WHEN IN ROME Photo Travelog: Renaissance Rome

During the Renaissance Era, Rome became something of a center of power. Many of the buildings that remain today, while now occupied by apartments, hotels, retail spaces, and offices, date from this time period and are still stunning. Side streets are narrow and winding, while major thoroughfares are clogged with vehicular and foot traffic. Everywhere, hallmarks of Renaissance artists leave lasting footprints, even on the most mundane corners of the city.

Here are some of the highlights.

From the top of Castel Sant'Angelo, the dome of St. Peter's Basilica stands against the skyline.

From the top of Castel Sant’Angelo, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica stands against the skyline. In the center foreground, you can see a structure that appears to be an aqueduct, but in fact houses a secret passage linking the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo, should the Pontiff ever need to flee to safety.

Here we see one of many bridges that cross the TIber River. Ponte Sant'Angelo is the only one closed to vehicular traffic.

Here we see one of many bridges that cross the Tiber River.

Also visible from the top of Castel Sant'Angelo is the Altare della Patria, a national monument. It's visible from many of Rome's hills, in fact.

Also visible from the top of Castel Sant’Angelo is the Altare della Patria, a national monument. It’s visible from many of Rome’s hills, in fact.

The entrance to the Villa Borghese (or the Borghese Gardens) lies just a little northeast of Piazza di Spagna (more about that in a moment). We could never confirm it, but we guessed that gates once closed off the villa to the general public back in the day.

The entrance to the Villa Borghese (or the Borghese Gardens) lies just a little northeast of Piazza di Spagna (more about that in a moment). We could never confirm it, but we guessed that gates once closed off the villa to the general public back in the day.

Tree-lined gravel paths that make you forget modern Rome? Yes please!

Tree-lined gravel paths that make you forget modern Rome? Yes please!

One of many fountains tucked away in Villa Borghese. Somebody had left a bar of soap on the edge of this one - whatever floats your boat, I guess.

One of many fountains tucked away in Villa Borghese.

Resting on a flower-speckled hill (not unlike Kate and Domenic in WHEN IN ROME).

Resting on a flower-speckled hill (not unlike Kate and Domenic in WHEN IN ROME).

The Spanish Steps, as seen from Piazza di Spagna. Okay, so this landmark dates from the early 18th century, not the Renaissance. But much of the surrounding structures are older. 135 steps. We walked them. Both ways.

The Spanish Steps, as seen from Piazza di Spagna. Okay, so this landmark dates from the early 18th century, not the Renaissance. But much of the surrounding structures are older. 135 steps. We walked them. Both ways.

And I ate some gelato while sitting to one side of the Spanish Steps.

And I ate some gelato while sitting to one side of the Spanish Steps.

Trevi Fountain. We had a terribly hard time finding this beloved landmark. We were, in fact, trying to find the Column of Marcus Aurelius, got lost in some twisty Roman side streets, and found Trevi Fountain by chance.

Trevi Fountain. We had a terribly hard time finding this beloved landmark. We were, in fact, trying to find the Column of Marcus Aurelius, got lost in some twisty Roman side streets, and found Trevi Fountain by chance. We did manage to shoulder our way to the front to toss a couple coins into the fountain.

On our last night in Rome, the hubs (then the BF) and I walked up to Pincio Terrace, which has its owns set of stunning views of Vatican City, Piazza del Popolo, and beyond. But sometimes, you forget all the history and just savor the moment you're sharing with somebody you love.

On our last night in Rome, the hubs (then the BF) and I walked up to Pincio Terrace, which has its owns set of stunning views of Vatican City, Piazza del Popolo, and beyond. But sometimes, you forget all the history and just savor the moment you’re sharing with somebody you love.

Join me next time, when we take a jaunt to the road that leads to Rome, the ancient Appian Way.

WHEN IN ROME is available now for Kindle – and don’t forget to check out BETTER THAN CHOCOLATE (now available in print from Amazon and Barnes & Noble), the story that started it all!

Three friends. A broken engagement. A surprise elopement. A big secret. A lot of chocolate.

Three friends. A broken engagement. A surprise elopement. A big secret. A lot of chocolate.

Love isn't always picture perfect...

Love isn’t always picture perfect…

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Gettysburg

Gettysburg National Military Park has been enjoying a huge influx of visitors this week, as it’s the 150th anniversary of the battle. Called many things – the “high water mark of the Confederacy”, the turning point of the Civil War, the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil – it’s worth taking the time to know the history of this important site and the events that made it famous.

It would be beyond amazing to visit Gettysburg this week, due to the numbers of reenactors who are there, portraying military units and civilians. But I saw a photograph yesterday of the crowds at Devil’s Den, participants in a walking battlefield tour, and frankly, it wouldn’t be worth it. I’m not sure you’d even be able to learn anything with the thousands of people milling about as they are. I like visiting battlefields in their off seasons, when it’s not so crowded. It helps me retain the feeling of time and place. As such, the hubs and the in-laws and I visited Gettysburg last summer, at the end of July. So I guess you could say I marked the 149th anniversary of the battle.

(Sit tight, folks, this is gonna be a long one.)

The Battle of Gettysburg

Nobody planned to fight at Gettysburg in July 1863. But General Lee lost one of his most brilliant generals, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, after the Battle of Chancellorsville in May, and he wanted to take the fight out of war-ravaged Virginia. If the Confederate army could threaten major Union cities like Baltimore, Harrisburg, and the capital of Washington, it could bring a swifter end to the war – and Southern victory.

Historians have speculated on this; had Lee’s second invasion of the North been successful, the war could have ended that summer. Things hadn’t been going well for the Union armies, at least in the Eastern Theater. By the end of June 1863, the Army of the Potomac was on their sixth commander in two years. Yes, Grant and Sherman were tearing it up in the West, scrabbling to gain control of the Mississippi River. In fact, by the time Lee marched the Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania, Grant had already been engaged in a six-week siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi – a siege that was destined to end with the Confederates’ surrender on July 4th, giving the Union control of the Mississippi and effectively cutting the Confederacy in half for the remainder of the war.

But in the East, General Meade was the latest in a long line of generals, from McDowell to McClellan to Pope (to McClellan again) to Burnside to Hooker, who had to face off against Lee and a Confederate army so used to victory, their commander thought them almost unbeatable.

At the end of June, the Army of Northern Virginia marched through Maryland and into Pennsylvania, and the Army of the Potomac pursued them. Lee had no idea where the Union army was, however, since his cavalry, the “eyes and ears” of the army, was no where to be found. Lee’s army was, initially, split, with General Ewell’s forces coming so close to the city of Harrisburg that he “could hear the church bells” ringing in the steeples. But he would have to turn his divisions around and march back toward the little town of Gettysburg, because that’s where the armies converged.

The first day of fighting, July 1st, was not of the large-scale caliber that would ensue in the next two days. North of the town, the Confederates used an unfinished railroad cut to advance upon the town – legend has it they’d heard there were shoes in Gettysburg, hence the detour – and two brigades of Hill’s Third Corps ran smack into Buford’s cavalry on McPherson’s Ridge, starting the battle.

Railroad Cut north of Gettysburg

The railroad cut is finished now, of course.

Reinforcements from both armies began to stream into the area, and the battle intensified. General Reynolds was killed, and the Union troops were pushed through the town itself before taking up positions on the high ground south of town on Cemetery Ridge. Lee gave Ewell discretionary orders to attack “if practicable”, but Ewell, who didn’t have the same sort of fire in his belly as Jackson had, did not attempt to take the high ground. It’s arguable what would’ve happened if he had done so. The Union army had yet to get all of their forces into place, and had Ewell pressed his advantage, it’s possible the battle would have ended that night.

But this was not to be, and by morning on July 2nd, Meade’s forces had their defensive positions in a huge fishhook that extended from Little Round Top, along Cemetery Ridge, and curved around to Culp’s Hill. Over the course of the next day, the fighting would be fierce and deadly, with no significant ground gained by the Confederates by night fall.

Lee ordered attacks on both flanks of the Union fishhook. On Culp’s Hill, Ewell attempted to dislodge the Union troops from their positions, but with little effect. The fighting was brutal, hand to hand at times, and wounded from both sides crawled to Spangler’s Spring to get water for themselves and others.

Spangler's Spring

The spring is now filled. The plaque on the left says “One country and one flag. The strife of brothers is over.”

Meanwhile, down on the Union’s left flank, things weren’t going quite so well at first, even though they occupied the high ground. Longstreet’s Corps attacked, with General Hood leading an assault over the rough ground of Devil’s Den and what became known as the Slaughter Pen at the foot of Little Round Top. Fierce fighting continued as McLaws engaged Union troops in the Wheatfield and Peach Orchard throughout the day, when Sickles broke position on the high ground and brought his brigades too far forward. Despite heavy losses, the Confederates pressed their advantage, setting the stage for an assault on Little Round Top.

Devil's Den

Devil’s Den

The Slaughter Pen

The Slaughter Pen

Confederate Sharpshooter's Nest

A Confederate sharpshooter’s nest, site of a famous, though staged, photograph by Alexander Gardner.

Alexander Gardner

The original Gardner photograph, “Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter” (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

Here’s where the Union fishhook came into play. Meade had all interior lines of movement, and was able to move 20,000 men from other positions to reinforce the flanks at Culp’s Hil and Little Round Top. That doesn’t mean the fighting wasn’t desperate, and we’re all familiar with the famous bayonet charge performed by the 20th Maine, lead by Colonel Chamberlain. (It’s honestly one of my favorite scenes in Ron Maxwell’s “Gettysburg”.)

The charge of the 20th Maine was only a small part of the battle, and fighting would continue to rage on Culp’s Hill well into the evening. But it’s a great example of tenacity and the sort of courage displayed by many, many officers and enlisted men on both sides of the battle.

That night the Confederate cavalry under J.E.B. Stuart finally showed up, and Lee prepared for one last thrust at the Union army. A thrust he believed would crush the Union center, collapse their lines, and force Meade to retreat. Here’s where a lot of speculation comes in. Had Stuart’s cavalry been on site the entire time, had they reported the movements of Meade’s army prior to the battle, one could argue that the positioning, the planning, and execution of Lee’s maneuvers could have been quite different. Contemporary sources also point out that Lee wasn’t exactly well during the battle; he suffered from a heart ailment that would trouble him until his death in 1870, and it’s been said that the Confederate commander was ill and weak during the first days of the battle and this may have clouded his judgment.

Or maybe Lee thought, as many thought, that his army just could not be defeated. So he ordered Longstreet to engage the divisions under Pickett, the only truly fresh troops they had, Trumble and Pettigrew. The plan was to commence a frontal assault on the Union positions in the center of Cemetery Ridge, where the Union line was believed to be weakest. Lee ordered an artillery bombardment that would silence the Union artillery and further weaken the center. However, the bombardment did little except to deplete the Confederates ammunition, and when the 12,500 men began their march over a 3/4 mile stretch of open ground, they were exposed to Union artillery and, when in range, rifle fire that decimated their ranks.

Confederate cannon on Seminary Ridge

Confederate artillery position on Seminary Ridge

Looking out at Cemetery Ridge

Looking out over the fields toward Cemetery Ridge. The large copse of trees a third from the right of the photograph was the point at which the Confederate charge should have converged.

Post & Beam fence on the Emmitsburg Road

Upon reaching the Emmitsburg Road, Confederate troops had to scale a five-foot high post and beam fence, further exposing them to the rifle and canister fire they were now within range of. Many men didn’t get farther than this fence.

High Watermark of the Confederacy - the Angle at Cemetery Ridge

Only Armistead’s Brigade, part of Pickett’s Division, reached the stone wall of the Angle, at the copse of trees, breaching the Union line. Armistead was killed, most men were killed or captured, and the rest of the forces retreated to Seminary Ridge

The men who survived “Pickett’s Charge” limped back to the Confederate positions on Seminary Ridge. The next day, July 4th, Lee began moving his shattered army back toward Virginia, and Vicksburg fell in the West. Meade did not pursue Lee until July 7th, and the two armies engaged in skirmishes and rear guard action for several days following the battle at Gettysburg. But by July 24th, the Army of Northern Virginia was beyond pursuit. Despite criticism from Lincoln and others in Washington, Meade remained in formal command of the Army of the Potomac until the end of the war, though Grant located his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac upon his appointment as Lieutenant General of all Union Armies in 1864.

Back at Gettysburg, civilians were left to deal with the scores of wounded and dead men around their small town. Soldiers were buried, most unidentified, and in November of 1863, the burial ground just south of Gettysburg was dedicated as a national cemetery. On November 19, Abraham Lincoln delivered a short address to recall the sacrifices of the men buried at Gettysburg, and all who had died, redefining the war and stating that “these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Gettysburg Address

The only known photograph of Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863. Lincoln is the bareheaded man to the left-center of the photograph.

You can see more photographs from my trip to Gettysburg here.

More information about the Battle of Gettysburg can be found at:

Civil War Sesquicentennial – Battle of Antietam

We need to start off today with a quick vocabulary lesson, because while I’m a geek and a vocabular-iholic (is that a word?), not everybody is.  Sesquicentennial is just a fancy way to say the 150th anniversary of something.

In case there are those of you out there who aren’t aware, we are in the midst of the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.  The War Between the States.  Whatever you call it – and there are literally dozens of names for what is arguably the greatest tragedy in our nation’s history and the turning point from which all of modern history and present American society developed.  The Civil War’s 150th anniversary is being observed across our country in a variety of ways, and while the anniversary years of the war are technically from 2011 to 2015, the anniversary really began in November of 2010, which was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s election.  Right now, we are only about  a year and a half into observing the sesquicentennial of a war that lasted four bloody, terrible years, resulted in the deaths of over 600,000 men and caused millions more to spend the rest of their lives as invalids from wounds and diseases suffered during their service.

Regardless of which “side” you take (and I hope you readers are the sort willing to engage in an unbiased study of ALL sides), the next two and a half years are the perfect chance to learn more about the Civil War.  Honestly, everyone who is a citizen of this country should learn about the Civil War, and it sadly doesn’t seem to get much attention in school.  Understandably so – even after 150 years, it’s a touchy subject in many parts of our country.  But it’s important.  You can’t understand the Civil Rights Movement without studying the ideologies and political rhetoric leading up to the Civil War or what came from its aftermath.  Heck, the “indivisible” part of the Pledge of Allegiance, which millions of school children say every day across America, is in the Pledge because of the Civil War.

Think about that for a minute.

All set? Okay, let’s move on.

Now, as I’ve already said at the beginning of this post, I am a geek. Not just about words.  I’m a huge history geek.  Especially when it comes to the Civil War.  And as a writer of historical fiction, I feel it’s extremely important to be as accurate as possible in the historical details pertaining to your story.  A few months ago, I wrote about this and offered some of my favorite resources.  Even if you don’t use the actual details in your story, your knowledge of them strengthens the setting you’re building in your narrative.  Your background knowledge provides a framework for the choices your characters make and the things they do based on what’s happening in the world around them.

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, which remains the single bloodiest day in American military history.  23,000 men were dead, missing, or wounded by the end of the day, over 3500 of them killed outright during the battle.  And that, my friends, is the whole reason for this post.

Two Septembers ago, I had the opportunity to visit Antietam National Military Park.  (Side note – check out their site.  So comprehensive.  Go check out their YouTube channel as well.)  This was awesome for two reasons.  First – hello!  Civil War geek here!  But the second reason the visit was total awesomesauce was because, in my magnum opus, one of my main characters fights at Antietam.  And it’s one thing to study history books and maps and so on. It’s another to actually go to the place where this major event happened, see the layout of the land, and visualize what happened that day while you’re standing on the same ground.

It’s a really amazing experience.  Especially since most Civil War movies do a terrible job of depicting battles.  The only two Hollywood productions I can think of, off the top of my head, that actually presented worthwhile battle scenes were “Gettysburg” and the First Battle of Bull Run sequence in the “North & South: Book II” miniseries.  Why?  Because they filmed the battles with volunteer reenactment groups who knew what they were doing, and they filmed on location. And I know they filmed on location because I have been to both Gettysburg and Bull Run.

Antietam National Battlefield is kind of a special thing.  It’s nestled in the Maryland countryside, and the battlefield and surrounding area really hasn’t changed much in the 150 years since the Union and Confederate armies clashed in battle over what amounts to about 3 square miles, maybe a little more.  Sharpsburg is still a small town.  The farm fields are still in use.  It doesn’t get the huge levels of traffic larger, more well known sites like Gettysburg see every year, but in a way that helps maintain its charm.  When you walk out onto the battlefield, there’s very little to get in the way of your imagination.

I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow history lesson about the battle.  You can read up on it anywhere – Wikipedia, the National Park Services Website, the Civil War Trust’s website, countless books.  I do want to share a handful of my favorite photos from my trip, along with a video of an artillery demonstration.  If you want to see more of my pictures, you can check out the full album here.

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Walt Disney World – Photo Sharing

We spent August 11th through August 17th in Walt Disney World.  It was awesome – the hubby had never been before, and I hadn’t been since 1997.

Here, have some photos.