Archive for the ‘Ghosts Of Vicksburg’ Category

Ghosts of Vicksburg

June 30, 2013



After The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry, The Bravest Girl in Sharpsburg, and Retreat From Gettysburg were published, I did a lot of school visits. And many students asked me the same question: Why don’t you write a Civil War story about someone from Wisconsin? I’d lived in Wisconsin for quite a while by then, so I thought that was a great suggestion!

I thought about characters and plot ideas, and did a lot of research and reading. Nothing quite said “This is it,” though, until I found the memoir written by Elisha Stockwell, who was 15 years old when he ran away from his family farm near Alma, Wisconsin, and enlisted in the 14th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment.   He wrote:

“We heard there was going to be a war meeting at our little log school house. I went to the meeting when they called for volunteers, and (I put my name down.)  Father was there and objected to my going, so they scratched my name out, which humiliated me somewhat.  My sister gave me a severe calling down…and called me a little snotty boy, which raised my anger. I told her, ‘Never mind, I’ll go and show you that I am not the little boy you think I am.’”

Vicksburg photo Elisha Stockwell

Elisha survived the war, but he regretted his impulsive enlistment.

Elisha’s memoir wasn’t a dry account of tactics. Instead, he wrote about what it was like to be a boy in the Union Army.

Elisha made a perfect buddy for a fictional character. For main characters I created Jamie, a young soldier from Wisconsin,  and his cousin Althea, who lives in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

That gave me the opportunity to narrate the Vicksburg campaign from two different perspectives:  a civilian trapped in the city during the siege, and a Union soldier engaged in that siege. I like to write stories with no simple “good guys” and “bad guys,” and this story structure, with alternating points of view, let me help readers imagine the conflict from both sides.

I had never been to Vicksburg, so a trip south was first on the agenda.

Vicksburg courthouse

The old Vicksburg Courthouse looks very much as Elisha would have seen it.

Vicksburg Balfour House

I stayed in an old home, the Balfour House, which at that time was a Bed & Breakfast Inn.

On trips like this I pay attention to natural environment, too.

Vicksburg plant

Mississippi would have been a totally new environment for the Wisconsin farmboys traveling south for the first time.

March Through Swamp

March Through the Swamp, captured by a newspaper artist.

I also visited the battlefield and retraced what I could of the route the 14th Wisconsin boys traveled.

Vicksburg cannons

On the field at Vicksburg National Military Park.

I was doing research, but also paying homage to those men who sacrificed so much, so many years ago.

14th Wisconsin Monument

14th Wisconsin Monument

Despite my best efforts, I know I can never truly imagine what it was like for the Vicksburg civilians who endured the horrific siege, just as I can’t ever really know what it was like for the farmboys, like Elisha Stockwell, who marched into unknown terrain and terrifying battle.

The title of my novel, Ghosts of Vicksburg, reflects the idea that many of the people who endured so much knew that their old lives—their old selves—were gone forever.

Vicksburg statue