Lisa Saunders & Mystic Seafarer's Trail

Lisa Saunders

Author, TV talk show host, and CMV fighter

Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife

Published by Heritage Books. Available through Publisher directly at 1-800-876-6103 To learn more about the New York 9th Heavy Artillery
Charles and Nancy McDowell
Rifle belonging to Charles McDowell dated 1863
Private Charles McDowell of the New York 9th Heavy Artillery
Charles McDowell, a recent immigrant from Ontario to upstate New York, enlisted in the Union Army despite his father?s frantic pleas. He left behind his seventeen-year-old wife Nancy to join what was to become the New York 9th Heavy Artillery. In September of 1862, Charles began the greatest, most dangerous adventure of his life. And despite the war?s infidelities, scandals and ever-present threat of death, he remained ?ever true? to his wife, and his new-found country.
Based on Civil War letters found by author Lisa Saunders, EVER TRUE is the fascinating compilation of those telling letters plus photos, historical background gleaned from rare out-of-print books, and family secrets uncovered at the National Archives. Sprinkled within the pages are standard American recipes of those times, some of which (such as apple pie and dumplings) are still family favorites today.
Although we often hear of the brave deeds done in battle and the many amputations during the Civil War, Saunders? book gives us a behind-the-scene look at the hangings, desertion, prostitution, a Canadian family's involvement in the war, a wife's role in the fort life around Washington, medical treatments, and even theft and murder among Union troops. You will also read of the battles Battles of Cold Harbor, Jerusalem Plank Road, Monocacy, The Siege of Petersburg, Moseby?s Men, The Shenandoah Valley Campaign, and the final chase to Appomattox Court House.

 

 


Appeared in "Rockland County Times" (11/20/03)

 

"EVER TRUE"

 

by Joan Asch

 

The history of the Civil War came alive right here in our own Rockland County last week at the Suffern Library. A captivated audience experienced the lure of another era as author Lisa Saunders read excerpts from the letters included in her book, "Ever True." The title itself grabbed the audience right away. "Ever true" is the customary way people signed their letters; however, it also holds another meaning: it speaks of the commitment to one's country and of the love that is ever true between this husband and wife--Lisa's great-great grandparents and the central figures of her book.

Imagine Lisa's disbelief and overwhelming joy when she discovered a box full of letters preserved in her mother's attic dating back to the Civil War. Lisa began a journey into the past that opened many doors. Along the way, she read (in sometimes more detail than she would have liked) about the romance between her great-great grandparents, Charles and Nancy McDowell, as well as some lesser known facts about hangings, the unorthodox ways civilians adapted, infidelity, murder and theft among Union soldiers, and first-hand accounts of meetings with President Lincoln. Now, a decade after the discovery of the letters, Lisa presents the product of her find--a fascinating compilation of those telling letters plus photos and historical background gleaned from rare out-of-print books, and family secrets uncovered at the National Archives. Sprinkled within the pages are standard American recipes of those times, some of which (such as apple pie and dumplings) are still family favorites today.

Many attendees at Lisa's Suffern presentation commented about Charles's allegiance to a country that was not his homeland as well as the steadfastness of a husband and wife whose hearts ached to be reunited. Another local author in attendance, Mary-Jo Holmes (author of "Gianna...a love story"), said of the event, "Lisa undertook the tedious task of transcribing the letters and turned them into such a compelling read. The coupling of history with passion evokes interest from all readers!"

"Ever True," published by Heritage Books, will be released this January.

Transport yourself to another time and place. Don't expect EVER TRUE to be just one more account of the Civil War. It transcends textbooks and reads more like TV mini-series. This is a keeper!


REVIEWS: [Ever True] is unusual in that in addition to the letters [Private Charles McDowell] wrote, those to him from his wife and other relatives are all included. Saunders also provides editorial comment about current events and the history of the regiement. America's Civil War For readers who relish eavesdropping...Ever True should satisfy...these letters provide a wonderful insight into the personal lives of two individuals caught up in those tumultuous times and are an intimate portrayal of the relationship between a husband and wife that makes them interesting reading for anyone. The Civil War News

 

A fascinationg read.

The Sun & Record

 

I was thoroughly fascinated by the letters and much impressed by the artful way the material was woven together. The story is cohesive and informative, but charming and romantic in a very personal way - I think this has real potential on several different fronts."

Corinne Will, Managing Editor, Heritage Books, Inc.

The story of how the marriage between Charles and Nancy survives separation, disease, the threat of death, and malicious gossip is compelling. Pamela Goddard, Ithaca Times Having seen the original letters I'm so grateful that Lisa took the time to transcribe and present them in their historic context. I've always wanted a behind-the-scenes look at the Civil War, and these letters give me the kind of detail I've never seen anywhere else!
Sharon Lubitow, Educator, Wayne County Historical Society
Lisa's work immerses the reader into the lives of Charles and Nancy, whose own words combine to create a powerful and moving perspective of the Civil War. Great work Lisa! John P. D'Innocenzi www.civilwarcampchest.com Saunders has given the world a piece of the past that shouldn't be forgotten. Great Book! Saunders has given the world a piece of the past that shouldn't be forgotten. Great Book! Saunders has given the world a piece of the past that shouldn't be forgotten. Great Book! Saunders has given the world a piece of the past that shouldn't be forgotten. Great Book!

Larry Ann Evans, Producer and Host of Street Talk 1420 WACK Radio

 

 

I am enjoying Ever True tremendously. I congratulate Lisa for a well researched and well written book. She did an excellent job of ?stage setting? by informing the reader of the concurrent events occurring outside the range of Charles?s observation to place things in the proper time frame. I believe that Charles and Nancy?s narrative of the role of soldiers' wives in camp will add much to the total knowledge of camp life. All in all, Lisa deserves a ?well done? and I hope her book achieves the circulation it deserves. Charles T. Jacobs, Historian

 

 

 

I thoroughly enjoyed EVER TRUE! Its given me a different prospective on what really happened during the Civil War.

Marilyn Rowsey Dirk ,Vice President Oswego County Genealogy

 

From seeing New York City for the first time, to the suffering of a soldier at war, EVER TRUE is a compelling first-hand glimpse into the emotions and experiences of the people who helped build our great country.

Terry Thiry, Radio Personality

 

These letters inspire commitment and touch the heart! The coupling of history with an intimate portrait of a soldier and his wife evokes interest from all readers!"

Mary-Jo Holmes, Author of Gianna?a love story

 

It is a stunning account of ordinary folks in extraordinary circumstances, folks who never lose their down-to-earth qualities while they learn the ways of a more sophisticated world.

David Sisson, Professor of English and avid genealogist

 

Transport yourself to another time and place. Don't expect EVER TRUE to be just one more account of the Civil War. It transcends textbooks and reads more like TV mini-series. This is a keeper!

Joan Asch, Freelance Writer

I started reading yesterday and could not put it down. It is so interesting to have a look at the Civil War through the eyes of those that lived it, and Saunders' historical notes are fascinating. It amazes me to think that those letters were waiting for her to find and bring back out to the light of day. I am eagerly looking forward to being able to read more later today! Cynthia Bushnell, Reader Members of the Cayuga County Musuem book club said of EVER TRUE:You really got a sense of Charles and Nancy as people, as a married couple discussing money, neighbors, and work (the farm, picket duty) just like contemporary couples. The letter format makes it very quick and easy to read. The first person points of view, and the contrasting views of the home front and the war, make it really interesting. Nancy came across as a bit of a shrew, but still fascinating.

Civil War Camp Chest: www.civilwarcampchest.com
1. From the Editor

I'm excited about our Ezine this month because the Feature Article is an
excerpt from Ever True, a new book by Lisa Saunders.

This book is the result of a classic example of what I call an
"attic experience"! We get so much of our "grass roots" Civil War
history from people who discover their ancestor's forgotten letters
and journals hidden away in an old chest or box in some obscure nook
and cranny of their grandparent's, or parent's homes. These discoveries
provide us with precious insights into the Civil War, and the lives of
the very real people who lived through that difficult and heartrending
period of our nation's history.

Ever True is the transcribed letters of Lisa's great, great
grandfather Charles McDowell, and his wife Nancy. During the war,
Charles served with the New York 9th Heavy Artillery in the forts
surrounding
Washington, DC. While stationed in the Washington area,
Charles saw President Lincoln on numerous occasions. Eventually, the
relative safety and comfort of garrison duty in the Washington
defenses would end, and the men of the NY 9th Heavy Artillery,
including Charles McDowell, would serve with Grant's Army of the
Potomac - not as artillerymen, but as front line, rifle toting
infantrymen - fighting in some of the nastiest, bloodiest battles of
the war, including Cold Harbor, 3rd Winchester and Cedar Creek.

Lisa's work immerses the reader into the lives of Charles and Nancy,
whose own words combine to create a powerful and moving perspective
of the Civil War. Great work Lisa!

Your humble servant,
The Editor

Book Reviews - August 18, 2004 By: Pamela Goddard
Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife

 

 

The letters written back and forth by Private Charles McDowell and his wife Nancy during the long years of the Civil War ended with the words, "Your ever true and affectionate..." These letters, compiled in the book Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife, shine as a testimonial to the care and support of spouses for each other at times of war and separation.
Chronicling the activities of the New York Ninth Artillery (based in Auburn, NY), they tell a poignant story of love and devotion to family and country. The McDowells' sacrifice is made all the more extraordinary since the Union was an adopted country for Charles, who had emigrated from Ontario, Canada to Wayne County.
Author Lisa Saunders is a Cornell University graduate who has published previous children's novels and a book about her daughter, who was born with severe disabilities. The process of researching and writing Ever True began with Saunders' discovery of a collection of letters in her mother's attic. She then embarked on a 10-year research adventure, exploring the story they told. She visited overgrown forts and battlefields and uncovered her ancestor's secrets in rare out-of-print books and papers in the National Archives.
Saunders writes, "I felt myself leaving the present and entering his past. I traveled back 130 years and joined Charles in heart and mind. I felt his loneliness, his boredom, his fear. I laughed when he found a reason to laugh. I hurt over his deep longing for his wife and home, and for the life and family he left behind in Canada."
Charles and his brother David had immigrated from Ontario to the rich farm lands and pretty farm girls of Wayne County, New York. Ever True opens with a letter from his father, saying, "Charles, I want you to see David and tell him not to join the army. If there is any danger he had better come home. Tell him I said so. Don't go in the war."
This parental caution was already too late. Both brothers had been unable to resist the call to war. For a time, Nancy joined Charles in camp providing support for her husband and apple pies for the soldiers. Detailed letters give a behind-the-scenes look at fort life, hangings and desertions, encounters with Lincoln, and even prostitution, theft, and murder among the Union Troops. The story of how the marriage between Charles and Nancy survives separation, disease, the threat of death, and malicious gossip is compelling.
Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife is available at the Cornell University Store, through Amazon.com, or by calling 800-876-6103.


By NANCY CACIOPPO
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: April 21, 2004)

//www.thejournalnews.com/newsroom/042104/b0321civilwar.html

Photo of author with artifacts:

 

//www.thejournalnews.com/dailygallery/042004/pages/22.htm

As a child, Lisa Saunders would often visit relatives in the home that her great-great-grandfather, Charles McDowell, had built in Alton, N.Y., after the Civil War.

To Saunders, the 19th-century portraits of McDowell and his wife, Nancy, on the living room wall were so grim that it was difficult for her to imagine them ever being young, or that they had even been real people, she said.

Saunders knew only that McDowell had come from Canada and fought in the American Civil War; that his wife, Nancy, made and sold pies to soldiers when she joined her husband in Washington, D.C.; and that she shook President Abraham Lincoln's hand.

At a family reunion about 10 years ago at her parents' home in Suffern, Saunders discovered a box in her parents' attic that contained the Civil War letters that Pvt. Charles McDowell of the New York 9th Heavy Artillery and his wife had written to each other. They form the basis of Saunders' latest book, "Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife," just published by Heritage Books.

"The handwriting was faded and difficult to decipher," Saunders said. "But I learned that Charles' regiment had built Fort Foote, one of the forts and roads encircling Washington that were intended to protect the capital."

McDowell, a native of Simcoe, Ontario, was married only two years when he enlisted in the Union Army in 1862.

He left behind his 17-year-old wife, Nancy, to join the New York 9th Heavy Artillery, which was nicknamed "Seward's Pets."

He would survive the war and a bout of typhoid fever to return home and raise two children in upstate New York.

Saunders said the 150 letters McDowell and his wife wrote reveal the couple's devotion to each other despite the war's scandals, infidelities and the ever-present threat of death. In addition to family secrets Saunders uncovered at the National Archives, the book gives a behind-the-scenes look at the hangings, desertions, fort life around Washington and encounters with Lincoln, medical treatments, prostitution, and even theft and murder among Union troops.

Included in the book are accounts of McDowell's involvement with Moseby's Men and at Cold Harbor, Jerusalem Plank Road, Monocacy, the siege of Petersburg, the Shenandoah Valley campaign and the final chase to Appomattox Court House, along with historical background, anecdotes and traditional Civil War-era recipes.

Saunders, who graduated from Suffern High School and Cornell University, was married and living in Rockville, Md., at the time she first read the letters. "In Maryland, everyone was interested in the Civil War," she said. "Now, I'm meeting other descendants of people who fought in those battles."

Saunders, a recruiter for the National Field Service Corp., a telecommunications consulting firm, and her husband, Jim, a scientist at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, moved back to Suffern five years ago with their daughters, Jacqueline and Elizabeth. She also has published a children's novel, "Ride a Horse, Not an Elevator," several short stories, and a book about their younger daughter, Elizabeth, who was born with severe disabilities.

Saunders is a member of the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War. She recently became a member of Shatemuc Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, through another ancestor, Capt. Daniel Rosencrants of the West Orange Regiment, Goshen, whose grandson was a general in the Civil War. She expects that a future book will focus on her Rosencrants ancestors.

Appeared in the Wayne Times (April 2004)

Former Alton Couple?s Letters Featured in New Civil War Book Lisa Saunders has just released a Civil War book, entitled, ?EVER TRUE: A Union Private and His Wife ?. EVER TRUE centers around the letters of a former Alton, NY couple, Nancy and Charles McDowell of the New York Ninth Heavy Artillery.
It is a fascinating compilation of telling letters, vintage photos, historical background, and family secrets uncovered at the National Archives. Read of a couple's devotion to each other and their country in the midst of war's infidelities, scandals, and the ever-present threat of death. Lisa Saunders' book gives us a behind-the-scene look at hangings, desertions, a Canadian family's involvement in the war, a wife's role in the fort life around Washington, encounters with Lincoln, medical treatments, amputations, prostitution, and even theft and murder among Union troops. Read of the battles of Cold Harbor, Jerusalem Plank Road, Monocacy, The Siege of Petersburg, Moseby's Men, The Shenandoah Valley Campaign, and the final chase to Appomattox Court House.
Excerpt of Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife:
INTRODUCTION: As a child I often visited the home Charles built after the Civil War in a little cross-roads called Alton, in western New York. My Aunt Nona and Uncle Gilbert lived there, along with my great-grandfather Bert McDowell. To me, Great-Grandpa Bert was just an old, wrinkly man who shuffled silently from room to room. The portraits of his parents, Nancy and Charles, in middle age, scared me as they guarded the living room. Their profiles appeared so grim that it was difficult to imagine that they had ever been young, or that they had even been real people. The only thing I knew about them was that Charles had come from Canada and fought in the American Civil War, and that Nancy made and sold pies to soldiers when she joined Charles in Washington, DC. She even shook President Lincoln's hand. Nancy outlived her husband by many years and grew to be an irritable old woman.?
Lisa?s books EVER TRUE: A Union Private and his Wife - will soon be available for sale at the Wayne County Histrocial Society, or through the publisher Heritage Books, Inc. www.HeritageBooks.com
Peter Wiseby, author of a chapter about Seward, Jr in the book EVER TRUE. will present the book, during a televised event called ?Authors Exposed? on Seward?s Birthday (Sunday, May 16th) at 1 pm at the Willard Memorial Chapel, 17 Nelson Street, Auburn. Admission is free, and co sponsored by the Cayuga County Historian?s Office, Willard Memorial Chapel and Literacy Volunteers.
A public speaker, Lisa has appeared on radio and television and has lectured at universities and club events. She is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. To learn more about Lisa's work, visit her website at www.authorlisasaunders.com

 

BOOK REVIEW

Lyons Heritage Newsletter "Peppermint Press" out of Lyons, NY (April 2004)

EVER TRUE: CIVIL WAR LETTERS OF PRIVATE CHARLES McDOWELL, New York 9th Heavy Artillery of Wayne and Cayuga Counties (Nicknamed ?Seward?s Pets); Includes Wayne County and Seward Family Recipes (2003, 215 pages.)

Reviewed by Jill Herendeen

Lisa Saunders has complied, augmented, and published her own book full of Civil War correspondence between her great-great grandparents, Charles and Nancy Wager McDowell. Charles McDowell was a 25-year-old immigrant from Ontario, Canada, married for a year and a half to an American who was 17 in August of 1862, when he enlisted in the Union Army, despite his Canadian parents? pleas. Charles? regiment, originally called the 138th Regt. N.Y. Infantry, was led by Wm H. Seward, Jr., of Auburn, who just happened to be the son of President Lincoln?s Secretary of State. As a result, up until Grant sent them off to do battle in May of 1864, they whiled away the war building and manning such forts as Fort Foote, and holding dress parades for visiting dignitaries, just outside of Washington, D.C. For nearly a year-- until she contracted typhoid fever and was sent home to Alton-- Nancy joined her husband there, outside of Washington, where they lived in a tent and got up a thriving business baking and selling pies to the troops. The rest of the war, Nancy was at home, apparently with her parents, and she and Charles corresponded in brief, laconic, and highly colloquial letters about births, deaths, droughts, deluges, marriages, philandering, hangings, miscarriages, prices, Christmas dinners, battles, tragedies involving firearms going off when they weren?t supposed to, deserters, the agonizing wait for letters, and especially peach harvests. Lyons, eleven miles south of Alton, is mentioned several times as the place to go shopping, to visit some friends, to catch the train to Washington, D.C., and to get the accordion fixed. Lisa has padded out the correspondence with general Civil War history and excerpts from other books about Charles? regiment, especially Alfred Seelye Roe?s THE NINTH NEW YORK HEAVY ARTILLERY (1899), which contained the gem about William Seward?s horse, after the battle at Monocacy, Md. (July 1864), which ?lay on the field with a wound in the neck, apparently dead, but shortly after recovering from the shock, followed the troops, overtook the retreating orderly?who seeing the blood streaming from the poor animal?s neck, staunched its flow with the contents of his tobacco pouch, and took him to Washington, where his wound was properly cared for.? The horse continued in Seward?s service. (Roe pp 406-408; Saunders, p. 113.) This book is wonderful, I think, as a private?s point of view of the war as well as a view of rural mid-nineteenth century life, language, and even pronunciation, as in ?purty,? ?hafto,? ?I druther,? and a few words which apparently stumped Lisa as much as me, such as ?cufy,? as in ?Jim Sofa is riding around here as big as cufy.? (p. 121). My mother used to use ?skunk? as a verb to describe someone beating someone else at a game, but to see it in print, as in Nancy?s description of the Republicans having skunked the Democrats/Copperheads in the 1864 election, was a first for me. Anyway, I thought this was a remarkable bit of folk history, and well worth reading. Copies of Lisa?s self-published edition of EVER TRUE are on sale at the Wayne County Museum; and Heritage Books will be re-printing it shortly.

Annual membership in the Lyons Heritage Society is $10 per individual, $15 per household, or $100 per corporation; just send check to Lyons Heritage Society, P.O. Box 150, Lyons, NY 14489.

 

Information deleted from EVER TRUE in final editing:

*Prison notes from the diary of Norman G. York:
July 9. On skirmish line. Retreated till next morning. Got over ten miles on the 10th Captured on the 11th.
July 13. I am sick, but the guards use me very well.
July 14. Cross the Potomac
July 16. Long March, 25 miles; camp at 4 P.M.; then 12 miles further in the night.
July 18. March 14 miles to Winchester.
July 20. Through Newtown to Strasburg, and through that also.
July 22. To Mt. Jackson;23d, through Newmarket;24th, marched 18 miles.
July 25. To Staunton, 10 A.M., cars to Charlottesville. Stay all night.
July 26. Reach Lynchburg at 1 P.M.
July 28. Leave Lynchburg at sunrise and reach Danville the next morning.
July 31. Rations at 10 A.M., very short; rebels look half starved.
Aug 2. A new batch of prisoners came in. Bread and bacon at 9 A.M.; soup at 3 P.M.
Aug 13. Anniversary of enlistment;17th, John Perkins went to the hospital, quick consumption.
Aug 18. John Perkins died to-day.
Aug. 29. I bet E.P. Dunning the oysters that we would not be out of here in six weeks.
Aug.30. More sick and wounded sent North. Sept. 3d, fresh beef served
Sept. 15. With Fred. Stell swept the prison floor. Sold my boots for $25 (Confederate) and 14 onions, worth six dollars more. Bought a pair of shoes for $8.
Sept. 24. Relay of prisoners comes in from No.6;28th,bought 24 onions for $6.
Oct. 3. Finished reading the New Testament since I have been in the prison.
Oct.14. Again the sick are sent North. Levi Riggs went out to the barber.
Oct.24. Gave $6 for peck of sweet potatoes;26th Dewitt Havens died at the hospital.
Oct. 29. Bought some more potatoes. More prisoners came in from Lynchburg.
Nov. 1. Passed a bad night;2-4, feeling badly. Riggs sent in extra food.
Nov. 14. Got letter from Wm. York dated Aug.29, and one from father of same date.
Nov. 16. Hiram Peck went to the hospItal;17th, came to the hospItal;25th, suffering from diarrhea.
Nov. 27. My illness is worse this morning; had a very poor night, last night.
"This was the last entry, though he survived till Christmas day, when he passed over to the majority. Years afterward, it was my privilege to call on Mrs. Charles H. Covell of Rose, N.Y., who was the baby, Lillian, never seen with mortal eyes by her father, and to tell her of the absorbing love that imprisoned parent had for his child. Herself a mother, she was able to appreciate, in part, how his heart was filled with regard for his little one.-A.S.R. (Roe 348-349

 

POSSIBLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS:

How did you become a writer?
How did you become involved with this project?
Who were the writers of the letters?
How is it that you have so many pictures of the writers?
Do you have any other artifacts?
How many letters were there?
What kind of condition were the letters in?
Were there any words you didn't recognize?
I understand Charles was a Canadian, why did he enlist?
What regiment was Charles McDowell in?
Where did you do your research?
Where did you do all your writing?
Can people who know little of the Civil War understand what's going on in your book?
What kind of editing did you do?
What was Nancy McDowell's role in the war?
Other than battles, what other events can people expect to read?
Did Charles meet Lincoln? What was his impression of him?
Do you have a favorite letter?
Are there any battles that left an impression on you?
What did Nancy and Charles feel about the war and what did they think of the South?
Do you know what your great-great grandparents were like after the war?
You put recipes in the back. Tell me about those.
How did you find a publisher?
What are you working on now?
If people want to know more about your work, or how to research their ancestors, how can they can in touch with you?
Where can people get a copy of EVER TRUE?

 

Actual Interview with my responses:

Q. How is your book different than other books using letters?

A. I have been told that the letters in EVER TRUE are unique because they represent the intimate details of one entire family?s participation and feelings about the war. The fact that Nancy ran a pie business with her husband in Washington and that Charles was a Canadian makes their story a little different. "America's Civil War" Magazine states that EVER TRUE is "unusual in that in addition to the letters [Private McDowell] wrote, those to him from his wife and other relatives are all included. Saunders also provides editorial comment about current events and the history of the regiment." (America's Civil War, p. 58, September 2004

Private Charles McDowell has been quoted in:

American Civil War Fortifications (2)
Land and Field Fortifications
(Fortress 38)

Author: Ron Field
Illustrator: Peter Dennis

Here is a 15 minute sample of my script based on EVER TRUE:

Author?s Note Cast:

The play EVER TRUE debuted on October 16th of 2004 in Nelson Page?s elegantly restored Lafayette Theater in Suffern, NY, starring Dick Avazian, Ken Columba, Meg LaDuca, Bob Henebry and Julie Thiry. Musical accompaniment by members of Heavy Traffic.

 

 

 

Private Charles McDowell: Born in Ontario, Canada in 1837. Came to upstate New York around 1858. Married Nancy Wager when she was just 15 on Christmas Eve of 1860. Charles was 25 when he enlisted in the Union Army in 1862.

 

Mrs. Nancy Wager McDowell: She was 17 when Charles enlisted in the Union Army.

She returned to the home of her parents in upstate New York to wait out the war. She lived with Charles in Washington for nearly a year while he was stationed there.

 

Narrator: Provides background information throughout the letter readings.

 

 

 

Author?s directions: No memorization is required. The letters are to be read by the character who wrote them. They are to be read aloud while the character pretends to write the letter or as if they had just written it. The recipient of the letter should listen actively, possibly while appearing to read the letter, or as if they are hearing it from a far and unreachable place. This play takes an hour to perform. You are welcome to shorten it to fit your circumstances (you may want to take out the objectionable material for younger audiences). If you have more actors than parts, the role of the narrator can be divided. The setting, props, and all stage directions are optional. The letters can simply be read back and forth in the simplest of settings, or you may want to try some of the following suggestions:

 

 

Setting

 

Nancy sits at a table cloth covered desk with a battery operated candle, feather pen, ink well, and photo in stand. Charles sits on stool or log with a feather pen in his hand and an ink well nearby. Their backs are towards each other except for the time Nancy lives in Washington. Charles takes occasional sips from a tin cup while Nancy may pour herself cups of tea. (You will find battery operated candles, long feathers for pens, and bottles looking like inkwells in craft stores or in history museum gift shops). Soft Civil War era music creates a mood in the background while the letters are being read. If you don?t have live music, I found that rearranging the soundtrack to the Ken Burn?s Civil War series works very well. Note: Audiences over fifty five have difficulty hearing the words read over the music. If the audience is very hard of hearing, I recommend only playing the music before and after the show.

 

 

 

Narrator: It is 1862 and war fervor is high. It has been over a year since the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter and the North has learned from Battles such as Bull Run that the South will be tough to beat. President Lincoln asks for an additional 300,000 men to serve for three years. The call to arms is sounded.

When the son of Secretary of State Seward, of ?Seward?s Alaskan Folly,? organizes the New York 9th Heavy Artillery in the summer of 1862, Charles enlists?despite his father?s frantic pleas to stay out of the war. After learning the basics of a soldier?s life in Auburn, NY, he is roused at 4:00 a.m. on September 12th, 1862. Leaving his seventeen-year-old wife Nancy with her parents, Charles McDowell begins the greatest adventure of his life as a Private in the Union Army.

 

Charles:

September the 13th, 1862

Dear Wife,

We started from Auburn Friday morning at eight o' clock and we was in New York Saturday morning at 6 o clock. We was met with great cheers all the way along. We are stationed right near Broadway and it?s the liveliest place I ever see. They have the most ways for making money you ever see. They drawed us through the City with horses. Four horses to two cars and we had twenty-two passengers besides some freight cars.

This is a beautiful place. We had two girls come and dance for us today. They both danced and played on accordion all at once. The nicest I ever saw.

I want you to write and let me know when you started for home. I looked for you all the next day. I didn?t know whether you had gone or not, but it was the lonesomest day I ever saw. I hope I will never feel so again.

Our guns has just come and I think we will start right off.

Your ever true and affectionate husband, Charles McDowell

Narrator: The excitement of sightseeing in Washington and watching the construction on the Capitol building dims for Charles, when day after day, he receives no letter from Nancy.

 

Charles: (Holds up pen then pretends to write)

October the 10th, 1862

Dear Wife,

I have just found a pen. Sometimes we have a dozen pens and sometimes we ain?t one. But something seems curious that I don?t get a letter from you. I begin to think that you have forgotten me already. You know what you said before we parted and I know your word to be good. Most all the boys has got a good many letters and they say you have forgotten me. But you know I don?t believe that.

 

Nancy:

October the 14th, 1862

Dear Charly,

I went clear to Alton last night to get a letter from you, but I didn?t get one. If I don?t get one tomorrow night, I don?t know what I shall do. The other boys writes home that they don?t have enough to eat and that they sleeps cold.

October the 15th

Dear Charly,

Your letter has come at last. You said that you thought I had forgot you, but I never will forget you, the longest that I live. I have written a great many times, and I am not to blame if you do not get them.

Old Courtright done well when he got married. His wife come to him the other day, and she was so drunk that she fell down behind the stove. She laid there a long time.

They have got the story around that Hank Converse?s wife slept with Burt a week or two at Auburn.

 

 

Charles:

Oct the 17th, 1862

I now take another opportunity to write a few more lines. But if it don?t do any more good then the rest that I wrote, then it won?t do much now.

If I thought that you had got my letters and had not written to me, I wouldn?t never put my hand to a pen to write to you again.

Well I don?t know that there is any use of writing any more.

 

Narrator: Charles finally receives Nancy?s letters. He responds to her with tales of fort life, and hints at the scandalous behavior of his comrades. During this time, the New York Ninth builds forts and roads, and marches in dress parades for President Lincoln, Lieutenant Colonel Seward?s father, the Secretary of State, and other important spectators.

Despite their grand life, the men feel cheated they are missing out on the glory of battle. The folks in upstate New York complain that the Ninth isn?t doing anything?they are mocked as the ?white-gloved? regiment.

But sanitary conditions are extremely poor. Charles contracts the deadly typhoid fever. Nancy sends him several home remedies, such as peppermint oil, but warns that taking too much of it will give him the piles, that is: hemorrhoids.

 

Charles:

Nov the 19th, 1862

Dear Nancy,

I am gaining pretty fast. I think I shall soon be able to do duty.

We have Seward down here about every other day, and sometimes he fetches Old Abe with him. He looks about like any old farmer.

Goodbye Nancy. I often think of you.

I remain your ever true and affectionate husband.

 

 

Nancy:

November the 20th, 1862

Dear Charly,

The regiment left Auburn last night. There was about twelve of the men refused to go. But after a while, they all consented to go, but two of them. They swore that they would not go, and they took their knives out and was a-going to kill their Captain and he shot them dead on the spot.

I am very lonesome here today. If you was here, I wouldn?t be so lonesome. I don?t like sleeping alone--I kick around like everything. I wished you was here to help fill up the bed.

From your true and affectionate wife

 

Charles:

Nov the 28th, 1862

Nat I thought I would write a few more lines before I went to bed.

They say that Burnside sent a dispatch this afternoon to Lincoln, and wanted to know if he should burn Richmond. I think he is a-going to do something.

There is a considerable many of the boys sick, but I never felt better than I do tonight. But I ain?t very strong. These doctors don?t know nothing. One of them is under arrest. If I had took all the medicine that they gave me, I think I would have been dead now. I had a double handful of quinine powders, but all I took was three or four. I got boneset tea and one thing or other. I tell you I believe in doctoring myself.

I could write you a good deal about some of the boys, but then it?s against our rules. Well not my rules, but theirs, because I ain?t a-going to do anything that I am ashamed to have them write about. I will tell you when I come home.

Goodbye Nat. How I would like to see you, but keep good courage.

 

Nancy:

November the 30th, 1862

Dear Charly,

They are having a terrible time about Burt and Old Miss Converse. They say that Burt told his wife about it. They say that when Miss Converse was to Auburn, she went and called for a room, and then sent for Burt. Burt's wife says that she wished she knew what Burt had done before she went to see him. She would not have gone a-near him. But I don't think that Burt was so much to blame as his wife. She is getting to be awful mean. Hardly any body will speak to her any more.

We have killed the fat cow and hung it up. I wished you was here to help eat it.

From your ever true and affectionate wife.

 

Charles:

Dec the 14th, 1862

I should like to get a hold of a piece of that beef you killed. I would hang on and growl, but then what is the use of talking beef.

Old Abe and Seward was here tonight and said that there was five thousand of our men killed and wounded yesterday, just the other side of Fredericksburg. He says they are fighting today awful. They was carrying off the dead and wounded all last night.

I should like to be there with you to spend Christmas and New Years, but I am afraid I shant. Little did I think last Christmas that I would be a way off here, venturing my life for the country.

I must go to roll call now.

Nancy:

January, Sunday the 25th, 1863

Dear Husband,

I am here alone? all but the cats. All the folks has gone to meeting, and I don?t like to go, so I have to stay home alone.

I wish that I could come out there and stay as long as you have to stay. That would be just what I should like, to be with you, for I don?t take any comfort in the way that we live now.

 

(Nancy and Charles turn in their chairs towards each other.)

Narrator:

The regiment is allowed a certain number of wives to move in with their husbands while stationed in Washington. Charles begs Nancy to come. She does come, and writes to her mother:

 

Nancy:

March the 8th, 1863

Dear Mother

We had got fixed up quite well. We live in a cloth tent not quite as large as your kitchen. We have got a bed, a stove, and a cupboard made out of a box. We have got a big stool that two can sit up to the table with. I have got a wash dish and kettle, and a water pail, and we have got four tin cups, two knives and forks. We have got two tin plates, two iron spoons and a candlestick. We have got a bottle of pepper sauce. I have got Billy Wager?s teapot. It is the funniest little thing. It has got the spout on the side.

Charly can draw rations for me so it won?t cost anything for me to stay down here.

From Nancy McDowell

Narrator: Charles?s regiment is ordered south of Washington to build the largest of Lincoln?s forts on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. Fort Foote will be mounted with heavy sea guns to guard the water?s approach to the Capitol. Nancy determines to make some money.

 

Charles:

November the 6th, 1863

Fort Foote

Dear Father,

I have neglected writing for some time, but to tell you the truth, I haven?t got much time. I am detailed to work on the barracks. And nights, I heft to help Nancy peel apples. Nancy is in the pie business pretty strong. She has a woman to help her a good deal of the time. She pays her three shillings a day. We sell about seventy pies a day and after payday, we could sell three times that many, if we had them.

There was part of a Russian fleet went past here the other day. There was a monitor went down the river day before yesterday

I have traded my old watch off for a revolver and Nancy is practicing on it. She is getting to be quite a marksman.

 

Narrator: President Lincoln visits Fort Foote to watch a firing demonstration from the large cannons overlooking the Potomac. Charles?s regiment entertains him with champagne and oysters. As impressive as Fort Foote is, however, it is in an area so unhealthy it becomes known as the ?Graveyard of the Potomac.? At any one time, half of the regiment is sick with malaria or typhoid fever. Nancy?s mother reminds Charles and Nancy that they are closer to danger there than in New York, and urges them to get some religion. Nancy does indeed face death when she contracts the dreaded typhoid fever. She is rushed home to the care of her mother.

 

Charles:

I stay in the house nights but I don?t bake anymore pies. It?s too lonesome for me. You say you are lonesome. If you feel any lonesomer than I do, you must feel pretty lonesome.

 

Nancy:

You can?t begin to think what the folks told about me when I come home. They say that I got rid of a young one, and they said that I had the small pox, and they said that I had the bad disorder. I think it is ridiculous to be talked about in that way, but I will have to stand it. But if all of them behaves themselves as well as I did, I think they will do well enough.

 

Charles:

March the 20th, 1864

Dear Wife,

The other day there was a dead man floated up ashore. He had been in a little skiff and had undertaken to run by the patrol boat. They hollowed to him to stop and they shot at the bow of the boat. They thought that would scare him so that he would stop. But he did not stop, so they took one of their mini rifles and shot him right through the head. He tumbled out of the boat and the tide washed him up a shore.

I have got me a nice little silver. I don?t know whether to send my big revolver home or not. I also bought me a nice accordion.

Write soon because I always feel anxious to hear from you. Goodbye my dearest Nancy.

 

Nancy:

April the 22nd, 1864

That was purty mean for that man to get shot. The poor man wanted to go home. I suppose that he was a soldier.

You said that you had you a nice little silver and was a notion to send it to me, but you didn?t tell what it was. Ma reckoned it must be a little woman or else you would told what.

 

Narrator: Nancy will never return to Washington. In the spring of 1864, The Ninth leaves the relative comfort of the Washington forts to join the Army of the Potomac as a member of General Grant?s Sixth Corps. Grant?s goal is to capture Richmond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles:

May the 19th, 1864

We are at Bell Plane Landing, ten miles from Fredericksburg. There is 10,000 Rebel prisoners here and there is more coming all the time, but if you would see the wounded come in here, you would think our army would be used up in a short time. But there is a regiment after regiment coming in here going to Grant.

There is a hill where we have pitched our tents. You can sit here and see nothing but wagon trains and soldiers for miles around. We expect to start tonight or in the morning. We are waiting for the trains to be loaded.

These rebel prisoners are tough looking fellows and they look healthy. They ain?t dressed as well as our soldiers but they are as hearty and well as any of us. I have talked with some of them. They think it will take some time to whip them yet, and I think so too. Did that accordion come through all right? Do you like it?

We have just got orders to strike our tents and leave. We are going to chase Old Lee.

 

Nancy:

May the 25th, 1864

Dearest Husband,

I now sit down to answer your letter that I received tonight. I was very glad to hear from you but was very sorry to hear that you was going into battle. I live in hopes that you will come off unharmed. But the Lord only knows.

I hope that there hasn?t been any ball made to kill you yet.

Narrator: The Army of the Potomac marches to a cross roads known as Old Cold Harbor. Charles?s regiment will finally have their chance at glory.

The next year for Nancy is fraught with relentless worry over the danger Charles is in. He writes home about the battles of Cold Harbor, Jerusalem Plank Road, Monocacy, Winchester, Cedar Creek, the Siege of Petersburg, an attack by Mosby's Men, and the Shenandoah Valley and Appomatox Campaigns. In other letters, Nancy reads of desertions, hangings, amputations, and even theft and murder among Union troops.

Nancy worries Charles will get too close to the Southern women while he occupies their homes. She longs for him to return to her--even if it is just for a short furlough. She writes that she would rather be dead than continue to live the way they are. The final years of Nancy?s life are spent rocking in her chair looking out the window. Perhaps she was awaiting her death, so Charles could come for her once more?

###

(Narrator/Host of Event may want to continue):

To learn more about Nancy and Charles and their journey through the Civil War, their great great granddaughter has compiled their collection of 150 letters into her book: EVER TRUE: A Union Private and His Wife. EVER TRUE also includes background information, vintage photos, and era recipes. Contact the publisher Heritage Books for information at 1-800-876-6103 or the author through www.authorlisasaunders.com. You have just heard a small portion of the play based on EVER TRUE. If you would like to perform the entire ?Reader?s Theater? for your school, local theater or historical society, contact the publisher, Heritage Books.

 

 

* (The Clyde Times, Volume XII, Number 19, Wednesday, September 18th, 1861 Clyde, New York)

**Author?s Note: The July the 18th, 1864 letter of Charles is actually a combination of letters dated July the 18th, August the 10th and September the 12th of 1864. Similar combinations are done in other letters.

*** (Roe, Alfred Seelye, The Ninth New York Heavy Artillery, Worcester, MA, 1899, p. 136)

 

If a reception is to follow the performance, apple pie and/or donuts and fresh lemonade would be in keeping with the story. You may wish to try some of the recipes from Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife. An idea for a fundraiser would be to sell copies of Ever True signed by the actors.

 

THE NEW YORK NINTH HEAVY ARTILLERY TIMELINE

Also knows as "Seward's Pets"

Member of the 3rd Division 2nd Brigade of the 6th Corps

 

Sept 1862-Aug 1863 Stationed near Washington DC
Aug 1863-May 1864 Built Fort Foote (located south of DC along the Potomac River)
May 18, 1864 Joined the Army of the Potomac
May through June Rapidan Campaign (Virginia)
May 26 North Anna River
May 26-28 On line of the Pamunky River
May 28-31 Totopotomoy Creek
June 1-12 Cold Harbor
June 18-19 Before Petersburg
June 18-July 6 Siege of Petersburg
June 22-23 Jerusalem Plank Road, Weldon Railroad
July 6-8 Move to Baltimore
July 9 Battle of Monocacy (Maryland)
August 7 - November 28 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
August 21-22 Near Charlestown [Charles was in DC]
August 29 Charlestown [Charles was in DC]
September 19 Battle of Winchester
September 22 Fisher's Hill
October 19 Battle of Cedar Creek
Through December, duty at Kernstown
December 3 Moved to Washington, DC, then to Petersburg
Dec 1864-April 1865 Siege of Petersburg
March 25, 1865 Fort Fisher
March 28-April 9 Appomattox Campaign
April 2 Assault and fall of Petersburg
April 5 Amelia Springs
April 6 Sailor's Creek
April 9 Appomattox Court House, Surrender of Lee and his Army
April 17-27 Expedition to Danville
Until June, duty at Danville and Richmond
June 8 Corps Review

Regiment losses:

10 Officers and
204 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded
247 Enlisted men died by disease.
461 Total

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

 

 

Catton, Bruce, The Civil War, New York: American Heritage Press, 1960

Clark, Lewis H., The County in the Civil War, New York: Clark, Hulett, Gaylord 1883

 

Cooling and Owen, Mr. Lincoln?s Forts, Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Press, 1988

 

The Civil War Archive Union Regimental Index New York: Regimental histories from A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion by Frederick H. Dyer.

 

Roe, Alfred Seelye, The Ninth New York Heavy Artillery, Worcester, MA, 1899

 

Saunders, Lisa. Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife, Bowie, MD, Heritage Books, 2004

 

Ward, Geoffrey, Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken. The Civil War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1990

 

(The Clyde Times, Volume XII, Number 19, Wednesday, September 18th, 1861 Clyde, New York)

 

 

INDEX

 



138th Regiment New York Infantry, 3,5,8,20,28,168
6th Army Corps, xii,78,80,93,115,131,147
90th NY Artillery, xv,xvi,2
9th NY Heavy Artillery, v,12,28,35,49,51,66,77,78,86,92,

115,145, 146,150,152,155,161,168,169
Alton, NY,11,78,82,147,151,155,159-161
Appomattox, xii, 145
Army of the Potomac, ix,xii,18,38,58,72,73,77
Auburn, NY, 3,4,6,9,14,23,37,59,95,135,163,166-170,177,181
Battle of Antietem, 5,6
Battle of Cedar Creek, xii, 115
Battle of Cold Harbor, iii,ix,xii,xvi,63,72,78,79,81,83,94,159,168
Battle of Fisher's Hill, xii, 107,108
Battle of Jerusalem Plank Rd., Weldon RR iii,xii,72,86
Battle of Monocacy, iii,xii,xiii,xvi,36,79,92,94,95,98,99,107,114,

131,141,168,169
Battle of Sailor's Creek, xii, 145
Battle of the Wilderness, 73
Battle of Winchester, xii,107-110,112,115,120
Brooks, Margaret, xiii,22,34,40-42,47,48,132,157
Burnside, Gen., 8,24,29,31,38,69,86
Burt, Bill, v,xiii,8,9,25,80,82,93,97,98,115,121,134,135,156,171
Camp Chase, 5,7
Camp Halleck, 3
Canada, vii,viii,xiii,1,22,34,40,41-43,45,47,48,54,98,100,117,123,

131,137, 140,143,144,157,161
Canfield, Eben, xiii,26,29,30
Cary, Joe and Miss, xiii,70,75,88,92,97,100,101,105,109,119,121-123,126,137,141, 146,147,151
Danville, VA, xii, 36,148,149,152
Desertion (N and S), 127-129,133,136,139
Fort Baker, 72
Fort Barnard, 29
Fort Bunker Hill, 6,7,8
Fort Fisher, VA, xii, 144
Fort Foote, iii,v,xii,50-53,55,56,59,61-70,72,131,161,171
Fort Gaines, 102
Fort Hill Cemetary, 166
Fort Kearny, 8
Fort Mansfield, 13,102
Fort Reno, 35,93,96,97,99,100,152
Fort Simmons, 99,102
Fort Stevens, 98,99
Fort Summer, 102
Fort Thayer, 48
Fredericksburg, 26,27,29,31,35,75,83,87
Grant, Gen.Ulysses S., ix,58,72-74,76,77,81,82,104,108,114,147
Guerrilla warfare, 113
Harpers Ferry, 8,25,96,107,108,112
Hooker, Gen. Joe, 38,48
Lape, Sam, xiii,11,16,26,32,35,68,80,84,87,90,92,117,118,140
Lee, Gen. Robert E.,iii,v,xii,5,18,48,72,73,77,81,82,92,127,129,

130,145,146,148,155,168,
Lincoln, Pres. Abraham, iii,vii,viii,ix,1,3,8,12,18,20,21,24,

25,27,28,31,48,53,58,70,81,95,103,104,106,115,129,147-149,160,161,163,165,168,181
Lyons, NY, 2,3,26,32,37,42,50,57,62,71,74,78,98,121,

123,140,142,143,144,156,160,174,181
McClellan, Gen., 5,9,18,106
McDowell, David , v,x,xi,xiv,xv,1,2,6,10,12,15,17,18,25,30,

33,41,42,45,48,51,57,64,140,156,159
McDowell, John and Henrietta, iii,xiv,1,10,30,45
McDowell, William, iii,xiv,54,140,141,149
Meade, Gen. George, 48,72
Perkins, John, xiii,6,31,35,36,84,90,98,104,114,119,149
Petersburg, VA, iii,xii,82-84,86,89,90,94,99,102,104,114,120,122-124,127,129,133,135,136,138,139,143,145,146,148-150,156
Richmond, xii,24,26,66,72,76,77,80,82,84,89,114,131,138,146,148-150,152
Seward (any family member), iii,v,viii,x,xi,xv,3,7,8,12,20,21,27,28,

32,51,52,53,59,69,77,80,81,94,95,103,147,163-170,177
Sheridan, Gen., iii,107,108,109,113,115,128
Sherman, Gen., 72,79,103,115,125,127,139,148
Typhoid Fever, iii,x,xv,2,15,55,56,161,166
Wager, Almira, v,xi,xv,9,12,16,47,49,50,56,58,

59,62,110,116,159,175
Wager, John, xv,2,88
Wager, Stephen , v,xvi,2,17,23,33,63,64,78,81,82,85,87,92,97,

110,111,119,132,133,139,144,151,159

 

Washington DC, iii,vii,viii,ix,x,xii,3-9,13,15,21,25,29,31,32,35,37-40,42-44,46,48,49,51-53,58,59,63,66,69,70-72,74,75,

77, 80,85,92-95,97,98,102, 103,107,108,115,120,130,147,

148,152,153,156,157,161,163,166,168,178,184
York, Norman, xvi,46,50,55,56,78,79,95,97,99,114,

123,132,133,137,140-143,147,149

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q. Any lessons learned that you could share with others who are tempted to make a book out of period letters?

A. First, photocopy the originals then put them away so you don?t have to handle them again.

 

If the letter writers aren?t famous, correct spelling and add capitols and periods while you type?or you will only have to go back and do it later.

 

Be very careful about adding historical comments from other authors (unless you are Civil War expert). I was surprised how many historians disagree with each other on what really happened in a battle. One author wrote that Grant refused to call a truce during the Battle of Cold Harbor because he didn?t want to appear weak. Yet Charles said in a letter they called a truce twice during that battle so they could bury their dead. I chose to focus on what Charles said since he was there and this was his story (right or wrong). After his first experience with captured Confederates in May of 1864, he decided that they were eating much better than he was led to believe. He said their haversacks had hoecakes and whiskey and that he liked their hoecakes much better than his hardtack! He also wrote that Union soldiers were shooting their own wounded on the battlefield to steal their money. I have yet to read that in history books.

 

Have as many historians read your transcribed letters, or photocopied originals as possible before publication. They love reading original work and are very happy to point out areas where they believe you have misinterpreted words in a letter. Several historians (who I found working at libraries, historical societies and museums) provided me with excellent free advice.

 

Always save your work on a separate disk. A computer crashed and I lost several hours of valuable work. Ever since I have saved every change on a disk and keep that disk in my purse. I?ve heard that before Grant had his memoirs published, his house burned --along with his manuscript. That always scared me?and it should you too!

Another problem I ran into was assuming an old photo was properly idendified by my ancestor. Women's roles at Seward House - Women's roles at Seward House, Visitors learn about Civil War life from author Lisa Saunders at the 2003 Seward House garden party. ...
//www.fltimes.com/ftp/vacation04/page85/womens.html

"My recently published book, EVER TRUE: A Union Private and His Wife (based on my collection of 150 letters), uses as its cover photo a picture I found among my ancestor's papers. It is of soldiers in front of a tent with an X marked above a head and on the back it said Charles McDowell. Served 1862-1865. It wasn't his handwriting but I figured, probably rightly, that a descendent wrote that. I assumed it was the New York 9th Heavy Artillery because during those dates mentioned he served with them (it was first called the 138th Infantry but was later changed to the 9th Heavy). I loved the photo and suggested to the publisher we use it on the cover since it conveyed the feeling of the letters and was a much clearer picture of Charles than the one that was printed in Alfred Seely'e Roe's Ninth New York Heavy Artillery regimental history book. Although Charles looks different in photos taken with beard and clean shaven, I figured this really must be Charles because he has one eye brow higher than the other--a characteristic common in all photos of him--now matter how old he was.

Well, a month or so ago I got an email from a woman who swore the cover of my book featured a Confederate Regiment. I wrote back that that was impossible as he was a Union soldier. She then insisted that the uniform was too grey to be
Union and there was a little black boy in the photo--probably a slave belonging to one of the soldiers.

I replied that Charles often mentioned Negroes working in the fort so there was nothing odd about that. I told her perhaps the photo had faded over time. She insisted that was impossible as photos in that era were great at keeping their clarity (because of some chemical they used).

Now, I began to panic. What if that really was a Confederate photo on my book about a Union soldier! My publisher and I would be thoroughly humiliated (although the cover photo is never listed as one taken of the 9th). What if one of my ancestors just assumed it was Charles in the photo (because of that eyebrow distinction). What if Charles just stole that photo from a Confederate? I contacted the
New York State Military Museum and West Point, trying to track down a uniform expert. I also emailed the photo to an FBI agent friend of mine to see if he could prove that photo was of Charles (based on a photo of Charles I had when he was much older). Anyway, Michael McAfee from West Point told me that was a photo of the New York State 7th Militia. There was a series of 7th Militia published in a book (he mailed me copies of the pictures). Although it could be Charles before he enlisted in the 9th, he also could have purchased the photo. He told me many families assume photos like that include their relatives. He also said the National Archives has many early Union regimental photos identified as Confederate because of the light uniforms. Union uniforms at the beginning of the war, especially from New York, were grey and it wasn't until later that the navy blue was made standard. I checked Militia records and cannot prove Charles was a member of the 7th New York State Militia. So, for the next addition of the book, I will state that the cover photo is actually the 7th and then on the new title page we will include the blurry picture of Charles in uniform from the regimental history book.

I was just relieved it wasn't a Confederate photo on my book's cover! Next time I identify photo, I plan to check with experts first!

 

 

 

 

I started reading yesterday and could not put it down. It is so interesting to have a look at the Civil War through the eyes of those that lived it, and Saunders' historical notes are fascinating. It amazes me to think that those letters were waiting for her to find and bring back out to the light of day. I am eagerly looking forward to being able to read more later today! You really got a sense of Charles and Nancy as people, as a married couple discussing money, neighbors, and work (the farm, picket duty) just like contemporary couples. The letter format makes it very quick and easy to read. The first person points of view, and the contrasting views of the home front and the war, make it really interesting. Nancy came across as a bit of a shrew, but still fascinating.

 

 

 

 

"EVER TRUE: A Union Private and His Wife"
(Article and photograph of Charles and Nancy McDowell may be seen on www.authorlisasaunders.com)
by
Lisa Saunders This true story of a soldier and his wife came to light the day I came upon their letters. I carefully unfolded the stiff yellowed paper, incredulous that I was actually touching a letter written during the American Civil War. It was one of the 150 written between my great great grandparents that I had discovered in a small wooden box in my mother's attic in Suffern, New York. The note I held in my hand, authored by Private Charles McDowell to his wife Nancy, was written on a small, plain piece of stationary--not at all fancy like some of the others in the batch which bore sketches of the White House and battle engagements. I gently smoothed it flat on the table, afraid I would tear it. The handwriting was strange, the ink somewhat faded, making it difficult to read. And then suddenly I came upon a word I recognized in an instant--Abe! It read, "We have [Secretary of State] Seward down here about every other day, and sometimes he fetches Old Abe with him and [he] looks about like any old farmer." I couldn't believe it. Charles met Lincoln!

In addition to the letters was Nancy's obituary, which reads: "MRS. MCDOWELL IS DEAD - SHOOK HANDS WITH LINCOLN. With the death of Mrs. Nancy Wager McDowell...the town of Sodus probably loses the distinction of having a resident who could boast of having shaken hands and talked with the martyred Lincoln? Mr. McDowell was a member of the Ninth New York Heavy Artillery in the Union Army and it was while stationed near Washington that his wife had an opportunity to speak with the President. Mrs. McDowell passed nearly a year in that vicinity and many were the pies she baked for the soldiers stationed at the capital. Typhoid Fever caused her to return to Alton to the home of her parents?" ("The Record," Sodus, Wayne County, N.Y. September 18, 1931)

I took the collection of letters home and began what was to become an exciting ten-year adventure. First I arranged the letters from Charles by date and began to read. Once I grew accustomed to his old-style handwriting and run-on sentences, I felt myself leaving the present and entering his past. I traveled back over 130 years and joined Charles in heart and mind. I felt his loneliness, his boredom, his fear. I laughed when he found a reason to laugh. He and his brother had enlisted despite his Canadian father's pleas to stay out of the war. As the months of his service turned into years, I hurt over his deep longing for his wife and home and for the life and family he left behind in Canada.

In other letters I was shocked to read of the desertions, hangings, amputations, prostitution, and even theft and murder among Union troops. Charles wrote home about the battles of Cold Harbor, Jerusalem Plank Road, Monocacy, Opequon (Winchester), Cedar Creek, the Siege of Petersburg, an attack by Mosby's Men, and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

As the letters drew to an end, I was completely immersed in Nancy's anxious thoughts about Charles's welfare. She hoped there hadn't been a "ball made to kill" him. She hoped he wouldn't get too close to the Southern women when he occupied their homes. She longed for him to return to her--even if it was just for a short furlough. She wrote that she would rather be dead than continue to live the way they were. I now pondered the final years of her life spent rocking in her chair looking out the window. Perhaps she was awaiting her death so Charles could come for her once more?

 

 

 

 

I knew the story of Nancy and Charles deserved to be known--they had sacrificed so much for this country. "Ever True" is the customary way people signed off on the letters. I chose Ever True as the title for my book because it also holds another meaning: it speaks of the love that was ever true between Charles and Nancy and of Charles's ever true sense of duty towards his new country despite war's infidelities, scandals, and ever-present threat of death. Charles asked Nancy to save his letters. As a result, we have this account of devotion, sacrifice, bravery, and the unrelenting worry of why a letter was so long in coming. Although the McDowells were an uneducated family, their words took me to another place and time, among a family who believed in doing their part to preserve the Union. To order EVER TRUE (ISBN: 0-7884-2526-9), contact Heritage Books at 1-800-876-6103, www.heritagebooks.com or visit www.amazon.com. To learn more about the New York 9th Heavy Artillery, EVER TRUE or how to research and write about your ancestors, please visit the author's website at www.authorlisasaunders.com. If you are a retailer or the editor of a newsletter/newspaper/magazine/website, please feel free to reprint the above article. Photos of Charles and Nancy may be taken from www.authorlisasaunders.com. COMING SOON: A thirty-minute script for a "Reader's Theater" using the Civil War letters from EVER TRUE. Contact the author at saundersbooks@aol.com to find out more.
Author's Bio: Lisa Saunders resides in New York's Historic Hudson Valley with her husband and two daughters. A Cornell University graduate, Lisa has published a children's novel, Ride a Horse, Not an Elevator, the Civil War book EVER TRUE: A Union Private and His Wife, several short stories, and has written a book about life with her second daughter Elizabeth, born with severe disabilities. A public speaker, she has appeared on radio and television and at several club functions. She is a member of the Society of Mayflower Descendants, Daughters of the American Revolution, Daughters of the Union Veterans of the Civil War and Society for Women and the Civil War. Her past speaking engagements have included Cornell University, Johns Hopkins, The Maryland Writer's Association, The William H. Seward House, Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Rockland County Civil War Round Table. She has also been interviewed on television and radio on the "Derek McGinty Show," "Street Talk" with Larry Ann Evans, "Generations Together" with Beverly Warren, "The Joy of Living" with Margo Haskins, and the "Christopher St. Lawrence Show."