Parson William Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig newspaper added the words Rebel Ventilator to its flag in the runup to the Civil War. The fiery Union editor maintained it until the occupying Rebels drove him out of town, turning his steam presses from printing newspapers to making rifled gun barrels for the Confederacy.
He had settled in Philadelphia, Pa. when Union troops reoccupied Knoxville. He returned but soon fled again when Gen. Longstreet’s forces took the town under siege.
The novel’s fictional character Parthenia Leila Ellis was a close friend of the parson’s wife, the historical figure Eliza Brownlow. In an example of the war’s many dvivided families, she was the sister of another historical figure prominent in the novel: Confederate Col. Alfred G.W. O’Brien, a commander of the Thirteenth Mississippi Infantry Regiment which attacked Fort Sanders during the siege.