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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

August 2010

Who Are You Calling Disorganized?

 I've just spent the better part of the day organizing -- and re-organizing -- and re-ordering -- and re-thinking the website I'm setting up for the up-coming Book Launch Party for Beyond All Price.  I know how I want the site to work, but sometimes the mechanics of setting it all up overwhelm me.  I'm a "seat-of-the-pants pilot" when it comes to computers.  Manuals and instruction books are gibberish.  I have to get in and push the keys till something works.  It usually turns out all right in the end.  But the process of reaching the end can be hair-raising.

I'm consoling myself by thinking about the Roundhead Regiment again, and the frustrations they felt 101 years go today.  The first shock came yesterday, when they discovered that no one had thought to make arrangements to feed them.  There simply WAS no breakfast. After a good deal of milling about and listening to their officers argue about whose fault it was, they were simply dismissed and sent into town to get breakfast any way they could. By evening, the situation had been taken care of, but not before the men had raided more than a few local gardens and hen houses.

Second, the men thought they had been sworn into the Union army at a ceremony  on August 29th.  But something had gone wrong there, too.  They had to re-assemble and re-swear their oaths on August 31st. Some soldiers speculated that somebody was a bit suspicious of them, if they had to swear everything twice.

And sometime during these first three days, a tiny young woman presented herself at the camp, asking to see Col. Leasure.  Now understand -- by this time there were a full 12 companies of men in the Roundhead Regiment -- nearly 1000 men in all. Faced with that sea of masculinity, Miss Nellie Chase offered to serve the regiment as their "Matron."  That term meant exactly what you probably think it did.  At the ripe old age of twenty-two, Nellie was offering to be a mother to these 1000 men -- to cook for them, make sure things were kept neat and tidy, and to care of their minor injuries and illnesses.

Did she know what she was doing?  Of course not.  Nellie was a seat-of-the-pants pilot, too. Would it work out?  Well, that's what my new book is all about.

Things Were Different Then

On August 28, 1861, approximately 500 men of the Roundhead Regiment said their final farewells.  At about 8:00 a.m., they loaded into wagons to make the 15-mile journey to the nearest train station at Enon Valley.  The trip took four and a half hours.  Then they boarded a train (a first for most of them) and rode for another 50 miles to reach Pittsburgh. They arrived in the evening and took a supper break provided by a local welcoming committee.  Each man received a slice of buttered bread, a hunk of sausage, two pickles and a cup of coffee. 
Then they marched out to the local fair grounds, where they were sent to bed down in one of the barns.  One soldier described  them in their stalls, "kicking at fleas, bed bugs, and many other awful creeping things which existed only in imagination."

A century and a half later, I can only stand in awe of the resilience with which these new recruits to the Union army accepted the conditions under which they were destined to live for the next four years. Their lives serve to remind me of my own good fortune.

Civil War Diary, Aug. 27

In early August, 1861, Col. Daniel Leasure received permission to form a regiment in western Pennsylvania.  They were to be called "The Roundhead Regiment" because of some distant connection to Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War in the 1660s. They assembled for the first time on this date -- Aug. 27, 1861 --- in New Castle, Pennsylvania, Leasure's home town.  The town turned out to give them a fine send-off.  One soldier reported, "The evening was spent by promenading the streets, visiting friends, and squeezing the girls."

Thios may seem like a small event.  Surely scenes like this repeated themselves all over the country at the outbreak of the Civil War. So why do I care about this particular regiment?  It's the one to which I have family ties.  My interest in the war began when I discovered eight old letters, tied together with a thin reddish ribbon, in my mother's attic. (Talk about cliches!)  They turned out to have been written by my great-uncle.

No, I'm not quite that old!  My family just has a history of having large families, with brothers and sisters whose ages differ by 20 years or more.  James McCaskey, born in 1839, was the oldest son in the McCaskey family.  He had a little brother, Joseph, who was only five when James left to join the Roundheads.

Joseph grew up to raise a family of eight daughters -- the oldest born in 1877; the youngest in 1898.  That  youngest of Joseph's daughters was Margaret, my mother.  And Margaret bore two children, my brother when she was 19 and me when she was 41.  So here I am, born exactly 100 years, with a family responsibility to tell the story of my great-uncle who fought in the Civil War.

Starting Over . . . Again!

I'm a terrible blogger.  I start with good intentions, but somehow, I've never been able to follow through.  I can spend hours at the computer,  I can take on a NaNoWriMo challenge and finish 50,000 words with three days left to go in the month.  I've turned out two books -- one military history and one novel -- in the six years I've been retired.  I've published a newsletter for my condo association. But put me in front of a blog and I freeze up. I really don't like talking about myself, so writing the kind of open and honest blog I like to READ is very difficult to WRITE. I've also struggled with the temptation of anonymous blogging, which can't happen here. I'll just have to be me.

(Deep breath!) OK, here we go again.  It's August 26, 2010, and I've just realized that the Union regiment I've been writing about for those last six year will have an anniversary tomorrow.  The 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment gathered for the first time on August 27, 1861.  It was a good starting point for them; perhaps it will be for me, too.

I'm going to try a multiple-pronged approach here. I really want to talk about the writing and publishing lessons I've been learning, so you can expect to read a lot about my latest book and the Launch Party that's coming up in mid-September.  I'm very active in my local Lions Club, as well as in some of the state and national activities of Lions Clubs International, so I'll be talking about the service projects that I care about. I live with a very busy Lion husband and four opinionated cats, so you'll meet them eventually. But interspersed with my personal experiences, I'm also going to pass along some quirky and/or interesting historical tidbits about "my" regiment.  Maybe their exploits will come to my rescue when I Just don't fell like talking about myself.  Stay tuned.