Civil War of Words; American Civil War Research Has Unearthed Great Welsh Literature. Gareth Bicknell Reports Cymry Rhyfel Cartref America S4C,Tuesday 9pm

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Byline: Gareth Bicknell

WHEN US academic Jerry Hunter stumbled on letters written in Welsh by American Civil War soldiers he was understandably curious.

While the American Civil War is not a subject most people would associate with great Welsh literature,Dr Hunter found uncharted cultural territory that just had to be explored.

An academic who fell in love with Welsh while studying British literature at college in Cincinnatti,Dr Hunter now lectures in the language at the University of Bangor.

As a student,his fascination with Welsh was bound up with the medieval traditions of the Mabinogion and Dafydd ap Gwilym, but when he discovered the Celtic language in written form that was little more than a century old,itsparked an interest that became his life's work.

``I was only about 21,but it struck me as a bit weird when I saw these letters written by Welsh soldiers. It was like a clash between quintessentially Welsh literature and the American experience of the civil war,''he says.

The Civil War raged between 1861 and 1865, with theNorth fighting the South in a bitter struggle that cost over 600,000 lives.

Up to 9,000 of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting on both sides were either Welsh,or second and third generation settlers who still spoke the language of their parents and grandparents.

The motivation of the settlers to fight in the war was very often bound up with the qualities of the chapel-goingWelsh back home,he explains.

``Although the Welsh tended to be pacifists,many of them fought out of a desire to prove they were good American citizens.

``Also, theWelsh tended to see the war as a crusade against slavery, which may be because of the fact that they had been oppressed themselves, they wanted to see abolished.

``The Irish who fought for the North were more mixed in their desire to see the slaves freed because this was twenty years after the potato famine and they were poor often immigrants themselves, while the powers that be in England tended to support the Southern states because of their strong links with the cotton industry. …