“Beautifully-drawn characters and rich history in With This Pledge work seamlessly to demonstrate that Christ’s love and romantic love can triumph even in our darkest moments.” —Lynn Austin, bestselling author
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Clouston’s quietly held principles oppose those of the Southern Cause—but when forty thousand soldiers converge on the fields of Franklin, Tennessee, the war demands an answer. The Carnton home where she is governess is converted into a Confederate field hospital, and Lizzie is called upon to assist the military doctor with surgeries that determine life or death. Faced with the unimaginable, she must summon fortitude, even as she fears for the life of Towny, her fiancé and lifelong friend.
As a young soldier lies dying in Lizzie’s arms, she vows to relay his final words to his mother, but knows little more than the boy’s first name. That same night, decorated Mississippi sharpshooter Captain Roland Ward Jones extracts a different promise from Lizzie: that she intervene should the surgeon decide to amputate his leg.
Lizzie is nothing if not a woman of her word, earning the soldiers’ respect as she tends to the wounded within Carnton’s walls. None is more admiring than Captain Jones, who doesn’t realize she is pledged to another. But as Lizzie’s heart softens toward the Confederate captain, she discovers that his moral ground is at odds with her own. Now torn between love, principles, and promises made, she struggles to be true to her heart while standing for what she knows is right—no matter the cost.
From the pages of history and the personal accounts of those who endured the Battle of Franklin, Tamera Alexander weaves the real-life love letters between Captain Roland Ward Jones and Miss Elizabeth Clouston into a story of unlikely romance first kindled amid the shadows of war.
“Alexander’s With This Pledge dusts off the archives and breathes life into the Battle of Franklin: believed to be the most brutal battle in the Civil War. Through Tamera Alexander’s indomitable heroine, Lizzie Clouston, who transforms from governess to nurse out of necessity, we find ourselves contemplating our own inner strength should we also be faced with the unthinkable. Tamera Alexander’s With This Pledge is not only historical fiction at its finest, but its most compelling.” —Jolina Petersheim, bestselling author of How the Light Gets In
“Tamera Alexander has once again given readers a beautifully written story full of strong characters and tender romance—all while staying true to the actual history of the people and events she describes. From the horrors of war to the hope of blossoming love, Lizzie and Roland’s story will live in my heart for a very long time.” —Anne Mateer, author of Playing by Heart
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NOVEMBER 30, 1864 CARNTON PLANTATION FRANKLIN, TENNESSEE 21 MILES SOUTH OF NASHVILLE
"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-estine," 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.
And what would stating her differing views have changed? Nothing. Lizzie held back a sigh. She was a governess, not a landowner. She couldn't vote. She wasn't even mistress of her own home — yet, at least. She had no voice. And sharing her opinions would have only driven a wedge between her and the McGavock family, which was a relationship she cherished. Being so forthcoming might well cost her the position here, and that was something she could ill afford, especially now with the war on. Still, even when considering her reasons, she felt a sense of shame.
She wondered sometimes if she shouldn't have gone north all those years ago when she'd first considered it. She could have found a place with a family in Boston or Philadelphia, surely. Yet that would have meant leaving behind her family, her friends, all that was familiar. So she'd stayed, and tried not to dwell on what she couldn't change.
"You teachin' them children 'bout all them places, ma'am?" Tempy glanced at the globe.
"I'm doing my best. Although with so pretty a day, it's difficult to maintain their attention."
"Days like this don't come round too often, 'specially this time of year."
Lizzie dabbed the corners of her mouth, checking for icing. Then she lowered her voice, mindful of the open jib window. "I'm thinking of moving outside for a while so we can enjoy the sunshine."
"If you want, ma'am, I could fix you all a picnic lunch and you could eat out there."
Lizzie nodded. "That's a wonderful idea! I'll use that as an enticement for them to remain attentive until then."
The promise worked like a charm. Following a delightful lunch, the children helped clean up the picnic without complaint. Winder needed a little prompting, rambunctious boy that he was. Still, he pitched right in when asked. Lizzie sat on the blanket beside Sallie watching as Winder and Hattie chased each other beneath the shade of the Osage orange tree. A wave of affection for them swept through her, nearly stealing her breath. She'd known Hattie before the girl had turned two. And Winder she'd known since birth. She loved them as though they were her own.
The warmth within her faded by a degree. Someday, Lord willing, she and Towny would have children of their own. A flicker of guilt accompanied the thought of Towny. But as she always did, Lizzie tried to set it aside. After all, women married for a whole variety of reasons — money, prestige, social standing, security. So was marrying for the hope of having children really so bad?
She studied the bare ring finger on her left hand and thought of what Towny had said in his last letter almost a month ago. The next time he saw her, he'd written, he had something special to give her. She wondered if it was his mother's ring. Having known his mother, Marlene — God rest her soul — Lizzie found the thought endearing. Then again, having known Towny's parents and the close relationship they'd shared, she only hoped that if Towny planned on giving her that ring, she would prove worthy of it.
It would be wonderful to see him again after all these months. Would he be much changed? Would he consider her so? Had his intent to marry her waned in any way? Did he ever entertain the same questions about their future as she did? A warm breeze rustled the leaves overhead, and Lizzie checked the chatelaine watch pinned to her shirtwaist. It was later than she'd thought. She ushered the children back into the schoolroom upstairs and was closing the door behind her when Tempy caught her attention.
"A letter come for you, ma'am. From your Lieutenant Townsend." Tempy handed it to her. "I hope he's all right. He's such a good man."
Your Lieutenant Townsend. Tempy had taken to calling Towny that in recent months, but the term still struck an odd note within Lizzie. "Thank you for bringing this to me. And yes, he is a good man." She checked the date stamped on the envelope. Only a week ago. Mail delivery had been quick this time. She wondered where he was.
"He'll make you a good husband too, ma'am."
"Yes. Yes, he will," Lizzie answered. She'd told herself the same thing many times.
Tempy tilted her head and studied her in the manner she sometimes did. A manner that always caused Lizzie to ponder whether the woman could read every blessed thought in her head. And, even more, if Tempy questioned whether Lizzie herself was as well acquainted with those thoughts as she should be.
"Well, enjoy your letter." Tempy dipped her head and took her leave.
Lizzie closed the door and laid the envelope on the table's edge. It would have to wait for now. The first hour passed swiftly as they reviewed grammar lessons, then transitioned to penmanship. Hattie and Sallie both possessed a beautiful hand. But Winder's cursive, bless him, looked more like chicken scratch. Lizzie sat with him while he painstakingly practiced each letter, then she whispered, "Well done," and tousled the hair on his head. She did love a good challenge. Next they moved to arithmetic. Lizzie wrote addition problems on a slate, and each child took a turn solving two or three. Arithmetic was Winder's favorite subject, and to Lizzie's joy he excelled in it. Finally she set them to working problems on their own and reached for Towny's letter.
She opened the envelope. Only one sheet of paper within. Her gaze scanned the page, and her eyes widened. He'd been brief, but not evasive. Quite the contrary. Lizzie felt her face go warm.
Dearest Lizzie Beth,
I'm counting the days until I see you again and sincerely hope that that number will be a small one. I've taken to dreaming of you in recent days and those dreams are so real I can almost feel you beside me. To say I'm eager to make you my wife would be a dilution of my fierce affections. It would be like saying that Tennessee summers can be a mite warm. Yet as warm as we know those summers to be, they are nothing compared to the fire that burns within me for you, and that seems to grow stronger with each passing day.
Lizzie looked up to see if the children were watching. Then she realized how silly that was. As though in watching her read the letter, they would somehow be made privy to its contents. She fingered the high collar of her shirtwaist and continued.
Tucker's Brigade is being ordered farther south, but I pray we make our way back to Franklin soon. Hopefully by spring. I want us to be married as soon as possible, Lizzie. That is my wish and I hope yours is the same. I apologize for my brevity, but I must see this posted before we move out. Please pass along my kindest regards to the McGavocks and their children. When you see my father, please inform him that his son is well, is fighting for the land he cherishes, but misses home and all the treasures it holds. Namely you, my dearest Lizzie.
Most affectionately yours, Towny
Any question about whether he'd changed his mind about their pending nuptials had been erased. And once again Towny had managed to surprise her. She'd last seen him in January, when he'd asked her to marry him. To say she'd been surprised then as well was an understatement. One minute they'd been walking back from town after a visit with her family — discussing the war and how he'd managed to secure a brief furlough home — and the next thing she knew, he'd turned and grabbed hold of her hands.
"I know this seems sudden, Lizzie, but I've been thinking about it for some time. I think I've loved you since I first laid eyes on you that day at the mercantile. You with your brown hair in pigtails, eating a peppermint stick. You would hardly look at me, until I did a somersault with no hands." His boyish grin held traces of youth. "Once we're husband and wife, I know we can make a good life together. We already know each other at our best and worst, and that gives us a great advantage over most couples. So please, say you'll be my wife? At least consider it?"
She had agreed and then sought her mother's counsel, only to discover that Towny had already asked her father's permission for her hand, which he had heartily given. Her parents were overjoyed. And looking at it practically, she'd realized Towny was right. They did already know each other very well. And they were both twenty-eight years old. It was well past time for her to wed. No one else had sought her hand in marriage, and she had no reason to think that would change, especially with the war claiming the lives of so many men.
But the real reason she'd agreed to marry Towny — the reason she'd not shared with him — made her feel false inside. She wanted children of her own, and the time for that to happen was swiftly passing her by. She smoothed a hand over her midsection. Soon Hattie and Winder would be grown, and she'd have to move on to another house to raise someone else's children. Either that or become a burden to her parents. So ... she'd said yes.
And she was terribly fond of Towny. She could honestly say she loved him. Not, perhaps, in the way she'd always imagined she would love a husband. But love could grow from friendship. Or so she'd been told. And she and Blake Rupert Townsend — or Towny, the nickname she'd bestowed upon him as a boy — had been the best of friends since childhood. So she'd given him her pledge. And Towny would make a fine husband. She'd thought so for many years. She'd simply never imagined he would be hers.
Lizzie folded the letter and put it away, then checked the time. She'd allow the children another five or ten minutes to complete their tasks. In the meantime, she'd fetch the novel she'd left in Winder's bedroom down the hallway. She intended to start reading it to them tonight before bedtime. She'd saved it specially for this time of year.
"Miss Clouston," Sallie said before Lizzie shut the door.
"Could you help me with this one before you go?" The girl pointed to her slate.
"Would you help me," Lizzie gently prompted. "And yes, I'd be happy to help you. But I want you to try to figure it out first on your own. I'll prompt you if you begin to do it incorrectly. And feel free to work the problem aloud, if that helps you."
She smoothed a hand over Sallie's long blond hair and gave her an encouraging nod, then tugged a strand of the equally long golden hair of Clara, the porcelain doll the child took with her everywhere. Sallie grinned and set to work, whispering faintly to herself. Following a recent buildup of Federal troops in Nashville, Sallie's parents had asked the McGavocks if they could bring Sallie to Carnton for a few days to keep her distanced from the war. It was nice to have an additional student to teach, and since Hattie and Sallie were close cousins, they were enjoying every moment together.
Sallie finished working the problem and peered up.
"Well done!" Lizzie whispered, and the girl's eyes sparkled. "By working it aloud, you were able to do it all by yourself. Now see if you can complete the rest, and I'll be back shortly."
Lizzie closed the door, then waited a few seconds to make certain Winder didn't start jabbering at the girls the way he sometimes did when she left the room. But blessed quiet reigned, and she sighed. Days like these were what governesses lived for.
She headed for Winder's room across the hall, then remembered she'd left the blanket they'd used for the picnic folded on the front porch. Best get that first. She descended the staircase to the main floor and heard the clock in the family parlor chime. Two o'clock. She might dismiss the children early today and they could all take a walk down to the Saw Mill Creek, or maybe even into town to get penny candy at the mercantile. They could stop by her parents' house for a quick visit too, and —(Continues…)
Excerpted from "With This Pledge"
Copyright © 2019 Tamera Alexander.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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