Actually, the title of this chapter is a tad mis-leading. It isn’t about saving electricity, although I suppose if I would turn off some of the computer kit I have constantly running, I could do that. No, this chapter is about me desperately trying to avoid falling into the treacle-like minutia of daily life that caused me to delay getting cracking with the last chapter. So, even though I have often been accused of not keeping up, it has only been a week since my last chapter and here I am writing to you again.
The other week, my friend Tomeu brought me my first load of leña for this winter. After tossing it with wanton abandon onto the front terrace, I pondered what to do next...which was a pretty foolish waste of time as I always do the same thing when I have a firewood delivery. I dug out my trusty axe and began whacking away at the chunks of wood. I was bound and determined to not bugger up my back this year, so I didn't try to chop it all up in one day. And after four days, I was able to restack the entire ton into nice anal-retentive looking piles. Job well done wouldn't you say?
I think in number 166, I said that I was working on a new project. (perhaps I should go look myself to see what I said. Okay, I did check, and I did mention that I was working on another book). Well, I have just about completed it. Yes, speedy fingers-on-the-keyboard in action here. I do like my little projects, and I most certainly am enamoured with writing, but this project took on a special sense of doing something more important than just writing about business decision-making. This project was to write a book about what it was like for two distant relatives who lived in the United States during the Civil War. First, to clarify something that I wrote in chapter 166, the subjects were not my Great Great Grandfather and his brother. No, I clearly buggered that up. They were my Great Grandfather and his brother, John Rieley and Frank Rieley.
First a little background. I had an Aunt Peg, who sadly passed away in 2005, who apparently was the family historian, and in this self-appointed role, had collected a group of letters that John and Frank wrote home to their Mother during the Civil War. I had seen some of these letters years ago, and actually had a couple copies of them in my possession, along with other Rieley family memorabilia. But when Peg died, her best friend Sue sent me this rather voluminous carton containing transcripts of all the letters, along with military documents and photos from that period of time. When I received them, I read them voraciously (finally, after 167 chapters I found a good place to use the word ‘voraciously’ – well done me) and stared at the photos…and then I put them all back into the carton and taped it securely so that one day my sons would be able to have them. Shortly after this, I sort of electronically met Betsy, who is the grand-daughter of another line in our family, and she started sending me more family information from the Civil War times. Then, not long ago, I was talking to a friend who lives near London who had written a book about aerial photography during the First World War. I mentioned to Nicholas that I had this veritable treasure trove of letters from the American Civil War and he suggested that I do something with them. I pondered his comments, but probably was distracted at the time by some other project that I was focused on. And then a few weeks ago, stimulated by something, I re-opened the carton and decided that this was the time to compile them into a book.
When I become involved in a project, I do really get into it. ‘’Getting really into it’’ means that I can be like a dog with a bone and short of a tsunami rushing madly toward Sol y Mar, not much will cause me to lose focus. Well this project was like that, but on steroids. This was more than just an exercise in writing…this was real stuff about real people in a pretty depressingly desperate situation; and the real people were relatives of mine. So after sorting through the contents of the carton, one night I cranked up one of the computers and started typing. I just finished writing the book yesterday and thought that this was indeed something worth sharing.
Doing this book was far more challenging for me than writing the other books I have done. This is probably due to several things. First, when I have written my previous books, the process sort of looked like this. Step 1. Think about what to write. Step 2. Visualise what it would look like. Step 3. Type. But this book required very little thinking about what to write – John and Frank had written the letters already. Okay, so I did have to ‘see’ what the finished book would look like, but that was pretty much driven by the letters, so all I really had to do was input into my computer what the brothers said in their letters…and this is why it was so challenging. The letters were written long-hand in the late 1860’s when literacy probably wasn’t the most important thing; especially if you were slogging up some mud-filled hill with your sabre drawn, dodging musket fire from the enemy. So even though my computer’s spell-check programme kept vomiting error messages at me faster than that guy fell from the balloon on the edge of space the other day, I kept at it…and now I am done.
I did find a few things curious about all the letters. My Great Great Grandmother only had one son named John and one named Frank, and yet in all the letters, the boys signed them with their surnames as well. Interesting? I also learnt that the single most repetitive them of the letters was the desire of the boys to receive letters from home. In the world we live in today, this is pretty easy-peasy with email, but then, being off in some God-forsaken battlefield, hearing from home was understandably important.
So right now you may be thinking, “I wonder what he will do with the book now that he is done?” A good question. There is no doubt I will publish it, but am not too concerned about that right now. For now I am a bit to occupied writing to you and pondering what I will do next in project terms.
And just because you are nice enough to read all these ramblings, I thought I would share one of the letters with you. This letter was written by my Great Grandfather’s brother Frank to his Mother. P.S. Don’t take out your red pencil…all I did was write up the letters as they were written.
Pittsburg Landing, Tenn.
Received your letter of the 8th a week after date and was very glad to hear from home and also to hear you were all well. The reason I did not answer it then was that I expected we would cross the Tennessee River and I did not want to write until after we crossed it. We are on the other side of the river for about three weeks, scouting and guarding a telegraph line. We crossed to this side on the 25th to Pittsburg Landing. It is composed of two log houses one of which is the postoffice.
We camped on the battle field of Shiloh the first night. The next day we moved about three miles and rejoined our division. We could not see much signs of the battle except on the trees which were full of bullet holes, and some of them cut in two by cannon balls. The graves were very thick. I saw one hole where there were twenty of our boys buried. The men who were in the battle told me some holes had fifty buried in them. Our men did not half bury the Secesh soldiers. I saw where one was buried whose hands stuck out. I went over to the 41st Ohio last week and saw Dick Neville. He was in the fight but was not hurt. He feels first rate and is ready for the next fight. Michael Miller was wounded in the arm. He started for home soon after the fight, so I suppose you have seen him before this. We moved to our camp here on the 29th. We camped about six miles from Pittsburg Landing and about twelve from Corinth, and two miles from the Mississippi line. I was on the picket line night before last and was in Mississippi.
There is a report in camp today that Corinth is being evacuated, but we do not know for sure. If it is, we will have to follow them three or four hundred miles further I suppose. I should a good deal rather fight them here than follow them three hundred miles further, and then have to fight them. I think that the next time they are whipped, it will finish them.
I am well and in good spirits. We were paid off today for two months and I will send twenty five dollars home with this letter. Our Chaplain is going home on furlough and I will send it with him to Monroeville and he will send it by express to the same directions as before. If you get this and the money, write and let me know.
Give my love to all.
my first wood delivery this year, before...
...and after my handy-work the other day
future Civil War historian
the book cover
copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 James B. Rieley