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Researching The Civil War

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By:  Sandra Elzie

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of research for a future series of books that I want to write. Of course, research is vital…especially when you’re writing in a time period that has been studies almost to death and a time period that boasts a lot of hobbyists as well as college-educated experts in the field. WWII and Vietnam come to mind, but also the Civil War. That’s the era I’m venturing into…but more specifically, the Civil War activity here in Georgia. If you Google Civil War reenactments, you see that there are several clubs, Facebooks, Yahoo Groups…and of course, Civil War buffs in general who are ready to scrutinize every tiny detail and challenge me if I say something incorrectly. I only hope I’m not biting off more than I can chew.

I’ve been enjoying the research…but I was blown away with the amount of information “out there.”  Then there are the books I’ve purchased and read. One of my favorites is one about women spies used during the war because things could easily be hidden under their long skirts and because the enemy, in most instances, was very polite and never suspected the attractive, smiling damsel to be up to no good.

One of the other things I’ve enjoyed researching is the soldier’s personal letters written home to their families…and the personal diaries the wives wrote while they waited for their men to return. Some are very sad since conditions were often harsh and the atrocities the men had to commit or see were almost beyond description.

“The May fighting in Spotsylvania and Orange counties 150 years ago left carnage on a scale rarely seen in the Civil War. Fifty thousand casualties, nearly twice the population of Fredericksburg today. Day after day after day, the combat was unrelenting, in a way few had ever seen.”    ( A quote from: http://www.stripes.com/news/us/exhibits-tell-moving-stories-of-civil-war-1.280185 )

Can you image the carnage the survivors witnessed and the suffering experienced and witnessed? And in a lot of cases, things were harsh at home as well. In the south, for instance, the enemy fed their troops and animals with the crops and stored food items that the southerners needed to eat and live through the winter. Hunger was rampant in some areas, especially if the enemy destroyed whatever animals and food they didn’t use or take with them…leaving the women with nothing to feed their children. It’s hard to imagine Americans being this heartless to fellow Americans, but politics and war sometimes brings out the worst in people.

Can you image this: The Battle of the Wilderness was a fierce two-day struggle for both the Union and Confederate armies. Union forces reported 2,246 killed, 12,037 wounded and 3,383 captured or missing. Confederate losses were posted at 1,477 killed, 7,886 wounded and 1,690 captured or missing.

I spent 2 ½ years as a medic on an ambulance and saw some horrible sights, but I can’t even imagine the above. But on a much more pleasant note is the research on the clothes of the era and even the games that children played. Simple toys like carved wooden tops or rag dolls with stitched eyes. It was, in most ways, a more simple time. No TV, so people read…usually the Bible…and spent time with family and friends, usually sharing food. Sound a lot like today? Well, I can tell you one thing, food is a constant companion to any gathering here in the South. Oh, and don’t forget the table wine of the South, Sweet Tea. (Can’t have a gathering without Sweet Tea. )

So, have you ever researched a subject for a book…or even a high school or college assignment? Where did you start to find your information and what was the most unusual things you did to get this information?

About The Author:

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Sandra Elzie was challenged by her husband in 2001 not to wait until retirement in 2005 to start writing the book he’d been hearing about almost since they had been married. Picking up the gauntlet he’d thrown down, Sandra spent the next eight years honing her craft and published in 2008.  She now lives in southern Georgia with her husband and cat and enjoys reading, traveling.   Oh yeah, and she loves getting pictures of her kids and grandkids.   To learn more, go to www.SandraElzie.com

Her books are available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

She also writes as Sandra McGregor.  Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Piper - June 5, 2014 - 7:17 am

I’m a bona fide research nerd. I love to do research. It’s hard for me to stop–some projects have been going on for years until I need the information. Going to graduate school was just an excuse to take up some more projects.
I love to visit historical places. Beverly Jenkins once asked me if I take research trips. I try to but it is hard when DS would rather visit a zoo. So we have to share on our vacations…I think a trip to Andersonville would be a good idea later this summer…Great post, Sandy!

Connie Gillam - June 5, 2014 - 9:15 am

Sandy-

I did some research last year, tracing my family tree. It was fascinating and I can understand, Piper, how it could be addictive. Based on that research, I’m playing around with the idea of writing a historical novel set around the 1870s.

Marilyn Baron - June 5, 2014 - 9:44 am

I like your idea about female spies. I researched WWII for my book Under the Moon Gate and read ok’d newspapers from the period including The royal gazette in Bermuda. There’s always a little known fact that can spark an idea for a book.

Carol Burnside - June 5, 2014 - 12:00 pm

There’s some research I like, others not so much. I do love to get books on an era or specific event and read about that time. I did my first research on the late 1800′s when I was a wee girl, sitting on my Granny’s lap, listening to stories of her life in Oklahoma territory, then later reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books about her life. American historicals are in my future, with more (fun!) research needed.

Maxine Davis - June 5, 2014 - 2:05 pm

Sandy, I do enjoy research. I thought about going into it full time for other writers, but then I also wanted to write the stories. For my book set in Italy, I did a lot of research on olive trees and olive oil – Fascinating!! Can’t wait to read your book.

Debbie Kaufman - June 5, 2014 - 8:45 pm

Oh, my. Frankly I think I write just to support my research habit, LOL! I always check out a new place I’m traveling to so I can see if there is a cool museum, an interesting house, etc. Two of the coolest places that I have been for research are the Womens Missionary Union in Birmingham and a historic house in Memphis.

Sia Huff - June 5, 2014 - 8:58 pm

Great topic, Sandy. I enjoying learning, so research is wonderful extension of that. For my contemporaries, I research the setting. If I’m able, I try to visit to get the flavor the place.
I also have researched for a historical – Regency era. I love it.

Susan Carlisle - June 5, 2014 - 9:17 pm

Sandy,
Research is always fun. You always learn stuff you never imagined what you will find. I look forward to reading your civil war books.

Pam Asberry - June 6, 2014 - 7:28 pm

Whenever I have to research a subject I am so thankful for the internet! Remember when you had to go to the LIBRARY? These are the good old days!

Louise B - June 6, 2014 - 8:51 pm

I live in New Mexico where we play soccer. My son’s high school traded with a team from North Carolina. They played a tournament here, and we played one there. To cut down on costs, the families of the team members hosted the players. I will never forget our player asking for Sweet Tea. I’d never heard of it and thought he meant ice tea with sugar. He corrected me politely. Sweet Tea to the South is probably like chile (red and/or green) is to New Mexico.

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