July: Remembering the Past
What images do you think of when someone mentions July?
Fireworks, family barbecues, and picnics in the park? What about the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776) or Gettysburg (July 1 – 3, 1863)?
The American Civil War battle known as The Battle of Gettysburg was fought in the fields surrounding the village of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and began July 1, 1863, and ended on July 3, 1863. In those three hot July days, more than 50,000 men were listed as killed, wounded, missing, or captured.
When I began researching for my short story, “In A Still Moment,” and my novel, In Search of Destiny, the second book in the Destiny trilogy, I wanted a different perspective. Should I write from a Confederate or Union point of view? From a woman’s or man’s perspective? As I studied Civil War images, I realized someone else besides soldiers had to be present to photograph the events. This led to more study about Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner and then to more questions about how photographers handled the grisly scenes in front of their lenses. Did they suffer from what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Then I found this quote from Andrew Carrol, from Grace Under Fire: Letters of Faith in Times of War and used this as the theme for the short story.
“Why does God allow such evil to continue?” My heart had become so hardened that I no longer even tried to listen for an answer. My mind was made up. God, I decided, must not exist. But while I had given up on God, He had not given up on me. I discovered, like most who have lost faith at some point in their lives, that He never stops sending us messages of hope. Sometimes we’re just unable or unwilling to see them.”
“In A Still Moment” is the story of Christopher Grant, a fictitious Civil War photographer, whose job is to photograph the Battle of Gettysburg. Images of death and destruction sear his mind. He is tired of war and wants to go home to his sweetheart, Anne McCarthy, but wonders if she still waits for him. Will she be of the same heart when he returns to her from the battle of Gettysburg with wounds and a mind affected by what he has seen? “In A Still Moment” is a story of faith and healing.
When I needed to write one of the battlefield scenes in In Search of Destiny, I wanted to tie the short story to the novel. Here’s what I wrote.
June 17, 1864
Dr. Benjamin West stepped outside one of the tents of the mobile field hospital and looked into the star-filled sky over Petersburg. He stretched, and then rubbed his aching back. The night didn’t cloak the smell of gunpowder and disturbed earth nor did the velvety blackness muffle the moaning of the injured and dying. Would this war ever end? Would he be able to return to Laura in Boston, lie beside her at night, and not see the grotesque injuries or hear the hideous screams of the wounded in his dreams?
He sighed and longed for the simpler life in Kansas territory when the practice of medicine didn’t involve spending many hours every day cutting off shattered or gangrenous limbs, removing bullets, or sewing up gaping wounds. He wished for the day when he saw colors other than blood-red or burnt-black.
As he walked toward his tent, he passed a stack of amputated body parts and remembered the time at Gettysburg when he’d watched a photographer from Mathew Brady’s Photographic Corps try to capture the image of the stacks of limbs outside the hospital grounds. The man controlled his gagging, but couldn’t control the trembling. He looked through the lens, but couldn’t press the button that would immortalize the results of the first three days of the Battle of Gettysburg.
After researching this particular time in history, July will always remind me of The Declaration of Independence and The Battle of Gettysburg.