When a brigade of General Sherman's victorious army marched into Chapel Hill the day after Easter 1865, the Civil War had just ended and President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. Citizens of the picturesque North Carolina college town had endured years of hardship and sacrifice, and now the Union army was patrolling its streets. One of Sherman's young generals paid a visit to the stately home of David Swain, president of the University of North Carolina and a former governor of the state, to inform him that the town was now under Union occupation.
Against this unlikely backdrop began a passionate and controversial love story still vivid in town lore. When President Swain's daughter Ella met the Union general, life for these two young people who had spent the war on opposite sides was forever altered.
General Smith Atkins of Illinois abhorred slavery and greatly admired Abraham Lincoln. Spirited young Ella Swain had been raised in a slave-owning family and had spent the war years gathering supplies to send to Confederate soldiers.
But, as a close friend of the Swain's wrote, when Atkins met Ella, the two "changed eyes at first sight and a wooing followed."
The reaction of the Swains and fellow North Carolinians to this North-South love affair was swift and often unforgiving.
In Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle and a Yankee General, author Suzy Barile, a great-great-granddaughter of Ella Swain and Smith Atkins, tells their story, separating facts from the elaborate embellishments the famous courtship and marriage have taken on over the generations. Interwoven throughout Undaunted Heart are excerpts from Ella's never-before-published letters to her parents that reveal a loving marriage that transcended differences and scandal.
Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle & a Yankee General has received a Silver IPPY Award for Best Regional Non-Fiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards.