One day over lunch with my boss and good friend, Mike Pride, we realized we were reading the same book: The Last Full Measure by Richard Moe, a compelling account of a Minnesota Civil War regiment told from the soldiers’ perspective.
We both love history, and one of us — I can’t remember which — wondered aloud if there was a similar story worth telling about New Hampshire.
The thing about a question like this rising at lunch with your boss is that you get to visit the library that afternoon in search of an answer.
It turns out there was such a story. The Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers, a group of 1,000 soldiers recruited in the fall of 1861, endured more deaths in battle than any other infantry regiment in the Union Army.
What’s more, they were led by a newspaperman — just like us! — named Edward Cross, a fierce, colorful and bigoted character who marched the Fifth into the horrors time and again.
Reporting and writing this story became our years-long, after-hours passion. We squinted at microfilm viewers until we were dizzy, tromped through cemeteries just to touch the headstones of soldiers we were coming to know, and dragged our loved ones to distant battlefields for vacation. We made each other better writers and in that process found our way to a single, coherent voice.
Our goal was to tell the story of the Fifth as the men experienced it, as honestly and fully as we could. Mike and I joked that it was taking us longer to write the story than the soldiers took to win the war. But at a certain point, as the soldiers themselves took shape in our minds, through their letters and the records they left behind, a sense of duty began to pull us forward too.
I’ll never forget the thrill I felt in writing what I knew would be the final words in My Brave Boys, and the satisfaction I take in having collaborated with Mike to bring these men and their experiences to the page has not dimmed since publication in 2001.