Why did I write it? Read the Preface and find out!
(NOTE: this on-line version omits endnotes.)
The conscious decision to undertake this book arrived with enough leisurely detours to put one in mind of a journey across the ramshackle Confederate transportation network in 1861. It was just over a century later that I first felt the magnetic attraction of the war that, for a time, rent the United States asunder, and centennial books and movies may have played a major role in awakening a young boy's interests. More mesmerizing in effect, however, were the sensations produced by our summer vacations throughout the 1960s, when each visit to grandparents, great-aunts and -uncles, and distant cousins seemed to lead me back to the 19th century. The annual migration took me from our home in Baton Rouge down the older roads of the Deep South, dotted with glimpses of decaying cemeteries and tumbledown farmhouses that seemingly bore no similarity to the suburbs where I lived. These roads always led us to Georgia and its Cyclorama, Stone Mountain, and to places whose names evoked desperate struggles of a hundred years ago: Atlanta, Peachtree Creek, Kennesaw.
Much of our time was spent in the hot summer sunshine of rural Georgia, however, and the very air of Talbot County always seemed to say that the Civil War was not so long ago after all. This feeling had nothing whatsoever to do with the civil rights struggles that highlighted the difference a century could make, as well as the existence of perspectives on the war that had nothing to do with a young boy's romantic musings. All that was beyond my ken, thankfully, and how was I to know that my mother's old hometown, Junction City, had never even seen the light of day until the 20th century? It certainly felt, looked, and smelled like "long ago and far away" to me.
After my grandfather, Matthew Martin Webster, died in 1965, I had occasion to note the headstones near his when we made our annual pilgrimage to place a wreath in the little country cemetery. Some of the weathered gravestones bore dates that made me wonder if an "Old Confed" rested beneath their shade, and many markers throughout Talbot County proudly bore an inscription that left no doubt: Co. K, 27th Ga. Inf., CSA. Poignant reminders of what had been, such monuments always made me wonder whether any of my own relatives had fought in the war, and what they experienced during those times. When we recently rediscovered the quiet graveyard where my great-grandmother, Betty Carlisle Webster, was laid to rest over a century ago, we realized that her dimly-etched epitaph was another gentle admonition that those who went before remain, invisibly but powerfully, still a part of us: Oh, for a touch of the vanished hand and the sound of the voice that is stilled.
My mother, Ethel Shealy Webster Mangham, had everything to do with my reverence for the past, and her cultivation of family values intertwined with family memories was the same that she had learned at her mother's knee. I believe that such oral traditions formed the centerpiece of the fabled sense of regional identity that characterized the South in my youth. Combat veteran, Secretary of the Navy, and author James Webb drew directly upon such traditions, linking military service and masculine honor, for the character of Marine Lieutenant Robert E. Lee Hodges, a protagonist in his modern classic about the Vietnam War, Fields of Fire.
My mother's own childhood memories of a colt named "Joe Wheeler" never ceased tickling my reveries throughout the years, and my inspiration to act finally came in 1994. I was teaching European and world history at the United States Military Academy at West Point, but still read occasional books about the Civil War. One night I lay reading an account of a Georgia regiment undergoing a deadly ordeal by fire at Antietam, and the old memories and questions came flooding back. I decided it was time to learn if I had ancestors there during America's hour of trial.
I began researching my Mangham ancestors that spring, suspecting that they may have been in Georgia during the war, but knowing only that my grandfather had been born there in the 1880s. Little did I realize that his very name, Henry Gordon Mangham, was probably a tip-off. Grandpa apparently was named for Georgia's famous governor of that time, General John B. Gordon, who had risen from captain of volunteers to Robert E. Lee's only non-West Point corps commander. Grandpa's own grandfather, John Willis Mangham, had served in a Georgia Sharpshooter battalion in the Army of Tennessee, but John's brothers Will and Charles ("Nat") had fought in the 13th Georgia Volunteer Infantry, which helped make General Gordon's reputation in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. I was amazed to learn that both had suffered serious wounds at Sharpsburg (Antietam), where their regiment suffered the second-highest casualty rate of the 180-odd Confederate regiments engaged in a battle that still ranks as the single bloodiest day in America's history. After writing three historical and genealogical articles concerning Mangham Confederate soldiers by 1996, I realized that I wanted to develop a broader perspective on the men and women whose countenances glimmered in the shadows of my initial research.
I am indebted to many for their assistance in my quest. For their friendship, encouragement, and historical acumen, my appreciation is due to many former colleagues at West Point, including Colonels Bob Doughty and Scott Wheeler, as well as Lieutenant Colonels Rich Coon, Dave Cotter, Rick Lechowich, Frank Siltman, and Tom Ziek. Lieutenant Colonel Bill Bassett, another old friend from the West Point faculty, helped me greatly in my work on Willoughby Hill Mangham of the 11th Georgia while I was a student-officer and he was a faculty member at the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Others whose contributions have made this work possible are the ever-helpful staffs of the Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas state archives, as well as the staff at the National Archives. Jeanell Strickland of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library's Bluebonnet Branch, Genealogy Section, and a friend of my sister Gloria since high school days, has responded to my requests with unfailing alacrity and indispensable advice. Another friend of Gloria's, Miriam Davey, provided critical information on Wiley Person Mangham. Mr. Bennie Hixon of Monroe and Shirley Lobrano of the Richland Parish branch library in Mangham, Louisiana helped me research Wiley and his brothers, Tom and Henry. Additionally, thanks are due to Dr. John McGlone of Southern Heritage Press for his patient assistance with the publishing process.
This project never would have entered the realm of possibility if I had not encountered the genealogical foundations laid by Vaughn Ballard, of Arlington, Texas, Lynn Parham of Huntsville, Alabama, and John Palmer, of Santa Rosa, California. Ballard's book on Solomon Mangham opened my eyes to broad genealogical vistas I had never suspected. As he acknowledged in his book, his own research depended heavily upon Parham's quarter century of labor on his Mangum Family Bulletin, and Palmer's work expanded the body of corporate knowledge still further. Without attempting to compare our achievements to those of the great scientists, it seems nonetheless appropriate to borrow Isaac Newton's praise of Copernicus, Kepler, and others: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."
By combining the genealogical and historical disciplines in this work, I have attempted to use the strengths of each to complement the other. In the process, I have unashamedly accepted limitations in source material that would deter many historians. The resulting ambiguities challenge the boundaries normally imposed by the historical discipline, in favor of telling my family's story as fully as it can be told. It is my hope and belief that the resulting narrative offers a useful model to family historians, while providing grist for the mills of analytical historians, unit historians, and Civil War enthusiasts who seek to deepen their understanding of Southerners at war.
Although I owe thanks to many whose mention must fall victim to brevity, I cannot close without expressing my undying gratitude to and admiration for my parents, Dr. and Mrs. J. Roger Mangham of Baton Rouge. Special thanks are due also to my brothers and sisters, Gordon, Barry, Beverly and Gloria, and their families, who all taught me the value of love and tradition.
My love and gratitude are due my wife, Nan, and our daughters Carolyn and Amanda, for their unstinting support at every bend in the road. All three have withstood the years I devoted to this book, accepting the heavy long distance costs run up by a husband and father with a non-stop connection to the 19th century. Both of our daughters are modern proof, if I may paraphrase Jeanell Strickland's conclusion, that we "Georgians sure do recycle names!" After reading this book, you, too, will understand why.