Friday, February 13, 2015

Civil War in Missouri, the Oliver Anderson House, battlefield hospital

Posted: 11 Feb 2015 10:00 PM PST
 A Footnote from History by Stephanie Grace Whitson

"Maggie didn’t know how long it had been since John had screamed at her to go back to safety in the rear. He’d been astride Blue and he’d kept going, tearing across the battlefield ... She’d watched with a horrible kind of fascination as Blue galloped away, willing both horse and rider to somehow fill only the spaces between the bullets. And then, when Colt dropped out of sight, she’d looked down at the boy she was tending and was jerked back to another terrible reality ... The boy was staring up at her with panic in his eyes, and with everything that was in her, Maggie mustered kindness and an expression that she desperately willed to feign hope ... “Look at me, Private. You aren’t alone. The Good Lord is here and so is Maggie Malone. Neither of us is leaving you.” (Excerpted from Daughter of the Regiment)

In 1853, Kentuckian Oliver Anderson had this beautiful house built overlooking the Missouri River near Lexington, Missouri,in the heart of a rich agricultural center where planters raised hemp, tobacco, and fine cattle. With its 15-foot ceilings and 15-foot-wide central hallway, the house is an example of the kinds of mansions prosperous, slave-holding Southerners were building in Missouri in the 1840s and 1850s. None of the outbuildings survive, but there would have been a carriage house, a horse barn, a summer kitchen, and slave quarters.  

In the fall of 1859, financial woes forced Anderson to auction off all his real estate, his personal property, and his slaves. His sons purchased the house, enabling their parents to live there until the eve of the Civil War.

When the Civil War broke out, Unionists in Missouri quickly gained the upper hand. With the Missouri River strategically vital for the movement of troops and supplies, Federal troops occupied Lexington in July of 1861 and confiscated the Anderson House for use as a hospital. Local tradition says that Anderson refused to take the Union-imposed oath of loyalty. He subsequently left Lexington (Anderson died in Kentucky in 1873). 

In August of 1861, when the Battle of Wilson's Creek near Springfield set the stage for a rebel offensive into the heart of the Missouri River valley, the Anderson house was at the heart of the action. 

The battle map shows the house in green and various military positions in red. The Battle of Lexington was waged over three days in September. Battle damage to the house is still visible today, both on the exterior brick walls and on interior walls.

Battle damage to the house is still visible today, both on the exterior brick walls and on interior walls. 

The house changed hands three times on September 18, 1861, the first day of the Battle of Lexington.  That day, three Southern soldiers died at the base of the grand staircase in the main hall.

Visitors who venture away from the house to walk the battlefield encounter this small burial plot designated for five unknown Union soldiers whose remains were found during excavations in 1932 near the site of the building that was used as Union headquarters during the siege of Lexington. The men were likely part of Colonel Thomas A. Marshall's cavalry. 

The southern victory at the Battle of Lexington made Major General Sterling Price a hero throughout the South. The Union responded en masse and eventually forced Price to retreat back to the southwestern corner of the state, returning Lexington and the Missouri River Valley to Union control.

In 1958, the Anderson house and portions of the battlefield were donated to the Missouri state park system. See interior photos and learn more here:

Have you visited any state historic sites in recent weeks? Did you enjoy your time there? Learn anything new? Share!


The Oliver Anderson house and the Battle of Lexington played an important role in
inspiring Daughter of the Regiment, Stephanie Grace Whitson's March, 2015 release. Stephanie has been a full time novelist since 1994. Her studio is located in the lower level of her 1890s home--"the hired man's house"--in Lincoln, Nebraska. She enjoys learning about the real women who inspire her historical fiction, studying antique quilt history, riding her Honda Magna motorcycle named Kitty, and spending time with her extended family, grandchildren, and grand-dogs. 

Learn more at

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Where the Millionaires Lived

Every city pushes its seams and expands outward, gobbling up land to satisfy its growing population. So it was with New York City in the 1880's. Manhattan is an island with obvious boundaries. So the initial settlements on its southern tip could only move north. The neighborhoods that started as places for the wealthy to live (around the place that's now the Lower East Side) were a bit boggy and so were abandoned for dryer land up north. After the Civil War the wealthy chose the area around 5th Avenue and the Thirties to build their mansions. This is where the rich live in my novel Masquerade

I always enjoy basing a house on a real house, and chose the A.T. Stewart mansion that sat on the northwest corner of 5th Avenue and Thirty-fourth. It took over five years to build and when it was finished in 1869 it had cost $1.5 million. In today's money that's about $37.5 million. Pretty much beyond comprehension!

Doesn't it looks like a library? It was the first residential showplace in NYC and was deemed "palatial". This is the foyer and one of the bedrooms. All rooms shown here were figured into scenes in my novel.

Mrs. Stewart also had her own art gallery. She had a huge collection of artwork—that she mostly kept to herself. The art room was 70' x 30' x 50' tall. She and Mr. Stewart had no children yet lived in this 55-room house. He (like my patriarch, Martin Tremaine) earned his fortune by starting a department store: Stewart's Dry Goods. I'll go through details of stores of the time in a separate post.

An interesting thing about the Stewart mansion is that their neighbor to the south was William B. Astor II and his wife, Caroline, or THE Mrs. Astor. She was the head of New York society and her approval or disdain had the power to make or break people. And yet her house was a fairly simple brownstone. Here's a picture of it in 1897. It's the small building on the right. On the left is the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. It was built by William Waldorf Astor on the site of his family home after he decided to move to England permanently in 1891. It was built in great part to annoy his Aunt Lina who lived next door. A family feud over who was the head of society and all that.

As early as the 1870's, the encroaching commercialization of the area led the social set to move north to Fifth Avenue and the "Fifties" to build their houses. The bigger the better. The upstart Vanderbilt family created mansions that made the Stewart house look like a guest house. Some of these mansions remain--with new uses, but the Stewart mansion was demolished in 1902. Progress, you know.

And what now sits where the Astor brownstone and the old Waldorf-Astoria sat? The Empire State Building.

If you'd like to read more of my Gilded Age novels, try the sequel to Masquerade, called An Unlikely Suitor,  and A Bridal Quilt, which is in the novella anthology A Patchwork Christmas//Nancy Moser

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Shopping: Paper or Plastic?

In this season of Christmas shopping we are faced with the question: Paper or plastic? Believe it or not, that familiar line has only been around since 1977. But what about when there were no shopping bags. Can you even fathom it?

When I was writing Masquerade which is set in 1886, the story involves a department store. I needed to find out how shoppers got their goods from store to home. Turns out they often had the purchases delivered. In New York City, millions of packages a year. Free delivery became a marketing tool. And small goods were often wrapped in paper and tied. Women had trouble enough getting around town in bustled dresses and intricate hats, much less carrying around a myriad of bags.

So when was the shopping bag invented? Let’s back up. The paper bag was invented in 1852 by Francis Wolle. He and his brother started the Union Paper Bag Machine Company after the Civil War. Yet paper bags were flawed. They were often shaped like envelopes, were made of flimsy paper, had to be pasted together by hand, didn’t collapse and store easily, and their V-shaped bottoms prevented them from standing up on their own. The next improvement came in 1870 when Margaret Knight invented a machine to cut, fold, and paste paper bag bottoms. 

In 1883 Charles Stilwell developed the square-bottom paper bag with another improvement: pleated sides. It was named the S.O.S., or Self-Opening Sack. Hey, I used one of those the other day at the grocery store.

I’m going to digress about Margaret Knight a bit, because she was quite the woman. Over her lifetime Margaret had 90 inventions and 22 patents. She developed her bag-making machine when she was only 33, while working at the paper factory. The first one was out of wood, but then she developed one out of iron. But Charles Annan, a man who was visiting the factory, stole her idea and tried to get a patent on it. Instead of backing down, Margaret filed a patent interference suit against him. She spent $100 a day plus expenses for sixteen days of depositions from herself and other witnesses. Annan’s defense? He claimed that because Margaret was a woman she wasn’t capable of understanding such a complex machine. Margaret’s offense? Her detailed notes, diary entries, and trial and error samples validated her creative process. The court ruled in her favor. "I'm not surprised at what I've done. I'm only sorry I couldn't have had as good a chance as a boy, and have been put to my trade regularly." Margaret Knight was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.
Back to the shopping bag—the real ones with handles. You see, people were restricted in how much they could buy because they were limited by what they could carry in a bag held in their arms. In 1912, Minnesota grocer Walter H. Deubner, created a paper bag with a cord running through it for strength. His bag could hold 75 pounds of groceries. He sold the bag for five cents and within three years was selling a million bags a year. That’s a lot of groceries.

Only in the 1930’s were bags given away, and in 1933 they finally—finally—added a handle.  The Smithsonian has 1000 in their collection.  As we all know, bags became a status symbol and a means of advertising.  Who wouldn’t like to carry around a shopping bag from Neiman Marcus or Tiffany? In the latter’s case, a small bag is a good bag.//Nancy Moser