Author tells Michigan soldiers' stories
December 01, 2010 - You don't have to be an avid Civil War buff to enjoy Independence Township author Kim Crawford's new book, but it helps.
|Author Kim Crawford wrote a book on Civil War soldiers from Michigan. Photo by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)|
"It's a big book for a small audience – those interested in history, perhaps with an ancestor in the unit," said Crawford, 53, who wrote "The 4th Michigan Infantry in the Civil War."
"It applies to a certain segment of the reading population. It's about the regiment, not the story of one guy. It's the story of over 1,000 men."
The book, published by Michigan State University Press, comes in time for a milestone, 150 years since the start of the Civil War in 1861.
"They were young men, kids from the smallest towns to the biggest cities, volunteering to fight for their country – it's just remarkable," he said. "They thought it would be a big adventure. Then they saw what really happens in war – reality hit home fast."
Crawford worked with historian Martin Bertera for almost six years on the book.
"Marty did most of the research and I wrote the majority of it," Crawford said. "He has files, boxes, closets filled with newspaper articles, diaries, letters – it's just incredible."
Small town newspapers were an absolute gold mine of information.
"The guys from a community wrote letters to their newspapers about what they thought of the war," he said. "They were a bunch of small town guys, volunteers. They went to war to restore the union. They believed the South was committing treason."
Diaries revealed the men's thoughts on why they fought, and what they thought of slavery and other issues of the day.
"When you're reading a diary and it comes to a halt – was he captured or killed? It's very interesting," he said.
He went through the material a box at a time, as well as conducted research at Detroit Public Library, University of Michigan, and state archives.
"They were farmers – it's hard for us to relate to these guys," he said. "But they walked the streets of our small town, worked in the farm fields where subdivisions stand. They were real people. I fell in love with their stories."
A reporter for The Flint Journal for 28 years, Crawford wrote as if for a long feature story.
"It was camp life, drill, 99 percent routine, and one percent stark, hair-raising battle," he said. "Anyone who has served in the military would find many experiences they had to be very similar."
The book is illustrated with drawings by Lt. Charles Gruner, the regiment's "unofficial artist."
"He drew the regiment at Gettysburg, Fredericksburg – very dramatic depictions of the Fourth Michigan in combat," Crawford said. "I made sure it got them in the book."
He moved to Independence Township with his wife, Kelly, and their two daughters in the mid 1980s.
"My wife worked in Detroit and I worked in Flint – Clarkston was in the middle," he said.
Crawford plans to keep researching and writing about Michigan history – perhaps early 19th century, a time of fur traders, early settlers, and the War of 1812.
"It was an incredible time," he said.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.