McGee publishes historical book

A book signing was held at the Mexico-Audrain Library Monday for Ken McGee's (and the late Nancy Stone's) recently published work, "Ben Chapman and Morg McGee, Two Confederate Soldiers from Monroe County, Missouri." Approximately 25-30 people attended the event. McGee gave a short presentation followed by a question and answer session.
"Ben Chapman and Morg McGee" follows the lives of two Confederate soldiers, in context with Missouri's involvement in the Civil War. The book includes a short history of the First Northeast Missouri Calvary Company C, in which both men were enlisted.
The two soldiers had differing experiences in the war. Chapman served a short time and spent the majority of his Confederate service at a Union prison in St. Louis, known for having three prisoners die each day.
Morg entered the Confederacy early in the conflict and served in many battles until the end of the war, including the Battle of Lexington, also known as "The Battle of the Hemp Bales," because, as Morg recalls in an included letter, the Confederates used hemp bales as protection and advanced them in position as the battle progressed.
Later, as the Union forces gained Southern ground, Morg's squad fled south, before finally participating in the general surrender. Both men eventually returned home to Monroe County.
McGee, the author of more than 50 scientific publications, spent a 35-year career with the U.S. Geological Survey, researching gases emitted from volcanoes on the West Coast and in Hawaii, Alaska and other areas.
He retired in 2008, because, he said, "The tug of doing historical and genealogical work while I was still young enough to travel, write and do that kind of research was greater than that of the wonderful job I had." He was born in Mexico, Mo, and is a member of the Monroe County Historical Society, which he was originally convinced to join by his coauthor, Stone.
Stone was president of the Society at the time of her death in 2012. The recipient of several awards for her documentation and historical work, between 2006 and 2011 she penned more than 300 columns on local history for the Lake Gazette newspaper, which McGee has compiled into another book.
The two met at a Perry antique store in 2003 by a stroke of serendipity. "I was discussing the Civil War with a friend, who was the owner of the shop," McGee said. "Nancy happened to be there. She was very interested in the Civil War, overheard our conversation and introduced herself. From there, we started emailing and she persuaded me to become a member of the Monroe County Historical Society."
Their co-authored book would stem from the research the two did together for the Historical Society.
"The Society wanted us to canvas and record all of the existing headstones and burials we could find that still exist in Monroe County and make a permanent record. We started the series with Pleasant Hill cemetery in 2008. We canvassed a cemetery and photographed every headstone. Then, we made a book and CD about the cemetery. We are working on book six for the series now. There will probably be 11 or 12, including all the little family burial grounds and small cemeteries," he said.
Some of the information they uncovered pertained to little known Monroe County soldiers who served in the Civil War.
McGee said the idea for their book stemmed from "the fact that there had been so very little published about the Civil War in Monroe County, an area that lacked research and discovery."
From there, McGee began the arduous process of searching through the national archives, searching for the various files of the soldiers who are mentioned in the book.
Originally, the book was going to cover Monroe County Civil War veterans as a broad topic, but McGee and Stone quickly realized that was too much information and narrowed the topic to two of McGee's ancestors.
At the time of her death, McGee and Stone were beginning to "flush out" the story's outline. When Stone passed, McGee put the project on hold.
"When your coauthor passes away it's tough to continue on seamlessly. I didn't pick it up again until sometime last summer. I really started working on it and pulled everything together. The last three months or so was just spent writing and creating the appendix. It took a lot of research to put the appendix together. Putting the roster of soldiers together in that particular unit and finding out what happened to them after the war was a very in-depth process with a lot of late nights."
Though McGee has published many scientific articles, along with the cemetery books, this was the first time he had put an entire book together and figure out how to publish it. At first, he considered submitting the manuscript to publishing houses, but the houses are expensive and McGee didn't want to lose the copyrights, so he chose a different avenue. After obtaining an ISBN number of the book, he became his own publisher. "By going through that formal process, it means that the title of our book is listed in the master books in print database, so it's worth doing the right way. I found my own printer who was able to do the hardback covers. You could say it's self-published, it really is. Self-funded too."
McGee designed and constructed the cover and was able to set his own for-sale price. "The book is selling for a price that allows for most of my expenses will be covered, but with almost no profit. The idea was not intended to make money," McGee said. "It's a historical book, it's not for and I don't expect to sell thousands of copies, but I want to get it to the people who are interested or maybe descended from one of these two men and want to learn their story."
The book is dedicated to the Civil War soldiers of Monroe County and their families, and to the memory of Nancy E. Stone.
Next, McGee plans to complete his book of memoirs from his days as a volcano scientist, which he expects to release next year. "I want to use the book to send a message to my grandchildren, that they can do whatever they want and to follow their dreams," McGee said.
For now, McGee hopes to build interest in his current book, "There are a lot of descendants of these two men, including in Audrain County. A lot of people who came to the book signing were their descendants. I think, particularly in Audrain, not only will the descendants be interested, but I tried to thoroughly research the topic and set what happened to these two soldiers in context with the larger war and the political events in Missouri. For Mexico readers, there's a section about reunions and the 1887 reunion, which happened in Mexico, is in there. It attracted 30,000-40,000 people to this town."
Mexico is also mentioned many times throughout the story. For example, on Sept. 2, 1862, Union General Lewis Merrill sent a dispatch to Major Caldwell in Mexico and ordered three Confederate prisoners "to be shot to death on Friday, the 5th of September, between the hours of 10 o'clock a.m. and 3 o'clock p.m. at Mexico, Mo." One of the three soldiers was a member of Company C. It was thought Merrill wanted to make an example of the three men, but was later persuaded to change the sentence to imprisonment for unknown reasons.
For more information or to purchase the book, contact McGee or the Monroe County Historical Society.