Civil War historian, author talks about soldiers, new book
MUNCY – There were no women from eastern Lycoming County recorded as fighting on the front lines of the Civil War, but, according to David L. Richards, noted local Civil War historian and author, “there could’ve been.”
“If they enlisted under John Smith instead of Joan Smith, there’s no way of knowing,” he said.
Richards, who is the author of “Priceless Treasures,” his first book about the 71 Civil War soldiers whose names are on the Muncy Civil War Memorial, is working on the follow-up to that book, “Sad Hearts at Home: Civil War Dead from Eastern Lycoming County.”
Though the book is “nearly finished,” Richards said, he could not tell the 50 or so people Sunday afternoon at the First United Methodist Church sanctuary, exactly when it would be available.
“As soon as possible,” he said.
The presentation was sponsored by the Muncy Historical Society.
Richards is writing the follow-up book about the 120 more young men whose names did not make it on the memorial, for whatever reason, and should have.
“There were two brothers who fought and died in the Civil War, one’s name is on the monument, the other’s isn’t,” he said.
While doing research for both books, Richards said he uncovered a great number of letters and diaries written by soldiers from the eastern Lycoming area.
The documents described in great detail the soldiers’ day-to-day experiences during the war, enabling the reader to gain glimpses into the minds of the common soldiers.
Richards said he became interested in the Civil War after his father took him on a trip to Gettysburg when he was just 7 years old.
His interest grew after his father-in-law showed him the original muster roll from the 84th of Pennsylvania.
“Suddenly I was interested in local soldiers, who were they, where did they end up,” he said.
Richards began his search during a visit to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., in 1986.
“Every soldier has a service record, many have pension records. That was the mother lode,” he said the trip to the archives.
Even though the average reader might think it “sounds easy” to research dead Civil War soldiers, Richards said it is anything but.
“If you hit a common name, like John Taylor, well, there were 53 John Taylors who served in the Civil War,” he said.
Richards had to narrow it down by regiment, and then try to find records in what he calls a “paper trail.”
“I couldnt talk to them or their families. These are people who lived and died 150 years ago,” he said.
Much of the detail in his books comes from the letters and diaries the soldiers themselves left behind, he added.
“Parents who lost a son who had been supporting them had to prove that he was their sole support, and often times they would send in the letters he had written in order to prove they deserved to receive his pension,” Richards explained.
Another treasure trove of information was the pension records themselves, he said.
“If you survived the war and were wounded, you had to prove you suffered a wound, so they would have comrades swear out affidavits to corroborate their stories, and you’d have these incredible stories,” he added.
But the letters and diaries allowed him to “get into the minds of these people, to see their hopes, fears and dreams, it draws you into the story,” he said.
“I’ve come to know everything about them,” he added.