|Woman's book details grandfather's Civil War career|
|Written by Mary Anne Carroll|
|Thursday, 19 January 2012|
In the next few years, as our nation continues to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States, many books will be published about the conflict. Some of those books will contain facts and figures and military strategies. But, other books will delve into the lives of the people who were touched by the war.
It is within the volumes that expertly describe personal details and intimate memories that the Civil War will best be brought to life. And, few books will do that as superbly as one written by an Oconee County resident.
From Riverboats to Confederate Navy to Knighthood was written by Dr. Betty Ann Brooks. Dr. Brooks said she spent years pouring over family histories and searching through reams of information at the state archives before she wrote the book about her grandfather, William Param Brooks.
“I have been working on it between 20 and 30 years,” Dr. Brooks said of her book. “I would write a little bit along, because when I was practicing medicine, I didn’t have a lot of time to write.”
The time spent in thorough research and thoughtful writing shines through in Dr. Brooks’ book, as she meticulously details her grandfather’s life. She tells how he first took to the water on riverboats captained by her great-grandfather, and later became an assistant engineer on the SS Havana, carrying goods back and forth between New Orleans and Cuba.
On one of the SS Havana’s trips to New Orleans, William Param Brooks crossed paths with Captain Raphael Semmes, who gained fame as the captain of the Confederate naval raider, the CSS Alabama. The encounter with Admiral Semmes led Brooks to serve in the Confederate Navy on the CSS Sumter.
The book continues to follow Brooks’ career during and after the war, including a knighthood from Spain for helping to save two Spanish ships during a hurricane.
The detailed look at Brooks’ professional life would make for fascinating reading, but his granddaughter also included many stories from his personal life in her book.
In a recent interview, Dr. Brooks didn’t want to say too much about her grandfather’s personal life because she didn’t want to act as a spoiler for her book. But, some stories, she said, were just too good not to share. That included the story of how her grandfather met her grandmother.
“My grandfather was in England, and he went to the Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum,” she said. “While he was there, he met two sisters who were 16- and 18-years-old. The sisters asked him to come to their home for dinner, and two weeks later he married one of the sisters.”
Another story Dr. Brooks shared took place just after the War Between the States ended. Her grandfather, wanting to avoid a life full of Yankee carpetbaggers, first took his wife to Cuba to live. While there, they began their family.
One day, she said, her grandfather came home to find one of his young sons running around in the front yard without a stitch of clothing.
“He told my grandmother it was time to move back to the states,” she said, laughing. “He said ‘My children are running around naked and they will be baptized in the Catholic Church.’ He didn’t want them brought up that way.”
Dr. Brooks’ retelling of her grandfather’s life would be priceless if the story ended with William Param Brooks. However, From Riverboats to Confederate Navy to Knighthood also talks about Dr. Brooks’ parents, as well as the physician’s own life.
While she would undoubtedly deny that her life is as extraordinary as that of her grandfather, Dr. Brooks is, indeed, an incredible woman. She studied to be a physician at a time when few women dared enter the medical field. After graduating from medical school, she practiced gynecology and obstetrics in Decatur for years.
“I estimate I delivered 2,000 babies in my career,” she said.
At age 65, a time when most people retire, Dr. Brooks accepted a job in coastal Georgia. She went on to establish a clinic in Brunswick, and has been honored extensively for her work with HIV patients.
Now retired, Brooks lives in Watkinsville with her dog, Professor Higgins, as a constant companion. Even at age 90, she is strongly independent, and her independence includes promoting her book without any outside help.
“I am pretty much marketing it myself,” she said.
She said one of the greatest rewards of writing the book is that the history of her family will not be lost. Another reward, she added, was getting to better know her grandfather, who died long before she was born.
“I do feel that way, that I know my grandfather now,” Dr. Brooks said. “I had heard my father talk about my grandfather, but now I feel like I really know him.”
From Riverboats to Confederate Navy to Knighthood – A True Southern Family History is a 128-page book written by Betty Ann Brooks, M.D. The book, which includes text and photos, is available locally at Books Galore in Watkinsville.
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