Most of you probably know that the main character in the historical fiction novels SHADES OF GRAY/NOBLE CAUSE was based on the real-life Confederate cavalry officer John S. Mosby and his exploits in “Mosby’s Confederacy.” When I was writing the books I would travel down to Virginia at least once a week to drive down dirt roads and traipse through fields, just so I could walk in the footsteps of that legendary warrior.
Thanks to the Mosby Heritage Area Association, I had the opportunity to visit Mosby’s Confederacy again to tour the home of Civil War diarist Virginia “Tee” Edmonds, whose brothers rode with Mosby. Tee lived in Paris, Fauquier, County, Virginia, in an area strategically important to both the Union and Confederate armies. A new edition of her diary has just been released with annotated information — and of course I bought a copy and had it signed by the editor, Lee Lawrence.
The book is called “Society of Rebels” and I highly recommend it for a look at what ordinary people went through during the war. (If you call having Mosby’s Rangers in your house, “normal”). In any case, being in the house where Mosby’s men often congregated was the thrill of a lifetime for this historical fiction author. Tee talks about using the large front hall and the parlor for dances, and I can imagine her sitting in what is still the library to write in her diary. I could also just imagine the Rangers who lived their thundering down the stairs and running to the trap door located in the old dining room, at the sound of hoof beats echoing from the lane.
The picture at right is the current dining room, but it was the bedroom of Tee’s parents during the War Between the States. Every room has a fireplace and the floors and woodwork are beautiful. The original house, built prior to 1812, was eventually used as the kitchen because it is detached from the main building, so was safer in case of fire. I have a signed copy of Tee’s diary (before the annotated edition), signed by her granddaughter. It was nice to know a little bit about what happened in each room before my visit.
Because members of Mosby’s Rangers stayed in the house in between their cavalry excursions, it was necessary to have a quick way to escape if someone noticed Yankees riding in from the Turnpike. Many of the houses in Mosby’s Confederacy still have these “hidey holes.” In this picture, you can see the small door at Belle Grove that was usually concealed by a stack of firewood. Unfortunately, the Yankees did eventually notice it and two Rangers were caught trying to escape. There is a trapdoor in the house that leads down to a cellar, and the small door you can see in the photo, led to the outside of the house.
The view from Belle Grove’s front porch is toward the Winchester-Warrenton Turnpike (currently Rt. 17) where you can just imagine troops coming and going. The scenery from the back is just as gorgeous, especially in April when everything is beginning to burst into bloom.
Of course, another interesting part of the property is the family cemetery, which lies a short distance from the main house. Tee is buried there, along with her husband, parents, and two of her brothers, who rode with Mosby’s Rangers. I can’t begin to recall how many cemeteries I have walked through since I first began to write historical fiction. I love reading the names, and imagining the lives that were lived in those tumultuous times.