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Keep Up Good Courage

NH Civil War lettersNH BOOKS

It is a rare event when historians discover letters back and forth between a family and a soldier in the Civil War. This book centers on 125-letters from a Sandwich, NH family to
Corporal Lewis Quimby Smith. Here three years of War Between the States come alive as never before.




JUMP to an interview with the author

Keep Up Good Courage: A Yankee Family and the Civil War

Drawn from Corporal Lewis Quimby Smith’s 1864 diary, and letters from the Sandwich NH Historical Society, this unique title details both family life in Sandwich, plus the 14th Regiment of NH Volunteers’ experiences in Washington, New Orleans, on the Mississippi, in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and Savannah, GA.

Keep Up Good Courage: A Yankee Family and the Civil WarRarely do both sides of a correspondence of this era survive the ravages of time and travel. This is a look at the struggles of the entire family, both on the battlefield and on the farm. Included are the battles of Third Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek in the fall Shenandoah Valley campaign. Dr. Houston’s painstaking research is completed with Civil War era images, and letters from other members of the 14th Regiment.

After a number of reverses for the Union in 1861, the government recognized that the war would be prolonged. Consequently, President Lincoln called for three hundred thousand volunteers on July 1, 1862. The farming community of Sandwich, New Hampshire, sent slightly more than half of its three hundred and forty eligible men off to serve in the Civil War. Of these, eighty-five enlisted for three years in mid-August 1862, following the president’s July summons. The men from Sandwich, one of whom was thirty-year-old Lewis Quimby Smith, formed most of Company K of the Fourteenth Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteers. Lewis and his family corresponded dutifully and many of these letters survived.equaled -Lewis’s.

The catalyst for this project came with the discovery of Lewis’s 1864 pocket diary. His entries include the battles of Third Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek in the fall Shenandoah Valley campaign. In addition to the diary and the Smiths’ correspondence, an equal number of letters and a handful of other diaries from other writers in the regiment contribute to the record. Thus, Keep Up Good Courage, A Yankee Family and the Civil War, is the history of a soldier, his company and regiment, and his family, town, and state. It is a record not from the staff tent or the officer’s mess, but one from the ground up—three years as a soldier. 

BUY THE BOOK from the author

Keep Up Good Courage: A Yankee Family and the Civil War
The Correspondence of Cpl. Lewis Q. Smith, of Sandwich, New Hampshire, Fourteenth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers, 1862-1865
By Alan Fraser Houston, MD
67 illus, cloth, 6" x 9"
$24.95, 351 pgs
• Primary sources from the 1860s
• Unique Civil War era images!


"Houston deftly uses correspondence and diaries—written in quintessential Yankee prose—to transport the reader over 140 years back in time…
William P. Veillette, Executive Director, New Hampshire Historical Society

"Seldom are such collections edited with such comprehensive research and insightful analysis." 
William Marvel, Author, Andersonville: The Last Depot, & Mr. Lincoln Goes to War

"Houston, a stickler for accuracy, has retraced Smith’s fifteen thousand miles of travel, four sea voyages, and service in six Confederate states. Such painstaking dedication to Smith’s experience has produced an outstanding Civil War book."
Richard E. Winslow III, Author, "Constructing Munitions of War":
The Portsmouth Navy Yard Confronts the Confederacy, 1861-1865




INTERVIEW with Author Alan Fraser Houston


Alan Fraser Houston graduated from Amherst College and Boston University School of Medicine. He served in the United States Navy as a flight surgeon from 1970 to 1972. Houston is the author of historical articles that have appeared in California History, the Pioneer (Journal of the Society of California Pioneers), Montana, the Magazine of Western History, and the "Excursions" of the Sandwich Historical Society.


Civil War author Dr. Alan Fraser Houston in Sandwich, NHAs an author, you’ve written several historical articles before. What is it about history that intrigues you? 

It’s basically the fun of discovery -- things that are obscure, perhaps unknown; stuff that nobody knows about.

Was it difficult to decipher the diary of Lewis Quimby Smith and the family correspondence?

The handwriting was pretty good. The idiosyncratic spellings were a challenge. I used phonetics to some extent. A few I highlighted and would go back and try to decipher. The quality of the writers varied from people who were educated and well spoken to those who weren’t…There are about five or six different writers from Smith’s family alone. The letters are the stimulus for the context.

What did you learn from your access to these letters from the Sandwich Historical Society?

In almost every letter someone says, "Keep up good courage". That’s pretty neat. Basically as long as things are going well at home, and health is okay, you can keep up good courage…the flow goes both ways.

Can you tell us a little about New Hampshire in the Civil War?

New Hampshire as a state was agricultural. It was subsistence farming. In 1860 Manchester was about 8,000 people. Industrialization was starting and taking place, and people went from farms to cities for jobs. There’s no agriculture left in New Hampshire to speak of now. Just to go to the other side of town back then, you had to own a horse. They were hard-working people. Their letters describe a life subject to epidemics and disease. In almost every letter someone has died. Except for getting shot at, the people at home had it every bit as tough.

What other changes did the Civil War bring?

The introduction of the "greenback" happened during the Civil War. The Federal Government was broke and had to pay debts in silver and gold. They didn’t have the reserves, so they passed the legal tender act, and greenback became standard currency. Also, the postal money order came from the Civil War. And the Civil War draft was the first draft in this country, and the model for the selective service system in World War I & II.

You talk a lot about the illnesses that were common back then and are a doctor yourself. tor yourself. What is included in the book?

There are diseases that are forgotten. One soldier describes a fellow soldier’s death from diphtheria. There are methods of treating diphtheria and smallpox, and vaccination is discussed. There’s also talk of medical care that has been forgotten — contemporary medicine of the Civil War, including herbal and home remedies.

How did you conduct the extensive research?

I spent four years on the book. Fifty percent of the word count is the letters themselves, and the rest are my words. I followed the path of the soldier. It’s amazing to stand on the bank of the Mississippi River and know that the federal government had the power and the means to send men from New England that far.

How did your experience in the US Navy as a flight surgeon shape your historical interests?

I was familiar with how the military works -- or doesn’t work. They own you for your period of enlistment. You’re their property. It gave me an appreciation of how it works and for the people that are committed. This is different from the Fourteenth Regiment. Those guys became committed.

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