As pretty much anyone who has ever spent more than a few minutes in the South knows, the War Between the States is an important part of our region's heritage.
It's a bigger deal for some than for others, and often subject to contentious debate.
Everyone, however, would agree that it was devastating.
We know people die in war. That's sort of the point. When casualties are counted, we tally ours and theirs and score who was hit hardest.
Though we were two separate countries for the four-year duration of the Civil War, history adds up the total dead all as Americans, whether Confederate or Union: More than 620,000 in all.
That's almost as many killed in all our other wars, combined, in our nation's history.
And in that era before antibiotics, more than twice as many died from disease than in direct combat.
One of those men was Pvt. Benjamin Prather. He was the great uncle of Larry Prather, owner of Prather Construction Co. in Harlem.
Benjamin Prather was a minister who enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861. A year later, he was shot in North Carolina at the battle of Crampton's Gap.
Prather was treated in St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Burkittsville, N.C., which was captured and used as a Union hospital. He led worship at the church until his wounds rendered him unable to continue, and he soon died - apparently of gangrene.
How do we know all this? He wrote about it in a letter to his wife here in Columbia County, Anna Elizabeth Prather. But she never read it; the letter, along with an added note from the wife of the church's pastor telling of his death, never made it home.
In fact, the letter went undiscovered for more than 100 years until the Rev. H. Austin Cooper, a North Carolina preacher and historian, found it hidden inside Benjamin Prather's devotional book.
The Brunswick (N.C.) Citizen published a story about the letter in 1976. After the death of Camilla Prather, Larry's cousin and a retired Harlem High School teacher, a copy of the story was found in her Harlem home.
The story tells how Cooper noticed that two of the pages in Prather's book had been glued together, with the letter hidden between them.
The letter was addressed "To Mrs. Benjamin Prather, Appling Stage Stop, Columbia County, Georgia," but the sender - Amanda Slifer, wife of a minister - apparently was unable to send it South.
Prather writes of the mundane tasks of war, such as getting a wheel repaired on a wagon that had been carrying Gen. Robert E. Lee, and of Confederate troops being routed from the area "because our gunners and sentry were mostly overcome from whiskey."
Prather is well into the letter before he reveals why he's writing from a hospital.
"I am not so well. On the 14th (September, 1862) I got shot in the right knee and hip," Prather writes. "Doctor J. Garrott took off my leg above the knee on the 18th.
"My hip smell (sic) so bad it is rotten. It thumps, and my head and eyes hurt all the time. Oh my beloved Anna Elizabeth I fear I shall never again see you. ..."
Prather also writes that the wounded in the church were visited by President Abraham Lincoln, who knelt and prayed with them. "He seemed to be a good man."
Prather's final words were added by a hospital volunteer: "Beloved Anna Elizabeth ... I am very sick now (and) I must stop for now. Your beloved BFP."
Before sealing the letter, Mrs. Slifer added a note of sympathy, recording Prather's death on Oct. 10, 1862.
Larry Prather shares the story as the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States approaches.
An estimated one in four Columbia County men of the era responded to the call of duty, representing one of the highest enlistment rates in Georgia. However our modern lenses view those soldiers, they are every bit as worthy of honor and respect as anyone who has ever worn the uniform of their country.
Keep that in mind next year when, undoubtedly, some misguided people will find an excuse to complain.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail email@example.com. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.
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