RESEARCH: A valuable clue for my story I didn’t even know I needed

img_2310When I was researching the history that forms the background of my Civil War WIP, I found all kinds of treasures at the Maryland Historical Society’s H. Furlong Baldwin Library. But one little document brought new life to my story.

I wrote the first draft during National Novel Writing Month a year ago. Writing furiously for a month, I depended on Google for the basic details. I wanted to bring my characters to life, develop the conflict and create a setting for all of that. Later, I reasoned, when I was revising, I could do the serious research.

After visiting Antietam a couple of times, after visiting the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and talking to their curator, I ended up at the Baldwin Library. Good thing, too.

I found in their online catalog a couple of books I wanted to look at, so I asked the librarian for them. They were serious tomes about hospitals, medicine and sanitary commissions, written soon after the battle, their pages yellow and slightly musty. Packed with info, too.

Then the librarian handed me an envelop. I thought you might like to see this, she said. I found it when I was looking for your books. She thought it looked interesting.

mariahallI’ll say. Inside the envelop was a treasure. It’s only a thin little thing, the size of a postcard maybe. It was a souvenir of a national gathering of Civil War Army Nurses. Inside are photos of old ladies — ladies who were once young ladies dedicating their lives to saving soldiers wounded on the field of battle.

In other words, here were names, faces and short biographies that gave flesh to the faint outlines of my battlefield nurses: Miss Larkin and Miss Betty, Patricia, Angela, Eliza, Maria and Maureen. I found a listing for Maria Hall, the real director of the field hospital where Maureen works. And I found a listing for an 18-year-old girl who volunteered at a time when women that young usually weren’t welcome. My Maureen wanted to be a battlefield nurse. The Irish teenager longed to serve her adopted country. But until I saw this little pamphlet, I wasn’t sure there was any basis in history for Maureen’s service.

I left the library inspired by the faces of these women. I was so happy for Maureen. Now I knew she could defy her father, turn her back on love and answer the call she felt so strongly.

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