For Memorial Day:

This one is too good not to share, and far too good to let be forgotten.

Several years ago, I bought a few issues of Youth’s Companion from 1865 and became enamored of pieces by “Uncle James.”  They’re gritty, sometimes-intense vignettes and anecdotes about slavery and the American Civil War.  I found copies of almost all the pieces and put transcriptions up at the site.  Who “Uncle James” actually was was anybody’s guess, since that name isn’t in any of the reference books I consult.

A few years later, Judy Albergotti Hines — a researcher in South Carolina — wrote to me. She’d been researching the history of Decoration Day — the early Memorial Day.  And she suggested a bit diffidently that “Uncle James” might have been James Redpath, an abolitionist and journalist who admired John Brown.  Surely, she wrote, this had been noticed by many people.  To which my response was, Well, if it had, they’d certainly kept that information to themselves!

When I wrote to historian John R. McKivigan, he agreed that — yes — given the biographical info Ms. Hines had noticed in the pieces, Redpath probably did write them.

This is what I love about the Internet:  I’d never heard of Redpath; Dr. McKivigan had (probably) never looked at the Companion; Ms. Hines — who knew about both — put them together.  And not only have there been additions to the list of Redpath’s works, but another writer for the Companion has been identified.  (And I’ve been handed a hmmm…, because these pieces and some others appearing in the Companion at that time are very different from other works on the War being written for children; and just why is that?)

Since the identification, I’ve gone through some later volumes of the Companion and realized that Redpath wrote quite a lot about the War — well into the late 1860s.  (He also wrote a short story not about the War.  I think he should have stayed with nonfiction.)  I like his writing about the War:  it’s much less sentimental than other pieces on the subject appearing in periodicals for children at the time.  Perhaps the pieces were read mostly by older readers (early American periodicals weren’t compartmentalized the way we expect), but Redpath wasn’t writing for children as if they were frail panes of glass; he was presenting the truth as he understood it — never a bad thing in writing for children.