When I wrote The Shape of Mercy, a number of people asked me if I went to Massachusetts for my research. Some seemed surprised when I said I did not. The truth is, the Salem in my story does not exist anymore. A friend of mine who lives in nearby Peabody told me the place where the executions took place is now home to apartment buildings. Colonial Salem village exists only in history books and the imagination. I happen to have those!
But the book I will be writing over the next few months, A Sound Among the Trees, which will have as its historical thread a Civil War drama, is different. It will take place in a fictitious Fredericksburg house that witnessed the crucible that was the War Between the States. And since I am creating a house that technically still stands, I felt the pull to go to Fredericksburg to see and feel the lay of the land. I am grateful to my friends Sarah and Jeff who let me stay with them and took me to so many battlegrounds and museums. The echoes of those sad four years of American history are everywhere. Everywhere still. Here are few images.
Top photo is a replica cannon on Marye’s Heights overlooking Fredericksburg. A horrific battle was fought here in mid-December 1862. The Confederates technically won this one, but the loss of life on both sides was chilling.
Second photo: On a day trip to Richmond, Sarah and I toured the Museum of the Confederacy and Jefferson Davis’s White House. Above his desk, Davis had portrait of George Washington, his hero. A rebel like himself, he thought, who also took up a cause that sadly meant taking up arms. Davis believed he was like Washington in this respect, a solider of freedom. I find this curious – that he would so desire freedom that he would dissolve the Union and yet would keep a culture of people chained to slavery, denying them the very thing he was ready to die for. . .
Third photo: Looking up Marye’s Heights from what had been the Union Line. Union soldiers tried to take the Heights and were unsuccessful. The field was covered with Union casualties, prompting one Confederate general to say, “A chicken could not live on that field.”
Fourth photo: Confederate women sewed uniforms like this one in their parlors. Their parlors also became hospitals. And their yards, burial grounds.
Last photo: Lovely Washington Street in current day Fredericksburg reminds us that not everything of beauty in Fredericksburg was obliterated. I am thinking of crafting my fictional house like this one. . . .
On Friday, thoughts on C. S. Lewis. See you then. . .