On November 23, 1864, a group of Confederate spies attempted to firebomb the City of New York. In this fictional account, one escapes to the St. Lawrence River, where he hides out on a small island near the Canadian border. There Jonathon meets Anya, an Irishwoman living alone on Grindstone Island, awaiting the return of her brother who has enlisted in the Union Army. Isolated, traumatized by the Great Famine, Anya struggles to build a life amid the war-weary islanders. Almost every family has been touched by the war; Michael Burns has returned damaged, unable to connect with his former world. Faced with dark and uncertain futures, they share profound need for connection, a need that puts them in mortal danger: Jonathon’s fellow spies believe him a traitor, and are in pursuit, intent on kill him. Set in the wild beauty of the Thousand Islands, Grindstone illuminates the Irish immigrant experience and the impact of the Civil War in a haunting and artfully imagined narrative.
There is little consolation in relating the particulars of the hostile operations along the northern borders of the United States, by Confederate soldiers from Canada, who were assigned to this service by the authorities of the Confederate States in 1864.
And yet the authentic narrative of this desperate warfare…may serve as a lesson and a guide to the present and future generations of our reunited country in determining the price of peace and the pretexts for war.
Confederate Operations in Canada and New York
John W. Headley, 1906
From the Prologue
When I came to that country, it was October, and the trees were red and gold. Then November came, with its somber skies, December, when all living things seem to abandon the land, and the river boomed and cracked as it seized up in ice. Then everything froze altogether, and the sky and water became still.
New to that country, caught up in my own survival, I did not understand the scope or nature of the War of the Rebellion, only that it was not ours, my brother’s and mine, to fight. I could not have imagined that the war would come to the very shores of Grindstone, with such treachery and brutality that I still wake at night with a pounding heart. Read Full Prologue
EVEN IN NOVEMBER, the streets of New York were filthy, crowded with livestock, immigrants, and soldiers milling about in the mire. On every corner hung an effigy of Lincoln as grotesque and obscene as any in the South. THE ILLINOIS APE, the signs read. At night the strawmen were torched by carousing, angry mobs, illuminating the city. How had Lincoln been re-elected?
He stood in the shadows, watching the entry to the tavern. The place was crowded, and in his tradesman’s clothes, he would pass unnoticed. He now called himself Douglas, Jonathon Douglas; he would use this name for as long as it suited his purpose.
The Irish in the American Civil War