Tag Archives: Civil War

Joseph John Benn – Civil War Service and Notes

The Source for this information is James Thomas Benn IV, of Farmville, VA. It was completed as part of his application for membership into the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It was provided to the author on January 25, 2016, via email communication.

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Joseph John Benn - (c) 1885

Joseph John Benn – (c) 1885

Joseph John Benn was born 15 April 1829 in Gaston, North Carolina.  On 11 April 1862, in Norfolk, Virginia, this North Carolina farmer mustered into the 41st Virginia Infantry, 2nd Company E from the State Militia where he collected a $50 bounty.  2nd Company E was known as Captain Lauren’s “Confederate Grays” under Mahone’s Brigade in the Longstreet Corp.  In March and April of 1862 he drilled in Norfolk.  On 10 May 1862, he and the rest of his division boarded trains for Petersburg when Norfolk was abandoned to Union Forces.

J.J. Benn, as he was known, spent most of May 1862 in the hospital at General Camp Winder in Richmond.  On 23 May 1862 he was transferred back to his regiment at Petersburg from whence he fought at Malvern Hill and Seven Pines.  He was back in the hospital from 15 September 1862 until 13 October 1862 suffering from chronic diarrhea as was the bane of many a soldier.  On 20 October 1862 he was furloughed to Gaston, North Carolina to recuperate.

He returned to duty in January of 1863 and wintered at United States Ford on the Rappahannock, 16 miles west of Fredericksburg.  At the time, the 41st Virginia Infantry listed 305 men present.  The 41st was with Army of Northern Virginia at Chancellorsville.  On 26 June 1863, his unit passed the Mason-Dixon line.  They arrived at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on 2 July 1863, at the northern end of Seminary Ridge.

J.J. Benn went on to fight in the Bristoe and Mine Run Campaigns, the Wilderness, and Cold Harbor.  On 22 June 1864, he was with Mahone at the Jerusalem Plank Road Battle near Petersburg. The July 30 battle of the Crater made Mahone a famous General and brought with it recognition and prestige to all the regiments involved including the 41st Virginia.

J.J. Benn was taken prisoner 27 Oct 1864 at Boydton Plank Road Battle for control of the Weldon Railroad.  He was transferred from City Point in Hopewell to Point Lookout Maryland and exchanged 17 January 1965 at Boulware’s Warf on the James River.  On 6 February 1865 he was at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run.  During the battle of Sayler’s Creek, Mohone’s division escaped capture and moved to the north side of the Appomattox River acting as rear guard.  On 7 April 1865 the 41st fired the last shots of the war at Cumberland Church.

On 9 April 1865, Joseph John Benn was paroled at Appomattox with one package of clothing and a blanket.  Of the 305 men present in 1863, only 10 officers and 98 other men remained of the 41st Virginia Infantry.

After the war he made his home near what is now Vultare, North Carolina where he was an agent for the Raleigh Gaston Railroad.  His first child, a daughter was born nine months after he returned from the war on 20 January 1866.  Joseph John Benn died 18 May 1912.

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TIMELINE:

Joseph John Benn

Born April 15, 1829; died May 18, 1912 at 83 years of age

Enlisted 11 Apr 62 from the state militia in Norfolk VA at 33 years old. $50 bounty due

Listed as a farmer from Gaston, NC.

After the war was an agent for the Raleigh Gaston Railroad

He and his wife had their home near what is now Vultare, NC

Captain Lauren’s “Confederate Grays” under Mahone’s Brigade under Longstreet’s Corps

March and April 1862 drilled in Norfolk

May 10th – 41st boarded trains for Petersburg when Norfolk was abandoned

10 May 62 General Hospital camp Winder Richmond VA

23 May 62 – transferred to Petersburg

Malvern Hill and Seven Pines

Gen Hospital Richmond VA 15 Sep 62 – 13 Oct 62

20 Oct 62 furloughed to Gaston NC for Chronic diarrhea

Jan 63 – Oct 64 listed as present

Wintered at United States Ford on the Rappahannock 16 miles west of Fredericksburg

41st had 305 men present

3 miles from Chancellorsville – fought there

May 7th camped near Fredericksbirg

June 22 in Charles Town (now WV)

June 26th past the Mason-Dixon Line

July 1st, left camp at Fayetteville PA to Gettysburg

Arrived July 2nd at the northern end of Seminary Ridge

Mahone’s Brigade scarcely used July 2nd and 3rd

Fought in the Bristoe and Mine Run Campaigns

May 4th left winter camp at Madison Run Station

May 6th battle of the Wilderness

May9th arrived at Spotsylvania

June 3rd at Cold Harbor

June 22nd Jerusalem Plank Road

July 30th battle of the Crater “made Mahone a famous general and brought with it recognition and prestige to all the regiments involved.

Taken prisoner 27 Oct 64 Weldon RR – Boydton Plank Road at Hatcher’s Run

31 Oct 64 transferred from City Point to Pt. Lookout MD

17 Jan 65 exchanged at Boulware’s Warf James River, VA

26 Jan 65 at Camp Lee Richmond VA

February 6th, second battle of Hatcher’s run

Mahone commanded an elite division of which the 41st was part.

April 6th – During the battle of Sayler’s creek, Mahone’s division escaped capture and moved to the north side of the Appomattox river acting as rear guard.

April 7th – fired last shots at Cumberland Church

9 Apr 65 Paroled at Appomattox w/ 1 package of clothing and a blanket along with 10 officers and 98 other men

First child, a daughter Mariah Ann Benn, born nine months later on Jan. 20, 1866


Caroline Frances Crews Smith – Obits and Recollections

THE FOLLOWING IS A TRANSCRIPTION OF AN OBITUARY NOTICE FOR CAROLINE CREWS SMITH, THE ORIGINAL CLIPPING BEING FOUND AMONG THE PAPERS OF MARY HALL BENN WYCHE. THE CLIPPING IS UNDATED. IT CAN BE INFERRED FROM THE TEXT THAT THIS ORIGINAL APPEARED IN THE OXFORD PUBLIC LEDGER, OXFORD, NORTH CAROLINA.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS TRANSCRIPTION REFLECTS ALL THE UNIQUE PHRASING OF THE ERA, AS WELL AS TYPOGRAPHICAL ERRORS, MISSING OR INCORRECT PUNCTUATION, ETC. IT IS A VERBATIM, UNEDITED TRANSCRIPTION FROM THE ORIGINAL.

[Caroline Crews Smith was the daughter of James A. Crews and Martha Hunt, sister of Leroy Lafayette Crews. She married John Smith. She was born August 10, 1848 in Granville County, NC, and passed away February 9, 1931 in the same place.]

——————–

Obituary

Mrs. Caroline Smith

“So live that when thy summons comes
To join the innumerable caravan
Which moves to that mysterious realm
Where each shall take his chamber
In the silent halls of death;
Thou go not, like the quarry slave, at night
Scourged to his dungeon;
But, sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust,
Approach thy grave, like one who wraps the drapery
Of his couch about him
And lies down to pleasant dreams.”

Thus did Mrs. Caroline Smith live and thus did she slip away from us to be forever with her God whom she loved and served for eighty-two years.

Truly, as her pastor said, a giant oak in God’s earthly forest has fallen – But it was so deeply rooted in love, its leaves lent shade to so many weary souls and that tree shed such fragrance to the discouraged and broken-hearted that the memory of it will linger with us long and that to bless. Discouragement and impossibility were two words that Grand Ma Smith scratched from her vocabulary – Her very expression was a smile and a challenge to be “Up and doing, with a heart for any fall.

“Still achieving, still pursuing. Learn to labor and to wait.” We shall remember her, not so much for her many words, as for the numberless little deeds of kindness that her life was literally crowded with. She seemed to realize that her time was drawing short, for each day before she took her bed, was crowded more and more with loving kindnesses and tender ministrations.

Rich and poor, high and low, white and black visited her during her last illness; looked fondly upon her sweet face, breathed a prayer for her recovery and begged that they might so something for her. It was merely reflexaction, for had she not been the busiest soul in Oxford looking after the welfare of her friends and acquaintances.

She was almost a life long member of the Methodist Church and she supported her church too; and stood back of her minister in every good work. She leaves to mourn her loss one daughter, Mrs. J.E. Jackson of Sanford, Fla.; and two sons, E.L. and L.F. Smith of Oxford; several grand children and two great grand children.

The smile on Grand Ma’s face, cold in death, seemed to portray –

“Sunset and evening star and one clear call for me.
And may there be no mourning of the bar,
When I put out to sea.
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound or foam.
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bells and after that the dark,
And may there be no sadness of farewells
When I embark.
For though from out our bourne of time and place.
The flood may bear me far.
I hope to see my Pilot face to face,
When I have crossed the bar.”

A.L.C.

——–

[THE FOLLOWING MEMORIAL APPEARED JUST BELOW AND ADJACENT TO THE OBITUARY.]

In Memoriam

It is with deep sorry that the Granville Grays Chapter of the daughters of the Confederacy, records the death of Mrs. Caroline Crews Smith, an honorary member, who passed into Paradise on February ninth at the home of her son, E. L. Smith. She had been a member of the Chapter for years and loved “the Cause” for which it stood.

Her warm-hearted character and sweet modesty showed itself in her loyalty in every work undertaken by the Chapter. She knew the horrors of war and the greater hardships of reconstruction. Her patriotism never failed in war or peace and she ever kept sacred the memory of the dead, extending sympathy and help to the living.

Born of an old and prominent family, reared amid surroundings of affluence and ease, her girlhood environment suggested the setting which we associate with the antebellum life of the Old South. She lived to be eighty-two but old age never came neigh her, to the day of her last illness she was alive to her finger tips and crowned with many flowers, she passed into the beyond to hear her Master’s welcome plaudit, “Well Done.”

Piety and consecration to her church and her Master, best illustrated in human kindness and charity to her loved ones and neighbors, were her chief characteristics and her cheerful, unselfish, happy personality radiated sunshine, warming her many friends who loved her dearly.

And now that our Heavenly Father in His infinite wisdom and love has called to Himself in glory our beloved member, be it resolved:

First. That we as members of the Granville Grays Chapter, Daughters of the Confederacy, express our sorrow in the loss of so sweet and and gentle a member and will ever cherish with grateful remembrance her unselfish inspiration and help.

Second. That the loving sympathy of the Chapter be extended to her bereaved family.

Third. That a copy of these Resolutions be sent her family, the Public Ledger and a copy be spread upon the records of the Chapter.

Respectfully submitted,

Jeannette E. Biggs,

Elizabeth Floyd,

Mrs. E. G. Moss

Committee.

 

———–

THE FOLLOWING TRANSCRIPTION IS FROM A CLIPPING OF A DEATH NOTICE FOR CAROLINE CREWS SMITH. THE CLIPPING IS A FRAGMENT, UNDATED, AND THE PAPER IN WHICH IT APPEARED IS UNIDENTIFIED.

Death Lays Claim To Mrs. Caroline Smith

Deceased Was 82 Years Old and Was Taken Sick With Pneumonia Several Days Ago

Death claimed the life of Mrs Caroline Smith yesterday afternoon shortly before 5:00 o’clock at the home of her son, E. L. Smith, on Gilliam street. She was in the 82nd year of her life.

Mrs. Smith was the oldest living member of the Oxford Methodist church. She was a devout Christian and she was known in the community for the many kind deeds of her life. Her real love and work in the Kingdom was the Missionary Society of which she was always active.

Funeral services will be conducted this afternoon at 3:00 o’clock from the Oxford Methodist church with services conducted by her pastor, Rev. E. J. Rees, assisted by Rev. Reuben Meredith of St. Stephens Episcopal church; Rev. B. W. Lacy, of the Oxford Presbyterian church; Rev. B. D. Critcher, of the Oxford Methodist Circuit and Rev. W. D. Poe, of Hester and Enon churches. Interment will be in Elmwood cemetery.

The deceased is survived by the following brothers: A. A. Crews of Oxford and L. L. Crews of Selma [“Selma” is a typo. It should read “Thelma”] and three children: E. L. Smith and L. F. Smith, of Oxford and Mrs. J. E. Jackson, of Sanford, Fla.

Following are the active pallbearers: F. F. Lyon, Sam Averette, O. B. Breedlove, S. R. Abernathy, C. W. Bryan, J. M. Baird, J. H. L. Myers and Will Landis.

Honorary pallbearers: Dick Crews, I. H. Davis, F. B. Blalock, C. B. Keller, Dr. S. J. Finch, C. G. Powell, J. S. Bradsher, Sr., John Floyd Ernest Jones, Gibbons Renn, G. W. Regan, William Medford, W. T. Yancy, J. E. Davis, W. P. Stradley, Earnest Dean, D. K. Taylor, Pete Bullock, C. G. Credle, W. B. Crews, Jim Dean, J. M. Blalock, A. W. Graham, W. H. Jeffries…

[The remainder of the article is missing.]

—————

THE FOLLOWING IS A FAITHFUL TRANSCRIPTION OF A NEWSPAPER CLIPPING FRAGMENT, WHICH PRESUMABLY APPEARED IN THE OXFORD PUBLIC LEDGER. THE CLIPPING IS NUMBERED “VOLUME 16, NUMBER 33”, OTHERWISE UNDATED.

A Tribute To A Good And Useful Life

(Composed and read by Mrs. J. Y. Crews at Shady Grove Church on Mars. Caroline Smith’s eighty-first birthday.)

It is indeed delightful to have with us on these sacred grounds today, one of the most consecrated, most beloved members of Shady Grove Church: none other than Grand Ma Smith!

She is so active, so interested in life, we find it hard to realize that tomorrow, the 10th of August, 1929, will mark her eighty-first birthday: she has been a member of this Church for the past 66 years: and such an enviable record her life has been, for she has fully measured up to the standard of the good woman referred to in the….

(The remainder of the article is missing.)


Cart Before The Horse, and Other Random Tales of Woe.

Thoughts from the other side of the wall….


Marked Men: The Tattoos of New York Irishmen, 1863

Really interesting article and well-researched. The subject of Civil War soldiers bearing tattoos is something I’d like to know more about. Seems quite incongruous to me….

Irish in the American Civil War

The enlistment records of many Irish recruits during the Civil War provide detail on age, height, hair/eye colour and complexion. Although informative, this data still leaves us without a picture of life experience, or any insight into character. One exception was those men who enlisted in the Union navy. The marks and scars they acquired during their lifetime were recorded on enlistment, providing us with a unique opportunity to garner more detail about both their appearance and their personalities. Perhaps most fascinating of all are those marks that the Irishmen had chosen for themselves- their tattoos. 

A German Stowaway at Ellis Island. Although taken in 1911 this gives an idea of the types of tattoos prevalent (New York Public Library) A German Stowaway at Ellis Island. Although taken in 1911 this gives an idea of the types of tattoos prevalent (New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Digital ID: 418057)

I have recently examined the enlistment records of the New York Naval Rendezvous for July 1863 to create a database of those Irishmen who enlisted during that…

View original post 1,490 more words


The Delight of Research Never Ends!

From The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect project… never-ending research is bliss to me.


Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect – Book Promo Site

BookCover3DWell, I have been quiet for many months…  revising drafts, making changes, editing, editing, getting distracted, traveling, research, reading, more revisions…. and the book promo web site “The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect“.

Hope you’ll follow the link, have a close look, and let me know what you think. Load up the comments either here or there. Share the link. Tell a friend. And please, if you see anything at all that needs to be corrected – LET ME KNOW. As important is general feedback. This is still in beta and it’s better to correct errors now before I start to really promote it.

I seriously hope you will leave me a comment – either good or bad. I REALLY want to know what you think.


Just Finished Drafting the Final Chapter of the Book!

The only known photo of William Ellis Jones, II. If you know of another, please contact me!

The only known photo of William Ellis Jones, II. If you know of another, please contact me!

As some of you may have noticed, I have been very quiet. That’s because I have been very busy.

Tonight I finished the last sentence of the last chapter of “The Book”; the Biography and Civil war Diary of my g-g-g-grandfather, William Ellis Jones, II. The book is going to be called “The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect”, which is an homage to a line in William’s Civil War Diary, and (I think at least) a perfect metaphor for the mythology of the Lost Cause.

There is much more work to do. I have to complete the footnotes, finish two Appendices, write an Acknowledgements page, and go through the thing with a fine tooth comb for style, grammar, etc. – but it’s damn close.

Monday morning I begin searching in earnest for publishers.

I am so happy, and so proud of this accomplishment (I started working on this project in 2006), that I could just dance a jig and then spit!


Civil War Christmas, 1862

From the diary of William Ellis Jones, II, of Crenshaw’s Battery, Pegram’s Battalion, Hill’s “Light Division”, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Thursday, December 25, 1862
Christmas Morn broke very threatening, but cleared off beautifully and warm. The boys started at seven o’clock to go on picket, after which the camp was dull and lonesome. During the morning we were called up and paid off until the 31st of October; $119.10, for clothes and wages. After dark the boys of ours and other batteries enjoyed themselves by having a battle with lighted port-fires, which presented a handsome pyrotechnic display.

Friday, December 26, 1862
Christmas has come and gone, and I sincerely hope I will never spend another in the army.

William, my great-great-great-grandfather, would endure two more Christmases in the Confederate Army. He was wounded at Spotsylvania in 1864, but miraculously survived the War, despite seeing hot action in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, including Gaines Mill, in May/June of 1862, Second Battle of Mananas in August of 1862, the Battle of Sharpsburg, September, 1862, the Battle of the “Crater”, in Petersburg, July, 1864, Vicksburg, Second Battle of Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and finally was present at the Fall of Richmond, in April, 1865.


160 year-old Documents Intentionally Destroyed in Franklin County, N.C.

This is one of a countless number of 19th century records seized by the North Carolina Archives and burned on December 6, 2013

This is one of a countless number of 19th century records seized by the North Carolina Archives and burned on December 6, 2013

I rarely re-blog, but this one deserves being spread far and wide.

Timeline of the Destruction of 100 Year Old Franklin County, NC Records

Please read the whole post included above – but the gist is as follows:

– This summer a new Clerk of Court in Franklin County discovered a trove (an entire roomful) of documents, some dating back to 1840, in a previously sealed room in the Franklin County, North Carolina Court House.

– Recognizing the historical value of these materials, she contacted the local historical society to assist in reviewing the materials, preserving them, and inventorying the materials.

– The Local historical group enthusiastically poured themselves into the project, mobilizing volunteers and the whole community – securing space to work, materials, and finances – in order to catalog and preserve the bounty of record books, photographs, deeds, chattel records, land grants, deeds, wills, personal correspondence, and countless other materials from a wide variety of government departments throughout the county. (This room had apparently become the “graveyard” for old records, and no one bothered to investigate it for many, many decades.)

– In August of this year, the Local Historians – realizing they may be beyond their depth in regard to the value of some of these materials, contacted the North Carolina Department of Archives, seeking guidance on proper preservation techniques and value assessment.

And that’s when things went hinky. The NC Archives group stepped in, pulled rank, and immediately halted all work on the project, stating that they were going to study the challenge and come up with “Next Steps”. Months passed and nothing got done, while the documents languished in the basement of the courthouse.

Then, on Friday, December 6, 2013, at 6:00 in the evening (after all the county workers had left, and with no notice to the local historical group involved in the project), a team from the North Carolina Archives swept in and confiscated ALL the materials – with the cover of Law Enforcement! They took the documents to the County Incinerator, and methodically burned EVERYTHING. They did this while a few locals stood by, not understanding why or precisely what was happening.

[CORRECTION: Added 01/06/2014 – The folks who swept in to claim and destroy the documents were NOT from the NC Archives. A team from the NC Archives did seize many boxes of documents from a workroom managed by the Franklin County Historical Society – but they were NOT directly involved in the destruction of the materials in the basement.

ADDENDUM TO THE CORRECTION: Added 01/06/2014 – A number of people have posted/emailed asking if I know what County Agency was responsible. I do not know for certain. So far conjecture leads me to the Franklin County Manager’s office – but until I hear her side of the story – my opinion is uninformed except by silence. Sorry.]

Every book, deed, will – every photograph – every piece of paper in that room was incinerated that night. No explanation has been given, and no media attention has asked any questions.

Boxes of documents from the Franklin County Courthouse seized and burned by the North Carolina State Archives.

Boxes of documents from the Franklin County Courthouse seized and burned by the North Carolina State Archives.

HERE’S WHAT I THINK:
After the Civil War (after emancipation), a lot of large land-owners deeded out substantial tracts of land to their former slaves. These former slaves had demonstrated to their masters that they were loyal, hard-working, and would continue to farm and contribute to the plantation collective as they always had. The only difference is that they would own the land they worked, and earn a somewhat larger income as a result of their efforts.

During reconstruction, a lot of land holders, both black and white, had difficulty paying very high property taxes imposed by Federal Occupiers. In swept speculators and investors from up North (these people have come to be known as “Carpet Baggers”.) They often forced white land owners to sell out at a fraction of the actual value of their property. In the case of black land-owners, sometimes all the Carpet Baggers offered was threats. The effect was the same – a vast transfer of wealth from titled property owners to new people who became, in the decades of the late 19th and early 20th century, among the wealthiest people in the South.

How do I know this? Some of my own ancestors were Carpet Baggers from Maryland. They made a small fortune after the war, stealing land, setting up mills, and effectively re-enslaving two or three generations of both poor-white and black natives of Halifax County, North Carolina.

My suspicion is that in and amongst all those now destroyed records, was a paper trail associated with one or more now-prominent, politically connected NC families that found its wealth and success through theft, intimidation, and outrageous corruption.

Prove me wrong. You can’t. They destroyed the records.

Shelves of record books from the Franklin County Courthouse seized and burned by the North Carolina State Archives.

Shelves of record books from the Franklin County Courthouse seized and burned in December, 2013.


The Immobilizing Power of Intimidation

John Hennessy Speaking at the National Sporting Library, Photographer Douglas Lees

John Hennessy Speaking at the National Sporting Library, Photographer Douglas Lees.

A few days ago I began reading John Hennessy’s “Return to Bull Run” (1993, Simon & Schuster), which is considered by people who know about such things to be THE definitive work on the topic of the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) which occurred in August of 1862. Mr. Hennessy is a historian with the National Park Service at the Manassas National Battlefield. He’s authored several books on various Civil War topics and he is a regular staff contributor to the Civil War blog “Mysteries and Conundrums” – which is where I learned of him and his book.

The book, so far, is simply wonderful. It’s well-written, entertaining, and approachable in the same way that Shelby Foote’s “Narrative” is well-written and approachable. It differs dramatically from Foote in the aspect that Mr. Hennessy is a historian first, and a gifted story-teller only as a matter of the readers’ good fortune. (Hennessy is a gifted storyteller. Foote was a less-than-disciplined historian, IMHO.)

Just to get this in perfect context, this book consists of the following; 472 pages of thoroughly researched and documented prose narrative plus multiple maps; 88 pages of footnotes; 3 pages of “Order of Battle” (which provides the arrangement and ranking personnel and brigade units on the field); 24 pages of bibliography; and 10 pages of Index notes.

This book is about a single battle, composed of three major engagements, which occurred over the course of just three days.  “Return to Bull Run” takes 607 pages to discuss and document the seminal events of just three days of a war that lasted four long, complicated years!

And I’m trying to place context to a War Diary that covers not only this battle (Manassas), but the whole nine months of William Ellis Jones’s service throughout the course of the 1862 Peninsular campaign, the Shenandoah Campaign, and Lee’s foray into Union territory when he takes his Army into Maryland? Before I was through the first chapter of “Return to Bull Run”, I was asking myself “What in the hell do I think I am doing?”

The people who tackle these subjects have spent their lives and the entirety of their careers studying the subject. I spent my life and career chasing the idea that the corporate world would eventually recognize and reward me for my creativity, hard work and unique contributions. Instead, I got a stern reminder that Capitalism is all about consumption. Once they consumed the best, most productive intellectual years of my life, they spit me out like the indigestible gristle on a well-gnawed chicken bone.

Indeed. What in the hell do I think I’m doing?

I’m taking a deep breath. I’m thinking.

I’m not a Civil War scholar – not a historian. I never will be. That decision was made for me when I was fifteen years old when my grandfather told me in no-uncertain terms that history majors and archeologists could not earn a living, could not live in homes of their own, were perpetually poor. I just cringe when I think of how he broke my heart with those words. I cringe to think about how wrong he was and how different my life might have been. It was the ONLY thing I think Papa was ever wrong about. He was so right about so many things – and so all-knowing – I just gave up my dreams and I did what he wanted me to do. I went into the dreamless, soul-crushing world of business.

And I was miserable. And today I am broke, and way under-employed. But despite all the wasted time, I am now doing what I wanted to do all my life. And I am happy, creatively and intellectually fulfilled. Finally.

But I digress. I’m still no historian.

Here’s the thing that I need to keep reminding myself. I don’t need to be a historian! God knows there are countless well-written, well-researched books about the Civil War. I don’t need to think that I am in any way competing with them. What I need to do is tell the truth – tell William’s side of the story. Tell the story he could not tell because of the social and political risk to his life, his family, his future. There’s probably not a historian around who can tell that story as truthfully as William’s own blood kin.

That’s my obligation to William. Tell his story. I don’t need to fight the whole damn Civil War all over again!

I just hope that the real historians out there will see it that way, and make room on their shelves for a little book about a great big man who lived in the conflicted middle ground between loyalty, morality, and the immobilizing power of intimidation. A man who went on to try to bring wisdom to future generations so that the Civil War would never have to be fought again. A man who still has a great deal to tell us, despite the passing of more than 150 years since he went completely silent on the subject of war, of slavery, of a social and civil fabric ripped wide open by fear and ignorance and arrogance. A man who still speaks to me every day and every night in my dreams. He wants his story told. Even if I’m hopelessly intimidated by him – and by all those insanely smart historians out there on the haunted battlefields where my great-great-great-great-grandfather huddled in the cold; shoeless and hungry, praying he survived another day – if only just to have a chance to have his story told.


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