I hope everyone out there had a very happy Thanksgiving (for those of you in the USA!) Mine was very nice and relaxed, just family and lots of food. Fresh from Remembrance Day in Gettysburg, I couldn’t help but compare the bounty before me to the undoubtedly meager pickings then, even four months after the battle.
This year, I ventured to do more than just dress up and honor the fallen. Because I am a writer, I look at everything as an opportunity to learn and to research. I happen to have two Civil War novels in progress, albeit in the very early stages, and I felt it appropriate to, well, to know what I was talking about when I wrote! Besides, I’d never hear the end of it from my Dad otherwise.
If any of you were there, yes I was the weirdo trying to figure out how a wheel-mounted cannon could roll back and cause a broken leg versus a crushing injury. For those of you unhappy enough to witness my antics, my full apologies, I really wasn’t crazy, just trying to make sure I didn’t write something into my novel that had no logistical possibility. When you have a family member who is as close to an expert as can be, you kind of want to have your ducks in that lovely little row.
Interestingly enough, research material can be had from the oddest places, and people. My friend and I visited the Diorama, and stood looking over the model of Gettysburg trying to figure out the location of Trostle Farm, which figures prominently in my story. As we were trying to determine which of the various farm locations could possibly be what we were looking for, a bearded gentleman came up and pointed out the farmhouse for us. (We speculated afterward that he must have been a reenactor in civvies, because the beard was absolutely perfect.) In addition to locating the farm for us, he gave us a quick 3 minute explanation of limbers, caissons, and cannon placement! Huzzah! Now I had the means to not sound like an arrant idiot at the outset of my novel. And I know where the phrase “unlimber the guns” comes from!
Later in the evening, we walked by an encampment of soldiers packing up for their next venture, and got a wonderful explanation of the correct nomenclature – no, they weren’t called cannons, they were called guns, and the long thing that shoots from a distance is your musket, and the thing at your hip is a sidearm. Who knew? Not me, anyway, but now I do.
It just goes to show that research doesn’t necessarily mean looking things up in a book or online. Sometimes, the people my husband kindly calls ‘fruitcakes’ (and yes, that includes me!) have more knowledge than you can get from a book, because they’ve done their best to live the research. Kind of like me – I’ve pretty much done most of my research on ladies’ garments, right down to the, ahem, split-crotch pantalets, so I could probably create my own source material, but I couldn’t tell you in that much detail about men’s garb. Or weapons of the Civil War. But now I know a little about cannons! Oops, sorry, make that guns…
Point is, sometimes the best way to research is to go out and DO it…give it a whirl. Try putting on a corset, or a pair of gaiters, or a heavy woolen coat and a pair of hobnailed boots, and walk the walk, don’t just talk it. You might find yourself learning more than you expected!