The award-winning Civil War play, “Soldier, Come Home,” has just been launched online by the Samuel French Play Publishing Company as part of its exciting new program, Playwright Direct. Author Frank W. Wicks’ play is now available online free of charge and may be downloaded worldwide.0049038_soldier_come_home_300-1

Playwright Direct allows playwrights to be discovered through the Samuel French website. After receiving a free copy, customers may license the script and present a production of the play. Samuel French handles the rest. Since 1830, Samuel French has been the leading publisher and licensor of theatrical works.

“We are constantly looking for innovative ways to get new work into the hands of theatre lovers,” says a Samuel French spokesperson. “We realize there are a great number of playwrights looking to promote their original works, so we created a platform that allows

Historic Wicks family Civil War letters were the inspiration for Soldier, Come Home, which just celebrated its 100th performance..

Historic Wicks family Civil War letters were the inspiration for Soldier, Come Home, which just celebrated its 100th performance..

theaters and producers around the globe to discover new work easily.”

“Soldier, Come Home” was inspired by the letters of Frank W. Wicks’ great-grandparents, Philip and Mary Pringle, written during the period 1859 to 1865 from western Pennsylvania and from major Civil War battle sites, including Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, the Siege of Petersburg, and Appomattox.

Discovered in a shoe box in the attic of the Wicks family home in South Fork, Pennsylvania, the letters provide a look back at some of the most significant battles of the Civil War as well as what life was like for those family members left behind.

Wicks, a founding member of the Long Wharf Theatre, a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and a theater professional since 1958, transformed the letters into a play, weaving the story of his family through the events of the Civil War.

"Soldier, Come Home" at the Lyric Theatre, Loudon, TN, directed by Robert Harrison.

“Soldier, Come Home” at the Lyric Theatre, Loudon, TN. The production used over 75 historic Civil War photos downloaded from The Library of Congress.

The play is performed as reader’s theater by a cast of 5 playing 8 different characters, using mínimal sets, lights and costumes.

“The true magic of Frank Wicks’ play is in its simplicity. says Dr. Steven Brown, Kenosha, Wisconsin.“The letters become  the dialogue – conflict, humor and emotions completely take over the moment the play begins.”

An informal production of "Soldier, Come Home" in the garden of the Merida English Library, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. Presenting the Prologue is author, Frank W. Wicks

An informal production of “Soldier, Come Home” in the garden of the Merida English Library, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. Presenting the Prologue is author, Frank W. Wicks

For a free copy of “Soldier, Come Home,” log onto Playwright Direct Online and click the “Add to Cart” button on the top right. At check-out you will have the opportunity to print out the play. For groups or individuals interested in presenting a performance of the play, visit Samuel French Online.  Telephone is 1-866-598-8449 and  email is: info@samuelfrench.com. The author may be reached at frankwicks@gmail.com

The Pejepscot Historical Society as part of Chamberlain Days 2015 presents “Soldier, Come Home,’’ the award-winning play by Frank W. Wicks based on his great-grandparent’s Civil War 11049461_488735744629159_595627080101769580_nletters, on Friday, August 7th, 7:00 p.m. at the Unitarian Church, Pleasant Street, Brunswick, Maine.

“Soldier, Come Home” brings to life the letters of Mary Luke Pringle, her husband, Philip W. Pringle, and family members. The letters provide a look back at some of the most significant battles of the Civil War as well as what life was like for those family members left behind.

In 1950, the long-forgotten letters, written from 1859 to 1865, were discovered in a shoe box in the attic of the Wicks family home in South Fork, Pennsylvania. Wicks, a resident of Harpswell, Maine, transformed the letters into a play, weaving the story of his family through the events and the times of the Civil War.

Mary Pringle wrote to her husband from Armagh, Pennsylvania, while Philip and other family

Wicks family Civil War letters were the inspiration for "Soldier, Come Home."

Wicks family Civil War letters were the inspiration for “Soldier, Come Home.”

members corresponded from several major battle sites, including Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, the Siege of Petersburg, and Appomattox.

A Kenosha, Wisconsin critic said, “The true magic of Wicks’ play is in its simplicity, which comes alive through extraordinary letters sent between the battlefield and home. The letters become the play’s dialogue. Conflict, humor, urgency, and powerful emotions completely take over the moment the play begins.”

“Soldier” premiered in Brunswick, Maine in 2002 and has been performed throughout America by more than 20 theater companies. Celebrating its 100th performance on August 7, “Soldier, Come Home” is the winner of the 2012 Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Award for Excellence – “Best Significant Community Impact.”

The play is performed as reader’s theater by six actors playing eight different characters. In the Brunswick cast are Jessica Peck-Lindsay, Michael Thomas, Jack Mahoney, Michael Millett, Al Miller, and special guest Araby Wicks Leary, great-granddaughter of Mary and Philip Pringle, playing her great-great grandmother, Mama Luke.

Chamberlain Days is a bi-annual celebration Chamberlain bookof the life of Civil War General Joshua Chamberlain, a Brunswick, Maine resident, governor of the State of Maine and President of Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine.

All tickets for the production are $10.00. For ticket reservations and further information about Chamberlain Days 2015, call the Pejepscot Historical Society at 207-729-6606 or visit http:/pejepscothistorical.org/ Tickets will also be available at the door.

It has just been announced that the live broadcast of Frank W. Wicks’ Civil War play, Soldier, Come Home on WGTD-FM Public Radio, Kenosha-Racine-Lake Geneva, Wisconsin has won the 2012 First Place Award for Excellence from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association. The play was broadcast

May 4, 2013 award ceremony, Wisconsin Broadcasters Association. First Place Award for Frank W. Wicks' Soldier Come Home - "Best Significant Community Impact." To purchase and download a copy of the play right now, click http://www.civilwarplay.com.

May 4, 2013 award ceremony, Wisconsin Broadcasters Association. First Place Award for Frank W. Wicks’ Soldier Come Home“Best Significant Community Impact.” To purchase and download a copy of the play, click www.civilwarplay.com.

from the Kenosha Civil War Museum in September 2012.

According to the play’s producer and director, Dr. Steven M. Brown, Soldier, Come Home, based on Wicks’ great-grandparent’s Civil War letters, won First Place in the category of “Significant Community Impact.” Brown says, “Congratulations, Mr. Wicks! I love the play, and it’s such an honor to be able to work with you.”

The letters of Wicks’ great-grandparents, Philip and Mary Pringle, were discovered in a shoebox in the attic of the family home in

Wicks Family Civil War letter, February 19, 1862. The letters were the inspiration for soldier Come Home.

Wicks Family Civil War letter, February 19, 1862. The letters were the inspiration for Soldier, Come Home.

South Fork, Pennsylvania. Wicks transformed the letters into a play, weaving the story of one family through the events of the Civil War.

Soldier, Come Home premiered in Brunswick, Maine in 2002 and has since been performed by more than twelve different theater companies across America, including an Off-Broadway presentation in New York City. Critics described the play as “Beautiful – a rare glimpse into the Civil War. This is a theater experience not to be missed.”

Recent performances have taken place in Oregon, Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and six dinner/theater performances in Bluefield, West Virginia.  The next performance is June 29, 2013 in

Ashley L. Froy in Soldier, Come Home at the Summit Theatre, Bluefield, WV

Ashley L. Froy in Soldier, Come Home at the Summit Theatre, Bluefield, WV

Tullahoma, Tennessee commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Tullahoma Civil War Campaign.

The play is available for productions in theaters and community centers across America. To purchase and download a copy of the play right now, click on www.civilwarplay.com.

Playwright Frank W. Wicks lives on an island in Maine.

 

 

 

Frank W. Wicks talks about the origins of his Civil War play, “Soldier, Come Home.” (Next performance: Friday, May 12, 2017, Performing Arts Center, Midland, Pennsylvania. 724-827-8841)

It was like a crash course in American History 101. Letter after letter told of famous Civil War events from the firing on Fort Sumter to the surrender at Appomattox. I was holding in my hands a treasure of first-person accounts of our country’s history. Not only that – I was also reading the story and the history of my family.

Historic family Civil War letters were the inspiration for Frank W. Wicks’ play, “Soldier, Come Home”

This was my reaction as I opened the old shoe box containing over 100 beautifully preserved letters written by my great-grandparents.

I pored over the letters deep into the night, amazed at the information, but sometimes feeling I was invading their privacy -listening in on intimate details of their lives. But I read on, swept up by the beautiful language of 19th century letter writers.

One letter jumped out:

April 10th, 1864

Dear Husband, I seat myself this morning to speak to you through the silent voice of the pen…

And so writes my great-grandmother, Mary Pringle, to her Civil War soldier-husband, Philip Pringle. I have been struck by that haunting phrase for years.

I had to remind myself constantly that this was the only form of communication between Civil War soldiers and their families. The pen was the only voice that

Illustrated letter to Mary Pringle from Philip Pringle, May 1, 1864. Camp stationery with the heading:
The U.S. CHRISTIAN COMMISSION
Sends this sheet as the Soldier’s Messenger to his home.
Let it hasten to those who wait for tidings.

expressed love, longing and countless other emotions. Not surprisingly though, my great-grandparents’ letters were filled with everyday, ordinary information written by ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances. The pen had to provide instructions about tending the farm, feeding cattle, paying bills. And the letters always provided an update on the weather and a little neighborhood gossip.

But the letters contained a basic truth of the times. Mary Pringle goes on to say, “Write to me soon for I can hardly wait. It is all the pleasure I have to write and read your letters.”

Early on I was aware that the letters began to tell a story and were filled with drama. Relationships were complicated, misunderstandings were prevalent, family members gave support – and sometimes not, wives had to be quick learners as they were thrown – overnight – into the responsibilities of running businesses, farms, and earning enough money to make it all happen. I wondered – would it be possible to tell a story – to create a play – through a series of letters?

As it turned out, I didn’t have to do all that much work. As the war raged on the letters continued to tell the story – of the incredible battles, the shifting of power between husband and wife, and of new-found spirit and courage. The play practically wrote itself.

But the gap between letters received grew longer and longer. The mail service was being severely

civil war letter

Battle letter from Philip to Mary, May 14, 1864

tested – fewer and fewer letters were getting through. Anxious families at home wondered if their soldier was dead or alive. At this point Philip scribbles at the bottom of a letter, “I am sending this by a wounded soldier.”

To make matters worse, the only way money could be sent home was by mail. But that was risky – On March 15, 1865 Philip writes, “The mail was robbed and there was a great deal of money taken. They blamed the mail carrier for it and they have him under arrest. They found a great many letters torn open and thrown away. Some lost 100 dollars, some 200. Someone even 900.“

An online essay, Wartime Letterwriting, says, “In addition, soldiers were constantly on the move, which made for further delivery problems. If a letter was addressed and delivered to a soldier’s last known address, there was no guarantee that its intended recipient was still stationed at that camp.

Letter from Mary Pringle to Civil War husband, Philip Pringle

Correspondents at home had to rely on information from a soldier’s last letter regarding his whereabouts.”

I am eternally grateful for the silent voices of my great-grandparents’ pens. They bestowed on me – as well as all of their descendants – a rare legacy of extraordinary history – family and country – loud and clear.

From a 19th century needle factory in lower Manhattan to a world-class Civil War museum in Wisconsin, Soldier, Come Home has played ‘em all!

In its ten year history, “Soldier” has played a restored vaudeville theater in the South, a Civil War recruiting center in the North, a country barn in Pennsylvania, and a historic church in Maine where Harriet Beecher Stowe got her inspiration for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

The very first performance took place May 5, 2002 at Center Stage in Brunswick, Maine, a theater founded by Wicks to develop and produce new plays.

The play created a “buzz” which led to other performances in the area, including one at the Bowdoinham, Maine Town Hall, built in the early 1800’s and used as a meeting place for Civil War soldiers as they marched off to war.

It turned out that Brunswick, Maine was a hot bed of Civil War history. Distinguished son, Joshua Chamberlain – Governor of Maine and President of Bowdoin College – was the undisputed “man of the hour” at the Battle of Gettysburg, chronicled by Brunswick historian, John Pullen.  Sharing the same church pew was neighbor,

Harriet Beecher Stowe. It is reported that Stowe was so inspired by a sermon that she ran home and penned the first chapter of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Soldier, Come Home played there, at the Brunswick First Parish Church, as part of the week-long Chamberlain Days Festival, sponsored by the Pejepscot Historical Society.

Word spread. The cast took to the road, performing at the Ohio Theater in New York City, a reconverted needle factory known for its innovative theater productions. It is said that just before the first production there 30 years ago the cast and crew went down on hands and knees, armed with magnets, pulling decades of dropped pins and needles from the floorboard.

Next stop, Johnstown Pennsylvania for three performances at the 19th century Heritage Discovery Center, organized by cousin Frances Hesselbein. It was here that Wicks’ ancestors lived and wrote the letters that were the basis of  Soldier, Come Home. Over 100 relatives flew in from all over the country (and one from England) for the performances and a Saturday night family reunion bash.

The play was chosen for the Penobscot Theatre’s New Play Festival, winning

Ken Bradley, Steven Soria and Aimee Kennedy in “Soldier, Come Home” at the GreenMan Theatre, Elmhurst, Illinois

out over 500 entries. Then, an online internet site, civilwarplay.com was set up to announce “Soldier” to cyberspace. Soon, many friendships were made as well as a more widespread interest.

The GreenMan Theatre in Elmhurst, Illinois mounted a week of performances and then took the play on the road. Other productions took place in Forest Grove, Oregon, the Gardiner, Maine Opera House, a barn theater in McConnellstown, Pennsylvania, and The Gem Theater, a restored vaudeville house in Etowah, Tennessee.

An exciting “first” took place September 22, 2012 in Kenosha, Wisconsin when The Brown-Ullstrop Performing Arts Foundation

Kenosha Civil War Museum, site of the live radio broadcast of “Soldier” which won the 2012 First Place Award from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association for “Best Significant Community Impact.”

sponsored a live Radio Theater Production of “Soldier.” The play was broadcast from Kenosha’s new Civil War Museum on WGTD-HD Public Radio Kenosha-Racine-Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, hosted by director Dr. Steven Brown. The production won the First Place award by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.

Soldier had its Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati premier on Friday, January 25, 2013, at the Campbell County Library in Newport, Kentucky,  co-produced and performed by Newport’s Falcon Theatre Company, directed by Clint Ibele.   Next, the play was revived by the Gem Players in Etowah, Tennessee and ran for two more weeks at the historic Gem Theater.

Recent performances of Soldier
April 25 – Historic New Richmond, Ohio – Birthplace of U. S. Grant -performed by the Falcon Theater Company, 7:30 p.m. – as part of Ohio Civil War 150.
April 26 – May 5 – Six performances (dinner theater) by the Summit Theater Company, Bluefield, West Virginia (150th anniversary of West Virginia)
June 29 – Two performances at the Tullahoma, Tennessee Civic Center, 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (150th anniversary commemoration of the Tullahoma Civil War Campaign)

June 29, 30, July 1 – Three performances in Covington, Kentucky, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Performances on the patio of the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar with music by the Rabbit Hash String Band.)

Upcoming performances of Soldier:

September 20, 21, 22, 27, 28, 29, 2013 – Thomas More College Theatre, Crestview Hills, Kentucky.

 

 

 

The Gem Players commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War with the stage production of Frank W. Wicks’ Soldier, Come Home.
“The Gem Players production was exquisite”…Dr. Steven Brown

The Gem Theater, Etowah, Tennessee.

The dramatization is based on historic family Civil War letters and opened at the historic Gem Theater in Etowah, Tennessee on May 18,19, 25, 26 at 7:30 p.m. and May 20 and 27 at 2:30 p.m.

Frank W. Wicks transformed the letters of his great-grandparents, Philip and Mary Pringle, into a play. Mary Pringle wrote to her husband from Armagh, Pennsylvania, while he responded from several major Civil War battle sites, including Antietam, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, the siege of Petersburg, and Appomattox.

Historic family Civil War letter, February 19, 1862

Veteran Gem director LaMone Rose decided to direct this particular play “because of the significance of the letters during this most sorrowful and dramatic time in our country’s history.” Rose agrees with the author Wicks on the emotional content and knowledge included in the letters.

Wicks says, “I was struck from the beginning by the emotional content of the letters. They were filled with conflicts, complicated relationships, humor, enormous difficulties and struggles for survival.”

We were a house divided… a country divided…. families divided and friends divided and how were we to put ourselves back together again?” says Rose. Soldier, Come Home does not attempt to answer any questions about the causes and effects of “The War Between the States”. But the simple set, the lighting and the images of the War will take the audience to that time and space as the actors become the family “torn apart”. The five actors have only their voices to convey the agony and destruction that war brings but their voices convey the hope that it will never happen again.

Actors from the Gem Players production of Soldier, Come Home. They portray a family caught in the hardships of the Civil War. They tell the story through historic family letters written from 1859-1865. The show opened May 18,19,20,25,26,27 at the Gem Theater, Etowah, Tennessee.

The cast of Soldier, Come Home includes Mary Poteet and James Staton as Mary and Philip Pringle; Tim Poteet and Larry Schiller as their brothers, Dan Luke and Martin Pringle; and Bill Freeman in multiple roles of their fathers, older brother, and family friends. Ruth Sowers is the technical director.

For more information about the Gem Players, call 423-263-3270 or visit the website at www.gemplayers.com.


For those of you considering a production of Soldier, Come Home, I offer the following notes about my concept of the original production of the  play and suggestions for a production:

The play was conceived as a “concert.”  The image of Pavarotti and Tebaldi walking onto the New York Philharmonic stage comes to mind; he in a tux, she in an evening gown. They carry a score bound in a black binder. It’s a concert version of “La Boheme.”  Music.  Singing begins. Little by little, they transcend the confines of the concert, establish relationships and become the characters; we see only Mimi and Rodolfo and are caught up emotionally by the music and the singing.

This is the goal I have set for Soldier, Come Home.

Music. Five actors walk onto the stage – men in tuxes and the woman in an evening gown – carrying black binders. They take their places. Music fades, lights up on first actor. Reading begins. Little by little, the actors transcend the confines of the “concert” reading, become the characters and establish relationships. The letters become the dialogue and the conflicts, humor and emotions take over.

The set, backdrop, lights, costumes, furniture and sound, along with the letters, are an integral part of the concept of the play. They work together as a unit.

The set: Black risers or platforms at two or three different levels,

Ken Bradley, Steven Soria and Aimee Kennedy in a scene from “Soldier, Come Home” now playing at the GreenMan Theatre, Elmhurt, Illinois (photo by Ken Beach)

from 10 inches to 3 feet high. Each actor has his or her platform or level. Five dark colored, plain wooden chairs are placed on platforms.  A black curtain hangs behind the set.

Minimum lighting: Five front of house lekos – one focused on each actor and each light is on a separate dimmer. Overhead is blue backlight (fresnels) to shape actors but used mainly to give actors enough light by which to read the letters.

Costumes: Tuxes for the men. Evening gown for the woman: simple, fairly dark color, floor length.

Sound: Pre-show music. This is the place for a nod to the

Tom Viskocil, performer and composer for “Soldier, Come Home” at the GreenMan Theatre.  (photo by Ken Beach)

Civil War era. Your choice of period music. As lights dim and play starts, segue to lively Civil War music as cast enters the stage. Fade sound as lights come up on first actor.

However: That said, it is totally up to the director to produce the play in any way he or she envisions it.  For example, I just saw an extremely effective production in Kenosha, Wisconsin done simply – in an open room – small platform, no lights, actors in white shirts and black slacks/long black dress with music fading in and out throughout.

Directing the play:

Here are some general notes I find important for performing a play based on letters and creating an exciting, riveting production:

1. Pick up cues. As one letter finishes, the next should start immediately without a second’s pause. Think of it as dialogue, a conversation between characters.

2. Find new thoughts within each letter. Even the shortest letters contain many different thoughts.

3. Create a general sense of urgency throughout the play, even in quiet moments.

4. For the most part, letters are read directly to the audience. It is important that the actors make good eye contact with the audience. Knowing the letters well – even learning them – will help with this.

5. “Build” scenes from letter to letter – the idea is that each letter is more important than the last.

6. The play contains humor – I hope. Look for the humor and try to play it.

Audience reaction:

“On Friday evening, a couple hundred people gathered in the Sanctuary (of the historic First Parish Church) for the dramatic performance of  Soldier, Come Home. The male players were dressed in tuxedoes, as opposed to period costumes, which kept the focus on the letters, and the emotions exuded in them.  I very much enjoyed this theater project.”…..Bobby Grenier of the North Lake County Florida Civil War Round Table.

“The script, plus the acting, staging, lighting and music produced an amazing, intimate view of history.” …..Lee Hargadon, Brunswick, Maine

Floor plan for platforms – Soldier, Come Home




Frances Hesselbein needs no introduction to anyone working in the nonprofit sector in America. For the uninitiated, let me fill you in: For many years, Frances was the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, leading that organization into a new era of extraordinary growth – building a diverse membership with an emphasis on creating a richly diverse, cohesive, contemporary organization for girls and young women,

President Clinton awards Frances Hesselbein the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor.

developing the leaders of tomorrow. When she retired from that job in 1990, she became the first founding President and CEO of the new Peter Drucker Foundation, which became the present day Leader to Leader Institute. At Leader to Leader Frances galvanized the nonprofit world, established scholarships, wrote books on leadership, and traveled extensively, speaking about leadership to nonprofits and business leaders around the world, so far 68 countries. She has co-edited 27 books in 29 languages.

Her new book, My Life In Leadership:  The Journey and Lessons Learned Along the Way, will be published in February 2011 by John Wiley & Sons. In her review of the book, Joanne Fritz writes, ”Hesselbein perhaps left her most lasting mark on the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. From 1976 to 1990, she turned that organization into a modern, diversified, and efficient national voice for girls. As a result of her vision and activism, Hesselbein was named Fortune Magazine’s “Best Nonprofit Manager in America,” and in 1998 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.

I must now reveal that Frances is my first cousin – her great-grandparents are also Philip and Mary Pringle – and (in her spare time!) has been a driving force behind Soldier, Come Home. She pored through our great-grandparents’ letters, helped with revisions of the play and single-handedly produced performances. Frances organized a production at the historic Heritage Discovery Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania (an area where many of the letters were written). Dozens of relatives flew into Johnstown from all over the country – and as far away as England – to attend a weekend of performances and partake in a grand family reunion.

Frances says, “Working with Soldier, Come Home has been a joy. The dramatic adaptation of our family’s Civil War letters makes a wonderful, moving story of our family. Throughout the play I keep thinking about Philip and Mary’s daughter, Sadie Pringle Wicks, our grandmother – we all called ‘Mama Wicks’. She was an extraordinary woman and has been the greatest influence in my life. I’m so honored to be a part of Soldier, Come Home. It is a treasure.”

Needless to say, I am indebted to Frances and so very proud of her many awards and accomplishments. And they keep coming! According to the Leader to Leader website, “In 2009, Mrs. Hesselbein was appointed the Class of 1951 Chair for the Study of Leadership at the United States Military Academy at West Point, in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. She is the first woman, and the first non-graduate to serve in this chair. Also in 2009, the University of Pittsburgh introduced The Hesselbein Global Academy for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement. The Academy’s aim is to produce experienced and ethical leaders who will address the most critical national and international issues and to advance positive social and economic initiatives throughout the world.

However, what most people do not know is Frances Hesselbein’s devotion to and support of her own family members all over the country. She would go to the ends of the earth to champion, help, nurture and mentor. She has been an inspiration to all of us. ‘Mama Wicks’ would have been proud!

Answer: Civil War Historian, John J. Pullen

“For people who have not heard the story of the fight at Little Round Top on the Gettysburg battlefield – and today there aren’t many of these among readers of Civil War literature – it should be stated that it was here, late on July 2, 1863, that Joshua L. Chamberlain arose from the clouds of gunsmoke into the light of fame….Some say that Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine saved the day at Gettysburg and therefore saved the Union.”

And thus begins the John J. Pullen classic, The Twentieth Maine: A Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War, considered by Civil War historians to be one of the best regimental histories ever written.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Pullen’s 1957 book renewed interest in Union Army General Joshua Chamberlain. “The Twentieth Maine recounted Chamberlain’s heroism when he ordered the 20th Maine Regiment to fix bayonets and rout the Confederates during the Battle of Little Round Top – one of the most well-known actions at Gettysburg and in the American Civil War.”

On the final charge, knowing that his men were out of ammunition, that his numbers were being depleted, and further knowing that another charge could not be repulsed, Chamberlain ordered a maneuver that was considered unusual for the day: He ordered his left flank, which had been pulled back, to advance with bayonets. As soon as they were in line with the rest of the regiment, the remainder of the regiment charged, like a door swinging shut. This simultaneous frontal assault and flanking maneuver halted and captured a good portion of the 15th Alabama.

Praise for The Twentieth Maine poured in. The Boston Sunday Herald wrote, “this comes as near reliving the Civil War as anyone in the twentieth century is likely to get.”

Bruce Catton, Pulitzer Prize winner and Civil War historian said, “Mr. Pullen has gone to the letters, diaries, and memoirs of the participants with the thoroughness and care of a good historian, and he has had the literary skill to let the personality of the regiment come through.”

Then in 1999, John Pullen published the definitive Chamberlain biography, Joshua Chamberlain: a Hero’s Life and Legacy.

A reviewer wrote, “Renowned historian John J. Pullen, who first introduced Joshua Chamberlain to modern readers, is again approaching the subject of this complex man. This new biographical essay explores Chamberlain’s place in history–both man and myth. John Pullen, who drew back the shroud of a forgotten hero in his excellent book “The Twentieth Maine,” has come full circle in this engaging and enlightening biography.”

Born in Amity, Maine, Pullen graduated from Colby College in 1935. A field artillery captain during World War II, he worked as a reporter for the Kennebec Journal in Augusta after the war. He later worked in advertising in Philadelphia before resigning in 1965 to move to Brunswick, Maine (where I happened to live) and focus on his writing.

I remember John Pullen as a celebrated, active contributer to the Brunswick community. He was a member of the Joshua Chamberlain Civil War Round Table and spearheaded fund-raising efforts to design, create and erect a statue of Joshua Chamberlain next to the Bowdoin College campus.

The year before he died, John Pullen attended the premiere of Soldier, Come Home in Brunswick. He wrote kindly of the play, “Excellent and unusual. It lets the audience feel the Civil War both on the field and on the home front where women and families experience its dramatic effects.”

I was so pleased that such a distinguished Civil War historian had witnessed my efforts at a Civil War story. I had rubbed shoulders with the man who had awakened interest in a forgotten hero, introducing Joshua Chamberlain to modern readers – and, without a doubt, putting Joshua Chamberlain on the map.

pastedGraphic.pdf

It was like a crash course in American History 101. Letter after letter told of famous Civil War events from the firing on Fort Sumter to the surrender at Appomattox. I was holding in my hands a treasure of first-person accounts of our country’s history. Not only that – I was also reading the story and the history of my family.

This was my reaction as I opened the old shoe box containing over 100 beautifully preserved letters written by my great-grandparents.

I pored over the letters deep into the night, amazed at the information, but sometimes feeling I was invading their privacy –

Historic family Civil War letters were the inspiration for Frank W. Wicks' play, "Soldier, Come Home"

listening in on intimate details of their lives. But I read on, swept up by the beautiful language of 19th century letter writers.

One letter jumped out:

April 10th, 1864

Dear Husband, I seat myself this morning to speak to you through the silent voice of the pen…

And so writes my great-grandmother, Mary Pringle, to her Civil War soldier-husband, Philip Pringle. I have been struck by that haunting phrase for years.

I had to remind myself constantly that this was the only form of communication between Civil War soldiers and their families. The pen was the only voice that expressed love, longing and countless other emotions. Not surprisingly though, my great-grandparents’ letters were filled with everyday, ordinary information written by ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances. The pen had to provide instructions about tending the farm, feeding cattle, paying bills. And the letters always provided an update on the weather and a little neighborhood gossip.

But the letters contained a basic truth of the times. Mary Pringle goes on to say, “Write to me soon for I can hardly wait. It is all the pleasure I have to write and read your letters.”

Early on I was aware that the letters began to tell a story and were filled with drama. Relationships were complicated, misunderstandings were prevalent, family members gave support – and sometimes not, wives had to be quick learners as they were thrown – overnight – into the responsibilities of running businesses, farms, and earning enough money to make it all happen. I wondered – would it be possible to tell a story – to create a play – through a series of letters?

As it turned out, I didn’t have to do all that much work. As the war raged on the letters continued to tell the story – of the incredible battles, the shifting of power between husband and wife, and of new-found spirit and courage. The play practically wrote itself.

But the gap between letters received grew longer and longer. The mail service was being severely tested –

civil war letter

Battle letter from Philip to Mary, May 14, 1864

fewer and fewer letters were getting through. Anxious families at home wondered if their soldier was dead or alive. At this point Philip scribbles at the bottom of a letter, “I am sending this by a wounded soldier.”

To make matters worse, the only way money could be sent home was by mail. But that was risky – On March 15, 1865 Philip writes, “The mail was robbed and there was a great deal of money taken. They blamed the mail carrier for it and they have him under arrest. They found a great many letters torn open and thrown away. Some lost 100 dollars, some 200. Someone even 900.“

An online essay, Wartime Letterwriting, says, “In addition, soldiers were constantly on the move, which made for further delivery problems. If a letter was addressed and delivered to a soldier’s last known address, there was no guarantee that its intended recipient was still stationed at that camp. Correspondents at home had to rely on information from a soldier’s last letter regarding his whereabouts.”

I am eternally grateful for the silent voices of my great-grandparents’ pens. They bestowed on me – as well as all of their descendants – a rare legacy of extraordinary history – family and country – loud and clear.

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