Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My First Book: The Beginning

Sgt. James F. Price

     Meet Sgt. James F. Price, Company G, 1st Maryland Cavalry. James, and to a lesser extend his wife Melissa, is the subject of what will eventually be my first book: Oh My Bleeding Country.
     I first met James about a year ago, through a student/client of mine who shared a collection of her family's letters from James to Melissa.
     I was struck by James' care and concern for his wife and their infant son, Leon. Each letter ended "I send my love to you and Leon". James' sense of fun and humor showed through as well as he recounted how he got his "big nose hurt in some brush" or speculated that Leon was as tall as he. It seemed that the Civil War was more an opportunity for James to ride horses, camp with his buddies, and enjoy a change of scenery.
     But suddenly, nearly a year into his three-year enlistment, James’ letters changed. He was still solicitous and concerned for his family. And he wrote faithfully. But gone was the humor and light-heartedness. For James, the war had begun in earnest.
     As I read the letters I soon saw the reason for James’ change – or maybe I should say “reasons”. Because James endured more than three months with a potentially fatal illness, he experienced the terror of literally fighting for your life against nearly insurmountable odds, he witnessed the tragic deaths of old friends, and he was forced to sit helplessly by as he learned of the deaths of several of his loved ones back in Pittsburgh.
Melissa Clark Price
     I was amazed that he continued on, not content to merely do his duty, but he rose to corporal and then sergeant, becoming the leader of a band of battle-tested horsemen who experienced some of the worst fighting and most famous battles of the Civil War, including Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, the infamous Stoneman’s Raid, Brandy Station – the largest cavalry battle to take place in North America, Gettysburg, and the Siege of Petersburg.
     What motivated James? How did he find the courage and the “intestinal fortitude” to overcome and excel?
     James wrote a very long letter to Melissa in the early fall of 1863. In it he gave a summation of the most recent battle that had been fought, discussed the difficulties of the poor weather, and expressed hope that he would be home soon. Toward the end of the letter he explained his reasons for his steadfastness and won my admiration and decision to write his story:
This is what you might call rough soldiering but I suppose it is all for our blessed country and must be endured without murmuring. Dearest Meliss I think I would let some good-natured person take my place nine months from now. Meliss, I am almost tempted to swear this morning but thanks to the instructions received at the old Wesley Chapel – through them I have been enabled to refrain from profanation. Oh my bleeding country, it is for thee I suffer and endure the hardships and privations of a soldier’s life.

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