One of the pleasures of writing historical fiction is in doing the research so that the characters and stories fit the era in which they lived. That’s why I’ve made a couple of trips to visit the Port Hudson State Commemorative Area located just north of Natchez, Mississippi, where visitors can still roam among the remains of the old fortifications and tour a small but informative museum on the site. Today, Port Hudson is only a footnote in the campaign for Vicksburg, but between the 21st of May and the 9th of July, 1863, some 7,500 Confederate troops held off more than 30,000 Federal soldiers. I’ve chosen the fort and the battle for the setting of one of the major scenes in my forthcoming novel Evermore. Readers familiar with Always and Forever and Ever My Love will find that Evermore is a continuation of the story of two Southern families caught up in the clash over slavery. While the novel is most concerned about how three remarkable women survive separation, betrayal, and loss, the siege at Port Hudson reveals the folly, the courage, and the waste of war.
Last summer I took my twelve-year old grandson to the Civil War re-enactments at Port Hudson. Men and women wore period costumes, some authentic to the point of discomfort, I expect. The ladies’ gowns ranged from elegant, beautifully sewn costumes to less glamorous but authentic every-day dresses of the period. The men often wore square toed boots, no distinction between the left and the right. We watched a surgeon amputate a soldier’s leg. At the climax, to much delighted screaming, he threw a rubber leg toward the kids gathered around. Confederate soldiers on horses demonstrated their prowess with pistol and saber. Cannons roared. Finally, the en-actors divided themselves into Yanks and Rebs to recreate one of the many skirmishes of that summer. That was hard to take. Alexander and I watched from the tree line as the cannons and musketry fired, as men threw themselves to the ground, victims of enemy fire or steel, and the flag was captured and recaptured. Just a little too real for me. I had to walk away before it was over, Alexander also glad to leave the field.
We have an entire sub-culture of Civil War re-enactors in our country. They devote themselves to learning the history, investing in authentic clothes, weapons, and artifacts, and traveling to weekends like this all through the season. They are well-informed, dedicated folks. If you have a chance to attend a weekend like the one at Port Hudson, I think you should go.