A soldier's tale, in his own words

Book contains letters from Civil War

Book contains letters from Civil War

December 18, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - He speaks about the man like he would a close friend.

He knows intimate details about his health, family, finances and political views.

Justin Mayhue, a captain with the Hagerstown Fire Department, has never met John W. Brendel, but he knows that he fought with his wife about money.

Brendel, who died in 1872, is the subject of Mayhue's recently published fifth book, "A Civil War Journey: The Letters of John W. Brendel."

Brendel was in his late 30s when he served in the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. He sent at least 144 letters home to his wife and daughter during that time.


"A Civil War Journey" includes those letters in their entirety, with passages of historical information written by Mayhue.

Mayhue first learned about Brendel when Mayhue's friend showed him the letters. Brendel was the man's relative.

"I spent two days reading the letters," Mayhue said. "It's an individual soldier and what his day is like and what he's thinking about."

The letters were written between August 1862 and May 1865, about the time the war ended.

Mayhue said Brendel's first battle was at South Mountain, where he injured his back.

"It bothered him for the rest of the war," he said.

Three days later, Brendel was in the Battle of Antietam and was nearly killed.

Mayhue said, in researching and writing about Brendel, he got to know him and considers him family.

"I feel like he's my adopted relative, for sure," Mayhue said. "I haven't been able to find details of my own ancestors who were in the Civil War."

Mayhue said his book has a lot of information for history buffs that focuses on what daily life was like for Civil War soldiers.

"I got a better feel for the individual soldier," he said. "It's hard to appreciate what these men went through."

Brendel, he said, chose to fight in the war to preserve the Union and protect his family and lifestyle.

"Here ... he thinks he can make enough money as a soldier that his wife won't have to scrub floors," Mayhue said. "He was making $13 a month as a soldier."

There was a period of about six months when soldiers were not paid, he said, and Brendel was sick toward the end of 1864. When he went to war he weighed 180 pounds, and in a short time he had dropped to 127 pounds.

While Brendel survived the war, he lived only seven years after it ended, Mayhue said.

Mayhue said "A Civil War Journey" can be purchased at Borders in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md., and at several other Hagerstown booksellers.

If you go ...

What: Book signing for "A Civil War Journey: The Letters of John W. Brendel"

When: Saturday, Dec. 23, 7 to 9 a.m.

Where: Hagerstown City Farmers Market, 25 W. Church St.

What else: The book costs $14.95.

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