Controversial Capitalization

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Sometimes rules regarding capitalization are controversial and can be debated. For instance, take military terms. Should writers capitalize Navy, or should navy be lowercased? Should Army be capitalized, or should army be lowercased?  

According to The Chicago Manual of Style, if we’re spelling out the full name of a particular army or navy, it’s capitalized. If the word army, navy, air force and so on stands alone, then those words are lowercased.

 Example: Army of the Potomac, United States Army, United States Navy, the army, Union navy, etc.

Not every stylebook agrees with this, though they all agree these words should be capitalized when spelling out the full name of a specific branch of the armed services.

The Associated Press Stylebook takes a different view from The Chicago Manual of Style. It says to capitalize the abbreviated form of military branches: Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines. So does the Government Printing Office (GPO).

Another case is how to spell marine. Is it capitalized, or is it not? I’ve seen it spelled both ways by well-respected historians, just as I’ve seen Confederate Navy and Confederate navy in excellent history books.

The New York Times used to spell marine in the lowercase so it’d be the same as soldier and sailor, as the newspaper explained. According to a recent report the paper has changed its style requirements to start spelling it in the uppercase, even when referring to an individual Marine. The Navy’s style manual agrees with this.

This debate will likely never end because style manuals differ. The one rule that doesn’t change is this: when referring to the full name of a national army, navy, air force, coast guard, marines—always capitalize. Whatever style manual we use in other cases, keep our style consistent throughout our work.

Abe Hawkins, The Antebellum South’s Greatest Jockey

When one thinks of slavery in the antebellum South, most people put slaves in two categories: domestic servants and field hands. But a third category also dominated the antebellum social landscape: horsemen. Most of the South’s horsemen who participated in Thoroughbred racing were slaves.

Thoroughbred racing was the sport in the Old South. Men and women from practically every economic strata attended the contests. And one horseman stood head and shoulders above all others in his generation. His name? Abe Hawkins. Head and shoulders metaphorically, because in reality Abe, like most jockeys, was a small man. It was reported that he could fit into a boy-size coat.

Not a photograph of Abe. I could not find one, so it may not exist.

Not much is known about his boyhood, nor do we know his exact day of birth. We do know he once belonged to Adam Bingaman, a Louisiana planter. His reputation as a fierce competitor on the track won the respect of racing enthusiasts, white and black.

In 1853, Duncan F. Kenner purchased him from Bingaman for over $2,000 and brought him to his Louisiana plantation, Ashland.

In 1854, Abe raced to fame during the Lecomte-Lexington contest held at the Metairie Race Track in New Orleans, an event I’ll discuss in a later post.

During the Civil War, as the Union army bore down on Ashland in 1862, Duncan Kenner escaped capture and Abe fled North. Here he continued racing, winning fame and fortune.

Finally, afflicted by tuberculosis, he returned to Ashland and Kenner’s nursing and care. He died in 1867, but his name and reputation on the turf lived on.


Katherine C. Mooney, Race Horse Men: How Slavery and Freedom Were Made at the Racetrack (Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2014).

Nick Weldon, “From slavery to sports stardom: Abe Hawkins’ rise from a Louisiana plantation to horse-racing fame,” The Historic New Orleans Collection, January 11, 2019,

19th Century Equine Health Tips

For a horse who suffered from fits, where he jerked his head and fell down but then got up again and seemed fine, the following remedy was offered in 1855:

“Give the animal two ounces of the tincture of asafoetida every morning for ten days. Tie the gum on his bit and wear it for six or eight days. He will never have a fit after the first dose.”

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For a horse who suffered a chronic cough, it was recommended that the animal’s owner take:

“…powdered squills one ounce, ginger two ounces, cream of tartar one ounce, mix well, and give a spoonful every morning and evening in wet bran. This is good after hard riding or driving. It cures all coughs and colds, and will prevent the lungs from swelling.”


The Horse. G.W. M’Coy’s catalogue of practical receipts, for curing the different diseases of the horse. Enered according to the Library of Congress, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty-five by George W. McCoy…Indianapolis. Printed by Cameron & McNeely (1855).

Romance Novels: Why I’m Reading Them

“All females are complicated, worse’n a riddle wrapped in a puzzle.”Alexander Dunwoody Jessup, Master, Confederate States Navy. Quoted in River Ruckus, Bloody Bay.

These words by one of my naval saga’s main characters explains, I think, why romance novels are difficult for us men to write. Of course, in a lady’s eyes, we men are probably riddles too.

After a quick perusal of my bookshelves, one won’t find romance novels. No, that person will find history books, historical novels, literary classics, Westerns (Louis L’Amour and Elmer Kelton, primarily), and numerous works of Christian non-fiction. But a romance novel in my house? I may have one or two, but not many.

Ah, things are changing now. I’m starting to branch out of my “literary comfort zone” by reading more of them. Not just reading, though. I’m studying them—how the stories are put together, character motivations (especially the female characters), plot twists, and so on.

Sure, I could purchase a book on how to write them, and I probably will at some point, but it’s also helpful to read outside of our genres every now and then. It gives us a “flavor” of the genre and the prose. My least favorite genre is fantasy and science fiction, yet I confess, I’ve read a few of those kinds of books, too.

Why branch out in our reading? It helps our writing. As for my current diet of romance novels, I’m counting on it to help me improve my development of female characters in my historical novels. Who knows? Maybe, one day, I can help Alexander solve those beautiful “riddles wrapped in a puzzle.”

Are you reading outside your preferred genre? What books are you reading this year?

Breaking News

One of the hard lessons I’ve had to come to terms with is this truth: I am a human. Wow! Breaking news, huh?

To be more precise, it used to bother me when I’d discover an editing error either I or someone else missed after my books were published. Not too many errors, fortunately, but errors, such as typos, nonetheless. I am human. We are human. No matter how many times we proofread our manuscript, no matter how many good beta readers we have, such minor errors still get past us. Hey, I’ve even found them in bestsellers: typos, wrong prepositions, an awkward sentence here and there. It happens to all of us.

For some reason, the things we missed jump off our published pages. We needn’t get bent out of shape when this happens (like I used to do). As I said earlier, I’ve found things editors of bestsellers missed. The main thing we need to be concerned about, though, is that we don’t have too many. However, if we miss a couple of things always remember the breaking news: We’re all human, including our editors.

Horse Trivia, Thoroughbreds

While researching my current work-in-progress, a novel about Thoroughbred racing in the antebellum South, I learned a few interesting bits of trivia about these magnificient animals. Although I’m sure most horse people know these things, they were new to me. So, I thought I’d share them.

Thoroughbreds can run between 35 and 40 miles per hour.

The Thoroughbred’s average stride is twenty feet long.

Thorougbreds can reach up to 150 strides per minute.

Fascinating stuff, at least for me.

Source: “Racing Explained: What Makes a Good Racehorse?” Horse Racing Ireland, 12 March 2012,

News Update

February 1: I will be attending the Southern Christian Writers Book Expo at Lakeside Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The Expo’s hours will be between 10 a.m and 3 p.m. I’ll have a book table and will be autographing books. If you’re in the Birmingham area, come by for a visit!

Characters and Backstory

Olivia De Haviland (aka Melanie Hamilton Wilkes): Gone With the Wind. Photo is in the public domain. Can’t believe she’s 102 years old now!

In all my years of writing historical fiction, I’ve found one thing to be the most challenging, yet also fun. It’s writing a character’s biography.

We writers must write our characters’ biographies, at least all the major characters’ stories, in order to get to know them better. Oftentimes their personalities will surprise us, as well as their motivations, education, strengths, weaknesses, and so on. The more time we spend with them, the more they become our literary “friends.”

What is challenging, at least for me, is writing their backstory. Why? Because their backstory must be believable within its historical context as well as contribute to the character’s personality, motives, and so on.  

Let me use my home state, for example. If I write a story set in 1850s Mobile, Alabama, and use a character’s backstory (or even a flashback) set in 1817 Alabama, I cannot have a significant event happening to him in Montgomery, Alabama in that year, nor could he reach Montgomery by train.

Why not? For two reasons: (1) Alabama didn’t have railroads in 1818. He’d have probably traveled on horseback, in a wagon or carriage, or maybe a stagecoach, a common mode of travel during this era. (2) Montgomery wasn’t a city in 1817. In fact, it consisted of several small settlements. My character could visit one of these settlements and have a few critical events happen in his life there, but not in Montgomery. However, he could visit Montgomery in 1819 after two of the settlements incorporated to form the town.

To sum up, research the history, inventions, modes of travel, and so forth that surrounded our characters’ pasts as thoroughly as we do their present events. Because if their pasts aren’t historically accurate and believable, we’ll certainly lose readers.

Memoir in the Works

Pharmacist’s Mate 1st Class(PHM1C), John M. Cunningham, returned home from World War Two. His sister is on the left, his mother on the right.

As a writer of historical fiction, one of my favorite primary sources are letters and diaries. We can learn so much about an era through reading them. The way people talked, games they played, food they ate, issues people faced and what they thought about certain events of their times …the list could continue for pages.

Regarding Southern history, I own many such sources from my chosen era, the nineteenth century. Among them, The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon. This diary is unique in two ways: Clara was Jewish, and she came from a middle-class family.

Another excellent source I own is The Civil War Diary of Sarah Morgan. And, if you share my interest in naval history, her brother James Morris Morgan wrote Recollections of a Rebel Reefer. He served in the Confederate Navy.

I own other published diaries and letters, too. I don’t think we can ever have enough of these memories published.

Thankfully, my late father left me written memories of his experiences in the Pacific Theater during World War Two. I also interviewed him about his wartime service before he died, which I recorded on a cassette. I realize we have lots of published memories of these veterans out there, but World War Two was the greatest conflict of the twentieth century and the greatest generation fought it. In the near future, I’ll be culling through my father’s recollections and working on his memoirs. It will require lots of work because he left me with so much, thus, I don’t have any firm date for its release yet. Though subject to change, the memoir is tentatively titled: Memoirs of a Pharmacist’s Mate in World War Two. It will be my second non-fiction book.

Squire, A Mascot’s Tale–Now Released!

Squire, A Mascot’s Tale, a dog story set during America’s Civil War, is now available for purchase at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis: At the outbreak of the Civil War, and against his wife Rachel’s pleadings, Captain Jesse Webb takes his beloved dog Squire to war as his regiment’s mascot. By 1863, they’re posted in Port Hudson, Louisiana. Here Jesse encounters his old rival for Rachel’s hand, Colonel Hampton Lafayette Marsden, who’d killed Jesse’s brother in a duel a few years earlier. Here, too, Squire kills a fighting bulldog in self-defense.The bulldog’s owner, Aaron Blevin, conspires with Marsden against Squire and Jesse. In exchange for Squire, Blevin’s daughter Giselle promises to have an “affair” with Jesse, designed to ruin Jesse’s honor and marriage as Marsden’s revenge for losing Rachel to him. When Rachel unexpectedly arrives at the garrison and Blevin captures Squire, trouble for both of them ramp up. Squire’s life hangs in the balance; Jesse’s marriage is on the line. Will Rachel forgive Jesse’s “affair” and for losing Squire? Will Squire survive his ordeal and find his way home while the Union army battles the Rebel garrison?