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Dr. John Griffin, distinguished professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina, has written on a variety of topics ranging from college football rivalries to World War II heroes and presidents.
He even found time to pen a murder mystery.
But Griffin considers his latest book, which will be released at Lancaster County Library on Thursday, among the most important to date.
The title is a dead giveaway as why Griffin chose Veterans Day to unveil the work.
Griffin said “Silent Heroes: Lancaster County in the Civil War” ($29) preserves for all times the stories and photos of those who suffered and died during four long years of warfare.
“After 145 years, we finally have it,” Griffin said. “I just wish someone had done this immediately after the war, but no one did. So here it is, for better or for worse. I did the best I could to preserve our history.”
There were 10 companies of Confederate soldiers raised in Lancaster County during the Civil War and the 350-page book lists the rosters for all of them.
Through painstaking research, Griffin tries to tell what happened to each soldier.
Griffin used muster pay records and other sources from Confederate archives to find out who was killed, died, wounded, captured or missing.
“Silent Heroes” also includes several letters that soldiers wrote home to their families. One was written just days before a soldier was killed in battle.
“Believe me, very few of these boys ever made it home again,” he said. “It’s incredible the number of them who were killed in war. Almost an entire generation lost their lives.”
Griffin said he also pored through old copies of The Lancaster Ledger and found a number of interesting first person accounts of how the local population dealt with Sherman’s troops. Griffin said he was outraged by the number of violent incidents – rapes, robberies and murders – that Union troops committed.
“It’s infuriating,” Griffin said. “If this happened today, Sherman and his thugs would be tried for war crimes.”
Griffin said about 40 people submitted photos and stories of their great-grandfathers, including a black soldier, a federal soldier and a Native American who fought in a Cherokee Nation regiment.
Griffin said he was especially pleased to get information about soldiers like Amos McManus, the veteran who posed for the Confederate monument that’s on the Lancaster County Courthouse lawn.
Other stories include Richard Kirkland, the “Angel of Mayre’s Heights”
“Kirkland was quite a hero and there are monuments to him on the battlefield of Gettysburg,” Griffin said.
One of the most interesting stories involves Ben and Frank Clyburn.
“Ben had his leg shot off at Gettysburg and a friend picked it and brought it back home to Lancaster,” Griffin said. “His parents buried it in the family cemetery, where it rests today.”
Frank Clyburn, at the age of 20, became the youngest colonel in the Confederate army.
There is also a chapter on Northern prisoner-of- war camps. While Andersonville is often mentioned when the topic comes up, Griffin said few have heard of infamous camps such as Camp Douglas, Fort Delaware and Point Lookout in Maryland.
For the most part, Griffin said that’s because the winners record the historical accounts.
“Our boys died there by the thousands of starvation, sickness and mistreatment,” he said. “A number of them from Lancaster were in those camps and more than 25 percent of them never made it home.
“Why was nothing ever done about that? Because the Union won the war,” Griffin said. “Only the losers ever pay for war crimes.”
Griffin, who received the Order of the Crescent, the state’s highest award, from former Gov. Jim Hodges, has published 19 non-fiction works and one mystery novel.
Griffin will also appear in “South Carolinians in World War II: A Time to Fight,” which will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Thursday on SCETV.
Griffin was interviewed for a segment on Lt. Bill Farrow, a Darlington native and Doolittle Raider who was captured and executed by the Japanese after a mock trial.
Griffin wrote a book about Farrow in 2006.
“They came to Lancaster to interview me for the segment a couple of months ago,” Griffin said. “I knew it was coming up, I just didn’t know when.”
Want to go?
WHAT: A book signing and presentation of “Silent Heroes: Lancaster County in the Civil War” by author Dr. John C. Griffin
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Lancaster County Library, 313 S. White St.
HOW MUCH: Free; Griffin will be signing copies of the book, which sells for $29.
INFORMATION: (803) 285-1502