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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Book from the Attic

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, September 10, 2017


On September 19 at 6 pm, the library system is sponsoring an “author talk” at the Schiappa Branch with Carleton Young, who resides in Pittsburgh and has been teaching at Eastern Gateway Community College.


Last year, he published “Voices from the Attic: The Williamstown Boys in the Civil War,” the story of two brothers from Vermont and their story of the Civil War.


This book will interest those who love history, those who enjoy a family story, those who are fascinated by genealogy, and those who like an adventure of finding artifacts and writing a story with those 150 year old letters.


I find it amazing that these letters have come to light after spending over a century moving from attic to attic without getting lost; and they fell into a family who cared enough and had the energy to develop them into a modern translation.


And the old wooden box of letters went from Vermont to Maine, and eventually ended up in Churchill in the Pittsburgh area.


It is amazing that Francis and Henry Martin are speaking to readers of the 21st Century through their writings of 1861-65.


They were stuffed in an old wooden box in the author’s parent’s attic.  Carleton Young had the job of clearing the house after his parent’s death and found the well-preserved letters, still in their envelops as they were mailed to their parents in Williamstown, Vt.


The brothers had enlisted in the Union Army in the Army of the Potomac and fought for three years in the same brigade.


In the 19th century, people were fortunate to attain a grade school education; but the Martins were also fortunate to have a background as writers for their hometown newspaper bringing them a writing skill ahead of others of the era.


The letters are remarkable, offering vivid descriptions in depth covering subjects that other original letters of the era didn’t.


At one point, the brothers told their parents that they would write again soon, as long as they survived the next battle.


Transcribing the letters turned out to be a five-year process as they turned to a handful of friends who were Civil War enthusiasts to assist in the transcription.


The process was enormous, gathering every month to reveal what each had discovered in their portion of the work.


Visits to battlefields and meetings with historians assisted in the development of the book.


The process was further complicated with the deciphering of their handwriting, and their use of cross-hatching, a technique in which lines were written both horizontally and vertically to conserve paper.


The author has a doctorate in history education, and felt that the letters were too precious, and too revealing, to leave untold.


The book tells the story of the letters, as well as the text of the letters for all to learn the details of the Civil War.


The Western Pennsylvania History Journal states that, “Unlike other soldiers who may have skipped over tough details when writing home to families, the brothers did not shy away from describing the horror of battles, their hardships in camp, and what they saw as they marched through the South … More than merely satisfying an interest in the war, the author demonstrated our surprising connections to each other both past and present.”


The library has several copies of the book for you to enjoy, and the evening with the author will only add to your understanding of this part of history.