CanawlersCurious how to pronounce the title of my historical novel Canawlers?

It’s CAN-all-ers. It’s what boatmen on the C&O Canal sounded like when they used to say “canaller”.

They also had a challenging and dangerous job during the Civil War. Canawlers brought coal and other goods 185 miles from Cumberland, Maryland, to Georgetown. All the while, they traveled along the Potomac River within site of the Virginia shore and the Confederate States of America. The C&O Canal ran along the border of two warring nations, the canawlers were caught in the crossfire.

Hugh Fitzgerald is a proud canawler. For nine months a year, he and his family live on their canal boat, working hard to get them through the lean winter months.

The year 1862 was a hard year to live on the canal, though. To this point, the Confederacy has stayed south of the canal, but now the Confederate Army intends to go on the offensive and take the war into the north.

Not only are the Fitzgeralds’ lives endangered by the increased activity of warring armies and raiders on the canal, but the Fitzgeralds’ secret activity as a stop along the Underground Railroad only endangers their lives all the more.

Then fate takes Hugh away from his family, leaving his wife, Alice, to hold the family together. With the help of her children; Thomas, George and Elizabeth; Tony, an orphan from Cumberland; and David Windover, a disillusioned Confederate soldier, they will face the dangers presented by the war, nature, and the railroad together.

Download your Kindle copy for FREE until Jan. 20.

From the reviewers:

  • “A powerful, thoughtful and fascinating historical novel, Canawlers documents author James Rada, Jr. as a writer of considerable and deftly expressed storytelling talent.” – Midwest Book Review
  • “James Rada, of Cumberland, has written a historical novel for high-schoolers and adults, which relates the adventures, hardships and ultimate tragedy of a family of boaters on the C&O Canal. … The tale moves quickly and should hold the attention of readers looking for an imaginative adventure set on the canal at a critical time in history.” – Along the Towpath
  • “Mr. Rada presents an interesting slice of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal boatman’s life set against the backdrop of the turbulence and uncertainty of the American Civil War. The use of the canal as a route on the Underground Railroad is also woven into the plot which reveals how hard work, a strong family and difficult times could come together along the canal.” – Rita L. Knox, Park Ranger, C&O Canal NHP

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UntitledIf you’re a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe solves the mystery of the great writer’s murder, and you can get it FREE on Kindle until Jan. 13.

You might be thinking that Poe wasn’t murdered. He died in a hospital. You’re wrong.

While he did die at the Washington Medical Center, before that, he was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore and wearing clothes that were not his own. He was admitted to the hospital where he died without explaining what had happened to himself. One clue to what happened to him was that he shouted the name “Reynolds” before he died.

The hospital and its records were later destroyed in a fire, so we’re left with theory and conjecture about how the Master of the Macabre died. One person knows how the Father of the Modern Mystery died, and that person is …

The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe.

This is his story, although it reads like one of Poe’s horror tales.

Alexander Reynolds has been known by many names in his long life, the most famous of which is Lazarus, the man raised from the dead by Christ. Matthew Cromwell is another resurrected being living an extended life. Eternal life has its cost, though, whether or not Alexander and Matthew want to pay it.

Alexander has already seen Matthew kill Edgar’s mother and he is determined to keep the same fate from befalling Edgar.

From the time of Christ to the modern days of the Poe Toaster, The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe is a sweeping novel of love, terror, and mystery that could have come from the imagination of Edgar Allan Poe himself.

Get Your Copy Here

From the reviewers:

  • “Impressively original, exceptionally well written, absolutely absorbing from beginning to end, ‘The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe’ showcases author J. R. Rada’s outstanding skills as a novelist. ” – Reviewer’s Bookwatch
  • “…this fictional nail-biting account of the two men whose blood feud brought about Edgar’s death. … it’s a great ride through suspense, horror, and mystery – worthy of the writer for whom the novel takes license.” – Allegany Magazine

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dhtWhile the Founding Fathers were working to build a nation in Philadelphia in 1776, in south-central Pennsylvania (Adams County, Pa. wasn’t created until 1800), Rev. Alexander Dobbin and his parishioners were building a house that, just like the United States, is still standing more than two years later.

Though now surrounded by houses, businesses, hotels and monuments in Gettysburg, when the house was built, it was a 300-acre farm.

The Dobbin Family

Alexander Dobbin was born in Ireland in 1742. After studying the classics in Ireland, Dobbin and his wife, Isabella Gamble, left Ireland to settle in America. In America, Dobbin became pastor of the Rock Creek Presbyterian Church, located one mile north of what is now Gettysburg.

In 1774, the Dobbin purchased 300 acres of land in and around what is now the town of Gettysburg. At one point, he was the second-largest landholder in the area behind Gettysburg founder James Getty.

88402ee4e29f2b779fd470e6e8e56f98The original stone structure was home to Dobbin’s wife, 10 children and 9 step children. Isabella died at a young age and Dobbin married Mary Agnew who had 9 children.

The house also served as a Classical School, which was a combined seminary and liberal arts college. “Dobbin’s school was the first of its kind in America west of the Susquehanna River, an academy which enjoyed an excellent reputation for educating many professional men of renown,” according to the Dobbin House brochure.

Dobbin also worked to establish Adams County as separate from York County. Once it happened, he was appointed one of the two commissioners who helped chose Gettysburg as the county seat of the new county.

The house passed out of the Dobbin family in 1834 and began being passed through a series of owners. Conrad Snyder owned the house during the Civil War.

Dobbin House on the Underground Railroad

slave-hideoutDuring the Battle of Gettysburg, Beamer said, “There was substantial fighting nearby. It was amazing that it didn’t take a cannonball hit.”

The house was also used as an Underground Railroad stop. Slaves were hidden in a crawl space between the first and second floors behind a false wall. The space can still be seen today when touring the house.

The Many Uses of the Dobbin House

The house served as a private residence or apartments until the 1950’s. From the 1950’s until 1975, the building was a museum, gift shop and housed a diorama on the second floor.

The current owners purchased the house in 1975 and opened the Springhouse Tavern in May 1978. That evolved over the years growing into a complex that includes the tavern, a fine-dining restaurant in the actual Dobbin House, a banquet room, gift shop and bed and breakfast that serve more than 200,000 guests each year.

“We strive to serve quality food and offer gracious service,” Beamer said.

It’s all done in the setting of an authentic colonial tavern that offers recipes that have been featured in “Bon Appetit” and “Cuisine” magazines.

The Dobbin House is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information, visit the Dobbin House web site.


A mid-afternoon tornado on March 18, 1925, left a killing swath in its wake.

The tornado actually traveled through five Midwest states, but it was three Illinois towns that bore the brunt of the destruction. “Where it did the worst damage the tornado lasted less than five minutes,” reported the Ada (OK) Evening News.

Tornado Arrives

The tornado came out of the Ozark Mountains in mid-afternoon. This is a bad hour for a tornado to hit because schools and businesses are packed with people. This proved to be the case with this tornado as well.

Its main path was measured at around 200 miles long, but this tornado took erratic and deadly detours before returning to the main path. When the distances traveled on the offshoots was added in, the total mileage was around 700 miles.



The destruction of Griffin, IN, after the 1925 tornado swept through.

The Destruction


The Ada Evening News described the destruction in this way: “It flattened heavily constructed school and business buildings with worse results than in lighter dwellings.

“Babies in homes were special sufferers.

“Fires still raging or smouldering and millions of dollars worth of wreckage delayed counts of the larger death lists.

“The hardest hit places were three small-cities in southern Illinois, West Frankfort, Murphysboro and Carbondale.

“Nearly all the  destruction was in the soft coal fields.

“Next to Illinois the worst sufferers were in Indiana and Missouri with fatal results of the tornado reaching Tennessee and Kentucky.”

In DeSoto, IL, the tornado flattened a school with 250 students in it. Only three escaped without injury and 88 were killed. In the entire town, only five buildings were left standing.

“So terrific was the force of the storm that bodies were reported carried a mile while timbers from the wrecked town of DeSoto, Illinois were found in DuQuoin 15 miles away,” reported the Ada Evening News.

In the town of Parrish, IL, only three people in a town of 500 escaped injury.


The tornado traveled through five states – Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky – and killed people in 26 towns.

The tornado left many fires in its wake, which hampered the efforts of rescuers.

Around 1000 people were killed and 3000 injured. About 10000 were left homeless by the tornado.

The Red Cross moved in following the tornado to offer help. Relief trains were sent and many people sent donations. The day after the tornado the Illinois Legislature authorized $500,000 in relief aid.

“As reports from various sections were gathered today no doubt was left that the disaster is the worst of its kind in the country’s history. The greatest death toll previously taken by a cyclone was in 1908 when five hundred were killed in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama.

“The terrific blow of yesterday was followed today by high winds in Pennsylvania. Michigan and Northern New York,” reported The Sheboygan (WS) Press.

Total damage was estimated at well over $10 million.

Civilian POWs return home

This is the third in a series of articles about the civilians who were taken as prisoners of war by the Confederate Army after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.



Salisbury Prison for Union soldiers in North Carolina.

Eight civilians from Gettysburg were arrested during the 1863 battle, taken south, and imprisoned in POW camps where they endured brutality and starvation.


The arrested men were George Codori, J. Crawford Guinn, Alexander Harper, William Harper, Samuel Pitzer, George Patterson, George Arendt, and Emanuel Trostle.

“Both Pennsylvania and the U. S. government informed the Confederacy that they had taken noncombatant civilians, and demanded their return. Because it refused, and since it was regarded as an act of state terrorism, the U. S. Secretary of War ordered the U. S. Army to seize 26 Confederate civilians and hold them as counter hostages at the Fort Delaware Prison on the Delaware River,” according to the Gettysburg Times.

The fort is on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River between Delaware and New Jersey. It had granite and brick walls that ranged in thickness from seven to 30 feet and were 32 feet high. Conditions for prisoners there were unpleasant, although not as unpleasant as things had been in Salisbury Prison for the Gettysburg civilian prisoners.

One Union doctor wrote of his visit to the prison and was recorded in The War Of The Rebellion: A Compilation Of The Official Records Of The Union And Confederate Armies. “The barracks were at that time damp and not comfortably warm, and I suspect they have been so a part of the time during the winter…Some, perhaps a large majority, were comfortably clad. Some had a moderate and still others an insufficient supply of clothing. The garments of a few were ragged and filthy. Each man had one blanket, but I observed no other bedding nor straw. Nearly all the men show a marked neglect of personal cleanliness. Some of them seem vigorous and well, many look only moderately well, while a considerable number have an unhealthy, a cachectic appearance.”

In early 1865, the Gettysburg civilian POWs finally got their hearing before General Winder in Richmond. “He called some of us disloyal Pennsylvanians. I told him I was loyal to the backbone,” Samuel Pitzer wrote after the war.

This led to their release and they began returning home to Gettysburg in the middle of March 1865.

The return of the prisoners was a surprise to many because most of them had been presumed dead after the battle. Emanuel Trostle’s wife hadn’t given up hope that her husband still lived and was rewarded for her dedication when he returned home. He went on to lead a successful life as a shoemaker and a farmer.

He died in 1914 at the age of 75. He would have been alive to see the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and perhaps, the same men who had captured him during the battle. It is not known whether he attended the reunion, though.

George Cordori’s return on March 13 got a small mention in the Adams Sentinel. The joy of his return lasted only two weeks. He died of pneumonia at the age of 59.

“For a number of years he had had an attack of this dangerous disease almost every winter, but during the past 18 months, though suffering the privations incident to the life of a prisoner of the South, he informed us his health was very good,” the Gettysburg Compiler reported. It is believed he caught a cold riding the crowded transport that brought freed prisoners to Annapolis and dropped them off.

Ironically, three days after Codori died, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate released a joint resolution asking “That the Secretary of War be respectfully requested to use his utmost official exertions to secure the release of J. Crawford Gwinn, Alexander Harper, George Codori, William Harper, Samuel Sitzer (sic), George Patterson, George Arendt, and Emanuel Trostle, and such other civilians, citizens of Pennsylvania, as may now be in the hands of the rebels authorities, from rebel imprisonment and have them returned to their respective homes in Pennsylvania.”

Here are the other parts of the story:


This is the second in a series of articles about the civilians who were taken as prisoners of war by the Confederate Army after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

800px-bird_eye_view_of_the_confederate_prison_pen_salisbury_north_carolina_1864When the Confederate Army left Pennsylvania at the end of the Battle of Gettysburg, they left with eight civilians. These men had done nothing wrong except be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were captured at different locations around Gettysburg on the suspicion that they were spies for the Union Army.

They weren’t.

They were ordinary citizens caught in the middle of a great battle.

The arrested men were George Codori, J. Crawford Guinn, Alexander Harper, William Harper, Samuel Pitzer, George Patterson, George Arendt, and Emanuel Trostle.

Samuel Pitzer was a Gettysburg farmer who had been arrested on July 2. He wrote that the prisoners were first sent to Castle Lightning prison in Richmond where all of their money except for two cents, their knives and their blankets were taken.

They were then moved to Libby Prison. Pitzer was upset that his hat was stolen there, which he said would have been worth $150 to $200 in Confederate dollars.

“The first thing we hear when new prisoners came in was ‘Fresh Fish,’ to which another would immediately reply ‘Scale him,’ and it was not long they had them all scaled,” Pitzer wrote.

The rations were poor, so much so that even the pigs ate better.

“They raise beans down there on which they fatten their hogs,” Pitzer wrote. “We got a broth with about a dozen of these beans and a little corn bread.”

After a time, they were sent to Castle Thunder Prison where the rations were even worse.

The commander there was a Union army deserter named George Edwards. He had a reputation for brutality. Pitzer wrote that he would make the prisoners stand around him while he swung his sword back and forth coming close to slicing the prisoners open.

After two months in Richmond, the prisoners were sent further south to Salisbury, N.C., where they were imprisoned in an old tobacco factory. At first, there were 500 prisoners in the factory prison, but during October 1863, that number swelled to 14,000.

What little food the prisoners received had a lot to be desired. In the beginning, their rations consisted of a little meat that was “strong and so full of worm holes that we could see through it,” according to Pitzer.

Other days, the guards simply threw a little beef and tripe into the garrison and let the prisoners fight over who got to eat it.

Sometimes the prisoners weren’t fed for two or three days at a time. It was a tactic used to encourage them to join the Confederate army so they could be sent to guard forts and camps.

The prisoners got to the point that they were eating just about anything they thought would fill them up.

“They ate rats, cats and dogs and I saw an Irishman eating the graybacks as he picked them from his clothes,” Pitzer wrote.

Within four months that 14,000 number had dwindled to 4,500 as men died from malnutrition.

“As regularly as the day returned from forty to sixty died,” Pitzer wrote.

The dead were buried in a common grave four bodies deep.

The Gettysburgians endured, though, not knowing when the end would come, but knowing that it would come eventually.

Here’s are the other parts of the story:

220px-martha_place_croppedOn March 20, 1899, Martha Place earned her place among the infamous by becoming the first woman executed in the electric chair.

Martha  Place was put to death in Sing Sing Prison’s electric chair on March 20, 1899 after having murdered her stepdaughter and trying to murder her husband. The double murder was shown conclusively to have been planned by Place and yet, her death elicited sadness among many, including the prison warden.


The First Woman Executed by Electrocution

Martha Place was led into Sing Sing Prison’s death chamber and strapped to the electric chair. An electrode was placed on a shaved area on the crown of her head and one on her calf.

“Mrs. Place went calmly to the chair. She leaned on Warden Sage’s arm. Her eyes were closed, and she seemed neither to seem nor to hear. She murmured a prayer,” reported the Portsmouth Herald.

She wore a plain black dress she had made herself.

“It was her expectation to wear this dress when she emerged from the penitentiary, either as a free woman or to return to Brooklyn for a new trial,” the Marion Daily Star reported.

Her last words as she sat down were, “God help me.”

More than 1700 volts were sent through her body, killing her instantly at 11:01 a.m. One report noted how the only sign of pain was how her lips pressed together.

“It was almost a smile, as she died,” the Portsmouth Herald reported.


Why She Was Executed

William Place lived in Brooklyn with his daughter Ida. About 18 months after the death of his first wife, he hired Martha as a housekeeper. They were married two months later.

“As long as she was housekeeper, it is said, she was extremely kinds to place’s daughter Ida, but she became quite a different person when place married her,” the Portsmouth Herald reported.

Martha was jealous of the close relationship between her husband and stepdaughter, which led to quarrels between the three of them.  In addition, William wouldn’t let Martha’s son from her first marriage come to live with them.

And so, on February 8, 1898, after planning what she would do, Martha Place attacked her 22-year-old stepdaughter. She threw carbolic acid in the young woman’s face and then struck her senseless with an axe. She then carried the woman to the bed and smothered her with a pillow.

Following that, she lay in wait for her husband to return. When he did, she attacked him with the axe.

She injured him and he lost consciousness, but not before his screams alerted the neighbors. When the police broke into the house, they found Martha unconscious on an upstairs bed in an apparent suicide attempt.

The husband recovered and identified his wife as his attacker. Further, it was shown that Martha had written to her brother outlining her plan and telling him that she would be coming to live with him.


The Trial and Appeals

Judge William Hurd sentenced her to death after her trial and she fainted when she heard the verdict. Martha Place was sent to Sing Sing Prison on July 21, 1898, and wept as she entered.

She appealed the decision, but did not win.

Gov. Theodore Roosevelt of New York would not commute Martha’s sentence. He wrote in his statement, “This murder was one of peculiar deliberation and atrocity. To interfere with the course of the law in this case would be justified only on the ground that never hereafter, under any circumstances, should capital punishment be inflicted upon any murderess, even though the victim was herself a woman, and even though that victim’s torture preceded her death. There is but one course open to me. I decline to interfere with the course of the law.”

And so, Martha became the 26th person to die in Sing Sing’s electric chair.

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