McDermott, a professor of flute and coordinator of graduate studies in music at Northwestern State University wrote a book, “The Civil War Letters of Dwight J. Brewer in Facsimile” which was produced by Dog Ear Publishing.
Brewer was McDermott’s great-great grandfather and fought for the Union as a member of the Michigan 20th Infantry, which fought in Virginia, Tennessee and at Vicksburg.
McDermott obtained the original letters from a cousin on a trip to visit her daughter in Michigan. The book also contains pages from Brewer’s wartime diary. Members of Brewer’s family still live on the homestead he received after the Civil War.
McDermott is accustomed to conducting academic research in libraries around the world and once spent a decade determining the author of a baroque flute composition. She has specialized in publishing 18th century music manuscripts. Those skills helped her in uncovering part of her family history that shed light on the Civil War.
“The letters stayed in their original envelopes for 150 years and I studied them carefully hoping to discover the story they tell, of the conditions of war and the journey of the Michigan Twentieth Infantry,” said McDermott. “These brave men traveled from Fredericksburg to Newport News to Vicksburg to Cumberland and to Knoxville. As I held these letters in my hands, I tried to imagine the settings in which they were written I imagine the sounds and sights of camp, long marches, travel by train or steamer and those battles that seem to come alive as I read the descriptive words. I think a step back in time allows for a greater appreciation and understanding of the present.”
McDermott travelled to several battlefields where her ancestor fought, talked with historians about specific battles and looked through newspapers for accounts of the battles written at the time.
“The letters were so well-written and descriptive,” said McDermott. “My great-great grandfather was very observant and he was always positive in his letters. He never complained.”