Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

Civil War


Cut to the Heart

by Ava Dianne Day

This mystery is by the same author of the Fremont Jones series. The setting and principle character, however, could not be more different. In “Cut”, Day give us the legendary battle field nurse Clara Barton during the short time she was assigned to Hilton Head Island to tend to the wounded Union Army Colonel John Elwell. In the area lurks an unknown evil psychopath who preys upon poor blacks and who throughout the book stalks Clara. Clara’s ultimate success in uncovering the source of this evil is matched by the magical invocations of Annabell, a Gullah priestess and practitioner of traditional arts. Barton’s real life strong attachment to Colonel Elwell also forms part of the plot.

Although Barton’s Hilton Head sojourn formed only a small, relatively inactive part of her life, the book gives us fascinating glimpses into army life on the eve of battle, of the workings of Civil War hospitals, and of Barton’s feelings regarding the rejection of her services by Dorothea Dix and the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Day’s description of island waterways and marches, and the life of the ex-enslaved Gullah population is valuable as well. The use of some of the sources mentioned in the bibliography in the back of the book plus a search of the internet will help readers place Clara Barton’s Hilton Head experiences into the larger context of her whole life and accomplishments.



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