Interview: Carleton Young, “Voices From the Attic”

2 04 2016

Carleton Young is the author of Voices From the Attic: The Williamstown Boys in the Civil War. Carleton was good enough to take the time to answer a few questions about his book and his research/writing process.

———————————–

Young_1578BR: So Carleton, what would you like us to know about you?

CY: My undergraduate degree is in economics from Westminster College. By my senior year, however, I was becoming increasingly interested in history. I attended Ohio University for an MA in history, and then began teaching at Thomas Jefferson High School while working towards my PhD at the University of Pittsburgh. I had anticipated switching over to college teaching, but by the time I had completed my degree, I found that I thoroughly enjoyed teaching high school students (it helped that I was teaching primarily AP American history) and had no interest in leaving. So I continued what I was doing and added in teaching college classes evenings as an adjunct professor at several colleges.

My academic areas of interest had always been on rather obscure topics in which few others had an interest. For my Ph.D dissertation, for example, I became an expert on nineteenth century American history textbooks and how they covered religious issues. I always assumed that if I ever wrote a book it would be on something like that, not on what is probably the most talked about subject in all of American history – the Civil War.

Until about twelve years ago, I knew only enough of the basics about the Civil War as was needed to teach AP History or a college survey class. My interest had been more in political history, so I could have told you a great deal more about the election of 1860 than about any particular Civil War battle. Then I found the letters.

BR: Tell us a little bit of the story behind how you came across the Martin letters.

CY: After my parents had passed away, I was clearing out their house in Pittsburgh. I did not expect to find much that I was unfamiliar with in the house in which I had grown up, but I was quite surprised that we found a very old wooden box in the attic. Inside it were hundreds of letters, still in their original envelopes, written home by two brothers as they fought in the Civil War. There were also things like officer commission papers and hand-written orders from the war. The letters had been written home by two brothers, Henry and Francis Martin, both members of the Vermont Brigade, Sixth Corps, Army of the Potomac. It was all quite confusing to me at first because I had no idea where the letters had come from or why they had ended up in my parents’ attic. I had never heard of any relatives with the last name of Martin. And I could not imagine why, with my interest in history, that my father had never mentioned to me that he had this box of Civil War letters in the attic.

BR: Once you recognized the significance of the letters, what was your game plan for organization and research? How did the narrative structure develop?

Intro letterCY: The next step was to call in a friend, Edd Hale, who taught history and was more of a Civil War buff than I had ever been. Once he saw the letters, he then called in Bill Lutz, another local teacher who was even more of a Civil War expert. Then along with my wife, Carol, and Edd’s wife, Nancy, the five of us began holding weekly meetings. First we organized the letters chronologically and by author and placed them in acid-free folders and then into binders (they are all stored away now in a climate controlled storage area). Edd scanned each of the letters and we used those scans to then begin transcribing the letters. There are about 250 letters and not only are some quite long, but the hand-writing can be very difficult to read at times (especially after a battle). The two brothers also frequently used cross-writing, conserving paper by turning the letter side-ways and writing over the lines they had just written [see attachment]. It took us several years to get through the letters, and then because we had left many gaps of words and phrases that we couldn’t decipher, we went back and started all over. Being more familiar with the hand-writing and with their experiences, we did much better the second time through.

We also began to do a good bit of traveling. We have visited the hometown of the two soldiers, Williamstown, Vermont, several times. We were quite amazed the first time that we visited that the head of the local historical society was able to direct us to the house of our two soldiers. Not only is it still standing, but it has become the front of a nursing home with the back wall of the house taken out for a large addition. The front of the house is used as a lobby and has been given a nineteenth century look, so we really felt like we had entered our soldiers’ home. We also received a great deal of help from historian Paul Zeller. He has written books on the history of the 2nd and 9th Vermont Regiments as well as a book on Williamstown soldiers in the Civil War, so that helped enormously in identifying other soldiers and townspeople mentioned in the letters. We also began visiting all of the battlefields where they fought. NPS rangers were always fascinated by the letters and very pleased to help us follow in the footsteps of our two soldiers in all of their battles.

BR: Was there anything you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain?

CY: The study of the Civil War is like so many other areas in that the more you learn, the more you realize what you don’t know, so there was always a desire to learn more. But another reason that this book was more than twelve years in the writing is that the research went off in so many directions. First there was the experiences of the Martin brothers throughout the war and learning about the role of their regiments at the Peninsula Campaign, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Funkstown, the New York City draft riots, the Wilderness, and Cedar Creek. At the same time, the Martins had many close relatives who appear in the letters and as we started researching them, we began to see how interesting they were as well. For example, Francis and Henry’s uncle, Major Issac Lynde, was blamed for an early defeat in New Mexico, just four days after Bull Run. When Henry first arrived in Washington, D.C. for training, his uncle Issac was in town trying unsuccessfully to meet with President Lincoln to explain his side of the story. Lynde’s son, Fred, was in camp in the same regiment as his cousin Henry. One of Lynde’s daughters, Helen, another cousin, was married to Frederick Dent, whose sister had married his close friend, Ulysses S. Grant. Dent ultimately became a Brigadier General. Isaac Lynde’s other daughter, Mary, was married to Major Norman Fitzhugh, Assistant Adjutant General for Jeb Stuart. And that was just one of many fascinating branches of their family. At the same time, I found it necessary to develop my own family tree using Ancestry.com and other sources to make the connection to the Martins, and that ended up being surprisingly complex to find what ultimately was a somewhat distant family relationship. All during these years, many people kept asking me when I was going to finish the book, but it was only last year that I finally felt a sense that the time had arrived.

BR: How do you sum up the experiences of the Martins, and how do you sum up how this project impacted you?

CY: The letters are significant in part for the depth that they go into about each of their battles and specific aspects of army life. It was much more common for soldiers to gloss over such topics and dwell on more mundane matters in their letters home. One of the letters, for example, details an execution. Another describes the burning of dead bodies, rather than burials, by Union soldiers at Antietam. When I showed that letter to a NPS ranger at the battlefield, he told me that he had heard of this occurring but that he had never before seen a firsthand account like this confirming it. When I showed a letter to a historian at Fredericksburg, he told me he wished he could have used the letter as a source for his last book because it was such a detailed account of a part of the battle, along Deep Run, about which little has been written. The two brothers wrote vivid and in-depth accounts of battles, but they also discussed many other aspects of army life during the war. The letters include everything from step-by-step instructions on how they built their winter quarters, to recipes for making hardtack into a tasty pudding, and how best to prepare coffee in a frying pan over an open fire.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

CY: When I finally decided to publish, I contacted a number of publishing companies. Commercial publishers tended to feel that books based on letters and journals were more appropriate for a university publisher. The university publishers prefer academic books filled with footnotes and references to the most recent research. Although I have done that kind of writing before, that was not the book that I wanted to write. I simply wanted to tell the story of two brothers, primarily in their words, who witnessed and helped to make history, and then preserved that history through surprisingly detailed and insightful letters. Consequently I decided to self-publish the book. That limits the book to mostly on-line sales on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com, but so far I am very pleased with both the sales and the responses from those who have read the book.

BR: What’s next for you?

CY: I greatly enjoy telling the story, and since I am now retired, I have been able to start scheduling presentations with many libraries, historical societies, and book clubs. I am also planning on teaching a course next year based on the letters in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. But unless I stumble across another treasure trove of letters from the past, I do not foresee another book in the making.





Preview – Carleton Young, “Voices From the Attic”

1 04 2016

513MvIgoiqL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_After a presentation earlier this year, I was approached by Mr. Carleton Young and presented a copy of his book, Voices From the Attic: The Williamstown Boys in the Civil War. I don’t want to give away too much on this one, since I’ve already completed an interview with Mr. Young that I will be posting in a few days. For now I’ll just tell you that the book sprang from the serendipitous discovery of the wartime letters of two Vermont brothers. Stay tuned here for more. In the meantime, check out the book’s Facebook page.





Theory and War’s Friction

31 03 2016

Plotting_Table

In reading Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle, I came across a passage from the official British military history of the allied operation at Salerno, Italy, in 1943 [emphasis mine]:

In the land of theory…there is none of war’s friction. The troops are, as in fact they were not, perfect Tactical Men, uncannily skillful, impervious to fear, bewilderment, boredom, hunger, thirst, or tiredness. Commanders know what in fact they did not know…Lorries never collide, there is always a by-pass at the mined road-block, and the bridges are always wider than the flood. Shells fall always where they should fall.

It seems to me, when analyzing a commander’s performance, or divining his intent based on subsequent events, too many American Civil War writers live too much in the land of theory.





Tour Update 3/23/2016 – ONE MONTH OUT

23 03 2016

string-tied-around-finger-crop1-585x250

The day of the tour is quickly approaching – April 23, 2016. This is just a reminder for all you who plan to attend to keep an eye out for updates. Our special guest John Hennessy has given me a tentative itinerary. As most if not all of you are coming to get John’s insights, the structure of our tour will be his. I’ll be adding tidbits – cool stuff – as we go along. Remember, we want interaction, an exchange of ideas. But we don’t need “Gotchas.” You know who you are.

So, to recap for the umpteenth time, this is a caravan tour. You must be willing to car pool. That means you. Either as a driver or as a passenger. Parking is limited, and this is a necessity. So, clean out your car like its prom. And shower, too. We want to average 4 people per vehicle at least. Bring a van and you’ll be a rock star. Also, make sure you’re on the list (I’ll put it up with this post later today). While Manassas Battlefield Trust will be providing some water and snacks, you should also bring your own hydration and lunch. There will be no time to venture offsite for a meal.

Dress appropriately, for walking up and down hills and in what may be tall grass. It’s up to you, but I tend to wear long pants on battlefields, even and especially in warm weather. Bring rain gear just in case. Insect repellent is a good idea too.

A full itinerary will be posted soon. Any handouts will be provided here beforehand, to eliminate that process on the field. You’ll be able to print them out or download them to your device. You may want to get those little plastic sleeves and put them in a binder of sorts. If you don’t “do computers,” make sure you have a friend who does. It’s the 21st Century, people, and Bull Runnings is doing its part to drag you into it.

Things are shaping up nicely. Let’s hope Mother Nature cooperates.

Please be courteous – if you see your name below and have no intention on attending, let me know right away.

1 Anderson, James
2 Anderson, Roy
3 Backus, Page Gibbons
4 Banks, John
5 Baumgarten, Ron
6 Bednarek, Kat Zalewski
7 Bellefeuille, Scott
8 Biggs, Jeff
9 Booker, Bob
10 Brace, Kim
11 Brand, Gary
12 Burden, Jeffry
13 Carson, Dan
14 Ciasullo, Ron
15 Conroy, Dianne Fox
16 Cummings, John
17 Cunard, Jan Hyland
18 Dennis, James
20 Dittoe, Tom + 1
21 Errett, Paul
22 Fuller, John
23 Franklin, Albert
24 Gottert, Mike
25 Gottfried, Linda
27 Greer, Jackie + 1
28 Greevy, Jay
29 Gueverra, Mark
30 Hall, Clark B.
31 Harper, Joseph
32 Hennessy, John
33 Hamann, Carlos
34 Herring, Rod
35 Johnson, Brad
37 Kaptek, Rob + 1
38 Kathman, Debra
39 Keating, Stephen
40 Kenepp, D. Scott
41 Killian, Aaron
42 Lafleur, Joe
43 Langbart, David
44 Laudenslager, Sam
46 Leckenby, Dawn + 1
47 Leupold, Tom
48 Lewis, Richard
49 Liebler, Shelly
50 Massey, Jeff
51 McGregor, Douglas
52 McLean, Jim
53 Mcmorrow, Myles
54 Miller, Bruce
55 Mitchell, Brian
56 Mitchell, Celia
57 Morgan, Jim
58 Morton, Patrick
59 Mueller, Benjamin
60 Mueller, Jullian
61 Musick, Mike
62 Nank, Thomas
63 Oakes, Douglas A
64 O’Neil, Keith
65 Orrison, Rob
66 Pawlak, Kevin
67 Pellegrini, Mike
68 Peterson, Ana
69 Peterson, Anne
70 Peterson, Char
71 Peterson, Doug
72 Peterson, Kyle
73 Phillips, Rick
74 Redd, Rae Andrew
75 Reilly, Steve
76 Rich, Patricia Petersen
77 Rosebrock, Jams
78 Russell, Bill
79 Sagle, William
80 Smeltzer, Harry
81 Smith, Teej
82 Stinchcomb, Earl
83 Swain, Craig
84 Taylor, Paul
85 Tinnon-Massey, Norma
86 Weihs, Kelly
87 Wichtendahl, Kyle Francis
88 Williams, Jim





Preview: Barringer, “Fighting for General Lee”

22 03 2016

51wTUO9drYL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Newly released from Savas Beatie is Sheridan R. “Butch” Barringer’s biography Fighting for General Lee: Confederate General Rufus Barringer and the North Carolina Cavalry Brigade. Barringer (Rufus, that is) served in the cavalry from the Peninsula until his capture at Namozine Church on April 3, 1865, first as a lieutenant in the 1st N. C. Cavalry and finally as Brigadier General in command of the North Carolina Cavalry Brigade (he was seriously wounded in the face at Brandy Station in June, 1863 and missed the Gettysburg Campaign). During his captivity, he was introduced to Abraham Lincoln at City Point, VA. After the war, the author argues, Barringer was a vocal supporter cooperation with Reconstruction efforts.

What you get: 282 pages of narrative, with footnotes at the bottom of the page where they belong, and plenty of photographs and maps. In addition to interviewing the General’s descendants over the years, the bibliography indicates the author consulted numerous manuscript collections and newspaper archives, in addition to published primary and secondary accounts. Testimonials include cav guys Ed Longacre, Chris Hartley, and Eric Wittenberg, as well as long time public historian Chris Calkins.





Tour Update 3/13/2016 Part 2

13 03 2016

OK folks, I have to cut this off now. We have over 80 people who have said they are coming on the tour. Remember this is a caravan tour, and we must carpool. If you have a van, great! If you have a two-seater, not so great (that includes pickup trucks with no back seat). Clean your vehicles out! Oh, and if you think when I say you must car pool that I don’t mean you, I do mean you. Especially you!

Here’s an updated list. If you are on this list and your plans change, let me know so I can take you off. If you’re on this list twice, let me know so I can correct it – you’re taking up two spots. (I have taken anyone who failed to give me a first and last name off the list.) Remember to check back often – any handouts will be posted here for downloading. We won’t be passing them out at the tour, you need to bring them. All part of a free event. Here’s an updated list:

1 Anderson, James
2 Anderson, Roy
3 Backus, Page Gibbons
4 Banks, John
5 Baumgarten, Ron
6 Bednarek, Kat Zalewski
7 Bellefeuille, Scott
8 Biggs, Jeff
9 Booker, Bob
10 Brace, Kim
11 Brand, Gary
12 Burden, Jeffry
13 Carson, Dan
14 Ciasullo, Ron
15 Conroy, Dianne Fox
16 Cummings, John
17 Cunard, Jan Hyland
18 Dennis, James
20 Dittoe, Tom + 1
21 Errett, Paul
22 Fuller, John
23 Franklin, Albert
24 Gottert, Mike
25 Gottfried, Linda
27 Greer, Jackie + 1
28 Greevy, Jay
29 Gueverra, Mark
30 Hall, Clark B.
31 Harper, Joseph
32 Hennessy, John
33 Hamann, Carlos
34 Herring, Rod
35 Johnson, Brad
37 Kaptek, Rob + 1
38 Kathman, Debra
39 Keating, Stephen
40 Kenepp, D. Scott
41 Killian, Aaron
42 Lafleur, Joe
43 Langbart, David
44 Laudenslager, Sam
46 Leckenby, Dawn + 1
47 Leupold, Tom
48 Lewis, Richard
49 Liebler, Shelly
50 Massey, Jeff
51 McGregor, Douglas
52 McLean, Jim
53 Mcmorrow, Myles
54 Miller, Bruce
55 Mitchell, Brian
56 Mitchell, Celia
57 Morgan, Jim
58 Morton, Patrick
59 Mueller, Benjamin
60 Mueller, Jullian
61 Musick, Mike
62 Nank, Thomas
63 Oakes, Douglas A
64 O’Neil, Keith
65 Orrison, Rob
66 Pawlak, Kevin
67 Pellegrini, Mike
68 Peterson, Ana
69 Peterson, Anne
70 Peterson, Char
71 Peterson, Doug
72 Peterson, Kyle
73 Phillips, Rick
74 Reilly, Steve
75 Rich, Patricia Petersen
76 Rosebrock, Jams
77 Russell, Bill
78 Sagle, William
79 Smeltzer, Harry
80 Smith, Teej
81 Stinchcomb, Earl
82 Swain, Craig
83 Taylor, Paul
84 Tinnon-Massey, Norma
85 Weihs, Kelly
86 Wichtendahl, Kyle Francis
87 Williams, Jim





Tour Update 3/13/2016 – Attendee List

13 03 2016

Below is a list of everyone who has notified me that they are definitely intending to attend the tour on April 23rd. Check the list over. If you are one of the folks who identified themselves with only one name or a nickname, please clarify in the comments section below (here, on the blog). If you thought you had indicated your intent to attend but don’t see your name, again, let me know here in the comments. If you have someone who you intend to bring along, or if the number of folks I have down for you is wrong, let me know here in the comments. At some point SOON we have to cut this off (because this is a caravan tour), so make your decision post haste. Do NOT leave your name on this list if you’re just thinking you might go. If you plan to go and are not on the list, either leave a comment below or click the “going” link on the Facebook event page. Thanks for the great response!

1 Anderson, Roy
2 Backus, Page Gibbons
3 Baumgarten, Ron
4 Bellefeuille, Scott
5 Biggs, Jeff
6 Booker, Bob
7 Brace, Kim
8 Brand, Gary
9 Burden, Jeffry
10 Carson, Dan
11 Conroy, Dianne Fox
12 Cummings, John
13 Cunard, Jan Hyland
14 Dennis, James
16 Dittoe, Tom +1
17 Errett, Paul
18 Franklin, Albert
19 Gottfried, Linda
21 Greer, Jackie +1
22 Greevy, Jay
23 Hall, Clark B.
24 Harper, Joseph
25 Hennessy, John
26 Hamann, Carlos
27 Herring, Rod
28 isw7 (only name given)
30 Jackie (only name given) +1
31 Jeff (only name given)
32 Johnson, Brad
33 Jones, Connie
34 Kathman, Debra
35 Keating, Stephen
36 Keith (only name given)
37 Kenepp, D. Scott
38 Killian, Aaron
39 Lafleur, Joe
40 Langbart, David
41 Laudenslager, Sam
43 Leckenby, Dawn +1
44 Liebler, Shelly
45 Massey, Jeff
46 McGregor, Douglas
47 McLean, Jim
48 Mcmorrow, Myles
49 Miller, Bruce
50 Morgan, Jim
51 Mueller, Benjamin
52 Mueller, Jullian
53 Musick, Mike
54 Nank, Thomas
55 Oakes, Douglas A
56 O’Neil, Keith
57 Orrison, Rob
58 Pawlak, Kevin
59 Pellegrini, Mike
60 Peterson, Ana
61 Peterson, Anne
62 Peterson, Char
63 Peterson, Doug
64 Peterson, Kyle
65 Phillips, Rick
66 Phillips, Rick
67 Radke, Bob
68 Reilly, Steve
69 Rich, Patricia Petersen
70 roneillmt (only name given)
71 Rosebrock, Jams
72 Russell, Bill
73 Sagle, William
74 Smeltzer, Harry
75 Smith, Teej
76 Stinchcomb, Earl
77 Swain, Craig
78 Taylor, Paul
79 Tinnon-Massey, Norma
80 Weihs, Kelly
81 Wichtendahl, Kyle Francis








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