"His life was saved by one of those angels of mercy, a volunteer army nurse. He fell into good
hands—the blessed hands of a kind-hearted woman! Even here, amid the roar and carnage, was
found a woman with the soul to dare danger; the heart to sympathize with the battle-stricken;
sense, skill, and experience to make her a treasure beyond all price.”
That quotation, taken from Frank Moore’s Women of the War: Their Heroism and Self-Sacrifice, was a tribute to Nellie Chase written by the soldier whose life she saved on the battlefield at Fredericksburg. I used it as the epigraph of Beyond All Pricc, not only because it had inspired my choice of a title, but also because Nellie was always an inspiration to those who encountered her.
I don’t want to sound too mystical here, but Nellie haunted me for years before I wrote about her. As I researched the history of the Roundheads, I frequently encountered her name—simple mentions of her nursing a soldier or feeding a patient or soothing a homesick kid. And each time, I felt as if she were tapping me on the shoulder, saying “Ahem! I’m still here. When are you going to tell my story?”
The problem was that very little is known about Nellie Chase. She left not a single word in her own writing. Her birth was unremarked and unrecorded. Her name was a common one; I found 173 Nellie Chases living in Maine in the 1860s. No one knew exactly where she came from, or what happened to her after the war. So where was the story she wanted me to write? As a historian, I wanted facts, but facts about Nellie were almost nonexistent.
In order to tell her story, I had to outline the few things I knew about her. And then—oh, this was the hard part!—I had to take off my historian’s gown and let Nellie tell her own story. She led me across the great divide between a dedication to historical accuracy and the ability to feel empathy for those who lived through the historical events. So in a real sense, which perhaps only another writer can understand, Nellie and I wrote this book together. I would read about an event, wonder about how she would feel in such circumstances, and then . . . then the words would start to flow. All I had to do was write them down.
Did all of the events in this novel really happen? Maybe not. Or maybe they did, at that.
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