Fulton County Reads is a one-book, one-community project conceived by Librarian Jody Newton and Sue Clark, English teacher, of Rochester High School. It was inaugurated in February with A Stupendous Effort, my 1997 book about men from Fulton County and northern Indiana in the Civil War. Those participating in the project received the book to read; then followed three nights of discussion that each attracted more than 50 people. My remarks at those discussions, edited for space limitations, are being presented in a series of columns, the fifth of which follows:

Before I answer your additional questions about the book, I shall respond to a group of questions that RHS English teacher Sue Clark handed me two weeks ago and which I neglected to answer at that time. I've known Sue since she was a pup and I don't want to disappoint her.

First, she asked how the pay of $13 a month to Union Army privates would compare to today's wages.

Well, if you use the inflation index, $13 in 1862 would be $267 today. That's still not a good month's pay. Put another way, in 1862 a man worked 10 to 12 hours a day for $3. So, $13 a month wasn't much of a wage, but soldiers never are paid well.

She also wondered if soldiers sent any of their pay back home and what was available to them in camp to spend their money.

Most soldiers sent a bit of their wages home, for their families needed it in their absences. The $100 bonus for enlistment was paid in $25 increments and most of that was sent home. In camp, he could shop at the sutler's wagon for food, drinks and personal supplies like books, pencils and writing paper and sweets. Sutlers were independent merchants who were approved to follow the army.

How did mail find the 87th Regiment so regularly, she wondered.

The army's leaders knew that mail was absolutely necessary to maintain the soldiers' morale. Letters reached them in a few days, packages in few weeks. Every regiment had a mail clerk and the mail arrived by railroad or by mail wagons. Army organization was quite efficient. Headquarters knew where every regiment's army, division and brigade could be found. The timely delivery of mail was considered only slightly less important than the delivery of ammunition. It has been the same in every war since.

Why did the mule train driver ride on one of his six mules instead of sitting on top of the wagon?

First of all, because the mule can be a most intractable animal and it was necessary for the driver to be close to his team to control these obstinate creatures. He did this with a leather whip, called a black snake, with which he flicked the animals' ears and also did it with some of the loudest, most colorful and most inventive profanity ever uttered.

General Grant said he witnessed mule drivers swear a team out of the mud when no other process could move it. A theory even was advanced that if all the mule drivers of the army were put into a trench within earshot of the Rebels, they could swear the Confederates into flight or surrender.

Somehow, I can't imagine our gentle churchman, Daniel Bruce, the 87th's mule driver, resorting to such invective. But I wasn't there to prove it.

Secondly, mules pulled wagons full of all kinds of supplies, even ammunition, most of them filled so completely that a seat on top would be most uncomfortable.

And third, by riding with his team, a driver could disconnect the wagon and get his mules away to avoid capture.

In the book, it tells that George Moore of Rochester was unable to find his son after Chickamauga when he came to Chattanooga. It seems that the son was wounded and had been transferred to Madison, Indiana, where he later died. Sue wondered if the family ever found out about that?

They certainly did, in time. He would have been listed among the dead that were published in the local newspapers. This was done regularly throughout the war long before official notices were sent. If his father did not go to Madison to claim the body, burial would have been there.

Sue thought the Union army may have lost the Chickamauga battle because of low ammunition, for it seemed to her the Union was winning all of the fights there.

The Union lost the battle because the commanding general allowed a gap to be created in his defensive line just as a Confederate division charged it. As a result, the entire right of the Union line was flanked and retreated in chaos and disorder. The entire army would have been demolished if soldiers like the 87th had not rallied on a ridge and held off Rebel attacks long enough for what was left of it to retreat to safety.

In reading about the conversions and baptisms that took place while the 87th and its army were resting, Sue wondered if these ministers or chaplains also took up arms during a battle.

The conversions and baptisms were conducted by religious leaders who followed and sought out the soldiers for that purpose. Each regiment did have a chaplain for individual consultations, but he did not carry a weapon and did not take part in the battles.

Sue also wondered if the Underground Railroad sites in Fulton County have been marked with memorial plaques. She learned from our county historian, Shirley Willard, that there are seven such sites in the county. Shirley is considering producing a map indicating where these stations were located as a record for posterity.

Let me mention a unique legend of the war. It is the Rebel Yell of Confederate soldiers which they sounded while on a dead run in all-out charges against the enemy. Those who heard it never forgot its shrill, savage and triumphant sound, so different from the Union soldiers' deeper shouts on attack. The writer Ambrose Bierce heard it at Chickamauga and thought it the ugliest sound that any mortal ever heard.

It perished with the war's end and nobody knows exactly what it was like, for the war's survivors described it in wildly different terms. One thing they agreed upon: it gave you chills when you heard it.

Next: Closing the discussions with an examination of our Civil War.

(Copies of A Stupendous Effort are available at The Sentinel's business office for $25 per copy.)