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Last words in war

The total number of American deaths during the Civil War trumps that of all other wars combined — from the Revolutionary War to the War in Iraq.
“It’s probably the most tragic chapter, the most dramatic chapter, in American history,” said Daniel Barefoot, author of “Let Us Die Like Brave Men: Behind the Dying Words of Confederate Warriors.”
Barefoot, a former legislator and Lincolnton’s current attorney, feels his most recent book touches on a subject the history books have yet to cover.
“This is a gap I thought needed to be filled,” he said.
The book is composed of 52 stories centered around Confederate soldiers’ last words. It covers all four years of the war and touches on soldiers from every state and every rank.
Stonewell Jackson’s last words, for example, were “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.” A nameless young private used his dying breath to pray with Abraham Lincoln, who visited his bedside. The two men said together “I pray the Lord my soul to take;/ And this I ask for Jesus’ sake.”
The last words of famous men such as Jackson were easy to locate. Finding the final words of lower ranking soldiers, however, proved more of a challenge.
“You really have to dig for those in letters,” said Barefoot.
Barefoot did that digging in libraries all over the South. He also picked up stories while researching his other books, which include four travel guides, four collections of North Carolina ghost stories and a biography of Lincolnton native General Robert F. Hoke.
Hoke’s childhood friend and colleague, Lincolnton native Major General Dodson Ramseur, has his last words included in “Let Us Die Like Brave Men.” Ramseur spoke of his friend.
“Tell General Hoke that I died a Christian and have done my duty,” he said.
Barefoot made a concerted effort to include stories in the book that would touch every reader.
“I tried to pick stories I thought would appeal to a wide group, not just people who are interested in military history,” he said.
He is now spending time selling that book to everyone from Gettysburg to Birmingham. Radio shows, television and book signings have taken up his summer days.
“Lots of people think it’s glamorous,” he said. “But it’s really grueling, and the older you get, the tougher it is on you.”
The fast paced schedule is worth it, however, and Barefoot is glad he pursued his dream to be a writer.
“You don’t want to wake up 75 years old and ask ‘Why didn’t I do it?’” he said.
by Sarah Grano

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