A Family Story

by | May 17, 2024 | Online Exclusives, People

Local author A. C. “Carl” Ward’s latest novel was hundreds of years in the making.

“You can’t be from North Carolina and not be a storyteller.”

At least that’s what local resident A. C. “Carl” Ward believes.

It’s easy to understand what he means, though. From the glittering beaches of Topsail Island to the mountains of Asheville to bustling cities like Charlotte, the Tar Heel State has it all. Its idyllic setting is immortalized in song (“Carolina in My Mind” by James Taylor), books (“Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens) and films (David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet”), putting Ward in good company with his newest novel, For Twenty Dollars in Gold: A Story of the Civil War.

The novel is based on a true story that starts in 1861. Ward became part of the plot almost a century later when he was working on his family’s farm in southeastern North Carolina during the summer between his 12th and 13th birthdays.

Carl Ward Headshot

When explaining the catalyst for how his book came to fruition, he describes a moment that seems borrowed straight from a movie. One afternoon he was exploring his family’s farmhouse. After crawling into an attic, he found a chest filled with 154 letters between a couple communicating during the Civil War. As it turns out, the couple was his direct relative Private James Ward and his wife, Anna Wallace. (Her name has been changed for privacy reasons.)

Although Ward found the letters decades ago, his novel did not start taking shape until the last five years.

When asked what was the sudden motivation, he laughs and mentions his son, an executive producer in Los Angeles who had long been urging him to write it. After writing an outline, Ward started verifying the names and places mentioned in the letters in the North Carolina Museum of History, which he estimates took several hundred hours.

“Every character is real,” he says.

Each chapter of the book ends with the transcribed contents of one of the real letters so that readers can feel even closer to the story.

While the book is close to home for Ward due to his personal connection, he has a professional one as well. Ward holds a broad range of interests and is not one to remain idle. His wife, Jolene, jokes that he has un-retired “15 times.” Some highlights include retiring from the Army after 30 years of military service and working as a consultant for government agencies including the Department of Defense and Homeland Security in Washington, D.C. He also had a stint at the Combat Studies Institute (CSI), where he became proficient in battlefield staff rides and led them all over the world at famous locales like Gettysburg, a full circle moment, considering that his relative James, who the book is based on, also fought in that battle.

Quartermoon Bookstore Carl Ward

It’s fitting, then, that the title also pays homage to James. According to Ward, North Carolina provided enlistment bonuses for joining the Confederate Army. For Ward’s relatives, who were land-rich due to their ownership of a 1,100-acre farm but cash-poor, an offer of $20 worth of gold was too enticing to pass up.

“The twenty dollars in gold is really the basis of the only reason [James] enlisted,” Ward says. “He probably would have been conscripted later in 1862 as things started to turn bad, but the reality is during that period, he was essentially sending his Confederate paper money back home to take care of the family.”

Family is one of the novel’s four prominent themes, in addition to courage, integrity and faith. According to Ward, his book has a bit of something for everyone. “All I had to do is put the pieces together,” he says.

As for the rest of the story? Well, you’ll have to read the book. But for even more of a sneak preview, pay close attention to the cover. It features commissioned artwork by artist Melanie Eger, who selected items with significance from the novel for inclusion in the primitive-style painting. Among the smattering of objects, there’s a stack of letters tied with a ribbon (an homage to how Ward found the original letters in the attic), a butter churner and a candlestick.

Want to read it?
“For Twenty Dollars in Gold: A Story of the Civil War” by A. C. Ward is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

About the author

Kathryn Greene

Kathryn Greene

As a lifelong Southerner (with the exception of five years living in New York City), I spent many summers enjoying North Carolina’s beautiful beaches and coastline. Since receiving my bachelor’s degree from the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia, I have been a freelance lifestyle and travel writer. My work has been published by national and regional print and online publications including TripSavvy, Culture Trip, Southern Bride and Edible Manhattan. When I am not writing articles, I am either at work on my upcoming thriller novel, studying wine to become a Level 1 sommelier, or my favorite activity of all — spending time at the beach with my feet in the sand and a drink in my hand.