This Republic of Suffering: Civil War fiction in a twenty-first century world
I’m a history girl with a writing problem. Or, maybe a writing girl with a history problem; regardless, I have an out of control passion for the American Civil War. I am a Civil War reenactor. I like Civil War trivia. I like running around Civil War battlefields. My blog, The Rambling Jour, is actually named after an obscure firsthand account of the clerk of the provost marshal’s office in Harper’s Ferry during the war.
And I like writing about the Civil War.
Don’t get me wrong, there are things about the Civil War I don’t like. I’ve never read Gone with the Wind. Tactics and strategies put me to sleep. I thrive in the effect the war had on civilians and medical procedures. I’d rather read about the role of women and how that role changed as the war changed.
My recently completed novel, Anything You Ask of Me, is about all three of those key elements. In 1862, a society girl turned spy must decide which is more important: the married general who asks her to risk everything for him, or the man tasked to stop her at any cost.
There is a monument in Gettysburg, near the copse of trees on the third day’s portion of the battlefield, inscribed with a few simple words: Double canister at twenty yards.
Canister shot. Canister shot is basically a tin can full of golf ball sized steel balls; it turns an artillery piece into a giant shot-gun. Double canister is two rounds of canister shot jammed into the barrel of the piece.
The effect of the human body is devastating. These are the men listed in the ominous “missing” column in the ranks of casualties. These are the men who simply disappear in a pink mist.
We have a nasty habit of referring to the Civil War as “the last gentleman’s war” or the last war before the initiation of modern warfare. But this is so far from the truth. Soft lead bullets, like the Minié ball, enter the body the size of a quarter but come out the size of a pancake. If a soldier survives his wound, it is more than likely he will die of infection. In the 1860s, we could see bacteria under microscopes—we knew it was there—but we didn’t understand how it impacted the human body. This was the cusp of medical breakthroughs. The war forced us to understand.
This is why I write historical fiction.
I’m a twenty-first century girl. I drive an SUV to work. I sit in front of a computer all day long. I listen to Swedish Death Metal (I know, this actually surprised me too) on my iPhone while I edit my novel on my laptop. I talk on a cell phone and wear jeans and eyeliner and take for granted all of our modern conveniences.
But I’ve also been cinched into a corset. I’ve ridden in the back of a temperance wagon and marched in a temperance parade. I’ve sat in a dry goods store and hand sewn a quilt by kerosene lamp and sewn on a period treadle sewing machine. I’ve felt the rumble in my chest when a 12 pound light gun howitzer artillery piece was fired near me. I’ve done archaeology of an antebellum house and held shattered pottery in my hand, textiles not handled by a human since, in one moment one hundred and fifty years ago, it broke and was discarded. I’ve been touched by the past and it haunts me. I refuse to forget the sacrifices of those who came before us and stared death in the face—and chose to march forward anyway.
This is why I write historical fiction. Because those who are remembered, never die.
Heather Hambel Curley is just a hot momma writing a novel about (what else?) the Civil War and the brutally hot men who fought it. And she likes cupcakes. For more, she can be found at http://heatherhambelcurley.wordpress.com or http://www.facebook.com/heatherhambelcurley