Authors of western historical fiction spend a great deal of time on research. The ton of research mainly lies beneath the surface, much as an iceberg. Readers see the tip, but perhaps enough to bring a sense of time and place. While researching for Melly, Unyielding, part of the Lockets and Lace book series from Sweetheart Americana blog, I came across an interesting historical event that occurred at Elba, Alabama in Coffee County, the place I now live.
During the height of the Civil War, outlaw raiders and local citizens of Elba clashed. The leader of the raiders was Jim Ward, a deserter from the Confederate army. Ward had established a base on Boynton Island near Ebro, Florida. He and his gangs made excursions into south Alabama, terrorizing the citizens whose able-bodied men were fighting in the Civil War.
The raiders attacked farms, homes, communities, and towns, particularly the town of Elba located on Pea River.
|Bridge today over Pea River|
In the spring of 1864, Ward’s Raiders burned the courthouse at Elba. Most of the courthouse records were rescued. It’s speculated that the deserters were attempting to destroy the conscription or draft records.
|Elba's Courthouse today, on the square|
And then several men and boys grabbed their guns and pursued Ward’s Raiders. The group from Elba confronted the Raiders at Fairview, fourteen miles south of their town. Ward’s men attempted to elude their pursuers by retreating into a thick, swampy area. However, the Elba group plunged in after them. They fought along the head of a small stream, today known as Battle Branch.
The men and boys of Elba managed to kill one of the men and captured two. But most of the Raiders that day escaped into Covington County and then slipped back into Florida.
Tragically, three of the Elba men were killed and two wounded.
One of the captured Raiders was hanged by the Pea River Bridge, and the other killed while trying to escape. Ward’s Raiders never targeted Elba again.
On September 4, 2010, the United Daughters of the Confederacy placed a marker at the site. The Battle of Fairview reminds us that the home front was not a haven of safety for its inhabitants.
In Melly, Unyielding, William Thatcher Rainer’s wife was killed by one such raider while Thatcher fought in the Civil War. Several years later, after the war, Thatcher tracks him across the country. A series of events brings him to Carmella Harperson, another of the raider’s victims. Her plight drives Thatcher to attempt to bring the man to justice.
I hope you’ll grab a copy of Melly, Unyielding, partially based on the true event of the Battle of Fairview.
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