Today, I’m delighted to be sharing an excerpt from Glen Craney’s new book The Cotillion Brigade as part of a blog tour hosted by The Coffee Pot Book Club. The Cotillion Brigade is a novel of the American Civil War and the most famous female militia in American history.
Nancy gathered the crinoline folds of her hooped white gown and slipped unnoticed through the rear door to the bedroom’s third-story veranda. She kicked off her slippers and climbed the narrow stairs that led to the banistered promenade crowning the Bellevue mansion, a white Greek Revival temple overlooking the plantations of LaGrange. As she hid behind the corner, she watched the guests arriving through the iron-cast gates on Broad Street. Her gasp of delight nearly gave her away.
Under the cloudless night sky, flickering oil lamps lit the way for the caravan of carriages rolling in on the tree-lined lane from town and the neighboring plantations. Every movement from miles around appeared choreographed as if in a dream; the conveyances pulled up to the entrance, and the doorman bowed and placed a footstool to assist the ladies. She squinted to catch her first glimpse of the latest fashions from New Orleans and Atlanta. The necklines were lower this year. She reached for the underwire girding her petticoats and pulled the apparatus down an inch to show more décolletage. On the portico, the young men gathered in their cravats and tails and vied to escort the ladies into the grand hall, now cleared of furniture to serve as the ballroom.
And they were all coming to see her.
Well, almost all. Her ecstatic smile gave way to a grumpy frown. Why did Sallie Fannie Reid have to be announced to society on the same night? It wasn’t fair. The petite blonde tart didn’t even live in LaGrange. Yet because she was the daughter of the wealthiest plantation owner in West Point—the next town down the rail line—that nouveau pedigree gave her the right to make her debut in the most elegant mansion in Troup County. Heavens, Sallie’s backwater burgh couldn’t even decide in which state it resided; half the town sat on the Alabama side, the other half in Georgia. Worse, Sallie had graduated a year early from the Female College, allowing her to flaunt her degree while Nancy still waited to earn hers.
Wasn’t it enough that every man in the county could talk of nothing else but Sallie’s beauty and grace and selflessness? Sallie Fannie Reid is holding a charity bazaar for the church. Sallie Fannie Reid sat in the pew next to me. Sallie Fannie Reid intends to travel to Europe. Sallie Fannie Reid smiled at me. Sallie Fannie Reid accepted my—
“Nannie!” Mary Heard glared at her from the bottom of the promenade steps. “What are you doing out there?”
“I need air. I can barely breathe in this corset.”
“The announcements will start soon! We haven’t gotten your hair braided. Sallie Fannie Reid—”
“I have heard my fill of Sallie Fannie Reid!”
Mary straightened from the force of that complaint.
Nancy glanced across the roof at the far window. “She’s over there plotting how she will trip me—”
Mary corralled Nancy by the arm and hurried her back into the bedroom assigned for their preparations. While the mulatto house servant, Marie, knelt on the floor adjusting the hem, Mary raised the border of Nancy’s neckline to a proper height and fluffed out the folds in her gown. “This is the night you become a woman. You might wish to act it.”
Nancy refused to stand still. “Just because you’re married doesn’t make you the queen of society.”
Mary applied the finishing touches on Nancy’s hair, teasing the soft loops and ringlets on each side to give her long face as much an illusion of roundness as possible. She glanced at the door, as if expecting a summons at any moment, and told the domestic, “Marie, you are dismissed.”
“Yessum.” Marie gathered her sewing basket and hurried out.
Alone with Nancy, Mary lowered her voice. “There are things I need to say to you.” When Nancy escaped to the mirror and adjusted the brooch to sink lower into the valley of her breasts, Mary pulled a worn booklet from under the frills of her sleeve. She smoothed out the bent corners of its cover and opened it to a marked page. “My mother read this to me on the night of my debut.”
“Didn’t we cover that era in Ancient History class?” Nancy was about to drive her gibe to the hilt when she saw tears well up in Mary’s eyes. She softened and nodded, affecting an eagerness to hear what was so important to her best friend, who was always so serious.
Mary cleared the emotion from her throat. “These are the maxims young ladies must memorize before attending their first ball.”
Nancy saw the name of the booklet’s author, Professor Wirth. “Written by a man?”
“Please, for once, pay attention.”
Nancy cracked the door and stole a glance across the hall at the bedroom where Sallie Fannie Reid was dressing. “Are you going to read it to her, too?”
Mary ignored the taunt and pressed on, reciting: “‘Dancing is the only rational amusement wherein the man of business can forget the manifold cares of an active business life. The social pastime, when joined with delightful music, is a panacea for the innumerable ills resulting from the continuous strain on the heated and overtaxed brain.’”
Nancy rolled her eyes. “There are plenty of overtaxed brains in this town.”
“You’d best harness that sharp tongue. Or you will find yourself ostracized by every gentleman present tonight.”
“Go on, then. Let’s get this done.”
Sherman’s Yankees are closing in.
Will the women of LaGrange run or fight?
Based on the true story of the celebrated Nancy Hart Rifles, The Cotillion Brigade is an epic novel of the Civil War’s ravages on family and love, the resilient bonds of sisterhood in devastation, and the miracle of reconciliation between bitter enemies.
“Gone With The Wind meets A League Of Their Own.” — John Jeter, The Plunder Room
1856. Sixteen-year-old Nannie Colquitt Hill makes her debut in the antebellum society of the Chattahoochee River plantations. A thousand miles north, a Wisconsin farm boy, Hugh LaGrange, joins an Abolitionist crusade to ban slavery in Bleeding Kansas.
Five years later, secession and war against the homefront hurl them toward a confrontation unrivaled in American history.
A graduate of Indiana University School of Law and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Glen Craney practiced trial law before joining the Washington, D.C. press corps to write about national politics and the Iran-contra trial for Congressional Quarterly magazine. In 1996, the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences awarded him the Nicholl Fellowship prize for best new screenwriting. His debut historical novel, The Fire and the Light, was named Best New Fiction by the National Indie Excellence Awards. He is a three-time Finalist/Honorable Mention winner of Foreword Magazine’s Book-of-the-Year and a Chaucer Award winner for Historical Fiction. His books have taken readers to Occitania during the Albigensian Crusade, the Scotland of Robert Bruce, Portugal during the Age of Discovery, the trenches of France during World War I, the battlefields of the Civil War, and the American Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. He lives in Malibu, California.
Book Title: The Cotillion Brigade (A Novel of the Civil War and the Most Famous Female Militia in American History)
Author: Glen Craney
Publication Date: 15th March 2021
Publisher: Brigid’s Fire Press
Page Length: 399 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction