It has been a rainy, rainy summer here in West Virginia. The result? Critters everywhere they shouldn’t be. We live in the woods, and the rodents and spiders inside this year have been terrible.
Then…then…there’s the copperheads. These venomous snakes usually prefer the tops of the mountains, not down where we are. But rainy seasons tend to wash them down (or so is the prevailing theory). My mother-in-law, who lives up the driveway, has been on this property for 30 years, and she’s spotted copperheads maybe 3 times in years prior. But last week we saw our second of the season (and quickly dispatched it with a shovel). (And no, that photo is not mine!)
I shudder at the proximity of that most recent one to our house (it was right behind our car) and thank God above that my daughter spotted it while out of striking range. But this being me, I’m also thinking, “I know the term was used during the Civil War for those with secret allegiances…I wonder why they chose that snake in particular?”
In Circle of Spies, final book in the Culper Ring Series, I focus on secret groups–in addition to my Culpers, we have the undercover Pinkerton agents, and the Knights of the Golden Circle, which are the ones called Copperheads.
You can always order signed copies of my books in my store, don’t forget!

Upon looking it up, I found an interesting explanation! In the parts of the South where the groups originated (including where I live), there are 2 main types of venomous snakes: rattlesnakes and copperheads. Rattlesnakes are easily spotted and warn you from a fair distance away that they’re there. With the shake of their tail, they’re saying, “Get back, now. I don’t want to have to hurt you.” This, according to an 1854 historian, is what an honorable Southern man would do most of the time. He would lay out his complaint against you in a forthright manner.
But unlike the rattler, the copperhead is sneaky. Stealthy. And aggressive, often biting before people even realize they’re there. This is what the secret societies began to do. They abandoned the overt and went for the silent strikes. Well before war broke out, these societies had been dubbed “Copperheads.”
By the time the war was in full swing, the term had come to be applied especially to Northerners with Southern sympathies. That terrifying “fourth column” that Lincoln himself mentioned, and which comes up in my book. =)
So there we go. A quick lesson in terms inspired by a too-close call with a nasty little snake in my driveway!

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