William Quigley, a teacher at The Governor's Academy, will be speaking at the Newburyport Literary Festival at 3 p.m. Saturday (April 29) at City Hall on his new book, "Pure Heart: The Faith of a Father and Son in the War for a More Perfect Union."

The roots of his project represent the dream of many historians:  "Some 20 years ago, my colleagues Babe Ceglarski and Kristen Snyder Vogel recovered the surviving remnants of a father's scrapbook of his son's service in the union during the Civil War, including letters from that young son on the war-front.

"Their discovery of that historical treasure . . . led to the book."

"Pure Heart" is the story of a father and son "overlooked in history but praised in their day as American heroes."

Much is set in Philadelphia and it focuses on the non-combat difficulties of the era.

The father was prominent minister there, and tried to keep his congregation together during the divisive period.

His son was an officer who backed the Union and fought at Gettysburg.

Several thoughts about this ambitious work:

- The number of footnotes and references is enormous. The text is 305 pages, and there are close to 70 pages of documentation. 

- We forget how influential churches were a century-and-a-half ago. Many families looked to the church to help them with their decisions about who to support in the war, and how best to do it. Pennsylvania was very close to the Confederate states, and some left Philadelphia to help the South. 

President James Buchanan, who served from 1856 to 1860, was from Lancaster, PA, and he was greatly criticized for his sympathy with the nearby southern states.

On a separate thought, Newburyport's Caleb Cushing was broadly criticized for working for compromise, not a Civil War.

Newburyport's other great historical figure, William Lloyd Garrison, has emerged as a historical icon because of his abolitionist views but for many - like Cushing and the father-and-son Dorrs - the prospective war raised tough questions.

Quigley's book, published by Kent State University Press, is a remarkable example of historical digging.

 

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