Preface: collaborating with the dead.
A soldier with the 88th PA Volunteers, cousin of the one-day governor of Pennsylvania, Samuel Pennypacker, as well as being the grandson of a member of Jefferson's congress, Anderson came from an honored family whose history was entrenched in American politics and culture. He was given what he called a "descriptive" to leave the army at Warrenton, VA, due to illness-a combination of typhoid, rheumatism, and lead poisoning-on August 26, 1862. A month later, back in Philadelphia, he paid a man named Dewitt forty-five dollars to process his claim. Dewitt, it turned out, was an imposter; Anderson's discharge was never put through.
The army eventually tracked him down. Anderson was taken from his home in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, to Forrest Hall Military Prison in Georgetown and later to Stone General Hospital, a locale Walt Whitman often visited to nurse the sick in those latter years of the war. "I thread my way through the hospitals; / The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand," scroll Whitman's words round the granite entrance of the Dupont Circle Metro Station, "I sit by the restless all dark night-some are so young; / Some suffer so much-I recall the experience sweet and sad ..." Haunted by him, as Whitman was by those young men, I dream, I dream, I dream.
Still later, I would find, in a stack of documents over eighty pages long, a letter written from jail in 1864, presumably defending his actions, telling step by step what occurred in the course of days following his exit from the war. It had been enclosed in an envelope in the National Archives since 1864. I discovered his songs soon after that. Written in the copybook passed down to me, and over six months' time, they came back into the world with music I composed for them, and I sang them for the first time. With his lyrics I composed 11 songs and produced the album By & By soon after. I must add I felt that weird collaboration unfolding. I still do. His world was my world. A world broken up by a war and disappointment, and an individual caught and killed by the machine. I understood his poetry. His country was familiar to me. This was my country.
The poems and songs that follow base their material on Anderson's obituary, his copybooks, some personal effects, and his own words: we have the handwritten letter (mentioned above) addressed to his court-appointed lawyer on April 1, 1864. His imprisonment lasted eight months. Anderson was also a poet who filled his copybooks with original verse and songs. These books were passed down in my family--he is my great-great grandfather--until they fell into my hands some ten years ago, igniting my interest in his life. With each new turn in my research, from the charge of desertion to my discovery of his letters, bed cards, surgeons' reports, and the testimonies from others in his company, his story grew more contradictory, more human. What follows marks my strange collaboration and connection with a man now dead 130 years, Anderson's story of one who fell through the gap is universal; it touches upon the lives of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the issue of American violations of human rights at Abu Ghraib, and the overflowing American prison system in which, at this writing, some two and a half million are incarcerated. Isaac was a man who returned to his life, exonerated, but who never fully recovered. He died at 47 of a confluence of diseases he first contracted during the war.
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|Publication:||War, Literature & The Arts|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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