Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Miss you, Sean Spicer / Black Americans’ past via genetics / View from Mars Rover / The Pentagon’s pollution / One father, 200 children

This week: Miss you, Sean Spicer / Black Americans’ past via genetics / View from Mars Rover / The Pentagon’s pollution / One father, 200 children

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. We’ll Miss You, Sean Spicer
By Erin Gloria Ryan | The New York Times | July 21
“Mr. Spicer was alternately rude and outright dismissive to reporters. He told April Ryan to stop shaking her head. He made Jim Acosta of CNN and Hallie Jackson of MSNBC into household names. Still, Americans tuned into Mr. Spicer’s pressers in such numbers that their ratings topped the soap operas that shared the time slot. Call it ‘As the World Burns.’ ”

2. How African Americans Use DNA Testing to Connect With Their Past
By Ed Yong | The Atlantic | June 2017
“Genetic tests have ushered in a new era of root-seeking and community-building, says social scientist Alondra Nelson.”

3. The Public Editor’s Club at The New York Times as told by the six who lived it
By Andy Robinson | Columbia Journalism Review | July 20
“The editors often found themselves in disagreement with colleagues, and even with direct access to the publisher at all times, the job was never easy. But all agreed the job was a testament to the integrity of the Times. Over the last six months I’ve photographed and interviewed all six who served as public editors of the most influential newsroom in the world.”

4. Trump’s desire for private infrastructure money will narrow his choices
By Tom Scheck, Curtis Gilbert, and Will Craft | APM Reports :: Marketplace | July 19
“An analysis by APM Reports has found that at least 46 transportation and water-related projects in 23 states and the District of Columbia presented to the White House could rely on private money to be completed, including investment opportunities in Alabama, drinking water pipelines in California and New Mexico and a massive transit project in the New York City area.”

5. From Mars Rover: Panorama Above ‘Perseverance Valley’
Jet Propulsion Laboratory :: NASA | July 20
“NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded a panoramic view before entering the upper end of a fluid-carved valley that descends the inner slope of a large crater’s rim.”

6. Open Burns, Ill Winds
By Abrahm Lustgarten | ProPublica | July 20
“The Pentagon’s handling of munitions and their waste has poisoned millions of acres, and left Americans to guess at the threat to their health.”

7. The man who may have secretly fathered 200 children
By Joanna Moorhead | The Guardian | July 15
” A daughter, Lotte, now 23, was born in 1994. Almost two years later, in 1995, Heij gave birth to a second child, Yonathan; Karbaat assured her the sperm was from the same donor.”

8. The unhappiness of the US working class
By Carol Graham | Brookings | July 2017
“A critical factor is the plight of the white blue-collar worker, for whom hopes for making it to a stable, middle-class life have largely disappeared.”

9. Home Girl
By Michael Hall | Texas Monthly | January 2007
“1. Erykah Badu Sings and Dances 2. Raises Her Children 3. Grows Herbs 4. Rides a Skateboard 5. Saves Her Old Hood in Dallas 6. And Works on Her New Album, Which Will Be Finished When It’s Finished”

10. My Beautiful Oubliette: The Difficulty of Being a Writer in Prison
By Dean Faiello | LitHub | June 2017
“Prisons are not set up to inspire writers; I have few choices of where to put down my piece of paper and write. That’s the whole idea of prison rehabilitation — limit the choices and temptations that daily life offers, and hopefully, men will learn to make the right decisions. But the reality is that many of us simply find a way to get what we want. Prison makes us smarter criminals.”

Loreta’s Civil War: Things were looking exceedingly gloomy

Her ambitions for a massive Confederate counterattack crushed, Velazquez decides to resign from her post as a Union spy and regroup her hopes, ideas, and plans.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 45: Her ambitions for a massive Confederate counterattack crushed, Velazquez decides to resign from her post as a Union spy and regroup her hopes, ideas, and plans.

******

Had it been possible for me to have destroyed the arsenal without loss of life, I would most assuredly have done it but the circumstances being what they were, it has been a great satisfaction to me ever since that I did not attempt anything of the kind, just as it has been a satisfaction to me that I did not kill Gen. Grant when I had an opportunity to do so on the night after the first day’s fight at Shiloh. I doubt, however, whether there would have been a great many men, either Confederates or Federals, who would have been so considerate in similar situations, especially if the deed could have been performed without risk to themselves. I am confident that I could have fired the Indianapolis arsenal without serious danger of being detected, but I do not suppose anyone will think the worse of me that I did not do it.

The great number of letters I received from nearly every quarter within a very brief period excited curiosity and remark. After my first few visits to the post office the clerk began to take notice of me, and he would say something nearly every time I called for my mail about the extent of my correspondence. What he said was in a joking sort of a way, and under some circumstances I should have thought nothing of it but not knowing, from day to day, what might happen, it caused me some uneasiness to attract this kind of attention, both for my own sake and for the sake of my correspondents. I very well knew that did the Federal authorities suspect me the least of being a Confederate agent, there would be no hesitation whatever about opening my letters, and if some of them had been opened, there would have been fine revelations … of the most important secret Confederate operations. …

For these, as well as other reasons, I was anxious to leave Indianapolis at as early a day as I possibly could but was unable to move for lack of orders and also for lack of cash. My funds, in fact, were running very low, so low as to give me considerable uneasiness lest I should be unable to meet my expenses, and I anxiously awaited a remittance, which, as is apt to be the case with remittances that are anxiously awaited, was a long time in coming. Finally, I received information that a money package had been forwarded to me by express but on applying at the office for it I was told that it could not be delivered unless I was identified.

This was a perplexing predicament but I had gotten myself out of worse ones and thought that I would be able to find a way to obtain possession of the precious package. Returning to the hotel, therefore, I selected an envelope from one of my letters, and writing a letter to myself, as if from my brother, stating that such and such a package had been forwarded to me, I took it to the manager of the packing department at the arsenal and requested him to go with me to the express office for the purpose of identifying me. He did this without hesitation but was considerably astonished to see me receive such a large amount of money and said, “Why, your brother must be a very rich man!”

“Oh, no, he is not rich, but he has been thinking of investing some of his spare cash in real estate for some time, and I told him of a good thing in corner lots, which I urged him to try and do something with.”

As an explanation of my money package this was a trifle thin, but it was sufficient for the purpose, especially as it was no concern of his whether I had rich relations or not.

Within a day or two I received orders by telegraph to proceed to Cairo, which I did forthwith, and found, on reaching that place, letters of instruction which directed me to go to St. Louis and to stop at the Planters’ House for the purpose of seeing if I could not find out something about projected Federal movements from the officers who were making it their headquarters.

From the tenor of my instructions I judged that I would not be able to do much by going to the table as a guest, which would also have been inconvenient, as it would have necessitated my providing myself with a large amount of different kind of clothing from that which I was then wearing. I was figuring as a widow woman in greatly reduced circumstances, and, so far as baggage was concerned, was, as the soldiers would say, in light marching order. It occurred to me, therefore, that the best plan to pursue was to try and obtain a situation at the Planters’ House as a chambermaid. On reaching St. Louis, instead of going to the hotel, I took lodgings at a private house for a few days, until I could mature my plans.

On applying for employment as a chambermaid, I was told that there was no vacancy and that there was not likely to be any, and I saw very plainly, from the manner of the individual with whom I conversed on the subject, that he had no intention whatever of giving me a situation.

This rather nonplussed me, and I was unable to determine what device to adopt next. Some of the information which I was requested to obtain was very important, and I had been urged to use every effort to get it. I did not like to give the thing up without having exhausted all my resources. I accordingly tried in a number of ways to find out what I wanted to know but was entirely unsuccessful. All that I succeeded in discovering of any consequence was some knowledge of the personal habits of the officers who were lodged at the Planters’ House, and of the times when they were least likely to be in their rooms. My only chance, therefore, seemed to be to gain access to their quarters when they were out, and to the accomplishment of this I put my wits to work.

When applying for employment in the hotel, I struck up a sort of acquaintance with one of the chambermaids, of whom I made a variety of inquiries as to the nature of the duties and of my chances of getting a situation. This woman had seemed disposed to be quite friendly, and I, therefore, concluded to cultivate her acquaintance. I was not long in becoming intimate with her, and, as I made her a number of little presents, and otherwise displayed a marked liking for her, she speedily took a great fancy to me.

Having, as I thought, secured her friendship, I called upon her one evening and invited her to go out with me. She consented to do this, and we went up to her room together for her to arrange her toilet. While she was dressing I slipped her pass key in my pocket. This being secured, the next thing was to find an opportunity to use it.

When we returned I had no great difficulty in inducing her to extend an invitation for me to stop all night. We accordingly slept together. In the morning she got up, dressed herself, and then, missing her key, began an industrious search for it, I all the time pretending to be asleep. Unable to find it, she went out, and I heard her ask one of the other girls to lend her a key, saying that she had lost hers.

So soon as she was well out of the way, I got up and dressed myself, and when I thought that the officers, whose rooms I wished to visit, were likely to be away … I slipped down stairs to execute my dangerous errand.

Luckily, I met no one and contrived to get into three rooms, where I read a number of dispatches and orders, one or two of which were of some importance but did not succeed in discovering what I was chiefly in search of. I, however, mastered the contents of such papers as I could lay my hands on, for I was bound to have something to show for my labor, even if I did not get all I wanted.

On coming out of the third room, I came very near being caught by a bell boy, who turned into the corridor just as I had finished locking the door. Putting on a sort of bewildered look, as if I had lost myself, I said, in an innocent sort of a way, “Which is the servant’s staircase? I think I must have got into the wrong hall.”

The boy was not particularly bright, and, giving the required direction, I made off as fast as I could, not a little satisfied at having escaped so easily. On the stairway I met the chambermaid, who was bringing me up a cup of coffee. This I drank and then bade her good-by, glad of an opportunity to get away without attracting more attention.

On reaching my lodgings I wrote out the substance of the information I had obtained and forwarded it to the proper agent, with a statement to the effect that it seemed impossible for me to learn anything more. In reply to this note I received a dispatch by telegraph, directing me to go to Hannibal, where I would find a package awaiting me, which I was to deliver according to directions which would be enclosed.

I took the boat for Hannibal, and on reaching that place found Maj. T., of the Confederate army rather anxiously looking for me, as he had received information that orders would be sent him from New York in an enclosure directed to me. Obtaining my package from the express office, it was found to contain a dispatch from Richmond, with orders for the major to treat with the Indians and to aid in the endeavors that were being made to excite them to acts of hostility against the Federal government all along the frontier, from the British Provinces to Mexico.

The delivery of this dispatch to Maj. T. was the last transaction of the western trip which I made under the auspices of Col. Baker. Not more than a day or two afterwards I learned of the failure of the attempt to release the Johnson’s Island prisoners and consequently of the grand scheme, the success of which I had been laboring so hard to promote.

I did not know who was to blame for this failure, but I felt that if all the rest had done their duty as efficiently as I had done mine, success would have crowned our efforts. I, therefore, resolved to return East and to dissolve all connection with my late co-workers, and with more than half a mind to have nothing more to do with such schemes, or schemes of any kind that would require confederates, in the future. I was beyond measure indignant when I learned, as I did before I reached Philadelphia, that the whole thing had fallen through, owing to the blundering cowardice and treachery of one individual. I did not pretend to restrain my wrath, but the agent whom I met at Philadelphia, after I had become cooled off a little, persuaded me that there was no use in getting discouraged by this misadventure, bad as it was, and that there was still plenty of important work for the Confederacy to be done.

I, however, was so decidedly unwilling to engage in any similar enterprise, at least just then, that it was proposed that I should attempt something in the blockade-running line. By doing this, it was represented, I could not only aid the cause but could make a handsome profit for myself if I managed rightly, as my commissions alone would amount to considerable. The proposition made to me looked feasible, and, allowing myself to be persuaded, I wrote a letter to Col. Baker, resigning from the secret service under the plea that I had obtained other employment of a more remunerative and more congenial character.

I really had not the courage to face Baker again after the trick I had played upon him, having no idea what he might know, or might not know, about my connection with the projected raid which had been so effectually nipped in the bud by the arrest of the men in Sandusky who were endeavoring to seize the gunboat Michigan. From the tenor of the letter which he sent me in reply, however, I judged that he neither knew nor suspected anything against me, and I concluded that I would finally have occasion to make use of him again, as I could not tell what work I might have to do before the war was over.

I had proven myself so efficient in managing matters that required to be managed with skill, boldness, and discretion during the time I had been co-operating with the Confederate agents at the North, and especially during my late Western trip, that my associates were more than ever anxious to avail themselves of my services. They fully appreciated my feelings over the failure of the Johnson’s Island raid, after I had performed the part assigned me so successfully, but they contended that I would not be acting an heroic part to forsake the fortunes of the Confederacy just at this juncture, when, although things were looking exceedingly gloomy, there was a chance that success might yet be achieved if all the friends of the Cause would stick together and labor with even more than their old energy to achieve success in the face of every opposition.

Loreta’s Civil War: Wild thoughts that filled my mind

Velazquez has a new assignment: Track down a spy and help suppress a massive Union prison raid. She intends to do the exact opposite.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 42: Velazquez has a new assignment: Track down a spy and help suppress a massive Union prison raid. She intends to do the exact opposite.

******

The next morning, just as I was sitting down to breakfast, the waiter brought me a note from Col. Baker, in which he stated that he would call to see me at the hotel about half past ten o’clock and requested me to await him at that hour. Still being uncertain whether Baker’s intentions towards me were amicable or not, it was not without some trepidation that I looked forward to this interview. … At the appointed time, Col. Baker made his appearance, and said “Good morning” with a pleasant smile, in which there was apparently not a shade of malice or unfriendliness. After asking me how I had liked the play and making a few other unimportant remarks, he said, “Well, my little woman, I have made up my mind to let you try your skill as a detective once more, if you are in the same mind you were yesterday.”

“Yes,” I replied, “I am just as anxious now as I was then, and I think I can not only find that spy for you, but that I can discover whether there really is any intention among the rebel prisoners to make a break.”

“That is just what I want you to do. I think that a woman can manage a job of this kind better than a man anyhow, and I believe that you are just the woman to manage it in first-rate style.”

“Thank you, colonel, I can at least try.”

“Yes, that’s it, try and find out all you can. I want you to pick out this man for me if he is at Johnson’s Island, as you seem to think he is, and if you succeed in finding him, telegraph to me immediately. If he is not at Johnson’s Island, you had better try and find out if any of the prisoners know anything about him — it is possible, you know, that he may be in some other prison, or, indeed, that he may have escaped. At all events, make every effort to find him.”

“You know, colonel, I am acquainted with a good many people down South, and I may come across somebody I know or somebody that knows somebody I know, and by representing myself as a disguised Confederate, I may be able to get the prisoners to talk plainer than they would to a stranger or a new visitor.”

“Well, I will leave it to you to manage the thing the best way you can think of. It would not be a bad idea, however, if you were to pass yourself off as a Confederate secret service agent, and if you were to intimate that something was likely to be done soon to procure the release of the prisoners, you might be able to induce them to say whether they have any plans of their own, or whether they are in communication with any one outside.”

“That is about my idea of working but the only difficulty will be in getting a chance to talk to any of the men privately.”

“Oh, I’ll arrange that for you by giving you a confidential letter, which, however, you must be careful not to let any one see except the commanding officer. If those fellows are up to any tricks, I want to know all about it at once. There has been a good deal of talk at different times about the prisoners attempting to stampede, but it has been pretty much all newspaper sensation with nothing in it.”

“But, you know, colonel, something of the kind might be attempted, and if a stampede or an insurrection should take place, it would create a good deal of excitement just now.”

“Yes, yes, that’s so. If there is anything on foot I want to discover it, and I want you to find out all you possibly can, and let me know immediately.”

“Well, you can rely upon me, and I think you will find me as shrewd as most of your detectives are.”

“If you will only keep your eyes and ears well open and open your mouth only when you have business to talk about, I will most likely find you a good deal shrewder.”

“Why, colonel, you don’t appear to have the best opinion in the world of some of your detectives.”

“Oh, yes, they do pretty well, some of them are really first-rate men, but they are not as smart as they ought to be for the kind of service they are in.”

“I suppose some of those rebel spies give you a good of trouble in keeping the run of them.”

“Oh, you haven’t any idea of it. Half the people of Washington and its immediate vicinity are rebel sympathizers and would be spies if they dared and knew how. And then they are at work all through the North and in Canada. Some of my people are after a spy now who has been traveling between Richmond and Canada, but they don’t seem to be able to lay their hands on her. If they don’t catch her soon, I have half a mind to let you try what you can do, if you succeed well with your present trip.”

The conversation at this point, I concluded, was getting to be rather too personal, and I thought it best to change the subject, although I could not help smiling at the idea of Baker employing me to catch myself. That, I thought, would be entirely too arduous a task for me to undertake in my then rather feeble state of health, although there might be both amusement and profit in it. Forbearing, however, to enter upon this interesting theme, I asked the colonel when he desired me to start. He said by the first train, if I could get ready, and handing me my confidential letter and two hundred dollars, he asked whether there was anything more he could do for me.

I said that I could think of nothing but would proceed to get ready for my journey immediately. He then shook hands and left, after wishing me a pleasant trip and expressing a hope that he would soon receive a good report from me.

When the colonel was gone, I went up to my room to pack my traveling satchel and, feeling perfectly satisfied from my late conversation with him that I was safe for the present so far as he was concerned, I laughed heartily at the absurdity of the situation and wondered with myself whether I would have dared to attempt anything of this kind at Richmond with old Gen. Winder. I had no difficulty in concluding that if fate had compelled me to play tricks with Winder, as I was doing with Baker, I would have been forced to proceed in a less open and free and easy style about it, and congratulated myself most heartily that I had so easy a customer to deal with under existing circumstances.

Calling a carriage, I was soon at the Baltimore depot and on board the train. Having to stop at the Relay House for the western-bound train, I made an effort to see the Confederate agent who was stationed there, as I had a number of things I wanted to say to him. He was an old Southern acquaintance of mine, and there were a variety of little matters that I could have whispered in his ear that would have been useful. … There is a good deal in knowing who one’s friends really are in transacting such delicate business as that I was then engaged in. Unfortunately, my friend was away, and as I was in too much of a hurry to wait for his return, I was forced to forego the pleasure of seeing him.

Once on board the western train, I had a long journey before me and had plenty of time to think over affairs generally. I planned and schemed until my brain fairly whirled, and I was glad to chat a little with some of my neighbors or to gaze through the car windows at the gorgeous scenery that met my eyes at every turn in the road, and to try and think for a while only of its beauties as a rest from the wild thoughts that filled my mind.

Try as I might, however, I could not avoid thinking of the situation, the prospects of the Confederacy, and the chances of success for the grand scheme, the execution of which I was endeavoring to assist. What if we failed or, if we succeeded in our first effort, would we be able to accomplish all we intended and expected? These were questions I could not answer. What I dreaded most was the possible effect of a raid by way of the Lakes on the Confederate sympathizers and the anti-war party. Would it stimulate them to make greater exertions than ever to bring the conflict to a close, or would this bringing the war to the doors of themselves and their neighbors turn them against us? I confess that I had fears of the latter result, for I had a not ill-founded distrust of these people, who are neither one thing nor the other, and I believed that had the Copperheads wielded their influence as they might have done, they could either have prevented the war in the beginning or could have forced a conclusion long ago.

What power the opponents of the war were able to exert would, however, be determined very shortly. A presidential election was coming off in a few weeks, and the greatest excitement with regard to the political battle that was being waged prevailed. Nearly everybody admitted that the defeat of Mr. Lincoln for a second term would mean that a majority of the people of the North were ready and anxious to abandon the contest and to let the seceding Southern states go in peace. The fact that the Democratic candidate was a Federal general, who had been commander-in-chief of the armies, and who professed to be willing and anxious to carry on the war did not please me very well, for it indicated to my mind, very plainly, that the anti-war people were afraid to oppose Mr. Lincoln and the war party on a square issue.

I, however, was nothing of a politician and did not profess to understand the ways of politicians, they being a class of men for whom I had no special admiration. But I could not help thinking that the Confederate government and the people of the South were basing too many hopes on what the Democrats would be able to do at this election. I knew that they in many ways were doing what they could to secure a Democratic victory, but, for my part, I relied far more on bullets than on ballots to give the South the victory, and I expected more from the great raid, for which I was now working, than I did from the election of Gen. McClellan. …

Loreta’s Civil War: I had reason to congratulate myself

Her plot to inject paranoia into Federal military plans seems to work out better than she expected. But then she learns that Federal troops captured her brother and sent him to a Northern prison. She determines to head North to help him.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart will share edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 35: Her plot to inject paranoia into Federal military plans seems to work out better than she expected. But then she learns that Federal troops captured her brother and sent him to a Northern prison. She determines to head North to help him.

******

The provost marshal accordingly furnished me with a sheet of paper, and I sat down at his desk and scribbled off a brief note to the general, telling him enough about the source from which I had obtained the dispatch to induce him to believe in its genuineness, and [I] intimated that if he wanted to know more he could send for me. This note and the dispatch I enclosed in the same envelope and handed it to the provost marshal, with a request that it might be given to the general immediately. I fully expected that when Gen. Washburn received these enclosures he would have me brought before him for … interrogation [but I] was much surprised when he did nothing of the kind. …

To the hotel I accordingly went, under the escort of my friend the lieutenant and registered myself as Mrs. Fowler, not at all grieved at not having seen the general, and quite satisfied not to see him in the future if he did not wish to see me, for I considered the material part of my errand now practically accomplished. …

[A] servant appeared with a very nice supper. This I ate with immense relish, for I was desperately hungry, at the same time making certain inquiries of the servant for the purpose of enabling me to judge whether it would be safe or prudent to attempt to communicate that night with the spy for whom I had the dispatch. … It was now nearly dark, and I decided that no better time for meeting the spy could be found. I accordingly asked the servant to try and borrow for me some rather more presentable articles of attire than those I had on, as I desired to go out for the purpose of making a few purchases and was really ashamed to go into the streets dressed as I was. …

The servant, whose zeal on my behalf was stimulated by a five-dollar greenback, was not long in appearing with a reasonably decent-looking dress, bonnet, and shawl. I then attired myself with as much speed as I could command, and after having the dust and dirt brushed off my shoes, was ready to start. It is scarcely necessary to say that I was well acquainted with Memphis and consequently knew exactly how to go and where to go in search of my man. Fortunately for me, the place was not a very great way from the hotel, and persuading the accommodating servant to show me out the back door … I was not long in reaching it.

I knocked at the door, and the very man I was looking for came to let me in. I had never seen him before, but I knew him immediately by the description I had of him. Giving him the password I was admitted, and he eagerly inquired what I had for him. I handed him the dispatch … [and] gave him the verbal instructions which Lt. Shorter had ordered me to convey to him. …. He, however, said that he thought that a movement of the Federal troops was in contemplation and that he would like to find out exactly what it was before starting, and as I seemed to be on good terms at headquarters, he urged that I should endeavor to obtain the information for him. I consented to try what I could do, while he promised not to delay his departure longer than two days, at the farthest. …

On my way back to the hotel, the prudence of my change of dress was sufficiently demonstrated, for on turning a corner I nearly ran against my friend the lieutenant and another officer, who were walking slowly along the street. My heart leaped into my mouth when I saw who it was, but as there was no retreat, I trusted to the darkness and my change of costume and glided by them as swiftly and quietly as I could and, fortunately, was able to gain my room without discovery.

My errand was now accomplished, and in as satisfactory a manner as could be desired, and the only apprehension I had was lest the spy to whom I had given the dispatch … might not succeed in getting off in safety. If he should be arrested and the document found on him, the finger of suspicion would not unlikely point to me as the original bearer of it. I thought, however, that he was probably well able to take care of himself, and being too much of a veteran to allow myself to be worried about possibilities that might never come to pass, I went to bed feeling that the responsibility of the business was well off my shoulders, and was soon in happy obliviousness of cares of every kind.

The next morning the lieutenant made his appearance bright and early, and said that he had raised a hundred dollars for me by representing me as a Union woman who was flying from persecution in the Confederacy, and who had brought important information into the lines. This money I regarded as lawful spoils of war and therefore had no hesitation in accepting it. Expressing my gratitude to my friend for his zeal in my behalf, I said that he would place me under still further obligations if he would aid me in obtaining some better clothing than that I had on. He expressed the greatest desire to oblige me, and taking half of the money, he invested a good portion of it in a stylish bonnet, a handsome piece of dress goods, and a pair of shoes. He also presented me with a number of little articles, which I was given to understand were meant for testimonials of his individual regard.

During the day I was called upon by several officers and others, and one lady — an officer’s wife — loaned me a dress to wear until mine should be finished. Taking my piece of goods to the dressmaker’s, I stated that I was in a great hurry, and she accordingly promised to have it finished by the next evening. Thus, I was in a short time fitted out in good style. … My new friends were extremely anxious to know exactly what was going on within the rebel lines and asked me all sorts of questions. I endeavored to gratify their curiosity as well as I could without committing myself too much, and in return made an effort to find out what I was so desirous of knowing about the contemplated movement of the Federal troops.

I did not have a great deal of trouble in learning very nearly everything that was to be learned about the number and disposition of the [Federal] troops along the line of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. … This information I promptly communicated to my [Confederate] confidant. … The concentration of the Federal force at Colliersville, I had every reason to believe, was induced by the dispatch I delivered to Gen. Washburn. At any rate, it had the effect of leaving a gap in the Federal line beyond Grand Junction for [Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford] Forrest to step through; and, when in a day or two, intelligence was received that he was on a grand raid through western Tennessee, I knew that the plot in which I had been engaged had succeeded in the best manner.

I made a great to-do when the news of Forrest’s raid was received and pretended to be frightened lest an attack should be made on Memphis and the rebels should capture me. The fact is that Forrest, before he got through, did come very near the city, and some of my new acquaintances were just as much frightened in reality as I pretended to be. He, however, did not make any demonstration in the city, but after a brilliant campaign of several weeks slipped by the Federals again, carrying back with him into Mississippi sufficient cattle and other booty to amply repay him for his trouble.

I thought that I had reason to congratulate myself upon the success of the enterprise in which I had been engaged. Taking it altogether, it was as well planned and as well executed a performance as any I ever attempted during the whole of my career in the Confederate service.

My friend the lieutenant, whose regard for me really increased with each succeeding interview, was obliged to return to his camp after having assisted me in obtaining a new outfit. In a day or two, however, he returned, having obtained a ten days’ leave of absence, and he began to increase the zealousness of his attentions. On his return to Memphis he brought with him a fine horse, which he claimed to have captured, and said that it should be reserved for my use, if I would accept of it, so long as I remained in the city. I was not at all averse to having a good time, although I was beginning to wonder how I was ever to get back to my starting-place again, and I rode out [several] times with the lieutenant and accepted his escort on all occasions that he offered it.

It was while attending church on the Sunday following the arrival on leave of this rather overattentive young gentleman that something occurred which caused a very material alteration in my plans, which induced me to abandon my design to return to Mobile, and which resulted in my entering upon an entirely new field of operations. I, of course, at the time, had no idea whatever how things were going to turn out, but if all had been arranged beforehand they could not have turned out more in accordance with my desires.

During the service I noticed in the congregation a Confederate officer in citizen’s clothes, whom I knew by sight, and who belonged to my brother’s command. He did not know me, especially as a woman, although he had seen me a number of times attired in the uniform of a Confederate officer. I was most desirous of communicating with him for the purpose of inquiring about my brother, of whom I had received no intelligence whatever for a number of months. So, after the service was over, I watched him as he left the church, and seeing him turn the corner, said to the lieutenant, “Let us take a walk down this street.” Keeping him in sight, I saw him turn down towards the Hardwick House and consequently suggested to the lieutenant that it would perhaps be as well to return to the hotel instead of indulging in a promenade. My escort thought that I was disposed to be whimsical but I did not bother myself very greatly about his opinion of me one way or the other, being now only intent upon devising some means of obtaining an interview with the disguised Confederate.

On reaching the hotel I found that the man I was after had disappeared, and I was considerably perplexed to know what course to pursue. I was afraid to send him my card for fear of compromising him in some way, as I thought it highly probable that he was stopping at the hotel under an assumed name. I was bent on securing an opportunity to converse with him, however, and hoped to be able to meet him and to attract his attention before evening, but failing in this, I was resolved to find out what I could about him from some of the servants and to send him a note requesting a private interview, giving him a sufficient hint as to who I was to induce him to think that he would be in no danger. Fortunately, however, I was not compelled to resort to any such expedient as this, for, on going into dinner at five o’clock with the lieutenant, I saw him at one of the tables, having apparently just sat down.

The lieutenant was conducting me to the seat which we usually occupied, but I said, as if seized with a sudden freak for a change of locality, “Suppose we go over to this table today. I think we will find it pleasanter,” and, before my Federal friend had time to object, I had walked him across the room and seated myself beside the Confederate, indicating for the lieutenant to take the seat on the other side of me. When the waiter came up to get our orders for dinner, I asked him to bring me a couple of cards.

All this time I took not the slightest notice of the Confederate but chatted with the lieutenant in the liveliest and most animated manner possible, my object being to so engage his attention that he would not think of observing what I was doing for the purpose of letting the gentleman on the other side of me know that I was interested in him.

On one of the cards I wrote some nonsense, which I sent by the waiter, after having shown it to the lieutenant, to another officer whom I saw on the opposite side of the room. On the other one I wrote, “Meet me at my room at half past ten o’clock this evening, unobserved. Important.” This I made a pretense of slipping in my pocket, but dropped it on the floor instead, touching the Confederate officer as I did so, and half-turning towards him in such a manner that he could readily understand that I was endeavoring to attract his attention. While this was going on, the lieutenant was watching to see what would be the effect of the jesting remark I had written on the first card on the gentleman across the room to whom I had sent it. He laughed and nodded, and the lieutenant and I did the same — all of us, apparently, being satisfied that there was a capital joke in progress, which indeed there was, but not exactly the kind of one they imagined.

The Confederate officer, when he looked down and saw the card on the floor, quickly dropped his napkin on it, and stooped to pick it up. He found an opportunity to read my message before he left the table but I took no further notice of him whatever, until just as he was about to retire, when I turned slightly and, looking him full in the face, gave him a meaning glance so that he could understand that there was no mistake about the matter.

At the hour named on the card the Confederate officer came to my room, evidently very much perplexed, and uncertain what the end of the adventure would be. I hastened to apologize for the liberty I had taken and to place him at his ease by explaining matters.

I said, “You will pardon me, sir, but this is Lieutenant B. of Arkansas, is it not?”

“Yes, madam, that is my name,” he replied.

“You need be under no apprehension, sir. I know you, although you do not know me. I am the sister of Captain […], and I am exceedingly anxious to learn where he is and how he is, for I have not been able to hear from him for a very long time.”

The announcement that I was the sister of Captain […] was evidently an immense relief to Lieutenant B., whose face brightened up immediately. He stated that he was very much pleased to meet me, but that he was sorry to have to tell me that my brother had been captured by the Federals about four months before, and was now a prisoner at Camp Chase.

This was unpleasant news, and it determined me to give up the idea of returning to Mobile but to go North and visit my brother for the purpose of assisting him in any way possible. From what I had learned during my late stay in Memphis, too, I was very well convinced that, as a secret service agent, I would be able to operate with far more effect at the North than I would if I remained in this region of country, which was an additional inducement for me to travel northward, rather than to essay the hazardous experiment of regaining the Confederate lines without having some definite object in view.

Kate Stone’s Civil War: To every young lady

Recent Confederate victories still warm Stone’s heart, and neighboring Louisiana refugees are optimistic they will be home soon. But Stone thinks otherwise even as she rides past a prison camp filled with thousands of Union prisoners.

KS57

From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Recent Confederate victories still warm Stone’s heart, and neighboring Louisiana refugees are optimistic they will be home soon. But Stone thinks otherwise even as she rides past a prison camp filled with thousands of Union prisoners.

May 7, 1864

Tyler, Texas

Uncle Johnny and family are living with us now. They are all in bad health, but Tyler will build them up. …

Jimmy and Eddie have just left. Both the Jimmies are in a high state of indignation and contempt at an order signed by Gen. [Edmund] Kirby Smith just received from Shreveport detailing them as overseers. So Mrs. Carson was successful and sent it on. The boys consider it a perfect outrage and say they will not submit to such a thing.

Jimmy and I went out to see Mrs. Levy and found them most sanguine as to the speedy close of the war. They think we will be traveling homeward by fall, but I think not before next spring. …

We have company nearly all the time now. It makes it seem something like the old home days, a crowded house. Mrs. Gen. Roane and Capts. Smith and Empy were out recently. She is very pleasant, though Julia has taken a prejudice against her. Julia has liked only one person she has met Capt. Empy. He is a great flatterer with a stock of ready-made compliments that he weighs out to every young lady as a grocer weighs out sugar. He is persuaded that he is irresistible. Capt. Smith has long hair and is a rollicking, jolly young fellow overflowing with fun.

Dr. McGregor says there is much sickness in town, and he is too busy for much calling. Jimmy Carson and I rode out beyond the Yankee camp yesterday. The blue-coated prisoners are swarming within the stockade, several thousand of them, and those captured in Arkansas are expected every day. I rode Gold Dust. He is so well-gaited. Joe begs me to keep him and to ride him to death if I wish, but to let no one else ride him.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Amazing microbes / The world capital of prison / Phil Collins and the Alamo / Pros and cons of cohabitation / Tides and quakes

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. Millennia-old Microbes Found Alive in Deep Ocean Muck
By David Biello | Scientific American | May 18
“The microbes are still being precisely identified but they are not like the other deep-sea extremophiles that scientists have found everywhere from hydrothermal vents to more than a kilometer beneath some parts of the ocean floor.”

2. Louisiana Incarcerated
The New Orleans Times-Picayune | May 13
“How we built the world’s prison capital”

3. Phil Collins remembers the Alamo
By Michael Schulman | Page-Turner :: The New Yorker | May 18
“How did an English rocker become an authority on one of America’s bloodiest battles?”

4. Hit on the head
By Sarah Hepola | Salon | May 18
“For five years, I was haunted by a violent crime and a broken relationship. Then came a twist I never expected”

5. Facebook’s Technology Timeline
By Rachel Metz | Technology Review | May 17
“A look back at the moments that have shaped Facebook’s success.”

6. Considering Cohabitation
Psychology Today | May 2012
“More and more couples are packing up their things, moving in and sharing digs. They say it’s because they want to try things out to avoid a bad marriage — or simply more economical than living apart. But is it a good idea?”

7. Monitoring tides could predict major quakes
By Michael Marshall | New Scientist | May 18
“The rise and fall of the tides could help us to predict major earthquakes like the magnitude 9 quake that triggered Japan’s tsunami last year.”

8. Solar Eclipse 2012: Where, When ‘Ring Of Fire’ Will Be Visible
By Joe Rao | Huff Post Science | May 17
“On Sunday afternoon, the path of an annular solar eclipse will cross parts of eight western states. SPACE.com estimates that an estimated 6.6 million Americans live within the path of annularity.”

9. 5 myths about Rick Perry
By Evan Smith | Five Myths :: The Washington Post | Aug. 18
Myth 1: “He’s a Bush clone”

10. Rereading: Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig
By Micholas Lezard | The Guardian | July 15
“Famous for his novellas, popular histories and biographies, Stefan Zweig wrote only one novel, a study of nostalgia and disillusionment.”

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TUNES

My soundtrack for today included:
1. RUN THROUGH THE JUNGLE Creedence Clearwater Revival
2. LOST ONES Lauryn Hill
3. LET IT BE The Beatles
4. I CAN SEE IT IN YOUR FACE Pretty Lights
5. HEARTBREAK HOTEL U2
6. SWIM Madonna
7. GASOLINE ALLEY (Unplugged) Rod Stewart
8. FREEDOM 90 George Michael
9. OH ME (Unplugged) Nirvana
10. BEHIND BLUE EYES The Who

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