Authors of historical fiction have the dual task of creating an interesting story and getting historical details correct. This Mary Frailey Calland does ably in her historical novel "Consecrated Dust: A Novel of the Civil War North." The story starts in the winter of 1860 and climaxes on September 17, 1862, the day of both the battle of Antietam and the Allegheny Arsenal explosion.
The four young people of this story are from the Pittsburgh/Lawrenceville area, and find themselves contributing to the Union war effort in their own way. All are caught up in the events of that September day - with tragic results.
Clara Ambrose is a liberal, outspoken daughter of a doctor (who goes to the front as a surgeon) and a social-climbing mother who fears for her daughter's marriagability. Her family, including her sister Helen, baby nephew, and ailing grandmother, struggle in the absense of Dr. Ambrose. Clara yearns for a way to help the war effort beyond sewing in parlors, but her mother will have nothing that could hurt Clara's reputation.
Garrett Cameron is an idealistic orphaned law student who joins the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves/38th Pennsylvania Volunteers and soon discovers the horrors of war. Before leaving for the war, he falls in love with Clara and she with him, despite her mother's efforts to steer her toward a more "suitable" mate.
That prospective mate is Edgar Gliddon, the arrogant president of a Pittsburgh iron works who sees the war as an opportunity to get richer. He does business with many, including the local Allegheny Arsenal. The more he pursues Clara, the more she pushes him away, despite his kindnesses toward her family in Dr. Ambrose's absense.
Annie Burke is from a large family of Irish Catholic immigrants with four brothers who join the fight. She is also Clara's best friend, despite the prejudices of many around them (this being a time of strong anti-Irish feeling). Annie begins work as a cartridge maker at the Allegheny Arsenal to help support her family.
Calland does a wonderful job of creating a story with these four characters intertwining as friends, lovers, and rivals. Her book is rich in detail of Civil War Pittsburgh and Lawrenceville (those being separate places at the time), as well as in battle with the 9th Reserves and at work at the Allegheny Arsenal. I'm not normally sappy, but I found myself cheering for the romance between Clara and Garrett.
All told, this is an excellent read for anyone who wants to learn more about what life was like in wartime Pittsburgh and be entertained at the same time. I can't wait to meet Ms. Calland on the 28th this month and have her sign my copy.