A Civil War saga with family connections
By: PAUL KEDINGER
RAYNE — Armed with a desire to chronicle and perpetuate his family’s ancestry for his children and equipped with a smartphone, Frederick “Fritz” Welter, a Marine veteran and attorney, created a Civil War saga that tracks the lives of his great-grandfather and the great-great-grandfather of his wife, Tremayne.
Welter’s book, “Men in Blue… and Gold: The Civil War Story of A Boy from Brighton, Wisconsin,” focuses on Theodore “Theo” H. Hillman, a Wisconsin farm boy. Initially denied enlistment in the Union Army in Wisconsin by his father, Theo, 15, leaves his home in rural Kenosha County and walks into a Chicago recruiting office. “I’m eighteen, and I’m ready and able to fight,” boasts Theo when questioned by a Union infantry officer. At six feet, one inch tall, the muscular volunteer is assigned to the 65th Illinois Infantry on April 13, 1863.
In the same time frame, Welter describes the motives of a young Louisiana boy -- Joseph Holloway. Born in Grand Coteau, the young man shares the same desire to serve by volunteering for the Confederate Army’s 18th Louisiana Regiment.
Welter, perhaps remembering his own youthful dream of military service, easily fashions dialogue in conversations which express the thoughts and musings of two young men bent on living once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
The author creates conversations that are believable and realistic, flowing with the ease as if they had been transcribed from tape recordings.
The fictional dialogues with fellow Union soldiers – and the imaginary encounter between Hillman and Holloway in a trench during the Battle at Franklin in Tennessee or the young Union soldier’s rescue from a river of a granddaughter of Cherokee Chief John Ross– are meshed into actual battles and maneuvers. To ensure the authenticity of the battle accounts, Welter immersed himself in researching the Civil War, to the point of reviewing the actual official records produced by the Generals detailing their strategies and troop movements.
The dovetailing of fiction with the true details of the lives of Hillman and Holloway and the reality of battle scenes are more astonishing when you learn the book was produced on a smartphone.
Asked how much of the book was created on his smartphone, Welter responds, “Pretty much all of it.” After refreshing his research and reviewing plot lines, the author explains, “I would go home after work and on Saturday mornings and I would sit on the back porch. It was just me and the phone.”
He continues, “I would leave a blank with a question mark there and fill in a date or other detail later.” Living in rural Acadia Parish without internet service, Welter would email his writings to his office where he would copy and paste his back porch “textings” into the rough draft contained on his office computer.
In fact, he credits his children for his novel writing method. “I would watch the kids texting to each other, amazed at the speed of their fingers,” says Welter as he recounts his decision to take the cell phone normally left in his truck and begin “texting” his family’s history.
The author estimates his research both of the family history and the Civil War battles entailed three or four times the work and time he spent before starting writing in the late summer of 2015.
The task of compiling the family’s history began, Welter says, with his mother, Kathryn Mae, who in the 1980s was a member of a network of genealogy enthusiasts. “ My mother passed this on to me,” says Welter. “I wanted to make sure our kids and our family knew this history, their background.” The passion and drive to preserve the history of his family also fueled his inbred desire to understand the commitment passed down through the Welter generations to serve in the military.
Welter reflects that his decision to enter the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 20 was grounded in his earliest memories. “Why did I so badly want to go into the military even from the age of 6, 7 or 8?” he asked himself. When a professor at the University of Wisconsin asked freshmen students to write about a major life decision they would have to make, Welter researched embarking on a military life.
His effort to record the family’s history “helped me understand,” he says. “Anytime there was a war, there was someone from the family who got into it – not necessarily drafted, just doing it,” emphasizes Welter.
The bombing of Beirut in October 1983 crystalized Welter’s resolve and he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He advanced from squad leader in boot camp and was assigned to a communications unit. In 1986 he was selected for the Enlisted Commissioning Program and was recognized as the honor graduate of a class of 512 OCS Marines.
After six years on active duty as a Marine, Welter left active duty to pursue another dream – going to law school. After obtaining his law degree from LSU, Welter set up his law practice in Rayne.
As testimony to his family military heritage, Welter’s book recounts his military service as well as that of several family members, including his father, Donald J. Welter (a captain in the U.S. Army who fought on Guadalcanal and New Guinea in World War II), who after he was discharged, entered medical school at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father started his medical career as a family practice doctor, but later in life became a medical school professor. He eventually was promoted to chairman of the family practice department at the Medical College of Wisconsin, a position he held until his death in 1980.
To bolster the motivation for military service he realized in his own life and that of his warrior ancestors, the author concludes with six appendices recounting the lives of a Viking warrior, a soldier and knight who fought for King Henry VII, another who fought with General George Washington, and other early Americans.
The book is dedicated to his father and mother and was presented to his family as unique Christmas gifts in 2016.
For those who relish historical fiction, “Men in Blue… and Gold: The Civil War Story of A Boy from Brighton, Wisconsin,” is available from Amazon and Kindle.