Today is the Ninth Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy, which I am dedicating to the late author Jane LaTour, my friend and colleague who passed on April 3, 2023.
Nine years ago this month, my friend Jane LaTour and I embarked on a landmark trip to Fredericksburg, Va., to attend Civil War reenactments of some May 1864 Overland Campaign battles my Union Army ancestor fought in.
At the time, Jane and I were each at a crossroads in our writing lives.
Jane had completed her first book Sisters in the Brotherhoods about union women in non-traditional jobs organizing for equality – and she had a deal for a second book about union men who were labor reformers.
But Jane had recently lost a friend and mentor who advised her during her first book, and she was grappling with how to start the second book without him.
Meanwhile, I was deeply into genealogy and family history research — and had long wanted to write about my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull, but was unsure how to begin.
I had studied his pension file, read up on his Civil War battles, attended writing workshops and begun short essays for a possible book – even considered blogging about his experiences. But how to get started? The answer came when Jane agreed to go with me to Virginia.
Our trip is planned
At the time, Jane and I had worked together for more than a decade as labor journalists. At an after-work communicators happy hour, I was complaining to colleagues that I couldn’t get anyone to go with me to upcoming reenactments during the Civil War Sesquicentennial.
“I’ll go with you!” said Jane, who had overheard the conversation.
“Seriously? You’d really go?” I asked — and yes, she would.
So, we started to plan – and that was the impetus I needed to take the plunge. On April 24, 2014, I quickly set up Molly’s Canopy and wrote the first few blog posts before we departed.
On my first post, Jane left a comment typical of her supportive enthusiasm:
Dear Molly, This is just wonderful and so inspiring! You are amazing! I am honored to be your traveling companion and a part of your journey of discovery. It is going to be one great adventure!…Keep blogging…it’s just great! Jane
A life-changing experience
The entire trip turned out to be a bonding, life-changing experience for us both – and great fun, too! Jane was a history buff, and we both gasped in awe as we drove to the first battle and saw the tents of reenactors who bivouacked by the roadside – as if we were driving all the way back to 1864!
Jane and I wandered through troop encampments, chatted with battlefield journalists and postmasters, visited medical and supply tents, talked to the Irish Brigade and the African American Buffalo Soldiers.
We also witnessed two realistic looking battles – with troops advancing on one another and cannons booming (particularly exciting for me since my ancestor was an artillerist!).
At one point the Gen. Ulysses S. Grant reenactor galloped up on a horse and talked to the gathered crowd. And Jane was thrilled to discover a busload of history buffs from a Civil War Roundtable in Vermont – her home state.
After each day’s excitement, Jane and I would return to our hotel with gun smoke permeating our clothes and change for dinner. Then we’d head to the local Golden Corral buffet – where reenactors in uniform wandered about surrealistically with plastic trays piled with food, and where we chatted up a Union reenactor and his wife, who was in period dress. It was quite an experience!
Cementing a 20-year friendship
Between battles, which were held on private land, we drove over to the actual Spotsylvania Battlefield – a huge, quiet hallowed ground imbued with the spirit of soldiers who laid down their lives in the war to end the brutal system of slavery.
We also talked into the night about our writing plans and how we hoped to move forward – Jane on her book, me on my blog.
In the end, that trip cemented a 20-year friendship during which we continued to write and write – me on Molly’s Canopy and Jane completing the manuscript of her second book. We also met monthly in a wonderful Writers Circle with our colleagues Jon and Donn to discuss our work and offer mutual support.
I will miss Jane immensely – for her enthusiasm, solidarity and thoughtful observations about the writing process and life in general, and for the way she always called me her “French connection” because we both had French heritage.
I will remember Jane always as my good friend who was there with me from the start of my genealogy writing journey — and I’ll let her have the last word, from a treasured comment she left on my First Blogiversary post:
Dear Molly, Congratulations! This is a beautiful summation of your journey, one that I am proud and happy to have shared with you. I love the layering and unfolding of your ancestors’ stories…onward! In admiration, Jane
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