Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for UNDERAGE SOLDIERS

by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

(Kathy’s A to Z posts are tidbits of fact gleaned from her research for her historical-fiction novel LIKE A RIVER.)

LIKE A RIVER tells about two Civil War soldiers, both fighting for the Union, both fifteen at the time they enlist.

Leander and Paul are fictional characters, but records indicate that about 100,000 Union soldiers were fifteen and under. Another 100,000 were only sixteen. The number who lied about their ages and weren’t caught will never be known.

Confederate records aren’t as reliable, but the number is believed to be even higher.

Many young boys were used as drummers or buglers, which did not keep them away from battle. Other young soldiers fought (and died) alongside their older counterparts in the front lines.

Can you remember being fifteen? Would you have been ready to fight for your country?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Tiller

by Kim Van Sickler

[Kim's posts will all relate to her MG historical fiction novel with a paranormal twist: MuleskinnerHere's the pitch: An extraordinary canal dog gives twelve-year-old mule driver, Clay, the conviction to fight against a highly suspect Indenture agreement his pa supposedly signed...right before Pa was found swinging from a tree above Lonesome Lock.]

The tiller on the Ohio canal boats was in the back of the boat (the stern). It connected to the rudder. Depending on which way the tiller was maneuvered impacted the boat's direction. The steersman operated the tiller, and frequently was the captain of the boat. Propulsion happened on the front of the boat, courtesy of a team of mules hitched in tandem and walking next to the canal on the towpath (footpath).



The hardest part of steering the canal boat was locking through. Between Cleveland and Akron alone there were 44 locks. Locks were the water boxes that either filled or emptied of water and allowed the boat to rise to go upstream or lower to go downstream. The locks were much narrower than the rest of the canal, and required good steering skills to enter and exit gracefully, without knocking the boat against the canal's sandstone walls.

In Muleskinner, Cap'n Loomis Sheridan is captain and primary steersman of the Bonnie Lass. His tortured relationship with 12-year-old orphan Clay Muleskinner undergoes an overhaul during the course of the book.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for SULTANA

 by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

(Kathy’s A to Z posts are tidbits of fact gleaned from her research for her historical-fiction novel LIKE A RIVER.)

As the Civil War neared an end, the Confederacy moved prisoners from Andersonville and released them into Union hands. After Lee’s surrender, those men and released prisoners from Alabama’s Cahaba Prison were loaded onto the steamboat Sultana to be sent north. At long last, the horror was over—or so they thought.

The Sultana was built to carry 376 passengers and a crew of 85. After civilian passengers had boarded, the released prisoners were loaded onto the decks until the weight of the men caused the floors to sag. Posts were brought in to shore up the floor, and more men boarded.
The U.S. government paid steamboat lines for each soldier they carried, which provided incentive to carry as many as possible. The final number was around 2,500.

Around 2:00 AM on April 27, 1865, the boat’s boilers exploded. The explosion, its fire, the boilers’ scalding water, and drowning in the Mississippi killed nearly 1,800more than would die on the Titanic fifty years later.

After hearing those staggering numbers, I wondered why I had never previously heard about the Sultana (which was built in my home city of Cincinnati). The news in April, 1865, announced the end of the bloodiest war in U.S. history, the assassination of President Lincoln, and the search for and death of assassin John Wilkes Booth. The deaths on the Sultana just weren’t considered the most important news of the day. It was a story I had to write.

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for RATIONS

by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

(Kathy’s A to Z posts are tidbits of fact gleaned from her research for her historical-fiction novel LIKE A RIVER.)

In the early days of Andersonville Prison, rations for the prisoners were meager. At first, cornmeal and meat were doled out, but since cooking utensils and firewood were scarce, many had no way to cook the meat or bake bread from the meal. A cookhouse was set up, but as new prisoners were brought in, some days only half the camp was fed.

Eventually, large slabs of cornbread were baked and brought into the camp once a day. Sometimes bacon was also given out. However, flies that landed in the bread dough were baked into the bread. Many times, cob was ground up with the corn and baked into this daily ration. It caused severe inflammation in the prisoners’ stomachs.
cornbread
As Union troops invaded the South, destroying crops and burning warehouses, food became scarce for Confederate soldiers and Southern civilians. Prisoners’ daily ration of cornbread became smaller and smaller. Scurvy (caused by malnutrition) was rampant, and many starved to death.

Overall, military rations during the Civil War were lacking. Hardtack was the go-to when other rations grew scarce. Hardtack was a hard, cracker-like biscuit, and it was not uncommon to find it infested with insects. I saw a piece of hardtack (vaguely resembling a Pop-Tart) in a museum in 1996. It had survived since the Civil War.
two different styles of hardtack

But military rations have never been something to rave about. My USMC son showed me the MRE’s (Meals-Ready-to-Eat) they eat in the field. Military life still isn’t easy.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Quin O'Toole

by Kim Van Sickler

[Kim's posts will all relate to her MG historical fiction novel with a paranormal twist: MuleskinnerHere's the pitch: An extraordinary canal dog gives twelve-year-old mule driver, Clay, the conviction to fight against a highly suspect Indenture agreement his pa supposedly signed...right before Pa was found swinging from a tree above Lonesome Lock.]

Quin O'Toole. Nickname: Goose
Quin is already dead when Muleskinner starts. He was a canaler married to the prettiest woman on the Ohio Canal before she died birthing their second child: Aidan. A happy go-lucky fellow by nature, his fortunes took a dramatic turn for the worse when he got ensnared in Slice Fermer's gambling enterprise. Before his body was found hanging over Lonesome Lock, an indentured servitude agreement had been signed, promising his son Aidan would work for Slice as his muleskinner when the boy turned ten years old.

Quin's unfortunate past haunts Clay. It's up to Clay to straighten out what his father fell victim to and set himself free. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for PROVIDENCE SPRING

by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

(Kathy’s A to Z posts are tidbits of fact gleaned from her research for her historical-fiction novel LIKE A RIVER.)

When Andersonville prison camp was first constructed, it contained a branch of Sweetwater Creek. That creek was to be used by the prisoners for their every need: drinking, bathing, washing clothes and cooking utensils—and waste.

Wood “sinks” were built along one edge of the creek for men to empty their bowels directly into what was also the source of their drinking water. Before long, the stream became a contaminated, foul-smelling swamp that attracted flies by day and mosquitoes at night. The diseases spread throughout the camp from this creek were innumerable.

In August, 1864, a torrential downpour flooded the creek, which made matters worse—for a time.

When the flood water receded, it revealed a spring which bubbled from an underground aquifer too deep to have been contaminated by the stream. The prisoners proclaimed the water was clean and tasted sweeter than any water they had tasted in a long time.

But the spring sat on the wrong side of the dead line (see post for D). After contriving ways to reach the water with buckets tied to poles, some prisoners felt clean water was worth risking their lives for. Eventually, they were allowed to dig a reservoir for the spring to flow into, and men could drink clean water without fear of being shot.


The spring, which many attributed to a divine hand, was named Providence Spring. It still flows at the site of the prison. However the water is no longer safe to drink.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Ohio Canal

by Kim Van Sickler

[Kim's posts will all relate to her MG historical fiction novel with a paranormal twist: MuleskinnerHere's the pitch: An extraordinary canal dog gives twelve-year-old mule driver, Clay, the conviction to fight against a highly suspect Indenture agreement his pa supposedly signed...right before Pa was found swinging from a tree above Lonesome Lock.]

In 1825 the Ohio legislature authorized the construction of the Ohio Canal (now known as the Ohio & Erie Canal). The idea originated from the new and prospering Erie Canal running through NY and PA. Goods would arrive via Lake Erie to Cleveland and get shipped south through the length of Ohio to Portsmouth, a distance of a little over 300 miles. Raw materials like coal, quarry stone, and crops would be shipped back north. Thanks to the canal, Cleveland and Akron, little nothing towns, blossomed. The Canal era petered out in 1913 with the Great Flood, the nail in the coffin of a dying transportation industry, thanks to the faster, more efficient railroads.

The earliest known photo of the Ohio Canal, taken circa 1859 in the East Flats section of Cleveland.