The Brian Farm, Gettysburg. Left: a photo from the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, LC-DIG-cwpb-01860
Right: From Gettysburg Stone Sentinals.
Although this post is not really about the Brian house, when I was searching for an image, I found these two. What happened to the Brians is one example of the kind of stress the people of Gettysburg encountered before, during, and after the battle. In brief, Abraham Brian (or Bryan) was an African American farmer. During July 2 and 3, his home became the headquarters of General Alexander Hays' Division of the Union's 2nd Army Corps. It also was on the front lines. When he returned to his property after the battle, he found his house was a shambles, his crops and orchards destroyed, and his field a graveyard. The stress this man, his family, and all the other people in the area faced was enormous.
When I wrote Walk by Faith, I had to immerse myself in all things Gettysburg. I had visited the town years earlier and knew that the battle occurred on July 1-3, but did not really know all that much about it and life in the town.
One thing I was surprised by was the amount of confusion and “alarms” that befell the town’s people during June of 1863. A contingent of Confederate soldiers actually arrived in Gettysburg on June 26th after a skirmish with the P.E.V.’s (Pennsylvania Emergency Volunteers). They were looking for supplies and horses. They also were taking Gettysburg’s black citizens into custody, possibly to send them South. Interestingly, the C.S.A. troops did not stay long. In fact, they left early on the morning of June 28th. A few days later, the battle started in earnest.
Can you imagine the stress the people of Gettysburg were feeling even before the battle occurred? Think about it. Their only means of communication were 1) information sent via telegraph; 2) letters; and 3) information from visitors from other towns. That meant they were subject to a confusing swirl of whispers. Rumors of approaching enemy troops became so pervasive that shopkeepers began sending most of their goods away by train. Some men packed up money and family treasures and left the women and children behind. (Thanks, guys...) Meanwhile, people began hiding their supplies of food and their horses, if they owned them. They wanted to save their belongings from the soldiers.
The truth is, it didn’t matter whose army came into town. They would be looking for food, supplies, and fresh horses. People were trying to hang onto some shred of economic security by keeping what they had away from the military.
In Walk by Faith, I tried to help readers experience the confusion of June 1863. The scene below takes place on June 15. Several things are going on. 1) The more vulnerable members of the Maggie's family are being sent out of town to stay with Eli’s sister and brother-in-law, who live about seven miles to the north. “Vulnerable” people would be the children, as well as Matilda Strong and her daughter Chloe, who are escape slaves. If they, as well as some recent refugees, get captured by Confederate soldiers, they most likely would be returned South. 2) Members of the family are hiding their food supplies. 3) Grandpa O’Reilly tells a shocked Maggie where to find his pistol and bullets.
In addition, Maggie is pregnant after believing that she and Eli would never conceive a child, but is determined to stay behind and protect that house should an invasion occur.
Once again, can you imagine what must have felt like? How frightened, confused, or anxious might you have been? I think that I, not unlike Maggie, might have busied myself with all the details. That way I wouldn't focus as much on what will happen next. Also, being busy would keep the departure of my loved ones from hurting as much.
While doing research for the book, I was happy to learn that many of the town’s residents had written journals during the time of the battle or penned memoirs later. I read some and drew upon them to give my characters' experiences a sense of reality. While descriptions of historical events can give a writer the what, who, when, why, and how of events, journals and other personal writings help us get into the deep areas. Research of that kind is invaluable, giving the author an sense of what was happening to people on all levels: physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental.
I believe that the authenticity of an historical fiction novel emerges somewhere in the nexus of historical facts, written sources from the time period, and imagining the impact those events might have on a fictional character’s development. This is hard work, but when it comes together it’s well-worth the effort.
Hope you enjoyed the excerpt!
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder