Veteran’s Day: Books That Travel Through History

A Salute to my brother and his son the Marine and to our  great-great-great-great-great grandfather the fifer in the Revolutionary war; to  great-grandfather Henry Butts, Civil War veteran; our two uncles and cousin, now deceased, who made it home from the Pacific in WW II; and my son who did peacetime duty on a submarine. And a special salute to my grandson now in Iraq, may he live long as a proud veteran. [2010 update. Thankfully he is now back in the states where he will stay until the end of his contract with the Air Force.]

Civil War Veteran Grave: Henry Butts
Grave of Civil War Veteran Henry Butts, Danville, Ohio

I have been thinking for quite a while about what I wanted to write about to commemorate Veteran’s Day. My brother, a veteran of Vietnam,  thinks I should write about the Civil War. He, my sister-in-law and two nephews (one of whom served in the Marines in Iraq)  participate in Civil War Renenactments in California.  So obviously, HE is the one who should be writing about books about the Civil War.

I will digress from my usual pattern here and tell a little story of my own, and then list a few books that seem to be worth looking at if  you need travel literature to help plan re-enactments of your own.

My Story

My grandfather, William Henry Butts, an Ohio farmer, served on the Union side of the Civil War. We still have some of the letters he wrote home to his wife, unhampered by standardized spelling and punctuation. (In the excerpt below I have seen fit to add periods, just to make it easier on the reader.)

He was discharged for disability after 8 months. Being let go in Nashville, Tennesee, he presumably had to make his way home to Ohio on his own. By October 1864 he had re-enlisted, and he served until July the following year. “Dear Wif” he writes on December 18, 1864 from “Near Savanah, GA”

It is a pleasure to me that i am permited to seat myself to anser your ever welcom letter which came to hand yesterday. i was glad that you and dear little Allen was well. your letters found me well and enjoying myself as well as I can enjoy my self. better since i herd from you for it has bin a long time to me. i must tell you the reason i did not hear from you sooner we started on this march the 15 of november and landed hear on the 10 of this month we had no communication all that time but its all right now. we have had a hard march over three hundred miles. some nights we did not get time to lay down and hardly time to eat but we are through and i em glad this is Sunday. my dear last Sunday i did not think that i wold write to you this day for we laid under the rebels fire boath Saturday and Sunday and the shells and balls flew thick and fast. thear was one shell bursted about ten feet from me and broke three of our guns so i begin to think that was coming rather close.

Henry Butts as an old man
Henry Butts as an old man

One of the rare lucky ones, he was able to return to his wife and lived a long life, and was buried in the church cemetery outside his small town. We went in search of great-grandfather’s grave, and noticed that in the older section of the church cemetery, Civil War Veteran’s graves spout brass star that indicates service in The War. One star stood beside a grave of a boy who lived to the age of fourteen.

While you think about that, you might also think about taking a road trip to one or more of the many, many battlefields of the Civil War scattered from Pennsylvania down to Georgia. You can drive. You do not have to march.


  • Gods and Generals by Michael Shaara. Best book on the Civil War, hands down. When Michael Shaara died before the book found fame and became a movie, his son Jeff took over and completed a trilogy with Killer Angels and The Last Full Measure. Jeff Shaara went on to specialize in novels of war.
  • Rise to Rebellion and The Glorious Cause relate the American Revolution.
  • The Last Full Measure , covers the gruesome and grueling World War I
  • No Less Than Victory,  a novel of World War II

I will no doubt be talking in the future about WWI and WWII sites to visit, but here are previous posts about a movie in France, a memoir in Naples,and the underground in Crete all set in WWII. Travel to American revolutionary places were covered in Philadelphia, and Reading for July 4; a guest poster talked about Vietnam during the war.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

10 thoughts on “Veteran’s Day: Books That Travel Through History

  1. Hi, I was wondering if this is the William Henry Butts that married a Mary Plotner (I think would have been 3rd wife). I’m not sure it’s the same one but if it then he’s my great great grandfather. And if that’s the case I was wondering if you had more info you could pass on to me?

    thanks so much!

    1. Sorry, my great-great grandfather is Henry Allen Butts (1834-1920. His father was a William Henry Butts (1801-1864, but married to Esther Stall/Stahl. And That William Henry Butts GRANDFATHER was another William Henry Butts/Butz who died in 1805. That one had a first wife named Mary Rhodes. But I have the wife as DuBois (Clerge/Clarge) quite a bit of confusion with all the Williams and Henrys. I will be writing later about the Butts family at my site Ancestors in Aprons, which would be of more help for you than this one. A lot of its members have done research and I found a lot of info on the discussion groups on various geneaological sites. Let me know if I can be of any other help. (Although I don’t see a Mary Plotner in my papers).

  2. I see from his letter that he was apparently part of Sherman’s March to the Sea. I have an interest in such great-grandfatherly affairs as mine was also in that great enterprise. In writing about him you should include his Regiment. Since he was invalided out on his first enlistment, I assume he served in two different regiments. The importance of the regiment is that it allows not only to locate of his service records (including his pension records, which can be a gold mine of interesting personal information), but it can also help you to locate memoirs and records of other soldiers who served in his regiment or in nearby units and learn in finer detail what his experience was.

    See if there is a website for his Regiment and tell his story there and read the stories of his comrades. This way his story won’t get lost. I did this for my Great Grandfather:

    1. Thanks Davis.
      You’re absolutely right he was part of Sherman’s march to the sea. Since my focus at A Traveler’s Library is on books and travel rather than genealogy, I left out a lot of other information I have about Henry Butts. When I write about him at my new site, A Traveler’s Library, I’ll include the regiment information which my brother dug up some time ago. FYI, He first enrolled in 10/1861 in Co. “F” 77th PA, discharged 6/1862 at Nashville TN; re-enlisted 10/64 in Co. “K”, 43rd Reg. Ohio Volunteers VI for one year’s service.

  3. Thanks so much, “bro” for adding those details about Great-Grandpa. And Kerry, I know about the other battlefields–just trying to save space I think, but you’re right, they are too numerous. There is even a battlefield site in Arizona, and although it is in the vicinity of a state park, it was not a big enough battle to warrant a site of its own.
    I have not been to Shiloh, but recently visited Chattanooga and afterward read the details of the battle, although they are laid out more clearly at that National Battlefield than at any others I’ve ever visited.

  4. Thanks for the recognition of generations of American veterans. Shelby Foote’s novel “Shiloh” was a must-read for the family, when I took my sons to Shiloh Park in Tenn. to stand by the monument on the field where their ancestor, a private with the 77th Penn. Volunteer Infantry, helped hold off a Confederate cavalry charge. We tried to imagine what it would be like for those untested farm boys to face that murderous charge. Our Civil War battlefield parks are beautiful places, haunted with the ghosts of pain and valor. Shiloh, where thousands were killed and wounded, means “Place of Peace.” May they all find peace.

  5. My husband is a historian and always wants to visit battlefields, so this is a post I will share with him. Thanks for sharing your grandfather’s letter, which was fascinating to read.

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