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“Rarely does a book of Civil War fiction not only meet expectations, but exceed them. Marching Through Culpeper by Virginia Beard Morton is an unexpected treasure. This talented first-time author not only captures the military, economic, political, and social history of the times, but more importantly, she takes the reader deep into the hearts and souls of the people who experienced the conflict.

Culpeper, Virginia is not the typical setting for a Civil War novel. More recognizable locations like Gettysburg, Antietam, and Manassas are the usual backdrops, but these sites did not sit center stage for the entire duration of the war. Alternately occupied by both armies, site of several major battles, and home to some of the war’s prominent personalities, the strategic county of Culpeper experienced the Civil War first-hand—from start to finish.

Through the fictional Armstrong family, Morton introduces such notable personalities as “The Gallant Pelham,” A.P. Hill, Jeb Stuart, Frank Stringfellow, and George Armstrong Custer. She humanizes these icons true-to-fact, and then does what only a skilled writer of historical fiction can do—she weaves together historical personalities and fictional characters. Morton transports her readers back in time and makes them part of the action by allowing them to peek inside the characters, to reason with them, and to experience their emotions.

We live the harsh realities of war with the heroine—strong, responsible, compassionate Constance Armstrong. Through a series of discussions between Constance and a wounded Union soldier, Morton skillfully presents arguments for both causes and allows the reader to walk away with a clear understanding of why each side fought so hard for so long.

Complete with photographs, maps, footnotes, endnotes and a bibliography, Marching Through Culpeper raises the standards of this oft misunderstood genre. So, Margaret Mitchell, John Jakes, and Michael Shaara, move over and make room for Virginia Morton. Her characters will be indelibly etched in the reader’s mind forever. Morton’s engrossing epic is a deeply touching tale of love, loyalty, valor, tragedy and hope. From the first page, the reader is hooked. This reviewer admits reading this engrossing epic until 4 a.m. Morton’s gift for weaving fact and fiction has given us a haunting masterpiece that depicts the true South better than Gone with the Wind. This fast-paced winner provides rich material for a dynamic movie.”

– Reviewed by Civil War Interactive, www.cwipremium.com

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“…There seems to be a hunger now more than ever for the values and strengths represented by men like Washington, Lee, Jackson, and other Southern statesmen , and soldiers innumerable values, which after all, are not rooted exclusively in the South but have longer, older antecedents in the Old Europe and are products of thousands of years of the Judaic-Christian tradition.

…Men like Washington no longer roam the halls of government…professional sports figures are, by and large, corrupt…popular entertainment is even more degenerate…not even present-day “literature,” if such a sobriquet applies, offers much in the way of uplift…

So where does one go today for visions of strength, courage, resourcefulness, honor, conviction, faithfulness? One goes to the past of course.

Which brings us to the book presently under consideration: Virginia Beard Morton’s Marching Through Culpeper. It has done what too few books from smaller presses do: in its four years of publication, it has attained a fast and growing readership amounting in sales of more than 8,000 copies, an unusual feat indeed, considering it is a hardback published by a press without the backing of a big time publicity machine or high-profile media exposure. Furthermore, the book’s success has led to the formation of something called the Southern Literary Alliance, which seeks to single out works…that uphold the best of traditional American values. Lastly, the book has inspired its own fan club, which counts among its members the living namesake of J.E.B. Stuart himself.

What might account for Marching Through Culpeper’s success? It is a book that unashamedly touches on many of the themes to which I have already alluded: bravery, honesty, fidelity, etc., and it covers that period of American history which has held sway over readers for nearly one hundred and fifty years, the War Between the States…What is even more remarkable is that Morton’s book is a novel, and a very long novel at that, coming in at just over five hundred pages, in an age of sound bites and rapid PC downloads. History, when it is read at all, is usually consumed as a non-fiction product. Morton, I would think, is wise enough to know that while facts have their use; it is stories that present truth to us in their most vivid and most lasting form.

Like any good novel, Marching Through Culpeper is as much about a place as it is about characters or events. Culpeper, Virginia, located in the central part of the state, north of Charlottesville , actually exists, of course. It also has the distinction of being the site of or incubation ground for more eminent battles during the longs years of the war than any other location in the country. First and Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania, the four Brandy Station engagements (which featured the largest cavalry engagement of the War), and the Battle of Cedar Mountain, which resulted in one of the Confederate Army’s most impressive victories.

The hardships and privations engendered by the War are witnessed and endured by the fictional Armstrong family, landed gentry headed by Judge Armstrong, one of Culpeper’s most prominent citizens, and his wife Harriet, a woman of refinement who, even in the book’s opening pages, feels the loss of a more civilized way for life before the War begins. Yet the novel’s central character is the Armstrongs’ younger daughter, Constance, a beautiful, headstrong woman with insatiable intellectual curiosity and literary aspirations.

It is Constance, whose name is surely symbolic of her physical and spiritual fortitude, who pushes the Armstrongs through the horrors of the War, and while she loses much of her family by the end of the novel, her own endurance is not only a personal triumph but a triumph of the values which have been instilled in her by her family and her region. Constance is no hand-wringer beset by doubt or angst when considering the philosophical position of the South and its impetus to wage war. Never once does she renounce the South. Never once is she tempted to take the oath of loyalty to the Union even when such obeisance might mean food for her hungry family. Not even her love for a handsome Yankee lieutenant can make her renounce her home or its struggle for freedom. This sets Constance in stark contrast to Scarlett O’Hara, with whom comparison is inevitable.

Scarlett is a rank materialist who will consort with the enemy to further her own financial gain. She will sleep with and marry men for whom she has not one whit of affection, if she sees advantage in it. Constance, while a woman of “inordinate passion”…remains chaste throughout the novel, never once compromising herself, and thus becomes even more impressive. Morton is to be commended for creating a fascinating character of such moral clarity and transparent strength. Constance Armstrong is the kind of woman not readily found in the pages of contemporary fiction.

Even more impressive is Morton’s handling of the personal and the panoramic—the way she is able to depict with verisimilitude the intimate and social lives of her characters—their parties, the holiday gatherings, their various love affairs—and still adeptly present the major battles in convincing and compelling detail. This is a quality of storytelling much praised by Andrew Lytle in his famous essay on War and Peace. And while Morton, of course, cannot possibly attain to Tolstoy’s achievement, she joins the honorable roll call of novelists who have given readers a complete portrait of a particular time in a particular place lived by individual characters.

Morton even manages another tour de force —the fictional portrayal of actual historical personages, both Southern and Northern. General Lee is here, as dignified, wise and worthy of respect as one would expect. So is Jeb Stuart, jovial and fun-loving. And A.P. Hill, the consummate family man at odds with more dour and reflective Stonewall Jackson. George Armstrong Custer makes a number of memorable appearances, with his flowing golden locks and his accompanying band of musicians, and it is hard, try as one may, not to like him and to be infected by his joie de vivre. Most delightful of all is Frank Stringfellow, the intrepid Confederate scout and beloved friend of Constance Armstrong, whose endless inventiveness allows him to escape the clutches of the Yankees while procuring valuable information for the Confederate Army.

…Finally, and best if all, Morton offers characters whose steadfastness, faith, and courage make them models of emulation. How many other present-day novels can be similarly praised?”

– Book review excerpts from Southern Partisan magazine , December 2004. Reviewed by Randall K. Ivey, who is the author of two short story collections, The Shape of Man and The Mutilation Gypsy. He teaches English at the University of South Carolina in Union.

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“I thoroughly enjoyed Marching Through Culpeper. This meticulously researched novel upholds Christian values and offers inspiring Christian characters—both real and fictional.”

—Dr. Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Sept. 2005.

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“This literary masterpiece illustrates the important role that Southern women-personified by Constance Armstrong-played in the conflict…Morton’s superb literary skill in describing so accurately these historic events make this a book that every student of the War Between the States will read more than once and cherish forever.”

United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine, August, 2002

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“Virginia Morton’s wonderfully researched and vastly entertaining Marching Through Culpeper weaves a memorable story amidst the backdrop of this country’s watershed historical event, the American Civil War. Granted, some may think it impossible and even bold heresy to relate a wartime tale of intense love and human tragedy through the eyes and words of Civil War Icons Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jeb Stuart, A.P.Hill, George Custer, John Pelham, Robert Beckham, John Mosby, and the incomparable Gray scouts Will Farley and Frank Stringfellow. Throw into this fascinating personality mix a couple of almost-lost-to-history southern belles such as Fannie Barbour and Constance Armstrong as well as a sympathetic Yankee lover, and one realizes the daunting task Mrs. Morton presented herself when assuming this gargantuan initiative. Did Mrs. Morton succeed in her labors? Absolutely. And, she triumphed upon publishing Marching Through Culpeper for a very simple reason: Virginia B. Morton did her homework.

It is a stout fact that Culpeper County was more fought over, marched across and camped upon than any county in this country during 1861-1865. It is also a valid truism that any Civil War personality in the Eastern Theater worth his mettle, Blue or Gray, spent a good deal of time fighting or plotting to fight in Culpeper County. As a proud citizen of Culpeper and knowing that a good story based on her home turf was just waiting to be told, this energetic and oh-so-persistent budding author went to work. And work she did, diligently so.

Mrs. Morton’s research efforts cast a broad and comprehensive net well beyond the boundaries of Virginia’s Piedmont as she painstakingly gathered research materials, diaries, letters, battle reports, maps and photographs. Once assembled, she reviewed this mother lode of primary source data and then began to beseech – always in a nice but firm way – every Civil War historian of her acquaintance. Indeed, it was her practice to call these “scholars” at strange hours to level direct and hard questions regarding battles and generals and antebellum houses and soldiers and wartime ladies. And she never took “no” or “I don’t know” as a satisfactory reply from some academic type. Confronted with a question she couldn’t find the answer to, she went back to the data and retrieved the truth for herself. And now, as a result, we can all share and learn from the rich, accurately rendered and beautifully written Marching Through Culpeper. I commend this terrific book to anyone who cares about American Civil War history.”

– Reviewed by Clark B. Hall, noted Civil War historian and author

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“In Marching Through Culpeper, Virginia Morton relates how the quiet Virginia community of Culpeper struggles to survive given its strategic location in the path of contending armies during the Civil War. In the midst of chaotic conditions, a chance meeting of a young female resident of Culpeper and a Union cavalry captain evolves into a relationship of mutual admiration and attraction. These are the ingredients the author uses to combine extensive military action and complex human drama within an authentic wartime saga.

Extensive research is reflected in the author’s descriptions of military operations that occurred in and around the wartime Culpeper community, including at Cedar Mountain, Brandy Station and Culpeper Court House. She appropriately combines a timeline as well as maps to provide a sense of time and place. She is skillful in the use of dialogue, particularly in discussions concerning the causes and nature of the Civil War.

This book is less about the Civil War’s famous figures, than about the hardships and passions of everyday citizens who live in a community ravaged by war. Gone With the Wind succeeded by featuring self-centered and impetuous Scarlett O’Hara. Yet Scarlett has real competition from the lovely, independent, and adventurous Constance Rixey Armstrong, Marching Through Culpeper’s central character.

Although this is her initial effort at crafting fiction, Morton is no stranger to Civil War-related activities. She holds credentials as a battlefield guide and preservationist in the Culpeper region, and frequently speaks to Civil War Round Tables, civic groups and book clubs. More importantly, she serves on the board of the Brandy Station Battlefield Foundation, an organization that has worked tirelessly to safeguard those hallowed grounds from developers’ bulldozers. Given this background, it is no surprise that Virginia Beard Morton has written this story that occurred in her community to help promote tourism and preservation of Culpeper County’s battlefields. Marching Through Culpeper is recommended for anyone who enjoys authentic wartime history blended with a compelling romance.”

– Reviewed by North and South magazine, May 2003

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“Audacious as it sounds, Marching Through Culpeper reminds me of Gone with the Wind. Figures take on flesh and blood, springing off the page as real people. Historical individuals become truly 3-dimensional. Although cast in one Virginia county, it serves as a great microcosm of the entire War Between the States, its issues, the magnitude of the conflict, and most importantly, its personal dimension. Virginia Morton has produced a story with universal appeal that is not only well-written, but moves the reader along as if swept up in the events of the time. I heartily recommend this epic that instills a clear understanding of the Southern side of the conflict.”

– Reviewed by Col. Barton Campbell, USAR, (Ret.), Exec. Director, Museum of the Confederacy

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“In this wonderful story, Virginia B. Morton not only recreates the community and resurrects its people true to the historical facts of wartime Culpeper, she also provides intriguing nuances of daily life and recreates conversations among her characters – both real and fictional – that ring true to their time and place. The flesh and blood she is able to give to the Culpeper story is yet another example of why historians are so envious of good novelists.”

– Dr. Daniel Sutherland, University of Arkansas, historian and author

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“The author has done her homework…the battle descriptions are quite good. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it can, at times be a page turner.”

The Civil War News, Blake Magner, Book Review Editor

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Marching Through Culpeper is a novel written by Virginia B. Morton, who like Margaret Mitchell is a first-time author. Marching Through Culpeper takes place from the vantage point of Culpeper, Virginia, which is situated between the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers and is on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. Both the North and the South considered this a key location for their troops to invade or protect Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley. With this in mind, the citizens of Culpeper saw first hand “the movement of more troops than any other locale in the nation.”

This story is based on Constance Armstrong, the daughter of a wealthy and well-respected judge from Culpeper. The diary styled novel begins on June 3-5, 1860 and ends on April 24th, 1865. You read about the lives of the people of Culpeper as they witnessed the horrific bloodshed and hardships during the four years of the War Between the States. Character and story development allow you to love, hate, hurt, rejoice and suffer with the characters. Some notable characters that grace the book include Jeb Stuart, William “Extra Billy” Smith, A. P. Hill, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Judson, Kilpatrick, and George Armstrong Custer. The reader witnesses the battles of Cedar Mountain, Kelly’s Ford, Brandy Station, Culpeper Court House, and other small actions in the area.

Marching Through Culpeper is a love story commingled with the harsh realities of war. Constance has several attentive beaus including Major John Pelham, Major Robert Beckham, and a Yankee officer, Aaron Ames. Her best friend and confidant is none other than Frank Stringfellow, an actual scout for Jeb Stuart and John Mosby. Her strength and ability to survive in such deplorable conditions are continuously evident. Constance is affected by the deaths of many people she loves at the hand of the despicable Yankees; yet she is drawn to the kindness of Aaron Ames no matter what his military tie is. Her life is inevitably changed by the war that rages around her and her home. A definite page-turner, you will want to experience the next victory or defeat of this spunky young lady who matures before your eyes.

Although this book is fiction, the author has spent much time and effort to research the events and people she has intertwined into this story. Mrs. Morton is a thirty-year resident of the Culpeper area and is a local tour guide. A bibliography supports the facts and endnotes reveal where names may have changed since the 1860s or other vital information. There are maps to review and pictures of individuals throughout the book.

This book is a love story for the ladies, and war novel for the men and a wealth of information of historians of the War Between the States. Mrs. Morton stated, “Marching Through Culpeper is a story of the human spirit. I believe that same irrepressible spirit is with us today because it pulses through the veins of many of you.” David Johnson, General Manager of Strategic Vision, a marketing firm in Atlanta declared, “Move over Margaret Mitchell and Michael Shaara…make room for Virginia Morton. This book will succeed.” Marching Through Culpeper encompasses the human side of the atrocities Southerners experienced during the War Between the States. It is a must read for anyone wanting to know more about what took place on the home front and how the political power struggle with the Lincoln administration affected every citizen. Every library in the South should have a copy of this book on its shelf. I agree with Mr. Johnson, this book will succeed.

– Reviewed by Cassie A. Barrow – from the Jan. 2006 issue of The Georgia Confederate

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“Constance Armstrong is a strong-minded character and one must admit that she is thoroughly likable… Morton’s fictional characters are people you can really care about and her story is engrossing. Marching Through Culpeper is a great read.”

The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star