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 who registered received the book to read and three nights of discussion each attracted more than 50 people. My remarks at those discussions, edited for space limitations, are being presented in a series of columns beginning today. The first:

I hope it doesn't disappoint you that I am not wearing a Civil War soldier's uniform and carrying a Springfield rifle tonight. I am a Civil War scholar, not a re-enactor. I enjoy their activities so long as they don't try to re-enact battles. Those are but parodies of the savagery that killed more than 200,000 Americans and wounded 400,000.

When "A Stupendous Effort" was published by Indiana University Press, my editor there told me it has long legs. By that he meant that the book's subject of the Civil War is not topical. It is of enduring interest and continues to attract readers who discover the entrancing study of this seminal event in American history.

Your interest and presence here tonight proves his point, to be sure, but I have had regular confirmation of it in the eight years since the book's publication. The book was favorably reviewed by Civil War periodicals, I still receive royalty checks each year but, more importantly, readers still write to tell me of their pleasure at reading the book.

Some are descendants of the men in the 87th, from as far afield as Washington state, Oregon, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. A man from Naperville, Ill., drove here last year with his 12-year-old grandson who had joined him in Civil War study after reading the book. Another reader from Detroit came to talk and to share some of his war photographs. A reader in Pueblo, Colorado, saw a review of it in his hometown paper and bought a copy. A woman in Redmond, Washington, wrote to tell me that she now knew what her great-grandfather had endured during the war. Others found it at their local library or while visiting the bookstore at a Civil War battle site. Another read it so thoroughly that he called my attention to a mistake in the index.

The book's publication introduced me to the demands of book promotion that I had not anticipated. During the first year I spoke about it at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Mishawaka, which kept it on the shelves for two years; at the Little Professor bookstore in Fort Wayne, which also shelved it, and at the Fort Wayne Civil War Roundtable, besides talks at Winamac, Bremen, Columbus and Indianapolis. Then there were invitations from book sellers to appear for book signings at Civil War Collectors Shows, in Indianapolis, Nashville, Tennessee, and Mansfield, Ohio, the last two of them mammoth affairs with 600 to 800 exhibitors.

There were appearances on two Fort Wayne television stations. The South Bend Tribune devoted an entire page of a Sunday edition to the book, accompanied by the cover illustration and a chapter excerpt. All of it paid off, I. U. Press told me, for nearly 1,200 books were sold the first year.

The details of getting a book accepted by a leading publishing house may interest you. After four years of researching the stories of the 87th Regiment's service in the war and of its men, I found research to be addictive. Discover one fact that has been difficult to find and the hint of another pops up if you only can find it, ad infinitum. If I didn't stop to write it, I decided, to see if I could write it, I never would do so.

So, I began writing and after about a year I decided it was ready to be seen, with the approval of my wife, Marge, the love of my life, who is here tonight. The book is dedicated to her, and not only because she read and advised me on every chapter as it was completed.

I.U. Press was my first choice as publisher, because of my I.U. education and because it had a strong Civil War book list and a reputation for excellent promotion of its books. If my editor at Bloomington thought it needed more research, he could tell me.

The manuscript was mailed in October of 1994 but it was not until eight months later that it was accepted. I was about to ask for return of the manuscript to send it to another publisher. I.U. Press, in its mea culpa, blamed its delay on a work overload and getting a recognized and published Civil War scholar to read and critique the manuscript. They found one and that man found it to be well written, well organized and reflective of superior scholarship.

Another two years were required before the finished book appeared on my doorstep. There was the addition of footnotes which the publisher required. I needed two months for that. The bibliography had to be redone to satisfy accepted publishing style. The manuscript then went to a copy reader - a free lance writer in Bloomington, Ruth Albright. We had some discussion about style, etc., but she made my day with the opening paragraph of her letter. It said:

"Often while editing "A Stupendous Effort" I was convinced that the stupendous effort was yours for doing the enormous research necessary to put together this very interesting book. I had not been a Civil War buff before, but I must say that I found your book very interesting to edit and to read."

I am proud of Ruth's comment, of course, but I mention it to encourage first readers here that their read will not be a chore.

Oh, yes, and besides assembling the photographs for the book and the maps which Deana Gottschalk did for me so well, there was the matter of the index. It seems that the author, not the publisher, pays for that. How much, I asked? We can give you a primer to do it yourself (not!!) or you can hire it done. How much is that? $300, but we can deduct it from your royalties.

Hire it done, I said, but send me the bill. If this book makes me only $10 in royalties, I want it to be free and clear so that I can boast of it.

By the way, the first words of the book that I wrote were about the 87th Regiment's participation in the ferocious Battle of Chickamauga. I set myself a goal that if I could not write the 87th's battle story clearly and to my satisfaction, I would not continue with the book. If you want to check my decision to proceed, you first can read chapters 9, 10 and 11, to see if you, too, want to proceed. That's just a suggestion, mind you, for I believe the book's narrative will hold your interest from the beginning.

Enough of all that, and I apologize, if you thought there was too much of it. You really want to hear about the book you are asked to read, don't you?

(We'll get into that next week.)