Kathy Cannon Wiechman has written numerous poems and short stories, but is mainly known for her historical fiction novels: LIKE A RIVER (winner of the 2015 Grateful American Book Prize, which was awarded at Lincoln's Cottage), EMPTY PLACES (a finalist for an Ohioana Award) and NOT ON FIFTH STREET. Kathy lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can learn more about her here.
1. What inspired you to write Like a River?
I was stunned when I learned about the Sultana disaster for the first time. I wondered why I hadn’t heard about it before. Why wasn’t it in my history books in school? As I investigated and learned more about it, I was determined to put it into a book. It was my way of letting other people learn about it too.
Researching the Sultana led me to researching passengers who had been prisoners of war at Andersonville. It wasn’t until I had done years of research that I learned a writer friend had an ancestor at Andersonville and on the Sultana. I put that man’s picture above my desk to inspire me as I wrote.
2. What was the most surprising information you found about Andersonville and the Sultana in your research?
One surprise was learning the Sultana was built in my hometown of Cincinnati. Its engine was designed by a man who lived not far from where I live.
It was also surprising to learn the reasons the disaster was “lost” in history. Part of the reason we don’t hear about it is because the men lost weren’t considered important enough to be headline news. They weren’t big-name, Eastern-state officers, only enlisted men from states like Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois.
3. Why do you think the Western Theater is important?
We typically hear more about the battles in Virginia, likely
because the war began and ended in Virginia. However, battles like Shiloh in Tennessee were key in moving Union troops farther south. Without the Western Theater, Sherman’s March to the Sea wouldn’t have been possible. Fighting in the Western Theater also determined, among other things, who had control of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Those rivers were the source of moving vital supplies to troops.
4. If you could travel back in time, which historical figure would you like to meet and why?
That’s an easy answer for me. I would choose Abraham Lincoln. He was the main reason I became interested in Civil War history. I was moved by the words of the Gettysburg Address when I was in seventh grade. As an adult, I read biographies of Lincoln. I visited his birthplace, his homesites in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, and his tomb. I also visited Gettysburg, including the house where he wrote the Gettysburg Address. I even visited Westfield, New York, where he met with Grace Bedell, the little girl who had suggested he grow a beard if he wanted to be elected president.
Our founding fathers’ struggle to create our nation is impressive, but Lincoln’s battle to preserve it is the true inspiration for me.