Note: I am doing a deep dive into the life of Wells Waite Miller, a largely forgotten Civil War hero, researching and writing his biography. Not too long ago, I was asked to theoretically consider how he might feel about the process. This tongue-in-cheek essay is the result!
For the past two years, seven months, and odd number of days, I’ve found myself pondering the following question: Was it worth almost dying on the blood-soaked fields of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 to potentially have my biography written and published?
I say “potentially” because Kelly means well and she does spend dedicated amounts of time digging through musty files to research my life’s story—but then she has clothing to wash, paying work to complete, family responsibilities, and bills to pay (I simply couldn’t believe what it cost to get copies of my military service and pension records. Outrageous!) To give her credit, Kelly does return to the manuscript—and she and I call it “our project” when no one else is listening—but then she needs to dig through the same files again to find necessary information.
I get so frustrated.
As a Union Captain in the War of the Rebellion, if I’d handled my work in the way that Kelly sometimes does with our particular project, far more of the boys in the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry would have been endangered—and that would not be acceptable. As a side note, Kelly never would have succeeded in the military. For one thing, she’s a pacifist. Additionally, she bounces from one thought to the next when writing, rather than following strict linear marches.
She is who she is, though—and since no one else seems to have made an effort to tell my story, I tolerate her working style as best I can, celebrating our successes and banging my head against the wall the rest of the time. (Because I’m a ghost, head banging, fortunately, doesn’t hurt. It’s more of a symbolic gesture.)
As you can see, she’s already rubbing off on me because I didn’t even answer the question initially posed—whether being badly wounded by the Confederates and all the pain and suffering I endured during my recovery would be justified if my biography gets completed and read by other people.
If you’d have asked me that question right after I’d been shot in the right shoulder and expected to be trampled to death by horses ridden by Rebel-yelling officers, my answer would have been a flat “no.” I desperately wanted to go home to my sweetheart, the lovely Mary Helen, marry her, and be the kind of husband she so richly deserved.
Biography, schmi-ography. I just wanted to heal and love on my girl! (We ultimately did have a son and a daughter—and that’s all I’m going to say about whether or not certain parts of my body were still in good working order, post-wounds. I don’t approve of modern writers and their willingness to, as they say, “tell it like it is.”)
Had you asked me this question later in life, though, then my answer may have been different. I was considered a war hero because of Gettysburg, and I was chosen by William McKinley—Yes! THAT William McKinley—to write the official report on Ohio’s contributions in the Battle of Antietam. I served as the long-term secretary of the Ohio Department of Agriculture and was being encouraged to run as the Republican candidate for the Ohio gubernatorial race when I unexpectedly died in 1906.
Now, nearly 115 years after my death—when beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to their biographer—my answer is a resounding “yes.”
My regrets if I sound ungrateful. I sincerely do appreciate Kelly’s efforts, even though it took her until her 11th visit to Gettysburg to even notice the 8th OVI monument on the battlefield. (She explains that delay by noting how it’s not located by other monuments, which I suppose is true.) It’s placed there (more or less, with monument placement being a whole other story!) because, on July 2, 1863, I needed to lead a small band of hardy men to what would become one of the most dangerously isolated spots on the battlefield to offer support to Union boys who were brave enough to repel General Robert E. Lee’s traitorous march in what’s called Pickett’s Charge.
(If Kelly, even once, refers to him as “Bobby Lee!”—a nickname that’s definitely popular nowadays—I will spank her fingers. What’s considered acceptable discipline has evolved over the centuries, but I will do what I must.)
Please Read: Mary Helen just told me that I absolutely will NOT punish Kelly for using a nickname if it’s done appropriately to denigrate what’s called the Lost Cause. Even in spirit form, my marvelous bride can be quite fierce. So, I withdraw comments placed in parentheses in the above paragraph.
Yes, Mary Helen. My apologies . . . Dear, I said I’m sorry.
Anyhow, Kelly is writing through an odd contraption on her desk and I do approve of how her writing can veer away from mere, dry historical accountings of my life and legacy. Facts are important, but I want this dad-blamed book to be read and—
What’s that, Corrine? Oh.
Please delete the curse word (you know, “dad-******”). My daughter married a prominent Schwenkfelder pastor, Dr. Oscar Kriebel, and swearing was strictly prohibited in their household. Our son, Amos Calvin (named after his two grandfathers) became a well-known lawyer, so his ears didn’t bleed quite so easily when unpleasant language was used. Corrine is right, though, and she suggests that I end this essay with something kind to say about Kelly.
[Please insert throat clearing here]
I had an older brother, Lodowick, who died on March 30, 1862 of typhoid while serving his country in The War. This happened shortly before the Battle of Shiloh and, in the chaos, his tombstone was incorrectly inscribed as “S.G. Miller.” Lodowick therefore became lost to history until Kelly—somewhat haphazardly, but nevertheless accurately—found pieces of information and participated in a collaboration that allowed his biographical details to be entered into the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War Graves Registration Database. When this happened, all of the 72nd OVI soldiers buried in Shiloh were finally officially listed.
Much obliged, Kelly. Much obliged.