True Bits: Lemonade

Recently a reader asked me whether the lemonade that shows up twice in I Shall Be Near To You was historically accurate. The short answer is yes! The longer answer is a little more complicated.

The account of the soldiers being offered lemonade by citizens of Maryland as they marched toward Antietam comes straight out of Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam by Stephen W. Sears, the main source I relied on for my information about Antietam. In it, Major John M. Gould of the 10th Maine is quoted as having written in his diary, “The women and young ladies opened their doors and windows to give us bread and butter, meat, apples, peaches, and preserves!” Sears adds that, “There were washtubs of cold water and lemonade at front gates along the roadside…” That little tidbit became the inspiration for the scene in the novel. Interestingly, while working on the answer to this question, I did more research (better late than never!) and came across the Civil War diary of Private Charles C. Perkins, a bugler in the 1st Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, written while he was on the Peninsula Campaign in June 1862. He recounts several purchases of lemons (at a price of two for 25 cents on one occasion and three for 17 cents on another) and sugar to make lemonade.

Now, the accuracy of the lemonade that Rosetta’s mama makes during haying is a bit more slippery. The honest answer is that I made it up. That said, according to The Land Where Lemons Grow: The story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit by Helena Atlee, by 1862 there were regular steamships transporting lemons from Italy to New York. Now, would any of those lemons actually made it out to Flat Creek? Well, with the canal nearby in Utica, it’s possible, and the nice thing about historical fiction is I can deal in possibilities. Would Rosetta’s family have spent the money to buy lemons? That seems less likely. I prefer to imagine that they might have had a lemon tree planted in a protected spot in the kitchen garden. It’s possible, right?

Who would ever have thought there was so much research behind such a simple detail like lemonade! It’s a perfect example of how, when writing historical fiction, you never know what you don’t know until you’re in the middle of a scene.

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