Thursday, April 2, 2009

Recapturing his story

I've been obsessively reading Errol Morris' 5-part piece in the New York Times investigating the life of Amos Humiston, a soldier who fell at Gettysburg. Humiston's story is well-known for Civil War and Gettysburg buffs. His body was found in Gettysburg, unidentifiable, clutching the ambrotype of three children. Through a twisted story, those children were identified by this ambrotype, giving a name to this soldier, their father, as well.

What Morris has done is attempt to untangle the story of Humiston's life, the life of his descendants and the tricky business of claiming the stories of lives through family, genealogy and media. The stories of this family have been exploited, revered and even ignored as some family members let letters and other documents disappear.

The five-part series is in Morris' blog, and it's pretty lengthy but an amazing story. Among the things highlighted is Amos Humiston's letters to his wife during the war. This passage in particular is touching, beautifully written and haunting since we know that Amos will never see his wife again.

"January 2, 1863: “If I ever live to get home you will not complain of being lonesome again or of sleeping cold for I will lay as close to you as the bark to a tree.”

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