Collecting Civil War memorabilia has been a way William Howard has kept his favorite subject alive. However, continuing the words of a soldier who experienced the war firsthand has done more than keep the subject alive it has given it new life.
Howard, 48, of Delmar, is a Civil War historian who stumbled upon a rare find after purchasing a personal war collection 20 years ago in a used book store.
With the help of the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center in Saratoga Springs in the form of original photographs of soldiers in the 134th New York Infantry, Howard teamed up with The Northshire Press in Manchester Center, Vt., to publish The Civil War Memoir of William T. Levey.`
Levey served as a corporal with the 134th, and an account of his experience was published in a very limited quantity in 1904. A paperback copy of that account was in that Civil War collection Howard purchased 20 years ago.
`I’ve been collecting Civil War memorabilia since I was 9 years old,` said Howard, a 1979 graduate of Bethlehem High School. `It was a part of someone’s small Civil War collection. I knew this book was rare when I found it. I couldn’t find it in the New York State historical archives.`
Howard said after reading over the manuscript one rainy afternoon, he decided to start editing and retyping it.
The end product was Howard’s newest book, which he provides an introduction and research notes to. The book also features a forward written by the noted Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer.
`I decided to donate my original copy to the state archive after I was finished with the book,` he said. `What I like about it is it really recreates the experience of talking with a Civil War veteran, and just like a person remembering their own past experiences, there’s a little bit of myth as part of the account.`
Howard sets the record straight at certain points of the memoirs with his research notes included with the book.
Levey was born in 1840 and enlisted in the 134th New York Infantry in August 1862. The regiment fought at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg with the Union army’s 11th Corps. The corps had a large number of German-speaking immigrant-soldiers in its ranks and was subject to a great deal of discrimination during its service.
Levey was wounded at the battle of Dug Gap, Ga., after his regiment transferred to the war’s Western Theater, according to Howard, and participated in General William T. Sherman’s controversial `March to the Sea`in 1864.
He eventually lost his leg to a field amputation as a result of his wound and spent his final years in the Quaker Street settlement outside Duanesburg.
Active in veteran’s affairs during the postwar period, Levey died in 1921.
Howard said his fascination with the Civil War began, of all places, at the Slingerlands Elementary School.
`I had a reading problem when I was in Slingerlands Elementary, and my old librarian Ann Reardon told me to pick any book in the library I wanted to read,` Howard said. `I picked an illustrated Civil War book and whatever was in that book started a spark.`
Howard’s reading vastly improved, and his thirst for all things Civil War hasn’t been quenched since.
The story didn’t end there, according to Howard, who recalled talking to a reporter about a Civil War question when working as chief of staff for former Gov. George Pataki.
`A woman in my office asked why I was talking to a reporter about the Civil War, and when I explained my background, she told me her mother was a school librarian in Bethlehem and kept a Civil War book that she said changed a little boy’s life,` said Howard. `Her mother was Ann Reardon, and I was the little boy.`
A longtime student of American history, Howard has published several other books on the Civil War, as well as many articles on different topics related to American military, social and political history. After graduating from Bethlehem Central, he continued his studies at Manhattanville College where he received a bachelor’s degree in American Studies in 1983. He earned a master’s degree in political science from SUNY Albany’s Rockefeller College as a Herbert Lehman Fellow in 1984 and participated in the Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School in 1998.
Howard served as acting chief of staff to Gov. George E. Pataki during the last two years of his administration and as Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security to Gov. Eliot Spitzer. He later served as Chief of Staff of the NYS Office of Homeland Security.
`The Memoir of William T. Levey` was originally published in extremely limited edition in 1904 and offers a rare glimpse into the life of the Civil War’s common soldiers,` Howard said. `The memoir is really the closest thing we have today that approximates the experience of what if must have been like to sit at the knee of the old Civil War veterans and listen to their stories of camp and battlefield.`
Howard said he thinks the success of historical programming on cable and documentaries on PBS has helped raise interest and awareness on American military conflicts.
`It’s really a post-Ken Burns PBS phenomenon that people are more interested in what people actually had to say themselves in the past,` he said. `It gives us perspective.`
`The Civil War Memoir of William T. Levey` can be purchased from the Northshire Bookstore for $12 plus shipping and handling and can be ordered online at www.northshire.com or by phone at 1-800-437-3700.“