Author details Civil War deaths

Published 10:29 pm Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Suffolk native will sign copies of his new book that examines unexpected tragedies that were just outside the battlefields of the Civil War.

“Inglorious Passages: Noncombat Deaths in The American Civil War” was written by Suffolk native Brian Wills and published by University Press of Kansas in November. The book signing will be held this Saturday at Riddick’s Folly, 510 N. Main St.

Wills is a professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of the Civil War Era at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. He has written several books about the Civil War, including “The War Hits Home: The Civil War in Southeastern Virginia.”

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It was during his prior research for books that he noticed many detailed accounts of noncombat deaths for both soldiers and civilians during the war, he said.

“I would sit down in a library and flip page after page to see if there was something that stood out, and almost always there was something,” he said.

Estimates indicate that of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers that died in the Civil War, roughly two-thirds were killed by disease, suicide, accidents, sunstroke, drowning and other noncombat causes, according to Wills.

“They went off to fight and didn’t come home, but it wasn’t because they charged into Gettysburg or some other battlefield death,” he said.

Diaries, letters and articles detail shocking stories, such as soldiers on horseback that drowned when bridges suddenly collapsed. One such Virginia Calvary soldier had only been serving for about a year, Wills said.

“I’m sure he crossed the same river many times, but on this occasion the current was high and swift,” he said. “He came home to visit his folks and didn’t make it across to the farm on the other side.”

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died from dysentery, typhoid and other diseases contracted in the squalor of sprawling camps. Some sick soldiers that returned home doomed their families as well, Wills said.

“More men died of disease in the Civil War than died of bullets,” he said.

In his book are victims of lightning strikes and friendly fire. Some killed themselves and others were caught in factory explosions.

In one of the more peculiar cases, a mortarman stationed on the Mississippi River had been walking with an open keg of gunpowder on his back and a cigar in his mouth, Wills said.

“If you can think of an accident, then somebody had it happen to them,” he said.

He wants readers to be stirred by the tragedies of these men, women and children.

“It’s poignant, heartbreaking at times and you have these unusual circumstances where you can’t help but think, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe they did that,” he said.

He also wants to highlight the soldiers and civilians that are sometimes overlooked in history books.

“We should remember and honor those that simply never came back,” he said.

The book signing will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Call 934-0822 for more information.