Show, don’t tell.
One easy way to do this is to imagine your story as if it were a scene in a movie. Close your eyes and think about what’s happening. What is the main person thinking? Feeling? Experiencing? Consider these examples:
On December 21, 1862, the 31st Iowa Regiment set sail on the steamer “City of Louisiana.” On December 25 they reached Chickasaw Bayou, which led to bluffs at the edge of Vicksburg. The Confederates were using the bluffs to defend the city, and the Union men’s goal was to rout them.
On December 21, 1862, the 31st Iowa Regiment set sail on the steamer “City of Louisiana.” The boat was well-suited for handling up to 900 passengers, but with 1300 soldiers in the regiment, conditions were crowded. At night, the men were forced to sleep on the open decks in rainy weather. During the day they conducted target practice.
On December 25 they reached Chickasaw Bayou, near the bluffs of Vicksburg. The Confederates were using the bluffs to defend the city, and the Union men’s goal was to rout them.
It was sunset when John Brigham stepped aboard the steamship “City of Louisiana.” At 40, he was older than most of the other soldiers he served with, and his thoughts must have been with his wife and the four young children who would celebrate Christmas without him.
Jostling through the crowd, he staked out a sleeping spot on the deck. Like the other men, John had been issued a blanket with his uniform, and although it was thin it was better than nothing. For three nights he slept in the open, pulling the blanket over his face to keep the cold rain away. During the day he joined his compatriots in target practice, shooting at the geese flying along the river and getting used to his rifle.
On Christmas Day 1862 the steamer reached a deserted plantation, and the men debarked quietly. Everything was wet. It had been a rainy winter, with broken river banks and flood waters that seeped slowly into the countryside. John marched as best he could into the safety of the forest, swampy with black muck and dense undergrowth. Spanish moss hung overhead in a thick draping canopy that kept the woods dark, even in the day. This was Chickasaw Bayou, which bordered the bluffs edging the city of Vicksburg. The Confederates were using the bluffs to defend the city, and the Union men’s goal was to rout them.
You could go even further without veering into fiction. Reading newspapers and diaries of the time can give you great details about weather, food, and atmosphere that aren’t reflected in the bare bones of names, dates, and places. read as much as you can, jot down a few notes, then close your eyes and watch the movie unfold.
If you have good examples of storytelling, please link to them in the comments – I’m always on the lookout for great stories!