With This Pledge

By: Tamera Alexander

Dear Reader,

The journey you’re about to embark upon is drawn heavily from the pages of history and from the lives of people who lived through the events portrayed in this novel. I am deeply honored to have been given the privilege to write about both. But along with that honor comes a weighty responsibility to accurately convey the events that took place. This is the story of what happened on the evening of November 30, 1864, at Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee, following the tragic five-hour Battle of Franklin, in which nearly ten thousand soldiers were either killed, wounded, or captured, and how the people who lived at Carnton dealt with the aftermath.

To that end, I’ve written this novel with a careful consideration of history—including oftentimes disturbing descriptions of combat—coupled with a deep desire to weave a compelling story of hope. Because hope is what I experienced time and again as I pored over the history of these events. I read literally thousands of pages of historical and personal accounts through which we can witness, with awe-filled admiration, the courage and strength that characterized these men and women.

My thanks go to the staff at Carnton for allowing me access to their extensive historical resources, with special appreciation to Joanna Stephens and Elizabeth Trescott for answering countless questions with never-failing patience. I also extend my gratitude to David Doty, the great-great-great-great-grandson of Captain Roland Ward Jones, the last wounded Confederate soldier to leave Carnton following his convalescence—and one of the main characters in this novel—for sharing his family’s personal history, including the love letters between Roland and Lizzie. This novel is all the richer for our phone conversations and email exchanges, David, and for the many pictures you’ve shared. Thank you.

Finally, to you, dear reader, thank you for entrusting your time to me. It’s a gift I treasure and never take for granted. Perhaps we’ll cross paths at Carnton one day soon. I hope so. And as you walk the hallowed grounds of the battlefield, as you tour the rooms and hallways of Carnton and view floorboards that still—over a century and a half later—bear the bloodstains from that fateful November night, I trust you’ll gain, as I have, a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices made by the men and women who were there—most of whom will remain unknown to us.

But some we do know. And this is their story.

With fresh eternal perspective,


NOVEMBER 30, 1864




“And this, children, is a drawing of the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Which is a very long way from Franklin, Tennessee.” Lizzie read fascination in young Hattie’s eyes, and in those of Sallie, the cousin visiting from Nashville. Yet seven-year-old Winder only stared glumly out the window.

Lizzie lowered her voice. “This pyramid here is where a mighty Egyptian pharaoh, or king, and his queen are buried. And it’s full of secret rooms.”

Winder’s head whipped back around. “Secret rooms?”

She nodded. “Archaeologists recently discovered some new rooms in the upper portion of the pyramid. They’d been hidden for centuries. See this drawing . . .”

As she continued teaching, she glanced at the clock on the side table, expecting Tempy to bring the children’s midmorning refreshment anytime now. A summerlike breeze fluttered the curtains on the open jib window leading to a second-story balcony, and the sunshine and warmth beckoned them outside. Perhaps she would take advantage of the beautiful weather and conduct the afternoon classes under the Osage orange tree out front. After so many weeks of rain and cold, the mild weather was a welcome change. Especially for the end of November.

A few moments later she heard Tempy’s footsteps on the staircase. “Thank you for listening so intently, children. And for your excellent questions, girls. And now it’s refreshment time!”

Tempy knocked twice on the door, then entered. “Mornin’, little ones!”

Winder hopped down from his chair. “What are we havin’ today, Tempy?”

Lizzie cleared her throat and gave him a pointed look.

“I mean . . . Thank you, Tempy, for whatever it is you made,” he corrected, still trying to peer up and over the side of the tray.

Tossing him a wink, Tempy set the tray on the table. “I made y’all some cinnamon rolls this mornin’, Master Winder. You go on now and help yourself. And get a glass of that milk too.” She included the girls in her nod, and the children took their snacks and hurried outside to the balcony overlooking the front yard. “Miss Clouston, I brought you one too, ma’am.”

Lizzie accepted the roll and took a bite, then sighed and briefly closed her eyes. The bread, still warm from the oven, all but melted in her mouth, the buttery icing slathered on top a concoction of sugary goodness. “Oh, Tempy, these are even better than usual. Thank you.”

“My pleasure, ma’am.” Tempy eyed the globe on the table and shook her head. “Look at all them places. Hard to believe all that’s out there somewhere.”

Lizzie heard something akin to yearning in the woman’s tone. She’d noticed Tempy gazing at the globe before, but without comment. Mindful of any icing on her fingers, Lizzie turned the globe to show North America, then pointed to Tennessee. “That’s where we are right now. And this”—she turned the globe again and pointed to the northeast corner of Africa—“is where these pyramids are located.” Lizzie held up the image and gave a condensed version of what she’d taught the children. “It’s in a place called Egypt.”

Tempy eyed her. “You tellin’ me a fancy king’s buried in that thing?”

Lizzie nodded. “Along with his queen.”

“Mmmph . . . It don’t look so far away on this ball, but I’m guessin’ it’d take us a while to get there.”

“Yes, quite a while. And we’d have to traverse an ocean in the process.” Lizzie drew an invisible line from Tennessee across the Atlantic Ocean to the general region of Giza.

Tempy shook her head. “So much world the good Lord made. Wonder how he ever thought it all up.”

Lizzie moved her finger a little to the right, knowing Tempy would appreciate this. “Do you see this tiny portion of land here?”

Tempy squinted. “Yes, ma’am. But only just.”

“That’s Palestine. The part of the world where the Lord was born and where he dwelt during his life here on earth.”

“Pal-es-tine,” Tempy repeated slowly and said it twice more as though wanting to feel the word on her lips. “I was told he was from a place called Bethlehem.”

Lizzie nodded. “You’re right, he was. Bethlehem is located in this area.”

For the longest time Tempy studied the spot on the globe, then traced an arthritic forefinger over it, her expression holding wonderment. And not for the first time, Lizzie felt a firm tug on her conscience.

By Tempy’s own admission, the older woman had been at Carnton for nigh onto forever, serving as the McGavocks’ cook. Lizzie had often wanted to ask Tempy about her life here. About this war. And about being the only slave left behind when Colonel McGavock sent the other forty-three south three years ago, far from the reach of the Federal Army that would have freed them.

She felt certain that Tempy would have leapt at the chance to learn her letters, but teaching a slave to read and write was against the law. Here in the South, at least. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Lincoln nearly two years ago, hadn’t made much difference in that regard. So Lizzie had never offered. And in the eight years she had lived and worked here at Carnton, she’d never confided in Tempy her opinions on slavery. She’d never had the courage. After all, slavery wasn’t a topic a “properly bred” woman deigned to broach. And certainly not with a slave.

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