By Samuel D. Pryce
Edited by Jeffry C. Burden
Over one hundred years ago Samuel Pryce, Iowa City businessman and Civil War veteran, wrote the definitive history of the “Johnson County” regiment, the 22nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry, titling it Vanishing Footprints. This unit, mustered in the summer of 1862, made a wide circuit of the Confederacy, from Missouri to Georgia, distinguishing itself as the only Union regiment to breach the walls of Vicksburg, and was one of only three Iowa regiments to fight in the Eastern Theater. In the first few pages of his massive (827 page) manuscript Pryce goes into detail about the appearance he wanted for his book: how the title, with the author’s gilt stamped signature, should read on the cloth cover, how it should appear on the title page, with examples from other books of text design and the sorts of type faces he wanted. Pryce had an advantage that the author of “the other” history of the regiment, the personal memoir of Lt. Samuel C. Jones, Reminiscences of the 22nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry (privately published 1907 in Iowa City), didn’t—the endorsement in writing of the 22nd Iowa Regimental Association. All indications were that Pryce was serious about seeing his book in print, but that never happened. The first draft was written in the last years of the 19th century. The Association gave its approval in 1903. But, in a 1919 footnote to this document, Pryce notes that “it is not certain” that his book will be published, as “not more than forty or fifty were present at the reunion this year.” It seems an unlikely reason. If I had to guess, I would say Vanishing Footprints never made it into print for the same reason a lot of books never make it into print: no money.
Because in its original form, Pryce’s history would have been a massive tome, and publication would have been an expensive undertaking that the author himself probably would have had to finance. Any potential publisher looking at the manuscript would have quickly discovered that only a fraction of it deals with the history of the 22nd Iowa Infantry. Pryce’s attempt to present the historical events that led to the Civil War ramble aimlessly through myth, ancient history, the Bible, world literature, current events, science, politics, sports and local gossip. His account of the 22nd’s service suffers from the same distractions. When I discovered this document at the State Historical Society in Iowa City 15 years ago, I knew that I wanted to publish it, and I paid for a Xerox copy to be made. But I also knew that some serious editorial surgery would have to be undertaken. Years went by, and I never found the time.
Then in 2006 I got an email from Jeffry Burden, who had written the introduction for my reprint of Jones’s Reminiscences (1993), asking if I knew of any writing projects in connection with the 22nd Iowa he might undertake. Jeff’s interest stems from the fact that his ancestor Sergeant Milton Lingo was in the regiment. Jeff first came to my attention when I read an article he had written about the 22nd Iowa in Ted Savas’s quarterly journal Civil War Regiments in 1992. This looked like a perfect opportunity to return to Vanishing Footprints, and I mailed the ten pound manuscript to Jeff.
He expertly pared Pryce’s opus down to its essentials, added annotations and an introduction, and found some appropriate photographs to be included. Jeff’s sister, graphic designer Laurel Burden, drew maps and designed the book’s cover, while I secured permission from SHSI to publish the book and gathered together more illustrations. The result is a lean historical document that covers the whole service of the 22nd Iowa from the summer of 1862 to its muster-out in 1865, but preserves Samuel Pryce’s humor and unique writing style. Added to this are 52 photographs and illustrations, many published for the first time, 11 maps, notes, bibliography and index.
|About the author: Jeffry C. Burden practices law in Richmond, Virginia, but has family roots deep in the Iowa soil. He is a long-time student of, and writer on, the Civil War and the Hawkeye State.|