By BETH VRABEL
For the Daily Record/Sunday News
The further genealogist and author Clyde Payne delves into the past, the more stories come to life within his mind. And, considering that the York Township resident has traced his roots back to 1460, it’s no wonder that Payne spends much of his day crafting stories.
Payne, a retired Penn State York professor of education, knew he wanted to write about the 101st Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers after coming across letters Civil War soldier David Horner wrote to his parents. Horner is a distant relative who served in the regiment.
But humanizing the story — which includes the entire regiment being sent to an infamous Georgia Confederate prison camp — was pivotal.
“What I wanted to do is develop a book that would be of interest to a lot of people and still tell a story,” Payne said. “And make it as accurate as I could.”
To make sure he nailed it, Payne turned to another relative, his son.
G.S. Payne, a freelance writer who shares his father’s interest in history, fell in love with the plot and quickly set to work. “We wanted to put a human face to the whole story,” G.S. Payne said. “Sometimes that gets lost when you start paying attention to places and dates and battles. You forget that there are real people behind them. These aren’t just people from the past, this is your blood.”
To keep the story accurate — both in facts and portrayal of true emotion — the Paynes researched letters from Civil War soldiers, met with historians and went a step further, tracing some of the track the 101st marched.
The regiment of about 1,700 soldiers started in western Pennsylvania and fought their way to Georgia. “These were kids off farms — 16-years-old, 18-years-old — leaving girlfriends behind, leaving wives behind,” G.S. Payne said. “They were real people. They had real families. And they had never before in their lives left their farms. Here they were going into areas they could never have imagined. There is no way to prepare yourself for that.”
“Beyond the Door” follows the facts of what happened to the young soldiers. Their tour was nearly finished. Officers gave them new uniforms to wear as they made their way home. “The next thing they knew, they were surrounded and the whole regiment was captured,” Clyde Payne said. “They didn’t have a chance.”
From there, the soldiers were sent to the Georgia prison camp, which becomes a focal point in “Beyond the Door” as the two protagonists plot their escape.
The Paynes visited the camp, which is now a national historical site. The National Park Service website, www.nps.gov/ande/index.htm, states that during the 14 months the camp operated, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were imprisoned. “Of these, almost 13,000 died from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, and exposure to the elements,” according to the site, which also reports that at one point, the camp held more than 32,000 soldiers.
The Paynes immersed themselves at the site. “They have the actual prison camp marked off. You can actually see the grounds where these guys were, where they died. The cemetery where they died. It’s huge. Rather sobering,” G.S. Payne said.
David Horner, the relative who inspired the book, was among those soldiers captured. But he never made it to Andersonville, likely perishing on the way. Horner’s influence is felt in the book, however, especially in the dialogue.
“We tried to make everything in conversations that would’ve been normal in conversations,” said Clyde Payne, who added that his time serving in the Army helped him flesh out the way soldiers would speak to one another as well.
Release of “Beyond the Door” coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which has meant some brisk early sales of the book. They hope to schedule some local book signings soon. In the meantime, the two are back to collaborating, this time on a book focusing on the War of 1812.
It likely will be released next year, just in time for the 200th anniversary. Whatever the Paynes collaborate on, readers can be sure it will broaden their understanding of history.
“What we do need more than ever is an opportunity to have an up close, personal relationship (with the past),” Clyde Payne said. “Do we close the door when we leave history class at school, or do we leave it open?”
This story has been updated with the correct state for Andersonville Civil War Prison.
Resident of: York Township
Profession: Payne is a retired Penn State York professor of education. He spends much of his time writing now.
Family: Payne has three sons. His wife passed away last year after 57 years of marriage.
Hobbies: Genealogy and collecting, specifically World War II-era newspapers
Previous work: Payne is author of two previous books, both of which delve into his family roots. “Trailing the Moccasin” is a historical novel set in the early 1800s about the frontier days of Western New York state. The Heart of America Genealogical Society honored his other book, “The Brigs of Ayr: The Ancestry of MacCubbin.”
About the book
“Beyond the Door” (Faydelis Press), by Clyde Payne and his son, G.S. Payne, is a historical novel focusing on two Union soldiers from the 101st Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers.
The story follows their journey from enlistment to imprisonment at the infamous southern prison camp Andersonville.
The boys must find a way to survive — and possibly escape — the brutal conditions to get back to Pennsylvania and the girl one of them loves. For more about the book and to order a copy, go to www.beyondthedoorbook.com.