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Writing a Civil War Book in Beaver County
By William E. Irion
Milestones Vol 22 No 2 Summer 1997

Note: Mr. Irion is Director of the Research Center for Beaver County History.

On a warm summer day in August of 1861 a young 19 year old boy, living in Manayunk, a part of the city of Philadelphia, enlisted in Company F 23rd Pennsylvania Volunteers Regiment. His name was James Earle and he was my great grandfather. His father, John Earle, had been in the War of 1812.

When I was a young boy my grandparents gave me James Earle's picture in his Civil War uniform. From the picture you could see he was small, only 5'51/2" tall and in his mouth he had a long curved pipe. I have always treasured that picture. Even at that time I was interested in history and from that moment on I became a Civil War buff. They also gave me his discharge papers and some other papers that had belonged to him. I sent to the Washington, D.C. General Service Administration for his military records and also the records of his father, John Earle, War of 1812.

1 am now retired from a career of teaching history and am currently working in the Research Center of the Carnegie Library in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. I have my own Civil War uniform and give lectures on Beaver County during the Civil War and on the boys and men who enlisted from here and fought in the Civil War. I have visited many battlefields, encampments and reenactments.

I am a member of the Beaver County Geneological Society and last July we sponsored a program on the Civil War. Ed Boots was the speaker. His speech was titled "An Evening with E. N. Boots, QM Sgt. 101 Pennsylvania Volunteers." E. N. Boots, a native of Beaver County, was captured at the battle of Plymouth and died in Andersonville Prison. Sgt. Boots was portrayed by Ed Boots, president of the Plymouth Pilgrims Descendants Society. I took advantage of this large crowd of people interested in the Civil War to announce plans for my up coming book.

Bob Bauder, a writer for the Beaver County Times, heard about my intentions to write this book, came to my house and took pictures of me in my Civil War uniform. He wrote an article for the paper. The title of the article was "Ex-Teacher Researches Local Connections to the Civil War."

Since that article appeared in the paper in November 1996 1 have received a great deal of information from people living in Beaver County. In fact, I have heard from people all over the entire country. I have had many telephone calls and letters. People have shown a great interest and enthusiasm for my project. They have sent me copies of records, letters, parts of diaries and told me stories about their ancestors. I have been overwhelmed with the response that I have received. People who have heard about this think that it is a great idea.

There are so many good stories concerning people who lived in this county during that period of time. I was afraid that if these stories were not collected and written down many of them would be lost forever. People have so many good things like this tucked away in their homes or other places and no one really knows about them. Many have come forward with these stories and are most anxious to share them with me.

A good example of what has been donated to me comes from Melvin Porter of Beaver Falls who sent me a family history that included a letter written by Samuel Porter, a Civil War soldier, to his parents on July 3, 1863. The Porters lived on a farm in North Sewickley Township. Four brothers from this family served in the Union Army - John, Hugh, Samuel and David. David was the youngest, just barely 18, when he left to answer the call. David died in the prison camp at Andersonville. Samuel Porter also was a prisoner at Andersonville. The story of the Porter brothers is just one of the many that has turned up while doing my research.

Many Beaver County boys wore the Blue uniform and marched off to do battle against the Confederate forces. Company C of the 63rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment recruited many of these boys in Rochester and New Brighton. Many people who are still living in Beaver County had more than one ancestor who was in this war. Terry May of New Brighton is doing Civic War research at the Research Center in Beaver Falls. He had several ancestors who served in the war and he comes in often and shares many stories about them with me. Richard Temple of Monaca wrote to me and said he had ten ancestors who served in the war. He sent me information of the ones that he could document.

Donald McLaughlin, who is a member of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, called me from Valencia, California, when he heard about my proposed book. He then sent me service records and individual data on his ancestors who participated in that war. Donald was a former Beaver County resident, a graduate of Beaver High School.

In my research I have focused my search on Beaver County's Civil War veterans. However, a number of people have written to me who live in Beaver County, but their ancestor enlisted in one of the nearby counties of Allegheny, Lawrence or Butler - others lived in Beaver County after the war.

Last summer I made a trip to Carlisle, PA to do some research at the U.S. Army Military History Institute there. I came across some fascinating information. One item was a set of letters written in 1863 by an unknown soldier who served in the Co. F the 140th Pennsylvania Infantry. The letters covered a year from January 1863 through December 1863. In these letters he talks about the boys from Industry, so we can assume he was from there. The letters are extremely interesting, He always begins them with Dear Wife and he does not sign them so we are not sure exactly who he was. It is a good mystery and I hope to be able to solve it.

At this point I am still involved in collecting the material and am ready to start organizing all of the information that I have in a way that I can begin writing. I do not know how long this will take. I realize it is a very large project but it is an interesting one that I will enjoy.