Novelist-historian David P. Bridges said he studied the history of his ancestor, Maj. James Breathed, for 12 years, spending 10 years as a Civil War re-enactor to follow the wartime steps of the physician-turned-warrior.
Breathed, of Hancock, Md., was a contemporary and good friend of Maj. John Pelham of Jacksonville, Ala., and both served under Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, Bridges said.
Bridges released a biography of Breathed, “Fighting With J.E.B. Stuart: Major James Breathed and the Confederate Horse Artillery,” in 2006.
He points out that while Pelham deserves his notable place in history and his nickname as “The Gallant Pelham,” Breathed has been largely overlooked and also deserves to be remembered for his leadership in the Civil War.
“He was a trained doctor, and he and Pelham were the same age and good buddies,” Bridges said during a brief visit Monday in Sylacauga.
He said he’s the great-great-grandson of Breathed’s sister. The soldier’s story had not been written down, and primary documents about his life had not surfaced until Bridges learned that a trove of information was in the hands of a distant cousin in Gaithersburg, Md.
Poring over the documents, Bridges learned everything he could about Breathed and his 70 battles, skirmishes and engagements during the war.
“By re-enacting for 10 years, I did everything Breathed did except the ammo wasn’t live. That’s what makes the writing real,” Bridges said.
Bridges has taken the knowledge gleaned from his research and added a fictional twist, writing “The Broken Circle,” a novel released last year. He’s touting that book at book signings around the South through July.
“The characters in the book are real people, but it’s a fictional account,” Bridges said, adding that the novel includes “faith, romance and the turmoil of war.”
“‘The Broken Circle’ tragically sets up the paradoxical inner conflict of his relating to saving life as a doctor versus destroying life as a soldier,” Bridges says in a press release about the book “He re-channels his genius from medical to master warrior of death and destruction. The novel is explosively full of historically accurate battle scenes and all the characters are real historical people.
“Mollie Macgill, his female equivalent, utilizes her espionage talents as the two fall in love throughout the course of the war. She struggles to maintain her way of life and preserve her family … as the war tears her emotionally apart, she despairs and becomes disheartened.”
Bridges visited the First White House of the Confederacy in Montgomery last week, and visited Pelham historic sites in Jacksonville and lectured there over the weekend.
He travels with a replica of Breathed’s military uniform and a replica of the apothecary kit Breathed carried. He wears the uniform for re-enactments and speaking engagements.
A Presbyterian minister for a quarter-century, Bridges retired five years ago to focus on his writing. He said he was thrilled to visit First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville, Pelham’s home church.
Breathed is one of 48 recipients of the Confederate Medal of Honor. It was awarded by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 2013 “for conspicuous gallantry, bravery, and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, while engaged in action.”
Bridges said he organized a parade in Breathed’s honor last October in Maryland, and recounted a tale of one of Breathed’s many wartime exploits. In May 1864, Breathed, at the directon of Robert E. Lee’s nephew, Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, held off an entire brigade with four guns, having his horse shot out from under him.
One of Breathed’s cannons from that exchange still exists and belongs to a man in Detroit, who brought it to Maryland and shot it from Breathed’s grave on the day of the parade, almost 150 years after the battle.
Breathed fought until the end of the Civil War, and died in 1870 from a war wound.
“He was extremely significant to Confederate efforts in the Civil War,” Bridges said.
“In the aftermath of the battles, he would care for the wounded on both sides.”
Bridges is an adjunct professor of writing at the University of Richmond, with a degree in economics from the University of Kentucky; a master’s of divinity from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary; and post-graduate studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School,Hollins University andJohns Hopkins University.
He serves as a volunteer chaplain at Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Hospital in Richmond, Va.
His other books are “The Best Coal Company in All Chicago,” 2003, and “The Bridges of Washington County,” 2003,
He is also a gardener and hunter, and lives in Richmond with his three English setter bird dogs, Angel, Bella and Rosey.
For more information, visit www.davidpbridges.com.
Contact Bill Kimber at firstname.lastname@example.org