"Sometimes The Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction"
Kathy and Becky Hepinstall
Authors of Sisters Of Shiloh
The idea of women disguising themselves as men is not new - in history or in literature. Joan of Arc did it. Mulan (the girl of Chinese legend) did it. Shakespeare used that idea in seven of his plays. And remember that cabin boy in Swiss Family Robinson that turned out to be a girl? The idea isn’t new. And yet, it still seems so unbelievable. Perhaps because we look at Gwyneth Paltrow in that awful wig in Shakespeare in Love and Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria and think - yeah right…I totally know it’s them.
Our novel, Sisters of Shiloh, is the story of two sisters, Libby and Josephine, who disguise themselves as men and fight in the Civil War. But this is not merely a literary device. We chose to write about women who became soldiers because it really happened. And it happened an extraordinary number of times. It sounds crazy, right? And, while there are currently more than more than 400 documented cases, there could be many more - especially since innumerable military records were lost or destroyed.
To our 21st century minds, the idea that a woman could pretend to be a man and live among them as fellow soldiers - sharing tents with them, eating with them, fighting together - and them not be discovered is absurd. But, while it might be harder for us to be fooled today, during that era the customs of the times and the Victorian mindset in general helped these women in their deceptions.
In general, to a nineteenth century man, if you wore pants, you must also be a man. Now, that is not to say that there may have been times when a farm girl might wear her brother’s trousers to do manual labor or something like that privately, but even that would have been rare, and in public, women wore long skirts only. Once a woman bound her breasts, cut her hair and donned the often oversized and ill-fitting uniforms of the day and the ruse was initially easier to pull off.
But these determined women knew that cutting their hair and donning men’s clothing would only take them so far. Many of them practiced their deception - working to lower their voices, adjusting their walk, and taking up “manly” habits like swearing, spitting, tobacco-chewing and card playing.
They didn’t have to worry much about being in close quarters with the other men - soldiers often went for months without changing clothes, even sleeping in their boots and coats. They bathed just as infrequently, and people of this time were generally more private, so not bathing in a group would not have aroused suspicion. The camp latrines were filthy and spread disease and were avoided by many, so answering the call of nature privately in the woods would not have seemed odd.
And getting into the army was not difficult either. Before 1872, the medical examinations required to join the army did not involve the removal of clothing, so this aided in their ability to fool the army doctors. And, particularly for the Southern Army, recruits were so desperately needed that as long as one appeared generally healthy, had enough teeth to tear a cartridge, enough strength to hoist a gun and enough fingers to pull a trigger, they were welcomed with open arms.
There are many accounts from male soldiers who suspected something “off” about one of these effeminate looking soldiers but just couldn’t figure out what it was. The fact that these women didn’t shave was glossed over as being due to the fact that they must be younger teenaged boys. And even though there were official age requirements in both armies, they were rarely enforced and children as young as ten were allowed to participate as drummer-boys. It is unconscionable for us to imagine allowing children on a battlefield today, but it was very common in that era.
Our characters, Libby and Josephine, did not really live - but they are based on these real women who traded in their skirts for dirty uniforms and swapped out their cooking spoons for bayonets. The fact that the actual female soldiers felt passionate enough about their causes that they were willing to go to war and fight is amazing all by itself. But the fact that they had to hide their true natures in order to do it makes their feats even more astonishing. Sometimes the truth is even more marvelous than any made-up story - and that is the beauty of historical fiction.
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About the book
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Formats: Hardcover, Ebook
Genre: Historical Fiction
A best-selling novelist enlists her own sister to bring us the story of two Southern sisters, disguised as men, who join the Confederate Army—one seeking vengeance on the battlefield, the other finding love.
In a war that pitted brother against brother, two sisters choose their own battle. Joseph and Thomas are fresh recruits for the Confederate Army, daring to join the wild fray that has become the seemingly endless Civil War, sharing everything with their fellow soldiers—except the secret that would mean their undoing: they are sisters.
Before the war, Joseph and Thomas were Josephine and Libby. But that bloodiest battle, Antietam, leaves Libby to find her husband, Arden, dead. She vows vengeance, dons Arden’s clothes, and sneaks off to enlist with the Stonewall Brigade, swearing to kill one Yankee for every year of his too-short life. Desperate to protect her grief-crazed sister, Josephine insists on joining her. Surrounded by flying bullets, deprivation, and illness, the sisters are found by other dangers: Libby is hurtling toward madness, haunted and urged on by her husband’s ghost; Josephine is falling in love with a fellow soldier. She lives in fear both of revealing their disguise and of losing her first love before she can make her heart known to him.
In her trademark “vibrant” (Washington Post Book World) and “luscious” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) prose, Kathy Hepinstall joins with her sister Becky to show us the hopes of love and war, the impossible-to-sever bonds of sisterhood, and how what matters most can both hurt us and heal us.
Praise for Sisters of Shiloh
“The Hepinstall sisters provide a fascinating glimpse into Civil War life from an unconventional perspective.” -Kirkus
“The very best historical fiction delivers us into another time and place. In Sisters of Shiloh, Kathy and Becky Hepinstall plunge us so deeply into a complete and vividly rendered world of Civil War battlefields and Confederate campsites, we can smell the gun powder and taste the metallic tinge of fear along with their remarkable heroines.” -Janis Cooke Newman, author of Mary
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About the Authors
Kathy Hepinstall grew up outside of Houston, Texas. Kathy is the best selling author of The House of Gentle Men, The Absence of Nectar and Blue Asylum She is an award-winning creative director and advertising writer. She currently resides in Santa Barbara, California with her husband. Visit Kathy’s Blog.
Becky Hepinstall grew up outside of Houston, Texas. She holds a degree in History from the University of Texas in Austin, and currently resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her husband, a Navy pilot, and their four children.
Sisters of Shiloh Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, March 3
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Review & Giveaway at The Book Binder’s Daughter
Tuesday, March 4
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, March 5
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Review & Giveaway at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Thursday, March 6
Review & Giveaway at Unshelfish
Friday, March 7
Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Monday, March 10
Guest Post at A Literary Vacation
Review & Interview at Books and Benches
Spotlight at Layered Pages
Tuesday, March 11
Review at Beth’s Book Nook
Wednesday, March 12
Review & Giveaway at A Literary Vacation
Interview & Giveaway at Forever Ashley
Thursday, March 13
Review at 100 Pages a Day
Friday, March 14
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Sunday, March 16
Guest Post & Giveaway at Mina’s Bookshelf