History and Weather
Modern-day people are always interested in the weather. We have apps on our mobile devices to give us the forecast so we know if we'll have beach weather this weekend or if our favorite baseball team's game will be rained out. We have tornado chasers and tv shows devoted to tornadoes. We even have a tv network devoted exclusively to the weather. Before today's wide variety of technology, farmers consulted The Farmer's Almanac in hopes of predicting the weather and thus the success or failure of their crops, their livelihood.
Historically, weather has influenced military history as well. When we think of Valley Forge during the American Revolution, we think of frigid winter weather. At various times during World War II, weather greatly affected campaigns and individual battles--fighter planes and bombers couldn't fly in bad weather, like modern-day planes can. When we think of the Battle of the Bulge, we think of the horrible weather conditions the Allied troops endured. The same for soldiers on the Russian front. In World War I, we think of the rain that produced the thick mud men and horses had to struggle through.
I would hazard a guess that readers of historical fiction think little about weather in the novels they read. After all, how would a writer have any idea what the weather was like on any given day hundreds of years ago? I faced that same question while writing The Edge of Hell, my Civil War novel.
Historical fiction writers have endless online resources available to them today. However, when I originally wrote The Edge of Hell, the internet was in its infancy. As I have detailed in previous blog posts, I traveled to various battlefields and archives to research Edge. I found many invaluable military maps to reference. But what was the weather my characters experienced before and after those well-documented and mapped battles in which they fought? Weather would mean more to a Civil War soldier than to most people today because they lived a great part of their years of service outdoors. Weather determined if and when the armies moved and fought. Nothing could immobilize an army more than bad weather. That's one of the reasons the armies of the Civil War went into winter quarters and did very little fighting during the colder months of the year.
The letters and journals left behind by countless soldiers were resources I used to determine the weather on any given day during my story. Besides those sources, I came across a wonderful map prepared by Chuck Brown for Pickett's Mill State Historic Site. Brown also used soldiers' letters and diaries to compile weather data for his map of the Atlanta campaign of 1864.
Notice the color-coded ribbon curving along the left side of the map. This gave me a day-by-day description of the weather my characters experienced throughout the campaign. Not only does the ribbon indicate daily temperature but dark vertical lines within the colors indicate rainfall.
So, when readers of historical fiction wonder things like, "How does the author know it really was raining on June 12, 1864, near Atlanta, Georgia?" rest assured most writers will have utilized every resource available to them to get the detail of even weather correct. And we have people like Chuck Brown and his map to thank for it.