First novel tells ancestor?s Civil War story


Max Terman holds a copy of his new novel with one hand while resting a Civil War rifle on his lap. Terman, a biologist by training, used his scientific mind to research the book, which tells the story of his great-uncle?s experience in the Civil War, including 17 months as a prisoner of war.

The 20-year-old Ohioan stepped into the nation?s bloodiest war in March 1862 with idealism to save the Union and pacifism in his religious heritage.

Over the next 21⁄2 years he and his fellow recruits in the 82nd Ohio Infantry lived its horror: first in the Battle of McDowell, then at bloody confrontations at Cross Keys, Second Bull Run and Chancellorsville.

Then came Gettysburg, where he was captured and became a prisoner of war for 17 months under the worst of conditions, first at Belle Island, then notorious Ander?sonville.

The scenario reads like an exaggerated plot, even for a novel. But it?s the factual timeline for ?Hiram?s Honor,? a novel Max Terman has researched and produced about his great-uncle, Hiram Terman.

?It just amazes me that a great-uncle would reach back to a Civil War soldier?but he does,? said Terman, who started researching the story in 1999 and then made it a full-time pursuit after retiring in 2006 as a biology professor at Tabor College.

Brain and heart

The project combined Terman?s meticulousness as a scientist with the imaginative challenge of being a first-time novelist.

?What I really wanted to do was be very scientific in where he was, what he did and the kind of things that happened to him,? Terman said. ?So I wanted to use my brain to be a scientist in doing this, but then I wanted to use my heart to feel what it was like.?

To do the latter, Terman took on the persona of his great-uncle and told his story in first-person narrative.

?The more I thought about it, I decided, ?Why don?t I become him? Why don?t I step into his shoes??? he said. ?I?ll write this as if I?m going through what he went through.

?So I tried to describe what I would have seen and what I would have felt?the enthusiasm I might have felt for saving the Union and freeing the slaves.

?The other thing is that half of my family is Dunkard in their background, and were pacifists. The other half were Presby?terian, who were kind of gung-ho. So he had to fight that battle, too.?

First thoughts


"I wanted to use my brain to be a scientist in doing this, but then I wanted to use my heart to feel what it was like."

?Max Terman on his first-person narrative

Terman said he first heard about Hiram from his father, who was born in 1900 and had visited with Civil War veterans during his youth.

?At the time, I just kind of listened to his stories?you know how kids are,? Terman said. ?But then more recently, we tracked down Hiram Terman?s grave and started looking up his regiment.

?Then I found he was in all the major battles, he marched over 3,000 miles, he was captured at Gettysburg, he was sent to Belle Island and then to Anderson?ville?and survived.

?I was telling my brother, ?Somebody ought to know this,?? Terman recalled. ?My brother said, ?You?re the author.?

Terman?s previous books were from his academic field. In one he detailed his earth-sheltered house and the other book was about electronically tracking the patterns of a young owl in Marion County.

Historical research

Part of Terman?s new challenge was that he had his father?s stories, but little else to go on. By all extended-family accounts, Hiram seldom talked about his Civil War experience. Terman could find no direct descendants, even though Hiram had two sons.

For the historical research, Terman said he devoured books and Internet sources about the Civil War. But it was a trip east in 2006 to retrace his great-uncle?s Civil War pilgrimage that became a treasure trove of discovery and insight.

A key find was Richard Fink, a chronicler of the 82nd Ohio who lived in Kenton, Ohio.

?He has letters from officers and enlisted men, and common-soldier stories from the 82nd,? Terman said. ?So I had all the factual information I needed to put Hiram right into the war.

?That?s what got me excited.?

On the trip, he and wife Jan followed Hiram?s path, visiting the cities and battle sites Hiram encountered, talking to local historians and reviewing local records.

One of the things Terman discovered was that the story his father told about Hiram losing a leg at Gettysburg was untrue.

?I looked up his pension record and there was no such report,? Terman said.

Experiential research

Having the historical facts was only half the challenge, though. Terman admitted his first attempts at writing the narrative were less than effective.

?The first draft I wrote like a scientist,? he said. ?I had factual this and factual that. Jan said it read like a scientific treatise.?

Telling the story effectively in first-person required that Terman research the ambience of that war.

?I wanted to know what Hiram might have seen and felt and smelled,? he said. ?How would it feel to see someone?s head blown off right in front of you??

For that dimension, Terman tapped Civil War novels such as Stephen Crane?s ?Red Badge of Courage? and read numerous first-hand accounts of Ander?sonville.

The Time-Life series ?Voices of the Civil War? was a major resource, as were Ken Burns? documentary, ?The Civil War,? and movies such as ?Glory? and ?Gettys?burg.?

?I?ve got every Civil War movie I could get my hands on,? Terman said.

Throughout the process, he also relied on personal feedback?both from the historians he had met during his research, but also from the experts he knew in the literary field.

One of the experts was a novelist Terman met in a Civil War forum on the Internet.

?I sent him a sample of my writing and didn?t really expect to hear back from him,? Terman said. ?But within a week he wrote back and said, ?This is a diamond in the rough. You?ve got to work on your dialogue and getting the emotions through, but your story is fantastic.

?So I just kind of did the things he said?instead of tell about it, show it.?

Into production

Once the manuscript was completed, Terman had it professionally printed with the insertion of maps and drawings and photos?a mix of historical photos and those he took during his research tour.

He also produced a 45-minute DVD to include with the book. The DVD is a collection of visual resources, quotes and music for readers who want more information about the setting of the novel and the process of writing it.

The book/DVD is available for around $16 from Thee Bookstore and the Tabor College bookstore in Hillsboro, as well as and the author himself.

?It?s (priced) very reasonable because I figured with the downturn economically, people want their money?s worth,? he said.

More to come?

?Hiram?s Honor? ends with the hero still imprisoned at Andersonville. Terman already envisions a sequel.

?It would be about Hiram trying to get a friend out of Ander?son?ville,? Terman said. ?The book kind of leaves him there and you don?t know what happened to him.?

In real life, the adventure continued for Hiram. He and other ?human skeletons? leaving Andersonville were crowded onto a riverboat called the Sultana?which exploded halfway home, killing about 1,200 of the 1,700 men aboard.

Hiram survived that, too, and eventually returned to Ohio, where he farmed and raised a family. He died peacefully in 1926.

?From everything I can gather, he was just a quiet, stoic guy,? Terman said of his ancestor. ?When he came back from the war he was a farmer and he served on the committee for helping itinerant soldiers and their families.

?Then he saved the town of Rome (Ohio) from burning in a grass fire.?

A sequel, indeed. Any thought that ?Hiram?s Honor? might be made into a movie someday?

?Who knows?? Terman said. ?His story is amazing. But the thing that brings you back to earth is that there are so many good things out there that never get picked up.?

Terman will be available to sell and sign books following the Tabor College commencement Saturday, May 23.

The hour-long light reception will begin at noon in the Tabor College library.

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