Inside Info

I share information in this section first with loyal readers on my mailing list. If you’d like to be added to the list – and receive 3-4 updates a year – simply email me at spuleo@aol.com.

Mass-market edition of Voyage of MercyVOM Mass Market

I’m thrilled to announce that a special “mass market” paperback edition of my book, Voyage of Mercy, will be released early in 2022. These are editions that appear in book sections of grocery stores and other retailers “beyond bookstores” to reach an even wider audience. This is my first-ever mass market edition (a rather rare occurrence for nonfiction books), and I couldn’t be happier. Your support of Voyage is what convinced my publisher, St. Martin’s Press, to bring out the mass market edition.

You can check out the mass market cover here. It’s very different from the traditional “trade” paperback, as you can see, and even features a different subhead — America’s mission to save the Irish (The trade paperback will continue to be sold at bookstores and online, as usual, even after the mass market edition is released).

The mass-market edition will become available on February 22, 2022, and it gives me great pleasure to say you can pre-order your copy at Wal-Mart or Target now.

Dining Room Signings

Dining Room Book Signings

I’m constantly grateful for your support of my books which are currently available for your Christmas/holiday gift-giving at Amazon, B&N.com, or your favorite independent bookstore (I have so many favorites, I can’t list them all here).

Plus, if you can’t attend one of my presentations prior to Christmas and the holidays (check here for dates), I can certainly make use of my “dining room signings” to get you an autographed or inscribed copy in plenty of time. Just email me at spuleo@aol.com to learn how to make that happen!

 

 

New Book Announcement

I’m thrilled to announce that there will be a “Puleo Book 8!” I reached agreement with St. Martin’s Press to publish my next book (it’s still a little too early to disclose the topic.). This will be my third consecutive book with St. Martin’s (American Treasures and Voyage of Mercy were the first two), and I’m excited to work with this great team. I’m hard at work doing research now and I’ll have more information soon.

Zoom event image

Nearly 300 attendees joined big Voyage of Mercy Zoom event!

Just wanted to say thanks to the more than 300 attendees who joined me recently for a big Voyage ofMercy event sponsored by the National Park Service, the USS Constitution, the USS Constitution Museum, and Boston Harbor Now. So many people worked so hard to make this a success, and I’m grateful to all of them. More than 1,000 people also viewed the video of the event on the Boston Harbor Now website. As always, I’m grateful for your support. Prior to the big night, I was thrilled to drop in to the USS Constitution Museum to sign copies of Voyage of Mercy. The museum (a fantastic spot that I urge you to visit when it’s fully open), located at the Charlestown Navy Yard, offered free shipping on the book as part of its promotion of the event.

 

 

I’m looking forward to teaching my WWII class again in the Fall of 2021

 

ChurchillFDRStalin

I’m really looking forward to returning as an adjunct to UMass-Boston this fall to teach my World War II class. I built this class from scratch — including readings, lessons, and paper/exam assignments, and have taught it as an upper-level elective at both Suffolk University in Boston and at my alma mater, UMB. I’ve found students at both universities to be engaged and eager to learn about the Second World War. Here’s the course catalog description:

 

“The Second World War was certainly the 20th century’s seminal and most cataclysmic global event, its effects felt on every continent. Although this course will explore all aspects of the Second World War, it will focus heavily on the role of the United States as part of the Allied cause, including examining the political, social, and industrial aspects of the war on the American home-front. This will include a view both from the ”home-front out” – how activities in the United States affected events across the world and changed the course of history – and also from ”overseas back” – how the war changed America and the world, from a foreign and domestic perspective. This course will discuss the impact of the war, as well as how the war has impacted the United States and the world in the years since 1945.”

Excerpts from Voyage of Mercy

 

VOM banner

Enjoy these excerpts from Voyage of Mercy I’ve included two excerpts from Voyage of Mercy here that I think you’ll enjoy. The first, a longer excerpt, was published in “The History Reader,” the St. Martins Press website devoted to history topics. It focuses on Father Theobald Mathew, who worked hard in Ireland on behalf of victims. The second short excerpt describes the beginning of the USS Jamestown voyage to Ireland under the command of Captain Robert Bennet Forbes.

Voyage of Mercy: “The Distress is Universal”

Posted on March 17, 2020, by Stephen Puleo

Ireland, 1846. Father Theobald Mathew implores assistant secretary at the British Treasury, Charles Trevelyan, to provide aid to Ireland as the potato blight ruins crops across the country. Read on for an excerpt from Voyage of Mercy. December 16, 1846, city of Cork, County Cork

When night finally came, a bone-weary Father Theobald Mathew dipped the nib of his pen into the ink and scratched the full measure of his despondency onto the page.

He aimed for precision with his writing, but he also needed to modulate his description of a truly appalling situation. Bold, direct words were necessary, but overly inflammatory language would raise skeptical eyebrows in London, damage his credibility, and, most importantly, put thousands of additional lives at risk. This was his fifth letter since August to Charles Trevelyan, assistant secretary at the British Treasury responsible for famine relief efforts, each more desperate than the last. Now, just days before Christmas, Mathew wrote with renewed urgency, hoping that his reputation for directness and honesty, and as a champion for the poor, would convince Trevelyan of his veracity.

“I am grieved to be obliged to tell you that the distress is universal,” he lamented at the outset of his letter. “Men, women, and children are gradually wasting away.” It was not the first time Father Mathew had underlined passages to emphasize the urgency of his message, and it would not be the last. Reviewing his opening words, he debated whether he had succumbed to the very temptation he sought to avoid—the use of sensational rhetoric. In the end he decided to let the letter stand: he knew of no more accurate way to describe the heartbreak he witnessed each day. These imperiled citizens were not anonymous “famine victims” but people he knew and loved—neighbors, parishioners, followers, friends.

He would speak for them.

In some ways, these were the most frustrating and dispiriting hours for the fifty-six-year-old priest, sitting quietly at his desk, fighting exhaustion, his eyes straining by his lantern’s pallid light in the otherwise dark parlor, his desktop covered with ink-stained pages and the floor beneath him strewn with correspondence. Daytime hours were a blur, physically draining and mentally dispiriting—Mathew had just returned from several weeks’ work in different parts of Ireland, assessing the potato blight, organizing relief efforts, comforting the sick, ladling soup to the hungry, kneeling at their deathbeds and praying for their souls, presiding over their burials. Upon his return to Cork he discovered that his city and county were among the hardest hit by the famine; again his daytime hours were consumed with tending to those burning with fever or filling their stomachs with “cabbage leaves and turnip tops . . . to appease the cravings of hunger.” The night offered time to reflect, to be sure, but these were unwelcome and damnable hours, for it was while he sat alone in the darkness that the full tragedy of the widespread hunger, coupled with the futile sorrow that he could do little or nothing to stop it, pressed upon him like a great stone.

* * * * *

The destruction of the potato crop had occurred—or, rather, revealed itself—almost overnight. Mathew himself was one of the first to observe and report on the disaster. In late July, he was traveling from Cork to Dublin and saw fields of potato plants blooming “in all the luxuriance of an abundant harvest,” a sight that heartened him after widespread potato-crop failure a year earlier had resulted in severe food shortages, but not full-scale famine. But six days later, August 3, during his return trip to Cork, Mathew’s spirit was shattered when he “beheld, with sorrow, one wide waste of putrefying vegetation.” The blight, caused by a fungus that thrived and multiplied in Ireland’s damp climate, had reproduced with lightning speed. In many places along the road, “the wretched people were seated on the fences of their decaying gardens, wringing their hands and wailing bitterly against the destruction that had left them foodless.”

Four days later Mathew expressed the worst in a letter to Trevelyan: “The food of a whole nation has perished.” The Times of London concurred: “From the Giants Causeway to Cape Clear, from Limerick to Dublin, not a green field is to be seen.” Indeed, on September 2, the Times declared that “total annihilation” had befallen the Irish potato crop. At this point, more than one-third of the entire Irish population depended exclusively on the potato for food and as a cash crop, but among poor tenant farmers, the proportion was even higher; a strong potato crop was their only hope for sustenance, for nourishment, for life itself.

Even pre-famine, survival had been precarious in Ireland, as tenant farmers and peasants scratched out a living raising and selling potatoes, or perhaps traded a pig or a cow for other goods. Food shortages were a near-constant peril, and temporary migration was a lifeline for many Irish families engaged in agricultural work, particularly those from western counties; seasonal trips to the grain-growing areas of the eastern counties, and to England, were commonplace. In the first half of the nineteenth century, seasonal migrants, often accompanied by their livestock, walked along Ireland’s dusty roadways in search of work and food.

Now such searches proved more and more futile.

Since Mathew’s August letter, the downward spiral had progressed with alarming speed. Now, he wrote to Trevelyan, more than 5,000 “half-starved wretched beings from the country” were begging on the streets of Cork city; “when utterly exhausted, they crawl to the work- houses to die.” He estimated that more than a hundred people a week were dying in his parish. And because of the frightful calamity that had swept the countryside, where food was all but nonexistent, thousands of peasants straggled into the city in search of something to eat, further straining scarce resources. Ten to twelve people a day died from starvation in the village of Crookhaven, where the community organized a collection to purchase a public bier upon which to place the bodies of those whose families could not afford coffins. Mathew was filled with dread, not only for the current state of affairs, but for the unknown depth of the abyss that lurked ahead.

“This country is in an awful position,” he stressed to Trevelyan, “and no one can tell what the result will be.”

The USS Jamestown en route to Ireland – March 1847

Sheets of cold rain lashed the decks of the USS Jamestown and gale-force winds battered the three-masted American sloop of war through the swells of the North Atlantic. Captain Robert Bennet Forbes barked orders as his energetic but inexperienced crew scrambled to haul up the mainsail, a daunting task on this moonless night of raging seas, on April 2, 1847. Weak light leaked from deck lanterns, but beyond the ship’s raised prow and forward riggings, the darkness was total — “black as Erebus,” as Forbes described it in the captain’s log, referring to the mythological netherworld that serves as the passageway to Hades.

For the sixth straight day since leaving the Charlestown Navy Yard, the ship and its crew were pounded by miserable weather as they fought their way toward Ireland. Snow, sleet, hail, and cold rendered all ropes “stiff as crowbars . . . and the men also,” and wind and waves left the Jamestown, despite her solid oak frame, “bounding like an antelope” and unable to carry as much sail as Forbes wished. Dense wet fog rendered visibility to near zero. Snow slickened the ship’s decks, crew members lurched with seasickness, ice floes hampered passage, and worst of all, the Jamestown leaked badly, at times taking on as much as ten inches of water an hour. Most of the water poured through the rudder case in the wardroom when the sea rose aft or the ship settled. Crew members were forced to pump often and, finally, bore holes in the wardroom deck to allow water to run off into the hold.

As midnight approached, the wind howled and every rope froze “as hard and stiff as January,” but Forbes, a Bostonian who in his forty-two years had savored much joy and endured deep sorrow, remained unflappable in the captain’s chair, determined to reach his destination ahead of schedule, and resolute in the righteousness of his mission.