Author Spotlight: Valgene Dunham
Book: Allegany to Appomattox: The Life and Letters of Private William Whitlock of the 188th New York Volunteers
Valgene Dunham is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the College of Science at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina. Dunham is the author and coauthor of numerous books and journal articles. His new Spring 2013 title Allegany to Appomattox comes out this month and is described by Author Rod Whitlock as “.. a meaningful and memorable contribution to the historical genre of Civil War letters literature.”
Allegany to Appomattox:
“On September 7, 1864, William Whitlock, age thirty-five, left his wife and four children in Allegany, New York, to join the union army in battle. More than 100 years later his unpublished letters to his wife were found in the attic of a family home. These letters serve as the foundation for Allegany to Appomattox, giving readers a vivid glimpse into the environment and political atmosphere that surrounded the Civil War from the perspective of a northern farmer and lumberman. Topics introduced by the letters are expanded to included similar experiences by soldiers in the Confederate armies.
Whitlock’s observations and experiences tell of the exhausting marches, limited rations, and grueling combat. In plainspoken language, the letters also reveal a desperate homesickness, consistently expressing concern for the family’s health and financial situation, and requesting news from home. Detailed descriptions of the war’s progress and specific battles provide a context for Whitlock’s letters, orienting readers to both the broad narrative of the Civil War and the intimate chronicle of one soldier’s impressions.”
What led to publishing:
“After my mother died, Viola Whitlock Dunham, members of the family were going through letters and pictures that my mother had saved. My sister, Vaughn Dunham Estep, asked me if I had seen our great, great grandfather’s letters to his wife during the Civil War. After seeing and reading the 40 letters, I talked with my cousin, Mark Whitney, Allegany, New York, who had found the letters. I then corresponded with and visited Bill Potter of the American History Guild, raised in Allegany as well, who had transcribed the original letters. This group of relatives and friends encouraged me to write a book based on the letters and to tell of the legacies that William Whitlock left for his descendants.
Although interested in military history, especially World War II after an earlier visit to most of the major battle fields in France and Belgium, my ancestor’s letters stimulated not only an interest in the Civil War but also in my family’s history. Therefore, Allegany to Appomattox is quite family oriented and presents William Whitlock as a family man, just like other farmers/lumbermen from both the Union and the Confederacy, who disappeared in the smoke and fire of the War of Rebellion.”
Types of research:
“As expected by an author who had never published outside the sciences, research for Allegany to Appomattox quickly gave me an appreciation for the wide range of sources available to the historian. In addition, the value of the internet to present day authors put me in awe of the historians of the past who had to visit libraries over a wide area of the country, often at their own expense. During the organization of topics to be included, genealogical research was added to the growing diversity of sources.”
Which letters to use:
“The book was originally intended to present a picture of William Whitlock and his family as to their relationships, faith, and concerns during and related to the Civil War. I wanted to tell the story based on the language used in the letters and a “travelogue” approach to what William saw in his travel to the front and in the battles in which he fought. A picture is presented of conditions the family had to face without husband and father. The book also presents a picture of the Confederate families in similar situations. Letters were chosen to express these interests and to present them in chronological order. Letters that were used extensively were included in the book and if not, were not included in the appendices.”
“Although people of the Union and Confederacy had different causes, individuals who made their living by working with their hands in agriculture and lumbering had similar desires; including love for family, love for God and a concern for their family’s health, financial well-being and education. Large numbers of individuals of both sides did not agree with the approach to secession and war. Although the literature is now 150 years old, simple quotes from soldiers such as “My chaplain isn’t worth a darn” can be investigated by searching for the chaplain’s name and his personal history to find out his motivations, resulting in a possible explanation for a poor job performance.”
Different from other books:
“This book was the first I have written outside of publications involving plant biochemistry and DNA replication.”
Lessons to be gained:
“Every family must have a “collector.” A person who is interested enough in family history to collect and maintain family letters and pictures.
Decisions made by individuals in time of crisis are difficult and result from numerous insights and experiences. To understand these decisions requires research that must include an analysis of love for family, for country and the influence of their faith.”
For more information on Dunham’s Allegany to Appomattox: The Life and Letters of Private William Whitlock of the 188th New York Volunteers, or to pre-order, visit the Syracuse University Press website.