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Carleton Young, Pittsburgh, PA: Voices From the Attic: The Williamstown Boys in the Civil War
April 20, 2017 @ 7:15 pm - 8:45 pm
Imagine clearing out your family attic and finding an old wooden box jammed with hundreds of letters written during the Civil War. You soon discover they are written by two brothers serving in the First Vermont Brigade of the Union Army. The letters offer an eye witness description of the battles of the Peninsula Campaign, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Cedar Creek as well as an in-depth account of regular army life. Using the letters, Carleton Young and few other researchers were able to weave together their dramatic war-time narrative into a book entitled Voices From the Attic: The Williamstown Boys in the Civil War.
There were about 250 letters, still in their original envelopes as well as hand-written orders, officer commission papers, and many other documents from the war. 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. An NPS ranger at the battlefield read the letter and said that he had heard of this occurring but that he had never before seen a firsthand account like this confirming it. A ranger at Fredericksburg said that the letter he read was the most detailed account he had seen of the part of the battle fought between Vermont and North Carolina regiments along Deep Run Creek. 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. The use of cross-writing by the brothers, to conserve paper, was one reason that it took so many years to read and transcribe the letters.
The research team, consisting of the author along with Edd Hale, Nancy Hale, Bill Lutz, and Carol Young, spent more than a decade transcribing the letters, researching friends and relatives mentioned in the letters, and visiting battlefields and the soldiers’ hometown in Vermont. To read and learn more about the letters that were written by the Martin brothers, click the link Voices from the Attic. For more unique information about the Civil War, visit www.martinletters.com
Carleton Young has undergraduate degrees in economics and English from Westminster College and Point Park University, an MA in history from Ohio University, and his PhD in the history of education from the University of Pittsburgh. For 37 years he taught a very popular AP history class at Thomas Jefferson High School in Pittsburgh. He has also taught classes as an adjunct professor at the Community College of Allegheny College, the University of Pittsburgh, Eastern Gateway Community College, and in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He and his wife, Carol, currently reside in Pittsburgh.