||Three Towers Press
||October 1, 2010
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The Spur &The Sash
A Romeo & Juliet story, Middle Tennessee, 1865, based upon a true story
The Spur & The Sash is about a real person.
Sergeant George Van Norman, a Yankee, was wounded in one of the last battles of the American Civil War, at Nashville.
Left behind to recover when the armies marched on, he was ordered to guard a local plantation from January to July, 1865, where he fell in love with the owner's daughter.
That much is fact.
The story begins with his wounding at the battle, follows him to the plantation where he meets the woman, her family, and the former slaves who have been emancipated but have no place to go.
George befriends a former Confederate soldier and, together, they overcome deserters, carpetbaggers, mobs of wandering freedmen, bandits and bushwhackers marauding throughout Middle Tennessee, including precursors of the Ku Klux Klan.
Meticulously researched using letters, diaries, and Official Records. This is a story of love, passion and betrayal amid the anarchy of postwar Tennessee.
George left behind a spur and a sash, passed down through the generations to the author, along with the story of how he came to have them.
The Spur & The Sash is that story.
From a cavalry captain, George learned his regiment had marched on without him, chasing Hood’s men.
At daybreak, he hitched a ride on the caisson of an artillery blacksmith, the steaming forge warming him as he cradled his broken arm on the bumpy road.
The gray-bearded blacksmith sucked salt candies and spoke in broken English, his German accent thick and guttural. George, his upper lip in heavy bandage, spoke not at all. They gestured and pointed and mimicked great stories and worldly accomplishments, and George felt a kinship with the older man.
At each stop along the Pike, the husky blacksmith set to work with intense concentration, firing the forge until it glowed a particular orange. Hammer and tongs brought form and function to iron scraps and oddments. The smithy shaped tools and repaired transport for grateful soldiers and citizens alike, while George sought news of the regiment, following their path further south as they chased General Hood’s fleeing army.
At Franklin, they rattled across the Harpeth River on a rough plank bridge. Through a thin veil of fog, broken war machines lay scattered indiscriminately across a broad field.
The smithy stopped the forge on a small rise and sat gaping. Bones rooted up by swine lay bleaching in the raw December air. Resting half buried in the frozen ground, a rotting shoe sprouted a skeletal foot. A grinning skull rose from the earth on a pale neck bone still sporting a silk cravat tied in a fashionable knot.
The scene had a nightmare quality, a haunted place where some mad beast of Hades made sacrifice to Moloch. George’s companion swore harsh epithets and hurried his mule for some distance.
The Spur & The Sash
Three Towers Press
Hardcover $26.95 (376pp)
Arching elms line a plantation road; a gentleman farmer offers cigars and pours brandy; a lady in rich velvet nods at the Yankee officer sent to protect them. These romantic images fill Robert Grede’s debut novel. Yet this story also encompasses the brutality of death, disease, and hunger; the fighting and maiming of both the Union and Confederate armies; and the defeated spirit of the American South. The Spur & the Sash is the result of thorough research, which mined family lore, journals, letters, and official documents for details about the end of the Civil War and the first days of Reconstruction. The novel is based on the captivating story of a real person, the author’s great-great-grandfather, George Van Norman, a Union officer who falls in love with a plantation owner’s daughter.
The tale opens on July 31, 1865, with Sergeant Van Norman on a southbound train on his way to be mustered out of the victorious Union Army. The real protagonist encounters several fictional characters: fellow soldiers in his regiment; army deserters, both Union and Secessionist; a rebel prisoner of war who becomes Van Norman’s friend; thieves; and murderers. Women, who share the horror of war, wait, grieve for the dead, and take care of their returning men.
A prominent theme is the new freedom of the Negro people, released from servitude and allowed to marry, to learn reading and writing, and to own property. They also face difficulties: they are displaced, without homes or the skills they need to become productive citizens.
This fast-paced historical work brims with the violence of war, but it also soars with glorious, descriptive prose when describing the weather or the rural Southern landscape. As war forces change on the book’s characters, each one’s passion for fighting morphs into treachery, lawlessness, or bravery in the face of defeat. The romance between the fair-minded Van Norman and the Confederate daughter of the South is told with equal measures of tenderness and realism.
Robert Grede is a successful businessman and the author of two best-selling marketing books, who has served on the faculties of two major universities. His meticulous research, attention to detail, and beautiful use of language have created a historically accurate and delightful story, which makes this a standout book. Both seasoned literary readers and those looking for a pleasurable escape into a love and war story will be satisfied, and will no doubt anticipate another novel from this talented writer. (October) Mary Popham
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