Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Journey back to the Civil War

“A major breakthrough in Civil War history.”
— Edwin C. Bearss, military historian and Civil War scholar

Have you ever wondered about what your ancestors did and why? If so, you will find inspiration in the story of D. Reid Ross and his journey into the past. He didn’t set out to write a book, but what he discovered compelled him to do so. Since childhood, he had heard about his grandfather fighting in the Civil War, being captured and imprisoned in Andersonville. He wanted to know much more.

He discovered that Veteran Volunteers, including his grandfather and two of his brothers, reenlisted, rather than going home, so they could continue to fight. Because of their experience and combat skills, they were exposed to the greatest dangers in battle after battle, and their regiments suffered the highest casualty rates of the entire Union army. Ross was amazed that despite all that had been written about the Civil War, the story of Lincoln’s bravest and most dedicated soldiers has been ignored.

Why did they reenlist, and continue to risk their lives?

Ross read hundreds of soldiers’ letters, diaries, memoirs and government records in search of the answer. The quest took him thirty years, and led him to the common threads among Veteran Volunteers, particularly their anti-slavery convictions and their loyalty to Lincoln. From the beginning when they first enlisted, they fought for the twin goals of saving the Union and ending slavery. Those discoveries left him no option but to tell their story in Lincoln’s Veteran Volunteers Win the War: The Hudson Valley’s Ross Brothers and the Union’s Fight for Emancipation.

The book explores the religious ideals and family traditions, allegiance to Abraham Lincoln, and moral imperative that left Veteran Volunteers no choice but to continue fighting until they won the war. It reveals, too, their profound sacrifices for their beliefs: injuries, debilitating disease, near starvation, imprisonment, even death. In the Ross family alone, one brother was killed, another blinded, another deafened, and the fourth held captive in five Confederate prisons. Their parents were crippled with rheumatism, and without their sons’ help during the war, they lost the family farm to foreclosure. Yet none of them wavered in their commitment to fighting for emancipation and preservation of the Union.

This story is an inspiration to all who believe in the principles on which the United States was founded and a timely reminder that our nation’s ability to overcome profound challenges depends on the dedication and sacrifices of its people.

Ross earned his undergraduate degree from Washington University. After serving as a gunnery officer in the Pacific during World War II, he earned a master’s degree in urban planning at the University of Chicago and did post-graduate work in England. He worked in urban planning in Chicago, Milwaukee; Providence, Rhode Island; Cincinnati; St. Louis; and Madison, Wisconsin. He also taught graduate courses part-time at three universities. After retiring, he earned a master’s degree in American History at the University of Wisconsin and has published numerous articles about the Civil War and his ancestors.

He and his wife, Sari, live in Durango, Colorado.