I majored in history at the University of North Alabama because I thoroughly enjoyed research, reading old diaries, sitting hours at a library scrolling through microfiche, and uncovering firsthand accounts long forgotten.
It’s good I relish a thorough history hunt. Because readers of historical fiction and historical romance are nit-picky about authentic detail, from dialogues to names and dates down to the type of lace that would have adorned a character’s pantalets.
Such accuracy in details transport a reader back in time and bring historical characters to life.
Not only did I participate as a book vendor in one of the largest Civil War Shows, I used the opportunity to research. With over 1000 booths selling and displaying everything from weaponry to period reproduction clothing, the show offered much inspiration.
This is a Civil War era ear trumpet, used as a hearing aid by the hearing impaired. The tube was made of woven cloth and the bell end was fashioned out of brass.
Because the heroine in my work in progress is seeing impaired, I was most interested in Civil War era eyeglasses and eye protection. These have tinted lenses designed to shield the eyes from bright light. The earpieces and frame are wire.
Hair jewelry was a common fad during the Civil War. A soldier departing for war would have given a lock of hair to his sweetheart as a keepsake. Women often fashioned these locks of hair into intricately woven or braided designs they could then wear as an accessory. From The Civil War Parlor - “Materials such as gutta-percha, jet, black glass, black enamel, pinchbeck, (a metal that looks and wears like gold but isn’t) and gold were commonly used in the creation of mourning jewelry.”
My daughter, Zoe, with a group of Tennessee Confederates
Living history participants and reenactors pay special attention to the authenticity of their uniforms and accessories.
Most Confederates from mid-1862 on wore a homespun 'butternut' uniform. Butternut took its name from a community of pro-Southern farmers living in the Mid-West, who dyed their fabric in walnut or butternut oil. Butternut was durable and cheaply manufactured throughout the South.
The movies and television have often depicted Civil War soldiers decked out in blue and gray, Federals in blue, Confederates in gray, but wearing otherwise identical uniforms. As Confederates struggled to acquire uniforms at all, this myth couldn’t be further from the truth. Uniforms from both sides came in an array of colors.
The Zouaves added splashes of color to their uniforms. From Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, “There was one gaudy splash of color among the uniforms that put the girls’ bright finery to shame and stood out in the crowd like a tropical bird – a Louisiana Zouave, with baggy blue and white striped pants, cream gaiters, and a tight little red jacket.”
Zoe with Whitt Barr (descendent of 20th Tennessee’s William J. McMurray who wrote the 20th’s regimental history) dressed in his Zouave Uniform (not visible is the gold tassel on his hat)
Some Federal units wore gray and some Confederates wore blue – which often tragically resulted in “friendly fire” situations.
Confederate soldiers clad in the gray uniform with a matching kepi was something of a rarity.
Civil War era amber earbobs.
Look for unique and fun ways to research historical romance!