UNION ARMY’S OCCUPATION OF MIDDLE TENNESSEE
The Army of the Cumberland’s stay at Murfreesboro for the first half of 1863 was one of the longest periods an entire Union army stayed in one place in the South during the Civil War. When I dug deeply into that period for non-fiction writing projects, I became curious: what type of relationships develop when 55,000 soldiers stay in one place for so long? Murfreesboro was then a small city of around 4,000.
I studied two excellent secondary sources: When the Yankees Came: Conflict & Chaos in the Occupied South, 1861-1865 by Stephen V. Ash and two volumes by Walter T. Durham, Nashville The Occupied City: The First Seventeen Months—February 16, 1862, to June 30, 1863 and Reluctant Partners: Nashville and the Union—July 1, 1863, to June 30, 1865. Dr. Ash is emeritus professor of history at the University of Tennessee and the late Mr. Durham was the official Tennessee State Historian, a prolific writer of the Volunteer State’s story.
The experiences of citizens in occupied areas varied widely, influenced by such factors as the level of local resistance and the army’s response to it, whether early or late in the war, policies adopted by local Federal commanders, and geographic location. Citizens in so-called “garrison towns” where Federal troops remained for long periods, often had it better than those in ever-shifting “no-man’s land” between the warring armies.
Many aspects of Painted Trillium were suggested by my study of secondary sources and more than fifty diaries, memoirs, and reminiscences of both soldiers and civilians (more about the first-person accounts later). These topics include women taking over roles that had been the domain of men, the use of the oath of loyalty to the Union and passes to control the local population, smuggling and the often ruthless effort to stop it, thieving and plundering by soldiers, and, of course, fraternization. Both Ash and Durham document courtships and even marriages between local girls and Federal soldiers.
I did not start writing Painted Trillium with an eye toward romance. Only friendship. But the friendship evolved into something more. The evolution of the plot was like the wartime experience itself. It just happened.