Civil War Literature: No Signs of Retreat

By Hyman, Ann | The Florida Times Union, July 12, 1998 | Go to article overview

Civil War Literature: No Signs of Retreat


Hyman, Ann, The Florida Times Union


There is a moment when Scarlett O'Hara, lounging in the cool

shade of Tara's front porch with the firebrand Tarleton twins,

stamps her little foot and says, "Whaw, whaw, whaw, that's all

you boys talk about!" Or words to that effect. And, she tells

the twins if they say one more word about the whaw or the

county's new cavalry troop, she's going in the house and close

the door. For good.

It's a lost cause, Scarlett. Interest in the whaw, especially

where literature and its offspring are concerned, is high and

shows no sign of retreat.

Re-enactors from Europe come to Pennsylvania to re-create the

Battle of Gettysburg.

The film version of Gone With the Wind has been dusted off and

digitalized and is playing theaters again.

Jeff Harrah's The Last Full Measure, about the final years of

the Civil War, is just off the Jacksonville best-sellers list,

and may make a comeback. The same is true of Charles Frazier's

Cold Mountain, a superb novel the North Carolinian cobbled from

family stories.

Just what is it about the Civil War that, 133 years after Lee

surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, keeps us returning to it?

"I'm asked that question half a dozen times a day," said

Randall Floyd during a telephone conversation from Augusta, Ga.

People ask him the question because Floyd is the author of

Deep in the Heart (Harbor House, $24.95), a novel based on a

true story of the Civil War that follows the fortunes of a

Georgia farm boy who follows Robert E. Lee to Seven Pines,

Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness,

Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg.

The book is based on a collection of family letters between

Pvt. Wiley Nesmith and his bride. The story of the letters

themselves is intriguing.

Nesmith, a soldier with the 49th Georgia Infantry Regiment, did

not mail all of the letters he wrote to his young wife. Who is

to say why? What were his intentions for the letters? What he

did with them was to hide them in the wall of a Virginia

farmhouse when Lee surrendered, and Nesmith could finally turn

toward home.

The letters were in the wall for 120 years, until they were

discovered in 1980 by a new owner of the house who was doing

renovations.

The finder and a Civil War buff tracked the descendants of

Wiley Nesmith and returned the letters.

Nesmith's granddaughter, Ann Wildenradt, asked Floyd to write

the story.

The story of the letters hooked him.

It took a decade to write the book, 10 years of squeezing in

research between teaching duties at Georgia Southern University

and at Augusta State University and tending to other writing

commitments. Deep in the Heart is Floyd's seventh book, his

first novel.

The book has been well received.

The History Book Club has chosen it as a featured selection.

HarperCollins has spoken up for the paperback rights.

Floyd has become a popular speaker at book stores, historical

societies and, next month, he will talk at a Nesmith family

reunion.

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