Inspired by ancestor, Hamann pens historical novel about a family’s struggles during Civil War
Published 2:42 pm Friday, February 24, 2023
Denny Hamann has always enjoyed stories — both listening to them and telling his own.
He began writing short stories about his childhood recollections in 2010, but it wasn’t until he learned details about some of his ancestors that he felt inspired to write his first book.
After he was “bitten by the genealogy bug” in 2015, the Albemarle native traced his family tree on his mother’s side all the way to the 15th century with his 14th great-grandparents.
Along the way, he discovered that his second great-grandfather, Henry Garner Aldridge, who grew up in Cottonville, enlisted with the Confederate Army in 1862 after a man offered him money to take his place. As a member of the 5th North Carolina Infantry, Hamann said Aldridge likely took part in the Battle of Antietam. It occurred on Sept. 17, 1862 in Maryland and resulted in almost 23,000 deaths, making it the bloodiest day in American history.
Aldridge survived the battle, but ultimately succumbed to the measles in Richmond, Virginia, about 90 days later. Hamann learned that Aldridge’s daughter Frances Julina was his great-grandmother. Hamann had discovered her grave a few years earlier at the Reheboth Methodist Cemetery in Aquadale, but he did not know at the time that she was related to him.
“My daughter and I were always drawn to it,” he said about Julina’s grave. “There was something about her name.”
With the new knowledge about Julina, Hamann kept wondering what happened to her and her family once Aldridge left for the military.
“How did they fare from 1862, when he left, to 1865, once the war ended?” Hamann said.
Not being able to find any historical evidence, Hamann created his own narrative about the fate of the family. His novel, “Cryin’s for Hungry Babies,” which was published in December, documents what could have happened to Julina, her twin sister Julia and the rest of the family once Aldridge — known as “Pa” — took a $700 payment to enlist in the war in place of a wealthy neighbor’s son.
“It’s 100% out of my imagination, but I did a lot of research and I think that the story that I told could have happened,” Hamann said.
Set in Cottonville, the book, which totals 403 pages, focuses on the Aldridge family’s struggle to survive, especially after the drought of 1862, which destroyed the cotton crops — their primary source of income. Wanting to make sure the book was as accurate as possible to the time period, Hamann said he included historical markers such as the Battle of Antietam.
“It was just really tough. They had nothing. These people were dirt poor,” he said of the family, noting that compared to what many people assume about Southern families during this time, Aldridge’s family did not own any slaves.
Calling the writing process “therapeutic,” Hamann said he got to know the characters to such a degree that they spoke to him and helped him to tell their story.
Aside from the birth of his daughter and marrying his wife, Hamann said writing the book has been the biggest highlight of his life.
“This was such a feeling of personal satisfaction,” he said. “It means so much to me to get that done.”
Later this year, Hamann, who lives in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, will release two more books — “Cottonville Road, A Dusty Path to Power” and “Cottonville Road, Healing Springs.”