Monday, April 1, 2024

Sifoddling Along


By Marilyn Carnell

Re-learning about The Civil War

         Last month I wrote I was writing a novel set in the Civil War in southwest Missouri. I was continuing in that task and was speeding along when I bumped my nose against a basic reality. Research. Historical fiction requires a LOT of research. It isn’t enough to trust your memories of stories told by your grandparents. To be credible, it is necessary to stick to the facts unless you tell the reader that you have taken liberties with geography or that some episodes are fictional. I recall being annoyed when reading a novel set in 1812 where the lady slept in a “queen-sized” bed and wore bloomers. Both were invented long after 1812, a couple of factoids I had stored in my brain.

         You may recall that the book is about a young woman, Bonnie Faye Doolittle, left alone in a cabin on Big Sugar Creek in 1861 when her Papa, a doctor, enlisted as a surgeon in the Confederate Army. Her fiancé, Julius Roberts, also enlisted, but he opted to join a company in Wisconsin, his home state. This left her frantic with fear for both of them. Although she was not present at any battle, her home became a place where unexpected and unwanted visitors passed through–bushwhackers and soldiers from both the North and South, stopped by to seek, supplies to liberate, information or pass the time with a beautiful young woman.

         In writing about the early 1860s I found I had to look up details that I casually wrote about in my first draft. The first was when the heroine heard a gunshot and assumed it was a young boy shooting a squirrel with a .22 rifle. Better look that up, I thought. Smith & Wesson’s first firearm was a .22 short pistol first sold in 1857, but it wasn’t until 1887 that the J. Stevens Arms & Tool company produced the .22 long rifle we know today. Therefore, I changed it to “she heard the distant crack of a rifle.” Safe enough.

         Then I decided she had to have a dog. Easy peasy. She would have a smart border collie that guarded and protected her and her farm. Better check that, I thought. Most dog breeds were brought to the U.S. from other countries. Sure enough, “sheepdogs” were not brought to the U.S. in any number before 1890.

         I was talking with a friend and she suggested a “mountain cur”. A breed I had not heard of before. Yes, they were in the U.S. in 1861 and before that Daniel Boone was one of the breeders. They are a rare breed today but were essential to early settlers. They were used for guard duty, protection, and hunting.

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         Now I am hooked on looking up details and am not willing to stop looking things up on the internet, I also am looking for books and diaries about that time. My bookshelves are creaking with additions from “Gangrene and Glory” to “Bushwhackers, Visions, Star Crossed Lovers. I never know where I will find a tidbit of information that captures my attention, nor do I know whether these little “facts” will make it to the final revision, but for now I am entertained by learning them and I hoped you will enjoy them, too.

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