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 Posted: Sat Apr 26th, 2008 10:12 pm
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Sgt. Ramsey
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Has there been a topic or thread concerning the relation between historical reality and the fictionalizing of history? I’ve been researching (Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Danville and Libby Prisons ) a small corner of time and place, for over five years and still do not have the particulars firmly understood enough to say that my invented story would be believed by any man of the 1860’s.
Using historical figures, like Roy Stone, John Mosby, Elizabeth Van Lew, in anything more than passing, can present problems, even when the personality is fairly well understood.
A fictionalized character, expressing intimate kinds of feelings, more like a contemporary than a Victorian, also gives a writer pause, even though it seems reasonable to believe that, though unexpressed at the time, he might still have thoughts about sex, guilt, and the conventions of manliness in ways we would recognize today.
I am hoping that when I have completed my novel, Five Days, I will be able to find a sympathetic history buff to give it a read. Though well into it, (300+ pages) I anticipate months more to completion.
It’s a pleasure to have found an on-line community whose members share this interest for whatever reason.
Sgt. Ramsey

Response to Huma

Johnny Huma,
Thanks for your reply. Shelby Foote’s two volume paperback, two thousand page “narrative” was the first in depth material I went to when beginning my project and he’s definately the best on Gettysburg. I try to stay with the Eastern Theater. Next I went to McPherson, Bruce Catton, Henry Steele Commager and dozens more. Each author has a style and his own way of sorting out the details of battle. From the historian’s point of view the commanders and the officers take center stage and if a fiction writer is constructing a story, say like, The Killer Angels, he has a wealth of material to go by. Taking it down to the enlisted man, who seems, by some accounts, to not know where he is, or even what he is supposed to be doing, makes writing a believable story demanding in a different way. I do want to be accurate and have little patience for stories that jumble up history or use it carelessly as costume and window dressing.

I have the advantage of a great grandfather’s journal, a Pennsylvania Bucktail, 150th, and my story spinning comes as much from what he doesn't, as what he does say. I was drawn into in a pre-enlistment experience, when three 17 year old school friends help a Philadelphia lithographer, named Sam Upton, print a batch of counterfeit Confederate bills. At first the bills were meant to be sold as souvenirs with advertising or the word “facsimile” plainly in view, but later the printer left that information out, with the rational that flooding the South with counterfeit money would help bring down their economy. From the point of view of my great grandfather and his two best friends, it was only an after school lark and is never mentioned again. He and his friends join up, proud to wear the bucktail, and ultimately participate in the battles of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness. My fictional characters are plagued by the after effects of that counterfeit money, and their early unofficial economic attack on the South has dire consequences, which play out, along with the minnie balls and the hard tack.

Aware that so many CW fans have ancestors they feel pride in, I have changed the names of real people to avoid insult, for instance, on the long march from Chancellorsville to Gettysburg a Lieutenant Colonel Huidekoper consistently prevents his men from obtaining water, (the only officer to do so), deaths resulting,
however, once on the battlefield he comes across as heroic. I’ve changed his name, but wonder about doing so. It’s easy to add fictional Privates, Corporals and Sergeants, but Lieutenant Colonels? (I’ve also changed the lithographer’s name, because the real person is such a colorful character he deserves more attention than my story warrents.)

The internet is a great help and I stumbled into an official history of the Bucktails http://ftp.rootsweb.com, just as I stumbled into this interesting discussion board while looking for information about laudanum, and now I want to know what it is that catches the attention of so many CW fans? History teachers, ancestors, game players, writers? Thanks for being there.
Sgt. Ramsey



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 Posted: Sun Apr 27th, 2008 04:32 am
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cklarson
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Go to the CWi newspaper archive and find the article on Confederate counterfeit bills that they tried to flood the US with. The guy has a website and is looking for any informatoin on counterfeiting. The article was posted maybe 3 months ago. I think you can search the archive by keyword.

CKL



 Posted: Sun Apr 27th, 2008 04:30 pm
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Widow
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Sgt. Ramsey, welcome to the board.

The best Civil War novel I've ever read is "Marching through Culpeper," by Virginia Beard Morton, 2001.  She lives in Culpeper, VA, and knows her history thoroughly.  It's told from the point of view of a civilian family, their servants, relatives, neighbors.  Their suffering through the Federal occupation of Culpeper County, their encounters with Union soldiers, their worries about their own boys off in the ANV.

The only fictional characters are that civilian family household.  Everyone else in the novel is real.  The locations are real, the events are real.  Of course the dialog is fictional, nobody knows what Powell and Dolly Hill talked about in their bedroom.

It's the only novel I've seen with FOOTNOTES!  Such as "This building still stands, at the corner of X St. and Z Rd., and is now a bank."

My guess is that Mrs. Morton started to write a history of the Civil War in Culpeper County, then decided to make it more lively and readable by inserting her fictional family.  It sure worked for me, and I really learned a lot from her.  In fact, I remember her book better than many of the straightforward histories.

You're well into your project, and you'll surely find somebody to give it a good read.  There are a few right here in this board.  Good luck.

Patty



 Posted: Sun Apr 27th, 2008 04:49 pm
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Sgt. Ramsey
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JDC Duncan & cklarson

The facsimile could easily have been printed early 1860s. Great to have one. The most complete information is in a book, COUNTERFEIT CURRENCY OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA BY GEORGE B. TREMMEL obtainable from Amazon. There were many printers doing this and the book has images of the bills. You would be able to find yours with the name of the printer, the method of printing and other interesting information.

Most were etchings from stone, some old fashioned wood block prints, the most modern for the time were made with a lithography method utilizing the photographic process, electrotype, allowing the printer to make thousands without creating a new plate.

The book is a great read with many human interest stories. One of my favorites concerns a forger in the west who did the whole thing by hand and got away with it, until he walked into a saloon and paid for his drink with one of his creations. When he lay the bill down on the wet bar the ink ran and he was apprehended.

Although I’m on the computer, writing, many hrs a day, I’m new to the chat room form of communication and hope I’m sending as I should. Perhaps I should duplicate this in each of your spaces. Thanks cklarson I’m going to check out the website you mentioned right now.

Sgt Ramsey



 Posted: Sun Apr 27th, 2008 05:04 pm
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Widow
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Sgt. Ramsey, you're doing fine, posting in here.  No need to post one answer twice in reply to separate threads.

You may have noticed occasionally a double-post, some technical glitch which is the opposite of the disappearing post.  Patty



 Posted: Sun Apr 27th, 2008 05:24 pm
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Sgt. Ramsey
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Widow, Patty.

Thank you, The novel sounds very good and I’ll locate a copy.

Have you ever read Reveille in Washington 1860-1865 by Margaret Leech? Written in 1941, very dense, it sets the scene with politicians and military people in the raw new city, so that one is transported
to the seat of power and allowed to see the influences that shaped the period. Keep thinking I need to stop collecting Civil War books when another good read comes along. Thanks again.

Sgt. Ramsey



 Posted: Mon Apr 28th, 2008 11:09 am
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Widow
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Sgt. Ramsey, no, I haven't read "Reveille in Washington." Thanks for pointing it out, I'll add it to the list of books to buy.  It sounds like it covers the same period as William Safire's novel, "Freedom."  Thickest paperback I ever read, my hand got a cramp.  You have to love political science and 19th-century history to enjoy it, which I do and did.

For heaven's sake, don't stop buying Civil War books!  Old, new, hardback, paperback, borrowed, bought - gotta have those books.  :=))  Patty



 Posted: Mon Apr 28th, 2008 01:44 pm
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Sgt Ramsey, two things you might do as a way of comparison as to how history is fictionalized currently. One is to read Widow of the South which takes a factual character, a woman, who actually existed, and transports her through the battle of Franklin and afterward. This book was a best seller. See how the author handled her conversations, family relationships and inner-most thoughts.

I mention this because as a woman, when I read it, I felt some things did not ring true. They made me uncomfortable. But that is just me...a woman of the 1900s and 2000s, not the mid-1900s. Keep in mind as you read, the book is written by a man whose main character is a well-known Tennessee woman.

Then another idea would be to take Newt Gingrich's alternative history of the Gettysburg Battle--the title is, yeah--Gettysburg. Reading that, you will learn how he handled fictionlized events and people, conversations, etc.

If you can make yourself do it, read Gone with the Wind also. Two other books to examine how writers blend fiction and fact. Manhunt that some claim is almost a novel or a hybrid novel/history and The March about fictional and some actual characters who accompany Sherman on his march through Georgia, South and North Carolina. I just loved "Manhunt" but many here have called it garbage or similar terms.

All the books I have mentioned were best sellers although not blockbusters except for "Gone with the Wind." I think you will discover there is a broad spectrum of the ways in which authors handle historical fiction. I wish you luck in your work. Maybe you'll be the next great Civil War writer.



 Posted: Mon Apr 28th, 2008 06:24 pm
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Sgt. Ramsey
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Widow Patty,
Bookcases full, tables loaded, floor covered, the list grows. William Safire, Freedom , had it in hardback at the bottom of a pile, unread as yet, maybe because it is so thick. Lots about McClellan which I need. Want to better understand why he was so hesitant to act when he could have. Thank you.

CleburneFan,
Have seen Widow of the South in the bookstores and will look into it. Gender is tricky isn’t it? Alternative histories are tricky too, although one could say all fiction is alternative. Think from the reviews I’ll leave Newt in the book stores.
Had to laugh, I did make myself do it, reread Gone with the Wind. Good Grief! Who would you rather have as neighbors,Scarlet and Rhett or Melanie and Ashley?
Read The March with interest, ditto for Manhunt which I especially liked for its pace. Reads like a good thriller. Swanson puts the reader in the theater, in the woods and finally in the barn. Have not yet read another alternative history about the same subject, Dark Union. Conspiracy theories can be interesting even if off base. So many books, so little time. Thank you.

Sgt. Ramsey



 Posted: Tue Apr 29th, 2008 06:46 am
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cklarson
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Dear All,

A couple of comments on your comments: 1) don't bother with "Freedom"--the publisher paid Safire $800k to write it and spent $800k to publicize it. Although 4500 libraries bought it, it quickly flopped because it was just not credible as a novel. As C. Vann Woodward commented in his NYTimes review (I'm paraphrasing): "When you've got Lincoln flopping around the White House at night in his slippers quoting Shakespeare's Richard III, how are you going to come up with better fictional characters?  Moreover unless you knew every character very well, you didn't know what was fact and what was fiction even with the "Underbook." With that said, however, Safire is the only one who has given a prominent positive role to Anna Ella Carroll, Lincoln's adviser and my biography subject. However, he had her having an affair with John C. Breckinridge who has been accused of being in on the coup plot against Washington and who had been a good friend of Carroll's. But given JCB's political leanings at the time, she would not have had anything to do with him romantically, so the affair just came across as preposterous.

The best quote I've ever read about McClellan which may be the whole key to his character was from someone who had worked with him on the IL Central RR. The colleague said he was just like that at IL RR: when the time came to hit the switch and get the trains moving, he just couldn't do it.

Even though I have 2 major problems with Gone With the Wind, that is, the slanted view of Reconstructin and the KKK and that I tire of Scarlett's childishness throughout--she just never changes which gets grating by the end, still this really has to be one of the best movies ever made and I think the keys are both strong and eccentric characters, as well as very strong visual images throughout.

I know you all have tons of books on your list, but I really do recommend my own work of fiction South Under a Prairie Sky: The Journal of Nell Churchill, US Army Nurse & Scout. I think it's very realistic because almost everything in it is fact-based in some way, either a true CW story (sourced in my underbook) or taken from another war (I've done a book on women in WWII) or autobiographical, as from my own college years during the Vietnam War when women were very involved politically. This past week I received an e-mail from a newly found "shirt tail" cousin from IL who had just received his copy. He said he started looking at the contect and couldn't put it down. Over a period of 7 hours, he read it in one day. Told me the narrative was great, but, of course, he particularly liked that some of the characters were his relatives, including John Wayne's gfather. I'm now rereading it--it is also chock full of good information for I reasoned that if "Nell" were like me, she'd be aware she was writing for posterity and thus would load it up with facts, which I did. Being raised as a country girl myself, I also think I did a pretty good job with the lingo, mixed it up with that of a New England heritage education at Knox College.

C. Kay Larson, author










 Posted: Tue Apr 29th, 2008 10:19 am
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ashbel
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In my opinion the best historical fiction sticks close to the facts then uses dialogue (and imagination) to develop the characters.  I have particularly enjoyed the work of Michael and Jeff Shaara.  Killer Angels is a model of Civil War fiction.

What I don't like is the historical fiction with an agenda.  I love books.  But I don't have time to read some "what if" nonsense.

At the end of the day good fiction has to be based on good writing.  Stick to a reasonably accurate story line and give me some good characters (both good and bad) and it is a "page turner" for me.



 Posted: Tue Apr 29th, 2008 01:00 pm
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Ashbel, that is precisely why I threw Newt Gingrich's "Gettysburg" in the trash about half way through. I just couldn't take it anymore.

Ms Larson, I think I'll read your book. Can I get it on Amazon?

I answered my own question. A copy of your book is now on its way to me. I should have it in a week. I can't wait.

Last edited on Tue Apr 29th, 2008 01:09 pm by CleburneFan



 Posted: Tue Apr 29th, 2008 10:04 pm
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Widow
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CleburneFan, I received Newt's trilogy for Christmas.  I HAVE to read it.  It's almost May and I keep setting it aside for something more appealing.  Like the yellow pages, maybe?  :=))  Patty



 Posted: Tue Apr 29th, 2008 10:55 pm
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cklarson
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Dear CleburneFan,

Many, many thanks for ordering "Nell"! Understand I wrote it from what I believe to be the perspective of a moderate IL antislavery family who became more radicalized as the politics of the 1850s went on. I hope you'll see, however, that my beef and, even those of my 2 relatives* who died as a result of the war, is with the "Slave Power", the Southern aristocrats who kept both whites and blacks "down" (see particularly Cpl. Mitchel Thompson's (83rd IL) true quote) and that of my ggguncle, John Shook (parents originally from KY) on his gravestone, railing about Northern "traitors" who opposed the war (that is, the common Union soldier had more respect for the Confed. soldiers).

Kay

* It appears my gggfather, John Eaton, served 4 years with the 20th IN in the Peninsula campaign, at Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Grant's Overland campaign. Died ca. 1870, probably due to service. Also my ggguncle, John Shook,  36th IL, died of wounds received at Stone's River.



 Posted: Tue Apr 29th, 2008 11:58 pm
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CleburneFan
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Widow wrote: CleburneFan, I received Newt's trilogy for Christmas.  I HAVE to read it.  It's almost May and I keep setting it aside for something more appealing.  Like the yellow pages, maybe?  :=))  Patty
I have an idea. FIRST read the Sears catolog-size directions that came with out GPS nav system in our car. I CAN"T understand the book. I touched ONE button and hundreds of little gas station symbols popped up all over the map. Now we can't get rid of them. We also have the map UPSIDE down...another button I touched wrong. Reading that darned instruction book would have to be better than reading Newt Gingrich.:shock:



 Posted: Wed Apr 30th, 2008 01:02 am
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Sgt. Ramsey
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All,
I too just ordered Nell’s journal. Looking forward to reading it.

Enjoyed the image of McClellan not being able to pull the switch. Turned to “Freedom” before I got the warning. The section on McClellan, which I’ve not finished, suggests a man willing to compromise rather than risk casualties, and a Lincoln intent on keeping Washington well defended. Neither man is a speaking character in my story, but my protagonist’s fate depends on the dispositions of his leaders.

Can’t resist adding another book recommendation, title: NOVEL HISTORY, Mark C. Carnes, Historians and Novelists confront America’s Past It’s about the writing of historical fiction, poetic license, versus historical literalism. Many arguments from some of the most compelling novelists like Wallace Stegner, Jane Smiley and T.C. Boyle, even Harriet Beecher Stowe.

In my own (Army of the Potomac) Great grandfather’s journal there is much praise for the gallant enemy. Strange to exchange coffee for tobacco, then line up and shoot each other.

Ramsey



 Posted: Wed Apr 30th, 2008 02:00 am
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Sarge,
Intersting about the 150th Bucktails and you mention Heidicoper (check spelling). I believe he was from Lewisburg Pa. I may be wrong there though but one of the Bucktails Col was..I live about 30 min from there..There is a PCN video about the Bucktail Brigades that I bought and enjoyed the history of it all..My opinion on leaving out Col real names is dont do it..If in your writing your character falls under his chain of command then by all means use the Col name. If in fact he did what you say he did above and it is fact and you can back it then by God put it in there because that is historical fact and not fiction. If and by all means you actually take some real names from the individual Company that are real and not fictional names that your character interacts with then by all means I say use them..I am sure you are not going to offend anyones family..Well then again maybe because some people may be a bit touchy about there ancesters but I say take the chance there and write on the edge as I would love to read about a soldier (fictional) who interacts with the real people and the real history...Let us all know when your done with it...Good Luck
Huma



 Posted: Thu May 1st, 2008 05:35 pm
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Sgt. Ramsey
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Huma,
Thank you, I see the wisdom in your advice.

I too have the PCN video. Imagine my surprise when I heard Park RangerJohn Heiser quote Sgt. Ramsey. I believe my great grandfather was one of the men who aided Roy Stone in compiling a Bucktail history after the war. It is very complete and available over the internet. I have “Pennsylvania Bucktails, by Patrick A. Schroeder, which does not mention William Ramsey, but does give me Huidekoper as the spelling. Here’s a journal quote. Many more about the business of leaving ranks to get water.

Huidekoper dominated the regiment and Wister generally let him have his own way, putting his foot down occasionally when H. became too domineering and rescuing victims of his hostility more than once.
In spite of orders and watchfulness on the part of officers, the men, goaded almost to madness by thirst, stole from the ranks whenever they could and the adjutant was kept busy pursuing these stragglers, driving them back with great flourishing of his cheese knife, as the boys called his sword. Our Bucktail was a badge so noticeable that even after a fellow had managed to elude the vigilance of the watchers and was crossing the fields in search of water, it was sure to catch the eye of either Huidekoper or the Adjutant and off would go “Dicky” in pursuit of the offender. Baut Keen of ours, managed to escape all notice and after a hard struggle succeeded in getting his cup nearly full of water. When he drew back out of the crowd so that he could drink his hard earned nectar, without having it spilled, he saw the Lt. Colonel. on horseback. Huidekoper extended his hand and Baut, thinking he wanted to drink, though he had not yet tasted a mouthful himself, handed him the cup. The Lt. Colonel turned it upside down and handing it back empty, ordered him to his place in the ranks. On the first day of July at Gettysburg when Huidekoper received the wound which caused the loss of his right arm Baut helped to tie it up and he told me afterward that as he did so he thought to himself, “Aha, old arm, you’ll never empty any more water out of my cup!”
When we did halt to get water it was almost impossible to get any fit to drink, as the men rushed at and into it like maddened cattle and so stirred up the dust that it often looked like water from a brick yard pond.

Shortly before sundown we were between Warrenton Junction and Catlett Station where the road ran along a branch of Cedar Run and the bank was so low that the water was almost on a level with the road. As we passed along many a wistful glance was cast at the rippling stream, which seemed to mock our thirst as it gurgled by. Sergeant Gabe Thompson, one of the best soldiers in the regiment of Co A, who was in his place on the flank between the column and the Run, which was on our right, quietly unfastened his cup, side stepped a couple of paces and stooping, without stopping, dipped his cup and filled it. Just as he did so Huidekoper looked around, saw him and immediately ordered him to empty the water and in addition reduced him to the ranks. This was not allowed to stand. When Wister resumed command a few days later he was reinstated.

He writes of much back and forth between Wister and Huidekoper.
I can’t forget that this army is in a terrible hurry to get to Pennsylvania. Thanks for your input. Huidekoper it is.
Sgt Ramsey



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