Though my ancestral family is almost entirely Northern, my extended family includes members with historical links to the South. I doubt there are many families whose ancestral links go back to the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States that don't have close family members somewhere along the line who took a different side in the conflict that has so deeply defined our national character.
One of my sisters married a charming young man from Oklahoma. As soon as he joined our clan, he was subjected to hateful abuse from another sister's Yankee husband. Seeing this, more than 150 years after the end of the conflict, made clear to me how deep the scars have been embedded in our collective psyche. Although my Southern brother-in-law had taken no part in that war, my Northern brother-in-law took great offense at the welcome extended to him, as if the Oklahoman carried the guilt of his ancestors by virtue of his place of birth.
Seeing for myself how deeply hatred had infected one brother-in-law actually opened my heart and mind to discovering more about the history of my own country, from both points of view. Not long ago, I was confronted by a colleague who informed me that I "must" take the correct side if I was going to write about the Civil War.
Is there any such thing? Aren't there always, at least, two sides to any story? Yes, there were terrible atrocities committed against other human beings but, as in all wars, the truth is somewhere between the two sides of the conflict. We demonize whichever side is opposed to our worldview but are we right to do so?
When I undertook to write Pavane for Miss Marcher, I thought long and hard about
- the ancestors of my own family who fought on both sides;
- the teenage cadets of the Virginia Military Institute who gave their lives to protect their homes;
- the freed and runaway slaves who fought for their freedom putting their families at risk;
- the enslaved men, women and children who never escaped;
- all the kind and generous people I've known of all races whose roots are in the South;
- the black Americans I know who have served in the military;
- my father as the training officer of young men about to go into war;
- the heroes of the American Revolution who were considered traitors when they opted to fight for the Constitutional Rights of States;
- the citizens of California who are considered courageous for considering secession when their fellow citizens were called traitors for taking the same action 150+ years ago;
- the 600,000 Americans killed in the Civil War on both sides who all believed they were doing the right thing.
After all these many years, can we accept that, because we are all human, we are flawed? That our thinking processes are tainted; that we inhabit an imperfect world which we strive, as a nation and as one people, to make "more perfect"? And, isn't writing with an open heart and mind critical to writing truthfully?