Soldier’s Heart by Michele McKnight Baker

Posted by on May 20, 2016 | 13 comments

Soldier’s Heart by Michele McKnight Baker

I love anything from the Civil War period, fact, fiction, or family history. Soldier’s Heart, written by my guest, Michele McKnight Baker, has all three. Taking place over a fifteen year period, pre-Civil War to the surrender of General Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865, Soldier’s Heart is a must-read for any historical fiction lover. Please leave a comment for a chance to win a Kindle copy of Soldier’s Heart! Sign in on the Rafflecopter at the bottom to increase your chances of winning! 


Fabulous Fridays

Michele, I loved Soldier’s Heart and I’m excited to introduce it to my readers. Please tell us something about yourself and how you started writing?

Thank you, Norma. I can remember writing stories and poetry as a child. What’s really interesting is that I remember the thrill of story telling, entertaining friends in the neighborhood with stories I made up, boys and girls older and younger than me. Empowering too. I learned the tremendous power of story. Non-fiction writing has always been a part of my career. First as a journalist, then as a PR and communications professional in business. Later as a marketing and leadership consultant to businesses and non-profits. Soldier’s Heart is my first novel. Historical fiction is similar to non-fiction writing in that it requires deep and careful research. Otherwise, fiction is very different, and more difficult I think, because it’s up to the writer to create an entire world that draws in and enthralls the reader. But I am getting back to my childhood roots!

Soldier’s Heart is a unique story, weaving together the story of a black family and white family near the time of the Civil War. Even more special, is the fact that you it based on your ancestors, share with us a little about how your story took shape.

My parents needed help moving. Mom and Dad were at different stages of Alzheimer’s and our family needed to help get them to a safe place to live. Their house sold fast and we had just a few days to pack up over 50 years of stuff–my parents saved our old grade school papers, sales receipts, vacation maps, just everything, now I know where I get the habit!—and we came across an old trunk that almost went into the dumpster. But when we opened it up, it was packed solid with antique documents—some dating back to the 1690s. When we showed Dad he said, “That’s right, my father asked me to take care of those papers, I forgot all about them”.

It took months to sift through them and as I did, several stories emerged. The Civil War period was especially rich. Letters from the front. Brady photographs. Manumission papers.

Secrets jumped out of that trunk. Of course every family has secrets. I knew about my father’s Scot Irish ancestry, the McKnights, Prebyterians who settled in Carlisle in the 1700s. I did not know about the branch of the family from Maryland. The Websters, Quakers from Baltimore. They were slave owners. It shocked me to the core.

Manumission papers are contracts freeing slaves. The Websters freed all of these slaves in the 1830s, probably moved by their religious convictions.

The two families connected just prior to the Civil War, when Margaret Webster married Robert Henderson. South married North. Robert and two of his brothers went to battle for the Union Army. Margaret apparently did some public speaking and volunteer work in support of the Union war effort, in spite of her roots. Two strong individuals with deep moral convictions.

Tweet: Meet author Michele McKnight Baker & one free copy of Soldier’s Heart! 

How did you go about researching and creating your setting and characters?

I spent some sleepless nights thinking and praying about slavery in my family’s past, and the fact that slavery is still with us. I knew there was an important story here, but I had no idea how to tell it. Then one evening among those rediscovered documents I found a Civil War era newspaper article about the Thompsons, an African American family. Mr. Thompson’s family had lived free in Carlisle for several generations, never slaves. They owned a home near the Hendersons. And so the families were neighbors and possibly friends. As the Confederate Army approached Carlisle, Mrs. Thompson hid her family’s valuables in the Henderson’s barn: their silver, linens, and their deed, before fleeing town with other civilians. When they returned, the Thompsons’ valuables were gone. Sometime later, they received a package mailed to them by a farmer in Gettysburg. He returned something he found on the battlefield. It was their deed.

Soldier's Heart 2

What was the greatest problem/challenge you faced in writing this book?

Well, the story had me hooked. But I still had no idea how to tell it. I had done enough research to know that I couldn’t do a non-fiction work, because too much detail was missing, especially for the Thompson family’s part of the story. One day as I was sifting through some of the material, the face of a boy came to me, the Thompson’s son. In my imagination he looked at me a long time before he spoke. He said, “I’m telling you this story, because it’s your story, too.” Then I knew the book would begin with his voice and point of view, and the story really began to flow.

What was the most emotional scene to write in Soldier’s Heart?

It’s hard to choose one scene, Norma. There are battlefront scenes true to the frustrations and gore and horror of war. Not enough attention is given to authentically conveying the homefront reality. What is the cost to children, even young children, who have to fulfill adult roles? Junior Thompson and Web Henderson have to do that. Soldier’s Heart explores cross cultural relationships. The mothers, Sarai Thompson and Maggie Henderson, battle each other and deep wounds get exposed. Slavery, racism, rape, infidelity. For me, the toughest character to develop was Maggie Henderson, because I think she was the keeper of the correspondence and papers, so I have some record of the other voices, but not hers.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?

For me as a reader, the writing has to be strong and the characters have to be compelling, so that’s what I try to accomplish for readers. It doesn’t happen overnight. Soldier’s Heart took seven years of research, writing, rewriting, rewriting…

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?

I love to read, of course. And travel. My husband and I just visited Italy for the first time. Family time is the best. We’re blessed with a terrific family, two granddaughters, two sons and a daughter-in-law, we’re very proud of all of them. I enjoy working with The Salvation Army, it has a great mission and fulfills it with exceptional stewardship.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

Soldier’s Heart was the Civil War era term for what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I’d like to hear from veterans and groups who are dealing with PTSD. Through speaking and sharing Soldier’s Heart we can help uplift those families, and solutions to trauma.

I’ve started the sequel to Soldier’s Heart. Primary setting is the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. My grandfather was a boyhood friend of Jim Thorpe. Stay tuned!

Tweet: Meet author Michele McKnight Baker & one free copy of Soldier’s Heart

Please share one of your favorite passages from Soldier’s Heart with us.

In this chapter, titled “Slave Graves” Robert “Chance” Thompson has just left the warfront and is trying to make his way home. He finds meager overnight shelter in a graveyard in Fredericksburg:

Morning. Chance tried again to sit up. Scenery spun round him, then settled. The headstones looked dizzy, too.

Mourning. Some had been damaged or downed, and re-seated. Several freshly dug graves occupied one corner. There were unmarked graves too and graves with sticks hitch-knotted together to form cross markers. Some of the stones bore first names only and a date of death. No birth date. Slave graves.

A grief seized his spirit with such force that he had to close his eyes against it. Chance lay back on his bedroll. It was as if the pain in his hand had moved to his heart and settled there. His shoulders seemed weighted to the ground. Grief. Anger. Shock. Yes, and fear. Thoughts slipped darkly through his mind, unbidden. This would be as good a place as any to die.

“Lord!” he grunted, rolling onto his uninjured arm. The furies still locked him down. Even his eyes seemed pinned shut. “Lord!” Through clenched jaw, gritted teeth. His lips barely moved. But his eyes flew open.

One arm’s length from his face sat a mound of something carefully wrapped in a white cloth. He pushed himself up on one elbow and reached for it with his injured hand, pulled it toward himself. The cloth was oozing something, the bottom felt damp. He sat splay-legged to open it, unfolding each layer with a slow hand, revealing a fragrant small round of brown bread. Soft. Still warm to the touch. Its baker had knifed a slit through its middle. Chance could smell the butter dripping from its edges. He felt butter coating his fingertips and thought about the hands that churned it. He smelled his fingers. Tasted them. Rubbed them against his cheek so the fragrance would stay with him for a few miles. He sank his face into the loaf, consuming it entirely, in big, grateful mouthfuls. This is my body, given for thee. He thought about the journey ahead as he folded the cloth and funneled the last crumbs into his mouth, then swallowed a few long draughts from his canteen. Chance was tempted to keep the cloth with him as a gift, a talisman. But he noticed it was the sort of cloth a practical woman like his Sarai would put to good use. He fished some money from the envelope, folded it into the cradle of cloth and laid it at the foot of his sleeping tree. He gathered his things, craned to look at the sky. Still very early. He would meet laborers on the road at this hour. Keep your cap low, eyes straight ahead, and keep walking.

A wordless, tiny seed of a blessing fell from his lips as he passed from gate to road. Chance wondered where on that scarred, sacred ground it fell, and how it might grow.

Book Blurb:Soldier's Heart

Junior Thompson, son of a freed slave, and Webbie Henderson, son of a wealthy family, cross a forbidden boundary between their properties and forge an unlikely friendship in the years that culminate in the Civil War. Young as they are, both must become the men of their families when their fathers are called to battle. When the war comes to their hometown of Carlisle and nearby Gettysburg, will they survive?

An historically authentic, fast-paced, multicultural family saga, Soldier’s Heart takes place over a fifteen-year period, culminating on April 9, 1865: Junior Thompson’s twelfth birthday, and also the day General Lee will surrender, formally ending the Civil War. Though the victory of the war may be at hand, this unforgettable story reveals how the private battles of the heart rage on.

Soldier’s Heart is inspired by the untold true story of the Thompsons, a black family, and the Hendersons, a white family, who lived as neighbors in Carlisle, PA. The author is their direct descendant. Celebrate Black History Month with this book-club selection.

About the author:

Michele McKnight BakerMichele McKnight Baker’s commercially published non-fiction book (Sandpaper Sisters: addicts turned community builders, miracles do happen!) drew endorsements by Alma (Mrs. Colin) Powell, Tony Campolo (best-selling author on social justice issues), and Mary Pipher (author of Raising Ophelia). Recently Michele has won awards in the Salvation Army’s national writers’ contest in both non-fiction and fiction, an excerpt from Soldier’s Heart garnering the fiction prize.

Writing has always figured in Michele’s career, beginning as a journalist. No, earlier than that, as a fidgety grade schooler, shortest and second oldest in her class. She’s enjoyed building a successful marketing and business performance consulting firm, while earning a Ph.D., and teaching masters and undergraduate business courses. (Michele’s an alum of Smith College and Union Institute and University).  She considers it a privilege to currently serve as Director of Advancement for The Salvation Army, York, PA. Whether for business or general audiences, non fiction or fiction, Michele’s writing is about giving voice to compelling stories, and to characters that haunt her until she has no choice but to listen, and scribe.

She is married to Frank, who has probably taken her to more Orioles and Giants baseball games than any other bi-coastal fan of teams that wear orange and black. They are the parents of Andrew and Dan. When they were schoolboys Michele taught them how to play chess and they promptly beat her.

Connect with Michele:


Soldier’s Heart Book Trailer video:


Book Links:


Barnes & Noble:

Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I too love anything Civil War era. That is what interests me in this book. I can’t wait to read it. Thanks for the giveaway and good luck everyone.

    • Thanks Debbie. Authors love feedback from readers (right, Gail?:>) Please share your honest review of Soldier’s Heart on Amazon and Goodreads. Happy reading!

  2. I love the 1800’s ….a hard but simple life.

    • It’s interesting, isn’t it Judy, how each era has its own struggles? Thanks for your comment.

  3. Stories where people follow their beliefs/hearts instead of the crowd are always my favorites!

    • Amen, Felicia. Even if “the only one”…an important theme. Please share your honest review of Soldier’s Heart on Amazon and Goodreads. Happy reading!

  4. I am anxious to read and see how diffrent this book is from Gary Pulsan’s Soldier’s Heart book. I love historical books!!

    • Please share your thoughts with me, Nikki. (Reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, are welcomed.) Are you an educator, by any chance?

  5. I am a history major specializing in history of the 1800’s, but I had never heard the term “soldier’s heart.” I would like to learn more about where and how often the term was used in Civil War times. I would love to read your book!

    The fastest way to reach me is wandrnlady(at)

    • Thank you Janice. I’d love for you to read Soldier’s Heart and share your feedback. Happy to connect with you via email as well. I’ve not explored the origin, just know the term became widely used in that era. All the best in your studies, history is endlessly fascinating.

    • Here is a report I found on the origin of the term “soldier’s heart”.

      • Good find lady Lady Norma you are quick on the draw!???? I can add from my research that there was a mental hospital at the time in the Harrisburg vicinity. Also the term was employed during the war not just after the war.

        • I LOVE research! It looked like there were several interesting articles there.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Did you enjoy this?

If so, please help spread the happiness! Share this post with your friends!

%d bloggers like this: