Author Archives: Sarah Thompson

About Sarah Thompson

Writer, Bibliophile, Young Adult Librarian

A rainy day of research

So it finally rained, as my weather app has been threatening it would all week, so I’m very glad I got the footwork done yesterday. Also, this week has exhausted me more than I anticipated, so it’s probably very good that I’ve forced myself to rest.

I thought about going back up to see Harper’s Ferry, or Brandy Station, or even out to Williamsburg, but instead I found myself tucked away at the Central Rappahannok Regional Library for a few hours, pouring over my notes, researching Pennsylvania regiments, trying to map out a timeline for the events of Book Two.

I’ve known for a while that the second book will end shortly after the battle of Fredericksburg, which took place in December of 1862. This will make it easier to jump into the action in Book Three, skipping over the months spent in winter quarters until the battle at Chancellorsville. The time between their enlistment in the summer of 1861, and the end of 1862, however, took a bit more figuring.

Like I’ve said before, I planned on picking one particular western Pennsylvanian regiment, and following their engagements through the war, to pattern my fictional, ambiguous regiment around. I landed on the 102nd Pennsylvania, seeing as they were involved in most of the biggest battles of the war, formed around the time I needed, and lasting until the Wilderness in 1864. However, while they were present at some battles, I found they weren’t actively engaged in combat during some crucial points. And I’m writing fiction, so unless it serves the plot, I really don’t want to write them in standing for hours or days guarding wagons. Not too dramatic, and after all, I’m not writing a historical text. So… huzzah for creative liberties!

Focusing on the second book, I came up with five battles the 102nd took part in between ’61 through the end of ’62. I found maps from the Civil War Trust (which has some AMAZING animated maps, by the way) and snipped portions of them for my reference, zeroing in on the positions my characters will most likely be in. For fun, I thought I’d post them here.

williamsburgWilliamsburg–May 5, 1862

This would be the 102nd’s, and my fiction regiment’s, first engagement in the Civil War, as part of the Peninsula Campaign.

I thought I might be able to get around to touring Williamsburg this weekend, but it will depend on time and gas tomorrow, and I do eventually have to return this rental car, I guess. Poor thing needs a break after all the hills I’ve been pushing it up.

fair oaksFair Oaks / Seven Pines–May 31, 1862

Taking place just before the Seven Days battle. The 102 was in some heavy fighting before retreating to the woods.

My notes say this brigade’s fight lasted for only about half an hour, but the regiment lost over 60 soldiers–13 killed, 48 wounded.

malvern hillMalvern Hill–July 1, 1862

The last battle of the Peninsula Campaign. In this, the 102nd held their position for 12 hours, under fire the entire time.

After this, my notes say the 102nd supported the artillery at the battle of Chantilly, but I’m not going to be covering that particular event. Creative license also allows me to give my characters a break!

That is, until…

Antietam–September 17, 1862sunken road

Here’s where I had to stretch that license a bit. For this battle, the 102nd was held in reserve, and didn’t see any action. Visiting the battlefield myself this week, and seeing the Sunken Road, I feel that I have to write about it. So for this battle, I chose the 130th, which has men from Cumberland County. Not western PA, but I have family history ties there, so it stuck out to me. Interestingly, the 130th was an “emergency” regiment raised in response to Lee’s invasion of Maryland in 1862.

Fredericksburg–December 13, 1862marye's heights

Since this is the battle my ancestor fought in, he himself from Allegheny County, I wanted to follow his regiment. I know he was part of Humphreys’ Division, and I know about where on the battlefield he would have been positioned, but for whatever reason, I can’t find the 123rd on the map of Marye’s Heights. I can, however, find both the 130th and the 62nd (also Allgeheny) in the vicinity. So between the three, I have enough to go on.

I’ve also just discovered a book–The Forgotten Charge by Scott B. Lang, all about the 123rd’s actions at Marye’s Heights. It’s on order now, and I’m hoping that’ll be a great resource!

So there’s an overview of the military side of things, as far as the plot is concerned. Before I dig any deeper into battle details, though, it’s time to start looking at the character side of things. But it’s exciting to finally make sense of all the research I’ve done so far! Seriously, walking around most of these places has been so amazing.

Well, back to work!

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So… I unintentionally fit two-days’ worth of battlefield sightseeing into a single day. Oops.

I visited the sites of Marye’s Heights, Salem Church, Chancellorsville, and the Wilderness. I’d planned to space them out and see some tomorrow, but I was afraid weather would keep me from viewing everything I needed to. In hindsight, I should’ve given myself more time at Gettysburg, and just a day or so here. Anyhow.

Humphrey MonumentMy first stop after the visitor center was Marye’s Heights, and the monument to Humphreys’ Division (and that of my great grandfather’s). I only wish we had some sort of record of James Hasting’s time as a soldier, from his perspective. I would love to know how he survived such an ordeal. Standing on the sunken road behind the stone wall the Confederates used for cover, knowing the Union was coming across an open field, it’s a wonder any Union soldier survived those failed assaults.

Of additional significant note was viewing the monument to Richard Kirkland, or the “Angel of Marye’s Heights.” Beautiful monument, beautiful story. The second moment on this trip at which I’ve teared up, the first being Bloody Lane yesterday at Antietam.

For the sake of brevity I won’t detail all of my stops from today, but the last one is worth noting. The Wilderness. Specifically, the Crossroads, where the fight was terrible and the wounded were in danger from the fire in the woods. Absolutely horrifying to think about. But it’s in the book as well, so it was a necessary stop. It was eerie, though, standing there on a pretty sunny afternoon, hearing nothing but chirping, and just imagining the bloodbath that occurred there.

I still have Richmond on my itinerary–more specifically, Malvern Hill–but since I’ll be flying out of there Sunday evening, I have a bit more time to tour there. So I think I’ll take the opportunity tomorrow for a lot of writing, and resting, since I’ve been going non-stop since early Monday morning, and have hardly had a chance to take a breath, or process all of this information!

Of course, if I start going stir-crazy in the B&B, there’s always Williamsburg…

Farewell for now!

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Today was a full day! Started the morning listening to another historian at the bed and breakfast where I was staying. Loved his presentation. Had a great breakfast and made a couple new friends (it appears I can socialize after all!) before heading out towards Antietam.

First, I just have to say, part of what has made this trip so amazing is just the driving. I love getting out on the road, especially when I’m not familiar with an area, so long as it’s daylight. The drive into Maryland was amazing; winding country roads with a canopy of trees overhead, up and down hills… nothing quite like that in north Texas. Beautiful.

cornfieldI arrived at Antietam before noon and sat down to double-check some family history, and discovered that my great (x3) grandfather on my dad’s side more than likely fought in that battle. He was a part of the 53rd Georgia Infantry, of Semmes’ Brigade, fighting in the Cornfield in the morning portion of the battle. He lived through that ordeal, but later died of the measles, from my research. I’ll be attempting to see his headstone in Richmond on Sunday.

Of the three other Civil War soldier ancestors I have, (all Union), none were at Antietam. One was part of the western theatre of the war in the 2nd US Kentucky Cavalry. Another didn’t enlist until 1864, as part of the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

I did find, however, that the final one–Private James S. Hastings of Allegheny County, enlisted for nine months in the 123rd Pennsylvania Infantry–was part of the infamous, failed attacks on Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg, with Humphreys’ Division. There’s a monument in the cemetery I hope to see tomorrow.

So, today’s research was largely family-history focused, but I managed to get some plot notes written at dinner for the book! Tomorrow I’m starting early on Fredericksburg, then will hopefully have time for Chancellorsville after lunch, so I can save The Wilderness for Saturday. (Didn’t realize it was an hour away, and there’s a good chance of rain so hopefully I can get to it early in the morning.)

Off to do a bit more writing before bed!


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