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.
(**I’ve tried to minimize any Spoilers here, but if you haven’t finished reading I Shall Be Near To You yet, SPOILER ALERT**)
In honor of Arbor Day, I thought I’d write a little bit about trees…
In November of 2008, I came across Bob Hicok’s poem “What I Know For Sure” in that month’s edition of Oprah magazine and was introduced to the idea of the witness trees at Antietam and Appomattox. I had not yet written the battle scenes in I Shall Be Near To You, but I knew they were coming, and I knew some of what would happen– had already written much of *that* scene at Antietam, in fact– although I didn’t yet know it would happen at Antietam. But the idea of witness trees stuck with me. Reading Hicok’s poem was the first I’d heard that phrase, in fact, and I tore the poem out and posted it to the bulletin board that was above my desk at the time. When I finally got to *that* scene at Antietam, the idea of a witness tree had taken root, and I have Bob Hicok’s poem to thank for the idea of Jeremiah’s tree.
In my search for a link to the poem, I also came across photographer Nate Larson’s poignant series of portraits of the remaining Witness Trees— the only survivors of the Civil War still living. Aren’t they beautiful?
What started as the one-time (so I thought) #IShall TwitterChat about all things historical fiction, has now (because it was so fun and people asked for more!) morphed into the #HistoricalFix TwitterChat.
What is the #HistoricalFix TwitterChat?
It’s a one-hour (more or less) discussion of historical fiction: topics, trends, time periods, research, characters and of course BOOKS. Co-hosted by some of my favorite bloggers and featuring a new line-up of guest authors each time, the chat gives historical fiction lovers (readers, bloggers, librarians, editors, agents, authors) a chance to respond to questions, participate in giveaways, recommend books, and just generally enjoy talking about the genre we all love.
When’s the next #HistoricalFix TwitterChat happening?
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
5:30-6:30 PM PST/8:30-9:30 PM EST
With a Cameo Appearance by:
Kelly of Belle of the Literati
Guest Authors and Giveaways:
Stacy Carlson author of Among the Wonderful (3 copies up for grabs!)
Tracy Guzeman author of The Gravity of Birds (5 copies up for grabs!)
Kelli Stanley author of City of Ghosts; City of Secrets; City of Dragons; Nox Dormienda; The Curse Maker (2 copies of a Miranda Corbie book AND 3 audio versions of Nox Dormienda up for grabs!)
What’s the best way to participate?
Add your tweets to the deluge! As long as you have a Twitter handle and remember to add our hashtag (#HistoricalFix), you’re in! It’s a bit easier to track the conversation if you use a website like Tweetchat—just log in using your Twitter account and search for #HistoricalFix. The entire conversation should load, and it will automatically include #HistoricalFix in all your tweets (because truly, remembering the hashtag is the hardest part. Well, and keeping up with all the tweets)
The best thing to do is tweet me with any questions that aren’t answered here: @ErinLindsMcCabe (and feel free to use the hashtag so others can see your question too)
What was the #IShall TwitterChat?
Inspired by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s #BSWT TwitterChat, I teamed up with four fabulously supportive and dedicated bloggers to celebrate the paperback release of I Shall Be Near To You and have a great time. Five historical fiction authors joined us and I think I can safely say that what transpired exceeded any of our wildest imaginings. I laugh now to think how nervous I was that no one would “show up.”
You can read pretty much everything about the #IShall TwitterChat experience in Hannah’s recap which includes a link to the list of the over 114 recommended books that came up in the course of the discussion.
#IShall Featured Authors:
Ariel Lawhon author of The Wife The Maid The Mistress
Alex Myers author of Revolutionary
Ariel MacArran author of Another Man’s Bride
Mary Volmer author of Crown of Dust
Lois Leveen author of Juliet’s Nurse; The Secrets of Mary Bowser