It started out with a curiosity about his Civil War grandfather.
Twenty years and 1,525 pages later, Tom Holley has published his third reference book on Confederate infantry regiments from Columbia and McDuffie counties.
Holley said he began in 1988 researching his grandfather without much results.
He learned more through researching the other soldiers in the Company K, Ramsey Volunteers, in which his grandfather served.
"This is sort of nutty, but I was determined," he said. "By the time I finished, it was like I almost had the company complete. So, I went back and completed it. ... I sort of committed to doing the whole grander scale. And I've just kicked myself so many times since then because it was such a big project. But, now it's done and it was fun."
The three books, Company K, Ramsey Volunteers, The Sixteenth Georgia Infantry Regiment; Company F, Thomson Guards, Tenth Regiment Georgia Volunteers; and Company K, Hamilton Rangers, Forty-eighth Georgia Infantry Regiment, are reference works that list the genealogy, occupation and information of each soldier on the muster rolls, overviews of the companies and officers, diary excerpts, letters, battle reports from officers and battle articles.
Holley said some people have the wrong impression of him and others who work on Civil War history.
He hopes his books will help change that. With a soft-spoken Southern accent, Holley said he does not agree with the decisions his ancestors made, but his grandfather six generations ago died for a cause.
He said schoolchildren are learning from history books that do not accurately tell the story, and he wants the history to be documented accurately.
"I just want this to be an entirely positive message," Holley said. "We're not racists at all. We understand right from wrong. ... We shouldn't judge our ancestors based on information that we have today. We have to judge them on information they had at that time. These were good, honorable people."
Through his research, Holley located the burial site of each soldier and was instrumental in the restoration of some of the graves.
Holley said there were 1,300 men in each regiment for him to research. He also contacted family members of each soldier.
"Some were very helpful, and some didn't care about it at all," he said. "You have to love it. You don't do this kind of thing if you don't."
Holley learned that because county lines changed, his Civil War grandfather lived in four counties, even though he never moved.
He said the majority of the men in the first book came from the Harlem area, the group in the second book came from Thomson and Columbia County, and those in the last were from Thomson and Warren County.
"It's certainly not a leisurely reading book," he said. "I wanted a good, solid, accurate record so we can keep our history clear in Columbia County. ... Unfortunately, as people die, the old cedar chests get thrown out in the trash and it will all go up in smoke."
The books are available at the Columbia County Library, or they may be purchased for $25 each by calling Holley at (706) 595-3268.
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