Tonya McQuade

Tonya McQuade is an English Teacher and Department Chair at Los Gatos High School in Los Gatos, California, and is a member of South Bay Writers, Poetry Center San Jose, and the National League of American Pen Women. She is a great lover of both history and nature, frequently visiting museums, state and national parks, and historical sites with her husband and children, as well as reading and teaching historical texts, literature, and primary source documents. In many cases, her reading of historical fiction has driven her to dig more deeply into the historical figures and events being portrayed, leading her to new discoveries and areas of interest.

After acquiring 50 family Civil War letters in 2022, Tonya began researching the American Civil War in Missouri and began posting about her writing journey on a personal blog, Chasing History: Exploring My Ancestral Roots, as well as writing articles for the Emerging Civil War website. She recently published a book that incorporates the letters with historical commentary, titled A State Divided: The Civil War Letters of James Calaway Hale and Benjamin Petree of Andrew County, Missouri, which is available on Amazon. She is especially interested in the role women played in the Civil War, the history of slavery and abolition, and the ways the Civil War has been depicted in literature, film, poetry, and song.

Tonya earned B.A. degrees in English and Communication Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and served there as a writer and editor for the student newspaper, the Daily Nexus, for four years. She also earned her Single Subject Teaching Credential in English at UCSB and later her M.A. in Educational Leadership from San Jose State University.

A full listing of Tonya’s Emerging Civil War articles can be found here.

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Tonya is also a member of the Emerging Civil War Speakers Bureau. Her available presentations are listed below:

When Family History Research Leads to a Box of Civil War Letters and Writing a Book
Hear the story of how my new book, A State Divided: The Civil War Letters of James Calaway Hale and Benjamin Petree of Andrew County, Missouri came to be. It’s the story of what happens when someone contacts you on, offering you a box of old family letters rescued from a garbage heap, and suddenly your life trajectory changes. Suddenly, you’re tracing your great-great-great grandfather’s steps throughout three years of the Civil War; researching key people, events, and impacts of the Civil War in Missouri; and discovering why Missouri was such a divided state. Included among the letters was a flag Hale’s daughter Mary Ann made for him, which he carried with him throughout the Civil War and which appears on the cover of the book. Learn more about Hale’s experience in the 33rd Missouri Volunteer Infantry, as well as in the Invalid (aka. Veterans Reserve) Corps; find out about Benjamin Petree’s experience marching with Sherman in the Carolinas Campaign, then later in the Grand Procession of the Union Army in Washington D.C.; and hear more about how this book (and the connection) came together.

Did the Civil War Really Begin in Missouri?
Missouri was a state torn apart by political disagreements and violence long before the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861. While the Missouri Compromise of 1820 helped to postpone the Civil War for four decades, the Platte Purchase, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott case, and the “Bleeding Kansas” border wars – all of which played out here – added fuel to the fire. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 ignited the flames further since Missouri was a state truly caught in the middle – bordered by four slave states and four free. Some of the war’s first blood spilled on its soil when Union Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon fell at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Soon, the state even found itself with two competing governments: one supporting the Union; the other, the Confederacy. Learn more about these events, and discover why many believe the Civil War truly started in Missouri.

The Battle of Centralia – a “Carnival of Blood”
On September 27, 1864, William “Bloody Bill” Anderson and his band of guerillas wreaked havoc on the small town of Centralia in Boone County, Missouri. That morning, Anderson and 80 of his men rode into Centralia, looted local businesses, drank large amounts of whiskey, and robbed a stagecoach. That afternoon, they blocked the approaching North Missouri railroad, swarmed the train, robbed the passengers, brutally killed and mutilated 22 soldiers and one civilian, set the train and train depot on fire, sent the burning train down the tracks, and took Union Sergeant Thomas Goodman prisoner. By the end of the day, Anderson’s guerillas killed 123 of the 125 troops in the 39th Missouri Volunteer Infantry who came looking for them. The Battle of Centralia saw the highest percentage of men killed in a single engagement of the Civil War, and Anderson’s men became notorious for the torture and mutilations they inflicted. Goodman, who managed to escape ten days later, called the scene a drunken “carnival of blood.” Union Major Andrew Vern Emen Johnston was killed by a 17-year-old ruffian named Jesse James, who reportedly bragged about the killing later. Learn more about the events of both the Centralia Massacre and the Battle of Centralia, and find out how I discovered that two branches of my family have connections to these events – but were on different sides in the war.

The Role of the Invalid Corps (aka. Veterans Reserve Corps) in the Civil War
The Invalid Corps was created in April 1863 “to make suitable use in a military or semi-military capacity of soldiers who had been rendered unfit for active field service on account of wounds or disease contracted in line of duty, but who were still fit for garrison or other light duty, and were, in the opinion of their commanding officers, meritorious and deserving.” By the end of the war, more than 60,000 men served in this Corps, in more than twenty-four regiments of troops. The Corps was part of a larger effort to address the Union’s difficulties in filling the ranks of its enormous armies. Corps members included men who had lost limbs or eyes, suffered from rheumatism or epilepsy, were experiencing other chronic illnesses or diseases, or were traumatized by what we now call PTSD. Learn more about how these soldiers continued to serve their country in states throughout the Union, hear excerpts from my own 3rd great grandfather’s letters where he describes his experiences in the Corps, find out why they eventually changed the name to the Veterans Reserve Corps, and discover how they played an important role in defending President Abraham Lincoln in July 1864.