Re-inventing History

Posted On May 21 2013 by
Jennie Wade
Jennie Wade

Let’s talk about the next project! I love talking about my work in progress. Every writer does. Except for the ones that don’t. But I’m kind of like the guy who decides to train for a marathon. I will talk about it with anyone who stands still long enough to listen every day for the six months preceding the big event.

The new project–hey, who said you could go anywhere, get back here–will involved a protagonist who travels around with has travel trailer to historical sites. He looks into some little known historical fact and finds that there’s more to the story. In fact, some modern day incident (preferably a murder) will tie into the chain of events stemming from the newly discovered historical fact.

Got it? I know, not much of a synopsis. But writer-types are paranoid about giving away too much information. What I can say is that my first book in this series has my protagonist at the Gettysburg Battlefield. For those of you who’ve been there, you may have heard of a woman named Jennie Wade. Jennie, as her bad luck would have it, was the only civilian killed at the Battle of Gettysburg (which I find astonishing, I mean…three days with bullets and cannonballs flying like locusts, and only one civilian killed).

Jennie’s story is even more tragic than the quick one-liner you’ll get on most Gettysburg tours, though. It seems Jennie was engaged to a Union corporal named Jack Skelly. Jack, who’s luck was about as bad as his fiancee’s, was mortally wounded two weeks before Gettysburg. He was, however, able to get a note off to Jennie telling her of his dire predicament.

Here’s where it gets weird. The man Jack gave the note to was a Confederate soldier named Wesley Culp. Now Wesley was a native of Gettysburg and went to school with Jack Skelly. However, he moved to Virginia with his employer several years before the war broke out, so he decided to fight for the Confederate cause.

With me so far? Wait, it gets worse.

Wesley arrives at Gettysburg, where this little skirmish is going on during the first three days of July in 1863. Apparently, bad luck follows Jennie like a lost puppy. Before Wesley can can deliver the message to Jennie, he is shot and killed. I’ve read one account that says he died immediately and another that says he died ten days later. Record keeping was not the best in 1863.

If Wesley did die immediately, he died right about the same time that poor Jennie, only 19 years of age, met her fate.

All that is fascinating history, is it not? But now the fiction writer comes in and says…what if? As in…what if Jennie wasn’t killed accidentally but murdered by someone taking advantage of the raging battle? What if the killer was a woman in love with Jack Skelly who wanted Jennie out of the picture? Wait, even better! What if the killer was Wesley Culp’s sister, who returned to find Wesley shot, then found the note on Wesley informing Jennie of Jack Skelly’s death!

Oh the horror! Can you imagine? This woman just murdered another woman so that she could be together with her true love, only to find that her true love had been dead for two weeks. I see nothing more for her to do at this point than run away out west, leaving the vast family inheritance to distant cousins, to be contested in 2013 by a decedent of Wesley Culp’s sister, who will, of course, be murdered during a Gettysburg reenactment.

That’s the only possible outcome for this story that I see, don’t you?

Ahh…thank goodness for fiction and the power to invent a sister who never existed just to make interesting history even more interesting. How about you? Ever played “what if” with some historical incident? You should give it a try.


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Last Updated on: May 21st, 2013 at 11:46 am, by Ron

Written by Ron

Just about everything I believe has been shaped by the written word. But books don't force a belief; they stir the imagination so that you, the reader, eventually draw your own conclusions. We grow richer in spirit when we read, deeper in our understanding of the universe and our role in it. That's why I read. That's why I write. To offer you a bit of myself. Come along on my journey, won't you? There's plenty of room.

4 responses to “Re-inventing History

  1. I love the idea! And I love taking the “what ifs” of history and turning them into fiction, maybe that’s why all my mysteries so far stem from history or current events related to history. Oh the possibilities! I can see a big series coming out of this one! Now hurry up and write it before someone else does!

    • Well let’s get MOTS edited so I can dive in! I started thinking about this years ago, and finally decided to give it a rip. Now, the more I think about it, the more I love the concept. Just wait ’till we get to the writing of the Constitution. Maybe book 2? I love a history lesson.

  2. Exciting, and a great twist on the facts! I had a similar research experience. The Bell Bomber Plant in Marietta GA factors into my novel, and before I got too deep into killing off characters, I wanted to know what kind of accidents could have happened at the plant. Was the environment dangerous enough that an accidental death would be plausible? Well, I found a news report (written in an incredibly self-congratulatory tone) that there were “only” two deaths during construction of the plant, except for a third guy who was not counted (seriously) because he was a railroad employee. Consider this in the context of 1942 — young men serving and dying at war, everyone contributing with war bonds and scrap metal and cooking grease — and this poor man’s death “doesn’t count”?! And if it galled me to read it in 2012, then how did his family like it? A group of men from that county were drafted that month, too, and I couldn’t help wondering, what if his draft orders came just after he died? I found the element my story needed, and a heap of context for a powerful influence on the other characters.

    • Brandy! We’re kindred spirits. I love history, especially these minor, overlooked details. When I read about Jennie Wade, my writer’s mind immediately thought, “If she’d been killed on July 4th, there would have been a full murder investigation.” So what’s to say someone didn’t take advantage of a raging battle and commit the perfect crime? And history is a treasure trove of these incidents. Gina’s right, we could start a whole new category of mysteries. By the way, we have Willow Run near us, where the B-29s were built. I’ll bet I could find some stories there as well. Let’s get busy. We have best-sellers to write.