the Whitworth Rifles purchased by the Confederacy were equipped with standard sights, but a few came with a special telescopic sight, a crude version of today’s sights. One big difference between that early telescopic sight and today’s version is that the Davidson sight, as it was called, was mounted on the left side of the rifle, rather than on the top like today’s versions. As an interesting side note, the Whitworth rifles were not heavy guns, which caused them to have a lot of kick when fired. The Confederate Sharpshooters who fired Whitworth rifles equipped with the Davidson sights often would leave the battlefield with a black eye because the kick of the gun would drive the end of the scope into their face. 

I can only imagine the difficulty, fear, and nightmares these men would have experienced from their wartime exploits. In writing Gage’s character, I didn’t delve too deeply into the psychological trauma of such soldiers, but he does get to show off his shooting skills in a couple of scenes.

It’s your turn: Is the Civil War a time period you enjoy learning about? Why or why not? If not, what era do you prefer?

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the Of Rags And Riches Romance Collection if you haven’t already. For one reader, I’ll be giving away a paperback copy. Answer my questions above, leaving your email address as well, and I’ll draw the winner tomorrow!

Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won and finaled in numerous writing competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. She currently writes historical novellas of the American West for Barbour Publishing and works as a Content Editor for Firefly Southern Fiction. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.

Journey along in nine historical romances with those whose lives are transformed by the opulence, growth, and great changes taking place in America’s Gilded Age. Nine couples meet during these exhilarating times and work to build a future together through fighting for social reform, celebrating new opportunities for leisure activities, taking advantage of economic growth and new inventions, and more. Watch as these romances develop and legacies of faith and love are formed.