There’s a new interview with Francis Hamit, author of The Shenandoah Spy, by Frank Mundo of Examiner.com. Hamit makes very interesting observations about writing historical fiction set in the Civil War era:
This kind of historical fiction is actually a search for a deeper truth that surpasses the written record, and, where the American Civil War is concerned, the written record is always suspect. Memoirs seldom do damage to their subjects; everyone is the hero of their own autobiography. Letters are a very good source, but limited in scope and self-edited. Official Records, the reports of actual battles, often turn out to have been written weeks or months after the actual events by third party staff officers who were not present. The reports attributed to Stonewall Jackson were actually written by Charles Faulkner, who was not in the Confederate Army at the time. (Henry Kyd Douglas mentions this in his memoir — which was published decades after the war’s end and has been criticized by regular historians for its own inaccuracies. I heard one at a conference call him “a congenital liar”, which was a bit harsh. He simply remembered differently than others.) And then there are the Southern Historical Society papers, edited by Confederate general Jubal Early, which created the myth of “The Lost Cause”. This was nothing less than a long-term attempt to rewrite history, a post-war disinformation campaign. That leaves the newspaper accounts of the time, which were always attached to one political cause or another, on both sides, and slanted to that end. These accounts and the Official Records disagree in many places. Finally, professional historians often get it wrong because they rely upon the authority of more senior historians who are quoting other historians and not these primary sources.