By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
In the Treasures of Madison County Museum on Range Street, next to the RATT Pact Theatre, Bill Bunting sits amid tangible pieces of Madison’s history, greeting museum visitors as he pores over volumes of reference books, history books, letters, diaries, and countless other materials. His goal is to compile as complete a history as possible on the Confederate Units that formed in Madison County. How many men were there in these units? Who were they? Where did they come from? And what eventually happened to them at the end of the Civil War?
It is a huge undertaking, and Bunting estimates he is about 35 to 40 percent finished. In the end, he hopes to have a day-by-day account of each and every man who came to Madison for the Confederate Army; what day he joined up, what company he was assigned to, what battles he was in, when he got sick, what day he died, where he died, and where he was buried – or, if he survived the war, what day he came back to Madison to be paroled, take the oath of allegiance back to the United States and reapply for the right to vote.
There were perhaps 10, or maybe even 11 Confederate Army companies formed in the Madison area, each comprised of roughly 120 men. Armed with rosters for each company, Bunting can determine which battles the men fought in, and by cross-comparing the dates of those battles with lists of men who were sick and wounded in area field hospitals, he can also determine which battles they were not in, how many people were actually present at a battle, and which companies were not able to fight at full force that day. In any given battle on any given day, a company could be down by as many as 30 or 40 sick and wounded. From various other records, it is possible to determine which companies fought to the left and right of each other, how many men they were able to muster, how many were wounded and how many died.
Through this intricate matching of lists of names and dates, it is possible to trace the path of one soldier (he enlisted in Madison on this day, was wounded on this day, was in the hospital on this day) from day one to the end of the war; or to the date of his death, if he did not survive until the end of the war.
In addition to army records and countless reference books such as the six-volume Biographical Roster of Florida’s Confederate and Union Soldiers, by David W. Hartman and David Coles, Bunting also finds much information in other history books such as Wiregrass to Appomattox, by James Parrish, and Florida Cowman, A History of Cattle Ranching in Florida, by one of Madison’s own, the late Joe A. Akerman, Jr.
There are papers from the archives of the University of Florida, Florida State University and the State of Florida Library – old records as well as more recent theses and dissertations on the Civil War years in Florida.
There are letters from soldiers to their families which prove to be a rich source of detail and information, such as the collection of letters the three Livingston brothers, Archie, Albert and Theodore, wrote back and forth to each other (present day Livingston Street in Madison is named for them). Bunting has an entire binder filed with copies of other soldiers’ letters from the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. From these letters, it seems most of the young men who enlisted in the Confederate Army, did so for three basic reasons: for the honor, glory and adventure of war; for Southern Independence; or for the right to keep their slaves.
Diaries and journals, from the soldiers and from the townspeople, are another window into the daily happenings of the Civil War years and what the people of Madison saw. There are details of meals and sometimes even banquets that were prepared for groups of soldiers coming through by train, as well as stories of days when there was no time for meals and the soldiers had to grab what they could and eat on the way. There are accounts of units that smuggled in guns up through Smyrna (Daytona). There are anecdotes of the young woman who took off the shoes she was wearing that day and gave them to a young recruit, the company drummer, who was barefoot. There is the story of the sleeping soldier who woke up to find flowers on his chest, and wondered if someone thought he had died. It was only a gift from a local girl who did not have the heart to awaken him, and simply left the flowers with him while he slept.
There will be parts of the book that will deal with what happened on “this date in history.” For example, on May 15, 1865, there is a list of all the activities that took place that day in Madison, including a complete list of men who were paroled, with names, ages and descriptions.
With another five or so units to go through, laboriously checking and cross-checking hundreds of names against endless lists, Bunting still has an enormous amount of work ahead of him. As of yet, he has no idea when his book might be finished and ready for publication, but he keeps steadily working on it.
“It’s a hobby, a thing I enjoy doing,” he said. “It’s really interesting to find out what happened to all these people.”