A Heidelberg University anthropology professor's first book takes a look at how a husband and wife communicated while the man was imprisoned during the Civil War.
Dave Bush, director of Center for Historic and Military Archaeology, which is housed at Heidelberg, has published a book, "I Fear I Shall Never Leave This Island: Life in a Civil War Prison," using letters written by Wesley and Kate Makely, a husband and wife from Alexandria, Va.
It is the first-of-its-kind investigation into the conditions of a Civil War prison, according to Johnson's Island Civil War Military Prison's website.
Bush said the original collection of letters is at Library of Virginia in Richmond, Va., and he was granted permission to use the letters. He said the original form of a couple of letters is shown in the book, but he mostly transcribed them. Having both sets of letters, from Wesley and from Kate, helps the reader grapple with what is going on from Wesley's perspective, he said.
Bush said Wesley was a captain in 18th Virginia Calvary who was captured as troops were retreating from Gettysburg. Wesley was at Johnson's Island, a location where Bush does research, from July 1863 to March 1865.
"He's writing to Kate about various issues. ... He writes a letter or two a week, and she writes back, of course, as much as she can," he said.
Bush said some of their letters get lost during transit, and the letters are written as discussions of day-to-day events. For the most part, he said, the letters do not deal with long-term goals or plans, but instead tell about issues they face while Wesley is imprisoned.
Bush said the commentary he put in the book provides some context. A letter from Wesley may or may not tell other things going on in the prison at the time, and Bush said he presents questions about why Wesley may not be telling his wife about certain events.
"There's things that he doesn't tell her," he said.
Bush has used historical and archaeological records he has uncovered to explain what Wesley might have been thinking about and provide an anthropological context about what happened as he dealt with imprisonment.
"He writes as though he may not be ... reunited with her again," Bush said, explaining a letter shared near the end of the book.
Bush's book, which went on sale about a month ago, has been several years in the making.
"I was trying to figure out what would be a good way to present ... some of the work I had done at Johnson's Island," he said.
Bush said the book took a different path than what he originally thought. He said he initially planned for it to be more of a history of the time period with Wesley as the main drive, while it now has more context and personalization.
The point of the book is to provide a personal story in the context of a prisoner of war's experience, he said.
"I talk about some of the issues related to prison war experiences," he said.