Lighthouse Author Writes About Civil War

Almon Beneway changed his name to Albert Walton so that his mother could not pursue him and make him return home.
Almon Beneway changed his name to Albert Walton so that his mother could not find him and make him return home.

Mary Louise Clifford is best known in lighthouse circles for writing Women Who Kept the Lights; however she has written other books on a wide range of topics. Most recently she published a book on her grandfather, who at 14 ran away from home to serve as a drummer boy, was later captured at the Battle of Chickamauga, and served out the war in various prison camps.

According to Clifford, this writing project started some eighty years ago:

As a child I listened to my father tell what he remembered of his father’s war stories. Years later my army husband obtained Almon’s Military Service Record and Civil War medal. In the 1970s I tried to trace his childhood on microfiches of the 1850 and 1860 census, without success. I did obtain the history of his regiment from the Virginia State Library, and found there the story of Almon’s enlistment.

First page of Albert Walton's compiled military service record from the National Archives
First page of Albert Walton’s compiled military service record from the National Archives

The censuses are now online, and my professional researcher daughter began bringing me not only the census records, but pages from city directories, marriage license registers, newspapers, etc. with my grandfather’s name listed. She took me to the National Archives and introduced me to the Military Service and Pension Records, and, using the regimental history rosters, I began hunting through the members of Almon’s company and regiment who were either wounded or captured at Chickamauga. When I found a letter written by my grandfather in one of the folders, I knew it was time to sit down and start the book.

Then I found a second-cousin-once-removed who is the custodian of some of Almon’s memorabilia, including a 24-page hand-written memoir of his Civil War experiences that he didtated to his daughter. It deals mainly with those months he spent as a prisoner of war.

I was aided enormously by an 1879 book by John McElroy, who was imprisoned in the same four Confederate prisons as Almon and described his experiences in very vivid prose. Even more useful was a journal written by a member of Al’s regiment, William Bluffton Miller, published in 2005, for it told the day-to-day activities of the regiment as it marched from Louisville to Chickamauga.

Putting all these bits and pieces together has been challenging and enormously satisfying.

The book is intended for high school age readers but has appealed to many adult Civil War enthusiasts. Autographed copies are available for $19.17 ($15.95 plus $3.22 media mail) to those ordering directly from the publisher through their ordering website. For more information visit the book’s website.

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