Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014: A Writer's Calendar

New Year's brings out all the goals and resolutions for the coming year (especially for bloggers).

I don't know how people do it.

I like goals to keep me on track, but the holidays (preceded by NaNoWriMo) are so crazy. I need time to ponder important decisions, like how I might spend a precious year of life.

I don't want to wait too late, though. In 2010 I didn't make goals until June! Last year, I wrote a retrospective of my writing year in April, my blogiversary and Wordsmith Studio's anniversary.

As I work on goals over the next few days, I'm considering all the writing events and opportunities coming up in 2014. This list might be useful for other writers, too. If you know of similar events (especially free ones and month-long challenges), please add a link and short description in the comments.


Robert Lee Brewer of Writer's Digest will help us kick off the year with daily ideas or prompts starting Jan. 1 at the Get Started Write Challenge. Look for the latest challenge here or follow @robertleebrewer or Twitter hashtag #gswc.

Joy Weese Moll encourages people to read books that will help them with their goals — writing or otherwise — in her New Year's Resolution Reading Challenge.

National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) starts every month at BlogHer. Sign up by Jan. 5 to join this month's challenge. (See November for more.)

Cartoonist and encourager Debbie Ridpath Ohi hosts the 250-500-1000 Words A Day Challenge.  You choose your goal and start anytime during the year. Debbie has links to fun word-count widgets you can add to your blog.


I've always wanted to do The Month of Letters Challenge, hosted by author Mary Robinette Kowal. People love to get real letters in the mail. The challenge is simply to mail something — a letter, card, postcard — each of the 23 days that the mail runs.

Lynn Palermo hosts the Family History Writing Challenge throughout the month of February, a great nudge for those who've always wanted to put those stories or that research in writing.


Two Camp NaNoWriMos are planned this year, one in April and one in July. The camps, similar to NaNoWriMo (see November), match you up with a small group of fellow writers in your genre.

If you're more interested in poetry than noveling, Robert Lee Brewer also hosts the April PAD (Poem-A-Day) Challenge at Poetic Asides.


I'm a member (and social media admin @quakerquip) for Quakers Uniting in Publications, an organization for writers and publishers. Their annual meeting is in New England this year, May 1-4, at Woolman Hill Quaker Retreat Center in Massachusetts.


Camp NaNoWriMo — see April.


Writers' Police Academy is not a free event, but I always participate and have an awesome time. Registration will open soon for the Sept. 4-7 event in North Carolina (fills up fast!).


For nonfiction inspiration, Jane Ann McLaughlin () hosts the October Memoir and Back Story Blog Challenge


November means National Novel Writing Month! It's not just about writing 50,000 words in 30 days, it's the huge motivation from doing it with other writers cheering you on. We have an active group of local wrimos and love to meet up in person for that extra writer mojo.

For poets, Robert will encourage you to write a chapbook at the November PAD Chapbook Challenge.

November is peak time for NaBloPoMo — the challenge is to write a blog post every day. BlogHer provides optional prompts from the month's theme. One participant has a list of FAQs on an unofficial guide site.


Did you write a poem a day in November? Poets follow up by editing in December, then submitting their manuscripts!

Welcome to Wordsmith Studio's New Year's Bash Bloghop! Did you just arrive from Janice's Inspiring Quotes for 2014? Hop on over to MobyJoe Cafe for the... well... Jeannine's different perspective on New Year's Eve.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas at Elmira, 1864

What was Christmas like in a Civil War prison camp? Perhaps a white one in 1864 Elmira, N.Y.

My great-great-grandfather, Thomas Swain Maness, didn't read or write, but some of his fellow prisoners left journals and accounts of life in Elmira prison camp. The winter of 1864 brought bitter cold and smallpox raged through the camp. Amidst constant cold and hunger and the fear of that disease, prisoners tried to find a little fun when they could.

Fellow North Carolinian Lewis Leon wrote:
November and December - Nothing, only bitter cold. We dance every night at some of our quarters. Some of the men put a white handkerchief around one of their arms, and these act as the ladies. We have a jolly good time. (1)
Wilbur W. Gramling, a South Carolina soldier who arrived at Elmira about the same time as Thomas, wrote in his journal (the last part missing or unreadable, as quoted):
Saturday, Dec. 24, 1864. Weather fair & has moderated a great deal. Jeff Davis has poisoned himself. Bob had whipped Grant. There is 40 cases of smallpox. 4 have died. Prospects are bad for Christmas.
Sunday, Dec. 25, 1864. Fair and very pleasant. Christmas but it seems no more than any other day. ground is melting which makes it very slippery. Today is The snow on
A heavy snow arrived that Thursday. (2)

1. Leon, L., Diary of a Tar Heel Confederate Soldier, Charlotte, Stone Publishing, 1913; p. 68.

2. Triebe, Richard H., Fort Fisher to Elmira: The Fatal Journey of 518 Confederate Soldiers, Coastal Books, 2013; p. 148.

3. Photo — Holmes, Clay W., Elmira Prison Camp: A History of the Military Prison at Elmira, N.Y., July 6, 1864, to July 10, 1865, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London, 1912.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Journey to Elmira — Civil War prisons, part 4

As President Lincoln and General Grant banned prisoner exchanges by August 1863, and the Battle of Gettysburg added to the influx of prisoners, military "prisons became less of a temporary detention center and more like long-term concentration camps." (Triebe, 105) After over a month at the overcrowded Point Lookout Prison Camp, my great-great-grandfather Thomas Swain Maness was transferred to the new prison at Elmira, New York.

I promised at the end of a previous post to write about Elmira. I didn't know how daunting that would be. First of all, I haven't found anything that directly relates to Thomas, other than his transfer and release. He didn't read or write, so his name doesn't come up in the many extant letters and journals. Secondly, expanding the search to the writings of others has turned up volumes of conflicting information. If you think our country is divided and partisan today, imagine how it was when the two different "parties" literally tried to kill each other!

Author Clay Homes painted the camp in a positive light in his thick 1912 tome. He blamed many of the deaths and starvation on the state of the prisoners' stomachs after their previous ordeals, even claiming that hookworm disease came from an excess of cornmeal in the Southern diet. (Holmes, 317-318). Author Richard Triebe quoted a former prisoner as saying, "If ever there was a hell on Earth, Elmira Prison was that hell...." Even primary documents are suspect, because the prisoners' letters were censored.

Here are my current conclusions from skimming different sources, without the intensive research of all materials available (which would take years).

- Although Elmira had one of the highest death rates at 24% (Holmes, 255), prisoners saw it as an improvement over Point Lookout. They had fresh water to drink, and left the vindictive guards and random shootings behind. Within the year, many had barracks to replace their tents.

- Despite the good drinking water and buildings, the men bathed (or not) in the backwash pond that served as a mass latrine. Fatal diseases, as well as scurvy and lice, were rampant.

- Secretary of War Edward Stanton and other high officials carried out an unofficial retaliation policy of persecuting the prisoners through bureaucracy  and delays. For example, a large shipment of beef was sent to the prison. It was rejected as low quality, but then sold to the townspeople. Books of both northern and southern perspectives depict an underground trade in rats and punishment for eating dogs. A drainage project for the latrine pond was delayed by "paperwork," keeping conditions unsanitary. Firewood rations were scarce, despite an unusually cold winter with temperatures below zero.

- Many northerners and local officers showed kindness to the prisoners — or tried to. A New York textile company tried to provide clothing for the freezing men; the shipment was turned away because of the policies mentioned above. Any provisions had to meet strict rules, such as only coming from close family members. Some guards sold handcrafts in town for the prisoners. Inmates weren't allowed to have money, but it was kept on file for them at the commissary, including money in letters from home. Within the prison walls, inmates used tobacco for currency.

- A couple of entrepreneurs built stands by the prison walls for spectators. The stands were taken down later for fear of spying or communicating with prisoners.

- Neglect and cemetery moves resulted in lost records and mass burial at Pt. Lookout. In contrast, John W. Jones, a former slave, kept meticulous records and marked the graves of every soldier who died at Elmira. 

Main sources:

Holmes, Clay W., Elmira Prison Camp: A History of the Military Prison at Elmira, N.Y., July 6, 1864, to July 10, 1865, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London, 1912. (Photos are from Holmes' book.)

Triebe, Richard H., Fort Fisher to Elmira: The Fatal Journey of 518 Confederate Soldiers, Coastal Books, 2013 (revision of 2010 book).

Beitzell, Edwin W., Point Lookout Prison Camp for Confederates, St. Mary's County Genealogical Society, 2007 (reprint of 1972 book).