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As Best We Could
A Civil War Story of the 101st New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment and their loved ones at home

Jean Marie McLain
 


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The author brings the years of the United States Civil War to life as you've never experienced them before. Using letters sent between soldiers fighting in the war and loved ones waiting at home, she describes, in a clear and compelling way, their thoughts and feelings as they live through the most horrendous war America has ever experienced.

You will fall in love with Mary and Jamie as they slowly discover each other and a love that will last a lifetime.
 

The story begins...

Just before Christmas, 1861, JAMES “JAMIE” Mc NEIL, a young recruit in Captain Buckham’s Sharpshooter Company at Delhi, New York, writes a letter of apology to pretty MARY EDWARDS. He had caused her to injure herself in an accident two days before when he startled her horse. Mary had tumbled off, and Jamie hopes she will forgive him. Mary, a spirited young woman from a farm near Meredith Square, replies pertly that she cannot accept his apology for, she admits, the mishap was entirely the fault of her own Willful Nature. She had been scandalously riding astride, and in scrambling to adjust herself properly sidesaddle, had lost her balance and fallen. “As Grandmother would say, I am a foolish girl who got what was coming to me,” she tells him. Jamie gallantly replies that she should not believe she deserved what she got, and that her fall was really very graceful.

So begins a correspondence that is to last through nearly four years of war and suffering, and will blossom into a love that will sustain each of them in their most trying days.

Click here to read Jamie's Gettysburg Letter to Mary.


Authors Note:

In any work of historical fiction, the author is, by definition, mixing fact with fiction. To tell a true story by using fictional characters for the narration is always a tricky business. The casual reader may enjoy the story without question, but the historian always wants to know, "How much of this is true? How much have you invented?"

Although many of the people named in this work were actual citizens and soldiers, the following characters are fictional and any resemblance to actual persons is entirely coincidental: Jamie and his family, Mary and her extended family, Dusty and his family, John Corrigan, Mark Hammond, Lucien, and Nurse MacAlpin. Although Ransom Mitchell was a real person, he was not as portrayed but was, at the time, a man in his 40's with a wife and four children. He was Marshall Mitchell's brother, not his nephew. However, he was drafted as mentioned.

The majority of details about the regiments are based on facts presented by real soldiers in letters, diaries, memoirs, The Official Records of the Rebellion, and reports of the Adjutant General of the State of New York. I have tried to capture the trend of the soldiers' actual thoughts and feelings as the events unfolded. A few of the minor incidents are fiction and, of course, Jamie's role in all the events is entirely fiction.

The majority of details about life in Delaware County--the citizens, events, weather, and farm chores--are factual, based on census information, newspaper accounts, historical records, and diaries. Every effort has been made to tell the story as it might have been told by real people at the time using their language, sentiments, and knowledge of events. Even though the main characters are fictional, their thoughts and the incidents of their lives are normal and common for that time and place.

I have taken some liberties with certain events, such as the dates of the deaths of Charlie Christmas (actual death: November 14, 1863) and of the two young Thompson boys (actual deaths: George, February 10; Buckley, February 21, 1864). I have also invented a few details about Philo Benedict that fill out his story and, I hope, do not offend. The Willing Workers is a real organization that existed in West Meredith for the purpose of maintaining the cemetery there. Although it was in existence in the 19th century, I do not know its origins, so its role in the war effort is fictional, as is its placement in Meredith Hollow (present day Meridale.) The descriptions of Independence Day celebrations in Meredith Square are fiction although the celebrations mentioned elsewhere are factual.

Some of the letters seem to be written by real citizens to fictional characters. These are, of course, fiction, and meant only to fill out the story, not to mislead or confuse. However, General Birney's Letter of Commendation for the Kearny Cross is a direct facsimile, as is the letter from General Hancock to General Meade at Petersburg, both quoted from The Official Records of the Rebellion. Jamie's military papers are direct facsimiles of actual documents issued.

I hope the citizens of Meredith Township, Delaware County, and the descendants of the soldiers who served in the 101st, 37th, and 40th New York Infantries will forgive me for the liberties I have taken in telling the story of their ancestors. It has been my honor to say so many of their names once more, after more than 140 years of silence, and to put those names in print for all to see. I wish I could have mentioned them all.

Jean Marie McLain
Austin, Texas
October 2002


Book Signing - Photo of the launch of As Best We Could book signing.

Read! - What readers are saying about As Best We Could.

Listen! - Listen to an interview of Jean Marie McLain on KUT radio (Austin, TX). The interview was played on the air, Monday, February 17th.


 

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