Corrigans' Pool--which we reviewed here. Today, this talented author will discuss the historical setting of her debut release.
"Civil War History in Corrigans’ Pool" by Dot Ryan
I am often asked why I decided on the setting of Savannah, Georgia for my Civil War era novel, Corrigans’ Pool. “After all,” someone said, “after Sherman burned a sixty mile wide path from Atlanta to the coast where Savannah lay, he pretty much left the city intact.” True. And he did so to the surprise and relief of Savannah’s terrified and near starving citizens—who afterward were highly insulted when he settled into one of Savannah’s most luxurious homes and penned a letter to President Lincoln, offering up Savannah as a Christmas present. There are several theories as to why he did not raze the city exactly as he had done other towns and plantations on his merciless march to the sea. Perhaps after months of making a smoldering mess of the rest of the state, he wanted an unscathed spot to rest his bones before moving on to other battles.
The likely reason for General William Tecumseh Sherman’s odd benevolence is that Confederate Lieutenant-General William Joseph Hardee’s mere ten thousand Confederate troops encamped in and around the city, had very cleverly escaped across the Savannah River to South Carolina in short advance of Sherman’s overwhelming army of over sixty thousand. With no one to fight other than women, children, old men, and wounded or dying Confederate soldiers in the hospitals, he likely decided that the unnecessary destruction of a helpless Savannah would not bode well in history. Then again, he could have been awed by Savannah’s elegance.
This brings me back to the reason I chose Savannah for the setting of Corrigans’ Pool. Years ago, I was in a library thumbing through a book about historical Southern towns. I don’t recall the name of the book, but I was struck by the beauty of Savannah and its handsome town squares. I began to read about the history of that fair city and knew right away that Corrigans’ Pool’s characters, already prowling around in my head at that time, would take up residence there. On page eighty-three in Corrigans’ Pool, I wrote the following line about 19th century Savannah: "Compared with other Georgia cities, Savannah was the uppity rich relative—elegantly attired, richly endowed, and keenly aware of her unrivaled excellence."
In Corrigans’ Pool, the Civil War battles being fought in battlefields across the nation are revealed only through the eyes of the novel’s Savannah characters, mostly through the eyes of Beatrice Corrigan, the wise and dictatorial grandmother of the central character, Ella Corrigan.
In my research, I kept coming across mention of how Hardee’s Confederates evacuated across a series of makeshift pontoon bridges that spanned the Savannah River to South Carolina, thereby escaping certain death or capture by Sherman’s overwhelming hordes. Most statements I ran across about the makeshift bridges were short and explained very little of the process, but I couldn’t help but think that this must have been a dangerous and exciting undertaking for the townspeople and the Confederates alike, wanting, as they did, to avoid Sherman’s encroaching army. Who built these bridges? How long did it take? Did they use slave labor or were only citizens and soldiers involved? While searching though old newspaper records in libraries, I wrote the evacuation scene into Corrigans’ Pool as chaotic as I imagined it would be, and continued to look for more information.
In surfing the net one day, I ran across a book titled Civil War Savannah written by Derek Smith. I immediately ordered a copy in hopes it would give me more info about the evacuation or at least substantiate my feeling that the life or death escape across the river to South Carolina fit well as a climactic scene in my book. At that point I was contemplating whether to leave the scene or take it out. Derek Smith’s superb book provided just the inspiration and information that helped me make up my mind to leave the scene intact. I wrote to Derek and told him how glad I was that he had written Civil War Savannah and how his excellent work had helped me with my novel. With his permission, I sent a few chapters, which he promptly read—even took the time to make a correction for me—then returned the pages, wishing me the best of luck. That is the wonderful thing about authors like Derek Smith who have had success; the bigger they are the more helpful they are to other writers.
I am also asked what was hardest about writing Corrigans’ Pool. I suppose, at times, the long hours of research and double checking facts were the most difficult and tedious. Secondly, there was the emotion involved in writing scenes in which a character or characters committed especially cruel acts. After such scenes, I often stopped writing for a few hours.
Fortunately, no matter how frustrating research and creative writing can be at times, the satisfaction of trying over and over again to find the right bit of history or finally turning the perfect phrase, is exhilarating—worth every hour of stress and swollen feet from sitting too long in one position while perusing library books or sitting at the computer too long. I wouldn’t be happy with any other way of life.
Dot Ryan's virtual book tour continues during the month of January. To follow her tour, please visit http://virtualbooktours.wordpress.com/ every weekday through January 29th.