Debra Diaz, Author of Historical, Suspense and Inspirational Books




Article: Never Judge a Spy By His Cover (Debra Diaz)

Article: What You Probably Didn't Know About Confederate Soldiers During the Civil War (Debra Diaz)

More on the Battle of Fredericksburg: History-Battle of Fredericksburg

Foreword to Shadow of Dawn by Michael Warren, Ph.D.



Fact Sheet: Yellow Fever, the Epidemic of 1878, and Further Reading

More on the Battle of Shiloh: Shiloh National Military Park



Shroud of Turin: Website discussing a linen cloth bearing the image of a crucified man

Who Is This Man? Article on the Book of John (Ray Stedman)

Blue Letter Bible: online Bible plus commentaries and more



More on the Battle of Vicksburg: Vicksburg National Military Park



The most dangerous spy   

    Occasionally, looks can be deceiving. For Frank Stringfellow, a blue-eyed, blond-haired, beardless, 94-pound teacher of Latin and Greek in a Mississippi schoolhouse, the old saying holds true. He is neither as famous as Belle Boyd nor as controversial as Rose Greenhow. Yet, at least one historian (Bakeless) rates him the most dangerous spy in the Confederate army.

    Since spying has been described as "the most dangerous and thankless form of Civil War military service," (Foster) this is hardly an appellation assigned to a weakling. Though nineteenth-century espionage no doubt had its moments of tedium, it was nevertheless full of hair-raising escapades, narrow escapes, and the knowledge that immediate execution awaited the spy luckless enough to be caught. Stringfellow himself admitted that he always expected his current mission to be his last.

    Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow was rejected for service four times (probably because of his frail appearance) before he managed to join the 4th Virginia Cavalry. He began "secret service" operations almost at once, becoming one of J.E.B. Stuart’s prime agents.

Going undercover

    As described in Bakeless’s book, one of Stringellow’s early assignments had him posing as a dental assistant, actually living in the home of the dentist. A cover story was devised in the most minute detail, including an assumed identity, and fake baptismal and medical certificates. The agent memorized all there was to know about the man he was impersonating—a real dental assistant who was with the army and hundreds of miles away. His job was to read all the daily newspapers (which were full of military intelligence; the press considered it a sacred duty to keep the public informed, in spite of outcries by the generals.) After reading the papers, he wrote out a report and left it in a certain place outside the dentist’s office. Each night another agent picked it up and, presumably, delivered it to the Confederate government in Richmond.

    One day a man with his face wrapped in a towel disappeared into the dentist’s office with Stringfellow and horrified those in the waiting room with howls of excruciating pain. He left still holding the towel to his face. The man was a fellow agent with so urgent a message it couldn’t wait to go through the usual nocturnal channels of communication. One of the people in the waiting room was a federal officer who apparently never guessed he had just witnessed a classic scene of espionage.

    Trouble arose when the dentist’s wife began to show more than friendly interest in Stringfellow, who personally had the highest of moral codes. The dentist, already aware of his assistant’s true identity, noticed his wife’s seeming infatuation and promptly reported the agent to Union authorities. Perhaps for the first time—but certainly not his last—Stringfellow fled for his life.

    Not every episode in Stringfellow’s career as a spy is as well documented as this one, but those that are sometimes seem to defy belief. Kane states in the introduction of his book on the subject: "A plotmaker concerned with credibility would hesitate to let his characters do some of the things these spies did in real life."

    Other noteworthy exploits of Frank Stringfellow are recorded in the book by John Bakeless:

      • Held up a sutler’s wagon at gunpoint and robbed him of his pass in order to penetrate enemy lines
      • Was recognized in Washington and, again fearing for his life, hid beneath an old lady’s hoop skirt while federal agents searched the house
      • Bluffed his way through a Union outpost and later led a cavalry raid against it
      • Disguised himself as a woman on more than one occasion, and even danced with blissfully ignorant federal officers, who were often "starved for feminine companionship" (Foster)
      • Refused to drink a toast to Abraham Lincoln and proposed one instead to Jefferson Davis, in the presence of several Union agents (then beat a hasty retreat)
      • Endured capture and prisoner exchange several times; whenever necessary he ingested any "incriminating documents" (This was evidence that could have hanged him; whenever he was arrested authorities never seemed to guess the full extent of Stringfellow’s activities.)
      • Hid on top of a beam in an attic, aided by his slight frame
      • Continued spying until the very end of the war, since "the Confederate secret communications system was still working smoothly, while everything else was falling apart."

Tough but tenderhearted

   As mentioned earlier, Frank Stringfellow was a man of sensitivity and high moral character. He hated being forced to harm other men, and whenever possible he simply bashed them on the head whenever the need arose, rather than cause a more lasting or even terminal injury. However, he did have to shoot his way out of many situations, and no doubt killed his share of Union soldiers. After the war, he married his patient and understanding fiancée and became a preacher.

    Writer Harnett T. Kane has called Belle Boyd "the most appealing spy of the war." In the case of Frank Stringfellow, considering the wealth and reliability of the information he gathered for the Confederacy, it’s easy to see why he has been called the most dangerous—even if he did look fine in a hoop skirt.



Bakeless, John. Spies of the Confederacy. Philadelphia and New York: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1970.

Foster, G. Allen. The Eyes and Ears of the Civil War. New York: Criterion Books, 1963.

Kane, Harnett T. Spies for the Blue and Gray. New York: Hanover House, 1954.

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The rest of the story  


   Anyone who’s ever visited a campground (one of the “primitive” ones, without modern conveniences of any shape or form) can readily imagine what life must have been like for a soldier in the 1860's. Between battles, and especially during the long interval between winter and spring, the men had a lot of time on their hands. Even if an industrious commander kept them busy drilling, digging trenches or performing various chores, long hours of unremitting boredom yawned before them.


     For the first months of the war, this free time was reportedly spent on such “wicked pursuits” as gambling, playing cards, consuming liquor in astonishing quantities and, and in some cases, visiting houses of ill repute. Most people interested in the Civil War have read books or seen documentaries describing the mayhem that went on in many of the camps.


    But there is something that hasn’t been widely reported, and without it the true story of the Civil War has not been told. As stated in Bennett's excellent narrative: “… there is one aspect of the war, on the Southern side, which has been almost wholly overlooked by statesmen and politicians…its religious aspect.”


What the South believed  


    Perhaps it should be established, first of all, how the South perceived itself during the period of the Civil War. While the North saw the Southern states as rebellious, traitorous and guilty of gross immorality (because of slavery), prominent church leaders of the South, of many differing denominations, came together to sign a proclamation they called an “Address to Christians Throughout the World”. Among the points made in this document are that the war was forced upon the South, that the Southern states withdrew from the Union purely in an effort to secure peace, and that the North had then sent troops to force them into submission.


The address goes on to cite Biblical references to servant-master relationships. Slaves, the writers claim, were loved and cared for in sickness and old age, and above all: “The South has done more than any people on earth for the Christianization of the African race.” In fact, the Confederates were the first to have a black chaplain ministering to white troops. (Pitts)


    Although this may seem overly simplistic to modern readers (and though it fails to take into account the reality of abusive slave-owners), journals written during the period reflect the same sentiments. The words of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, reveal the national feeling of Southerners in one of his early speeches: “We feel that our cause is just and holy; we…desire peace at any sacrifice, save that of honor and independence…all we ask is to be let alone.” The ferocity and stamina exhibited by Confederate soldiers is more readily explained by the assertion that Southerners felt they were defending their homes and homeland, not merely seeking to preserve slavery. Likewise, the now controversial Confederate flag became a symbol of their “holy cause” and the principles it represented were to be defended “to the last of your breath...” (Bennett)

Wanted: Chaplains and Bibles

     The need for religious counseling and encouragement were realized in the first year of the war, and local ministers and laymen rushed to fill the void. At first the chaplains were not welcomed by most officers and were referred to as “the scourge of the army.” Some believed the soldiers would become so terrified at the prospect of an eternal afterlife in hell that they would refuse to go into battle. The reverse proved to be true. Countless records attest to the fact that soldiers who had accepted Christ as their Savior faced imminent death with an unsurpassed calmness and courage.


    Those ministers who joined the army for adventure and romance didn’t last long; one chaplain took off from the scene of battle with coattails flying, resembling nothing so much as a huge black buzzard in flight. Those who came with a heartfelt desire to share the gospel and minister to the soldiers came to be deeply loved and appreciated—even by the officers.


    An appeal went out for Bibles, but the Northern blockade and the lack of printing presses in the South restricted the availability of Bibles and religious literature. People on the home front sent their own Bibles, for most homes had more than one; even heirloom and family Bibles found their way into the army camps. Religious tracts were dispersed by the thousands. Because of the zeal and courage of these missionaries (of whom there were many women as well as men), revivals began breaking out in hundreds of the camps. The result was a need for even more Bibles. An urgent letter was written to the British and Foreign Bible Society, who sent three times the number requested, free of interest.


    What did the men do with these Bibles? One army chaplain said he saw “many soldiers reading their Testaments with the deepest attention while lying in the trenches awaiting orders.” (Bennett)

An army-wide revival

    Conversions became rampant. The singing of hymns replaced profanity, attending worship services replaced the visits to town saloons and brothels, and reading the Scriptures became the favored activity over card-playing and gambling. Soldiers who had marched all day would walk another mile or more to attend a church. In the hospitals, wounded and sick men who could barely stand staggered to chapel and knelt for prayer. Half-starved soldiers in the midst of siege laid down their food (their one and only scant meal of the day) to attend a prayer gathering before eating. Men paused on the battlefield to pray with bullets raining about them, refusing to disperse until the last “amen” had been said.

    The revival that began in 1861 continued throughout the war, increasing in power until the winter and spring of ’64 and ’65. In January of 1865 it was estimated that 150,000 soldiers had been converted or rededicated their lives to God.

    The darker the cloud of defeat over the Confederacy, the stronger became the efforts of the chaplains and missionaries. But the dying words of Christian soldiers had perhaps the most telling effect upon unbelievers. Time and again, men with horrible and painful wounds died with a hymn or a prayer or a shout of praise on their lips. One witness to such a scene was moved to say, “I never want to die happier than that man did.” A minister wrote, in an article to the Southern Christian Advocate: “Our…boys…know how to fight, and many of them know how to die.”

    Besides President Davis, several of the great commanders of the Confederacy were staunchly religious. Chief among these were Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. An eyewitness to one of Jackson’s battles saw him fall to his knees in prayer, “in the hottest of the fight.” Lee’s faith was well-known to his men, and his dispatches often give credit to God for victory in battle. When Lee was informed of Jackson’s fatal wound, he told one of the chaplains, “…I wrestled in prayer for him last night as I never prayed, I believe, for myself.” (Bennett)

    A huge revival erupted following the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia. It was reported that during the terrible siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, such a cry went out for the preaching of the gospel that chaplains pleaded for help; "the harvest was great but the laborers were few."

Onward Christian soldiers!

    Did such religious fervor weaken the army and reduce its fighting power? History attests to the determination and skill of the soldiers of the Confederacy, in spite of vast deprivations of food, clothing and arms. Of this army, Robert E. Lee wrote: “…I could but reflect…and wonder…that this vast machine, this mighty giant, this unmeasured and immeasurable power, should be so terrible in battle and yet so calm and gentle and devout in the hour of peace.” One writer has claimed that the only resources Confederate soldiers had to fall back on in the last, desperate years of the war were spiritual ones. Sick and starving, “nothing so held the men in gray together like their faith in God and their belief in the righteousness of their cause.” (Bennett)


    These events may have gone largely unreported; perhaps they didn’t make headlines or prove as interesting to read as descriptions of battles and the exploits of famous generals. However, the importance of this great army revival shouldn’t be underestimated, for it shaped the moral reconstruction of the South and helped it rise from the ashes of defeat. Converts became leaders in Southern churches. The suffering endured only served to inspire thousands of men, women and children to turn to the Bible for an answer to their suffering.

    And (according to Bennett) it enabled those who persevered to remember, not only the horrors of war, but to recall “the time and the place when peace was planted in the soul—on the field of blood.” 


 Ahlstrom, Sydney E. A Religious History of the American People. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973.

 Bennett, William W., D.D. A Narrative of the Great Revival Which Prevailed in the Southern Armies. Harrisonburg VA:  Reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, 1989.


 Pitts, Charles F. Chaplains in Gray. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1957.


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The southern mystique is a combination of character, culture, place,

and heritage. In Shadow of Dawn, Debra Diaz captures the uniqueness

of the South and her people in a special way.


Storytelling is an integral part of southern culture, and this spellbinding

story with a couple of O. Henry-like whirligig plot developments

will knock your socks off (figuratively speaking, of course).

Diaz avoids both an undue glorifying of an imaginary (but unrealized)

ideal, and an unseemly stereotypical condescension.


The book is set in Richmond, Virginia, during the dark period between

1861 and 1865, a period that we “Southrons” still refer to as the

War for Southern Independence. However, the focus of the book is not

military strategy or battle chronologies. Diaz opts rather to tell the story

of an ordinary young woman whose life is impacted on several levels

by the momentous clash of political ideologies and military operations.

The book’s young heroine is forced by circumstances beyond her control

to interact with the cloak and dagger elements of espionage and

counterespionage, which are ever-present realities during times of

armed conflict.


Shadow of Dawn reminds the reader that war tends to magnify the

dominant characteristics of individual lives. The virtue of the noble

looms larger than life, and the vices of the ignoble abound until licentiousness consumes constraint. The book’s hero and heroine ideally

exemplify those noble Southerners who committed themselves to the

struggle for independence with resolve to the bitter end. Other characters typify those Southerners who were so self-absorbed they either made no contribution to the war effort, or became subversive and mercenary in hopes of personal profit.


Diaz also rightly reminds the reader that when southern men

marched off to war, southern women did their part, too. They kept the

home fires burning. They nursed the wounded. And on occasion they

actively engaged in espionage. During trying times, they struggled and

succeeded in attaining the best degree of normalcy they could. And

when the story of the war would be told, the recounting is complete

only when the saga of their efforts and exploits holds the prominent

place it deserves.


The story told herein is so believable the reader can easily imagine

Diaz’s heroine years after the book ends with a gaggle of giggling, big-

eyed grandchildren sitting around her feet. Their little faces would be

upturned and intent as they listen to their grandmother spin yarns of

days long gone and the things she and their grandfather did during the

war. More than being entertained, they would thus absorb the essence

of what being southern really is.


The reader who seeks an honest, entertaining, grippingly suspenseful,

historical novel that exalts southern ladies, life, and literature need

look no further than the pages of Shadow of Dawn.


Michael Warren, Ph.D.


Editor, The Rebel Yell Newsletter; Civil War battle re-enactor with the

Fifth Mississippi Dismounted Cavalry, CSA; Second Brigade Executive

Councilman, Mississippi Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans;

Confederate re-enactor in three films: Sabers of Courage, July, and

Reckoning Day. (2003)

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Has been called “one of the most lethal diseases of humankind”. (Monath)


Originated in Africa. Worldwide, there are an estimated 200,000 cases a year, with 30,000 resulting in death. Most cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America.


The number of cases is increasing due to declining immunity and other factors.


There is no cure or treatment, other than alleviating symptoms by administering fluids intravenously, kidney dialysis.


Caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes.


Symptoms include high fever; severe headache, muscular and abdominal pain; vomiting; red eyes; jaundice.


Causes liver and kidney failure, external and internal bleeding, brain dysfunction, coma, shock, death.


Infectious but not contagious from person to person.


Carlos Finlay, a Cuban physician, was the first to suggest that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes. In 1891, Walter Reed and his team proved this by conducting experiments on volunteers.


The first vaccines were developed in the 1930’s.


Prevention consists of vaccination and mosquito control.


Sources: World Health Organization, How Stuff Works, Journal of the American Medical Association; ResearchGate (Thomas R. Monath)., Wikipedia.


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The Memphis Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878


The epidemic began in New Orleans, when ships carrying infected mosquitoes stopped there to trade. Resident mosquitoes then bit infected people and passed on the virus to everyone they bit.


Many other cities and towns were struck by yellow fever, but with nowhere near the devastating results that Memphis suffered in that year. This was a particularly virulent strain which progressed faster and caused a greater percentage of deaths.


Since no one knew at the time what caused yellow fever, there were many futile attempts at prevention. Mail leaving Memphis was “fumigated” with sulphuric fumes by postal workers.


After the mass exodus of 25,000 panic-stricken residents of Memphis in August, 1878, roughly 20,000 people were left in the city. Of these, 14,000 were black and 6,000 white. Deaths: a little over 600 blacks and more than 4,000 whites. (It is suggested that since yellow fever originated in Africa that blacks have a natural resistance [not immunity] to the disease.)


Interesting comments from J.M. Keating, from his book about the epidemic (see title below):


“There were hours, especially at night, when the solemn oppressions of universal death bore upon the human mind as if the day of judgment were about to dawn.”


“Peculiarly a disease of the nervous system, it was fatal to those whose energies had been exhausted by debauchery. But neither cleanliness or right living were a shield to stay the hand of this destroyer. He invaded the homes of the most chaste and the den of the vilest. He took innocence and infamy at the same moment and spread terror everywhere…”


Article in the London Standard (quoted in Keating’s book):


“The South has borne herself bravely and nobly during the yellow fever scourge. No people could have behaved better…The journalists of the South…have reflected credit on themselves and the profession by the resolve and fearless manner in which they have discharged to the fullest their highest duty.”


Comment by Reverend Doctor Landrum, Central Baptist Church:

“A remarkable feature of this pestilence is its malignity, the mortality at one time being one death in every two cases. Of my flock who have remained in the city more than half have died…”


(See page 439 of Mr. Keating’s book for the full sermon by Doctor Landrum given October 26, 1878, just after the epidemic.)


"Extreme dread, panic and terror were, in my judgment, the cause of death in many instances." Dr. H. A. Gant, "The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878".

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(these are available as Google Books and may be downloaded)


The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 in Memphis, Tennessee, By J. M. Keating. Copyrighted by the Howard Association, 1879.


Condensed History of the Great Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878, By Peter Murtough. Printed by S.C. Toof and Co., Memphis, 1879.


Heroes and Heroines of Memphis, By D.A. Quinn. Printed by E.L. Freeman and Son, Providence, 1887.


The Sisters of St. Mary at Memphis, Project Canterbury.


Journal of Kezia P. DePelchin, a Howard nurse during the epidemic


The Commercial Appeal published an excellent and detailed article about Memphis and the epidemic during its 100th anniversary on October 31, 1978. It is available in the archives of the Memphis Public Libary on Poplar. (Author: Mimi White)



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© Debra Diaz, 2012. All rights reserved.