Hello everyone! A few months ago, I did a post called Fact or Fiction//Which is More Important? Today, I want to turn this into an official Writing Series called Fact or Fiction? It will cover writing myths and history myths. Today, I’m going to tackle five common misconceptions about The War Between the States that I see popping up in most fiction books on the topic. Hope you enjoy!
Myth #1: All Southerners owned slaves/supported slavery.
This is not true and it makes me want to laugh every time I see this pop up. While a book may not come right out and say this, it’s insinuated in popular fiction that all Southerners own slavery. My ancestors are proof this is untrue. In fact, studies show that only about 25% of the Southern population in 1860 owned slaves. (For more statistics on this study, read The South Was Right! and Lincoln Unmasked)
And all southerners did not support slavery, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are prime examples of Southerners who hated the institution. And I’d also like to point out that the Underground Railroad couldn’t have existed without Southern abolitionists. Let’s say you are helping a slave form Florida escape to Canada. You cannot magically jump over the slave holding states (which included Maryland, Delaware, Missouri and Ohio, to name a few). You must come through several of these states to get to Canada. You must have food and shelter to make a trip (on foot or hiding in a wagon), and it’s dangerous. There is no way they could have gotten to Canada without help. North Carolina was one of the most active states in the Underground Railroad. So it is ludicrous to assume all southerners were at least supportive of slavery.
Myth #2: Southern soldiers, on average, could not read.
While both the Union and Confederate States had a large population of illiterate people, it’s silly to write a story where none of the Confederates know how to read. It’s insulting. If I’m not mistaken, The South Was Right! covers this claim as well. I read one study that showed that most Southern soldiers could read to some extent. Christ in the Camp makes this fact clear in the large amounts of tracts, pamphlets, books and Bibles they gave to eager southern soldiers. So, while it’s fine to have a grown soldier here and there who can’t read, or one who can’t read well, it’s way over used. Drummers are another matter, as there were a lot of street kids or orphans who had never been to school filling those spots.
Myth #3: The South fought to preserve slavery.
I am fighting not to roll my eyes at this one. It is in almost every book you read about the War Between the States and it is the biggest fallacy of them all. I’ll give you the nut shell of why the South fought, but if you want to read more on this topic, see these posts (Here, here, here and here.) The south would not have fought to preserve slavery. That would have been ridiculous. No woman in her right mind would send her man to war just so she could force another person to work for her. (Okay, so the women didn't literally send their men off to war, but you know what I mean, lol!) That’s insane. The reason the South fought the War Between the States is because their states’ rights were being taken away from them. The government passed taxes that hurt the south to aide the north. I’m not being biased, I’m stating facts. The government had enlarged it’s self past it’s Constitutional boundaries and had made it quite clear that it didn’t care who they had to step on to grab more power…sound familiar? Seems like there was a man named Kind George III who had that same ambition. I don’t care what side you take on the war in your novel. But I do care if it’s historically inaccurate. Even if you choose to ignore these facts, don’t have your southern antagonist citing slavery as his reason to fight. Read what the southern soldiers said they were fighting for. Slavery will not be one of their reasons.
Myth #4: The Emancipation Proclamation freed the Slaves.
Another common misconception, and it mostly stems from the fact that most people have never actually read the proclamation. I strongly encourage you to read it and not just take someone else’s word for it, no matter what angle they take on it, myself included. But basically, the EP was written to keep England and France, who had already outlawed slavery in their countries, from aiding the Confederacy and recognizing us as a nation. In the latter end, they succeeded, but the British and French did help us monetarily and materially, though not to the capacity they would have if not for the EP. The EP states that all slaves held in the seceded states are free, except those who lived in Union held territory. The hypocrisy here is that those are the only slaves he had the power to free, since they were in territory he had conquered. So where is their right to freedom from the “Champion of Abolition?” The shocking truth is that he didn’t care about the ones he could actually help; he just wanted to look good to Europe. He had no jurisdiction over the seceded states as a whole, since they were a separate country, so his proclamation did absolutely nothing. Also, he said, if the states would rejoin the Union by January 1st of 1863, they could keep their slaves. If the war was over slavery, every single state would have jumped at the chance to be back in their beloved former country. But not one took him up on the offer, proving not only that the South was not fighting to keep their slaves, but also that the Union was not fighting to free them.
Myth #5: All the Southern women wore hoop skirts.
I had to slip a fun one in here! 😉 So, yeah, this one’s not true either! Hoop skirts were very impractical for daily life in the south. They are bulky and let’s be honest, you can’t tend your garden like that, lol! The majority of southern woman were middle class and did the cooking, cleaning, gardening and often times helped in the fields as well. If she owned a hoop skirt, she would have worn it to church, weddings and socials. If I had lived during this time, I probably wouldn’t have even owned one. In my books, my main girl character Dixie is from a middle-class cotton plantation family. And she doesn’t own a hoop skirt. Why? Because she lives in the country. There is no where for her to wear one too. In fact, when up in Philadelphia for Christmas, she must borrow one from her cousins for a social. This wasn’t uncommon. Not everyone lived in Raleigh, Richmond and Atlanta. That’s what most people think of when they imagine life in the Antebellum South. Sorry to burst your bubble on that one, lol!
So that’s it for this first post on Fact or Fiction! I hope you enjoyed it!
Have a blessed day!
Post five! I wonder how long I will keep up with how many posts I’ve written…
Hello and welcome back to Life of Heritage! Today I have a special blog post. A dear subscriber asked me to write a series on Writing Myths/Historical Myths. So while this won’t be a monthly series, I will be gathering more information for this topic in particular! Hope you enjoy this post that has been begging to be written for a few months now. Without further ado, let’s hop to it!
A few months ago, I read a post that said one should never let history get in the way of a good story. Fiction before fact. I have to disagree with this bit of advice. Let me explain why.
History is unyielding. No matter how much you want to change it (like our textbooks today!) you cannot truly change history. It is as it was and just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you can change it. Gen. U.S. Grant owned slaves, so it would be silly for me to write a story about a staunch abolitionist conversation between him and my main character. I don’t like it that he owned slaves. I don’t like slavery at all, but I cannot erase it from history.
Your readers won’t trust you. When you keep most of your history straight in your story, but change a timeline to suit your story, your readers will assume you are telling the truth. I can’t say that Stonewall Jackson died on May 15th just because I want to make sure one of my characters has enough time to ride all the way to Florida to fetch a long lost relative and make it back in time to hold his hand as Stonewall dies. That’s ridiculous. But what’s worse, I’ve lied to my readers by giving them a false date. Now, I understand adding fictional events to a story, like a skirmish or a debate or a town meeting or a conversation between a fictional character and a real person, but never change historical fact. Your readers will feel betrayed when they dig into the story and find out you lied.
You don’t have to add to history to make a point. If you are writing something fictional about a real character, it must be consistent with his character or be based on something they actually did. Now, I’ll give you four examples that will help you understand what I mean.
I said all that to say this: You can use real people in fictional circumstances as long as it is believable that they really would have done that, and it doesn’t conflict with historical fact. The situation/reaction must fit their personality. This is part of what is called Creative License.
But if you don’t get anything else from this post, get this. You do not change History to accommodate your novel. Ever. Your novel is flexible; History isn’t.
I hope this post was helpful for those writing Historical fiction. It can be confusing trying to find difference between lying and creative license. The absolute best advice I can give you is to pray over the scene. Ask God if that’s a scene He would want you to write. Your parents would be a big help too, or a fellow Historical Fiction author. It helps to bounce ideas off each other!
Have a blessed day!
Christian. American. Southern. Author.