Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Trials of Historical Research

While I love reading about history and always find interesting tidbits that help to make my historical characters more real, I also find that looking for a particular historical fact that's important to my story can be frustrating.

In my Civil War time travel romance, Erin's Rebel, the hero is seriously injured while in the trenches surrounding Petersburg, Virginia. The trench collapses on him and he breaks his leg. He's taken to the home of a Petersburg citizen where his friend, a Confederate surgeon, has set up a hospital.

My dilemma was, what did they do for broken bones at the time of the Civil War?

I looked in my Civil War medicine books and searched a few websites, but could find nothing about the care of broken bones. But I did find tons of info on amputations.

Should I just put my hero in a splint, or did they have casts back then?

I did a search on Plaster of Paris and found it was in existence since 1852, nine years before the Civil War. They also had an earlier type of plaster cast that they used during the Crimean War.

If they had casts in that war, why not the Civil War?

Since my character was being treated by his friend, I decided to give him a cast. It made moving around a lot easier for him as he recovered.

But later, I wondered about shortages during the war. Could his friend have gotten the materials to make the Plaster of Paris mix?

Oh well, the manuscript's already at the publishing house, so I won't make any changes for now, but this points out the problems of historical research.

Sometimes, you just can't find out what you need to know. But what if you guess wrong and somebody calls you out on it?

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