About Daniel Sauerwein

I am a graduate student in History at the University of North Dakota pursuing my PhD in History with a minor in Geography. My primary historical interests are military history, specifically early US and the Civil War.

Interesting thoughts about Civil War manuscript collections

To my readers, I want to apologize for neglecting this blog for so long and not posting anything for almost a year. I have not left blogging and am not done with this site, but life’s been quite busy with teaching and trying to finish a dissertation, so my free writing time has been limited. That said, I want to thank you all for sticking it out with this site and hope you will come back, as I hope to get back into it a bit more in the near future. I am always willing to consider new topics to write about, so let me know.

That said, I want to tip my hat to Kevin Levin over at Civil War Memory for sharing this interesting article from the Gettysburg Compiler via Facebook. Written by Kevin Lavery, an undergraduate student at Gettysburg College, while part of their Civil War Institute, this article on manuscripts and the right to be forgotten from history really made me think.

As someone who has worked in a special collections department for over two years now, I deal with manuscripts of all types on a regular basis, including diaries and letters. These sources, as Mr. Lavery points out, are quite important to researchers, but the ethical dilemma he raises does hold some weight. Some of what he raises about historians’ responsibilities in dealing with unpublished sources is important, as we are dealing with another human being’s private conversation and while that individual may be dead, the intimacy of the words on the page do not lessen because of death. This means that such words must be treated with respect.

Does this mean that we should not use them to understand the past? Certainly not, but it does mean that we must strive to avoid what is termed presentism, or applying the standards of our time to those of the past. My mentor from my undergraduate days always used the example of one of your descendants picks up a letter you wrote describing eating a juicy steak and recoils in horror. Though a little tongue in cheek, his point was that we do not want to be judged based upon the standards and values of a time we are not familiar with, so we should not judge those who came before us by our standards because their time held different values than ours in some cases.

As I read such sources, I always try to see what such writings tell me about the past, but I am uncomfortable with the pseudo-psychological role that some scholars take when evaluating sources, as we can never fully understand what another human being felt during a given event, especially when recalling it in a later writing. One of the best examples would be the field of military history. In writing about warfare, a scholar, who happens to be a combat veteran may understand, to an extent, the gripping accounts of battle written by a soldier long ago, as they share the same broad experience of being in combat. Yet, the differences would be in the nature of that combat, the personality of the soldier involved that wrote the letter, diary, or memoir, as well as the societal norms of that period. Sherman’s generalization that “war is hell” is as accurate today as 150 years ago, but the nature of war has changed in many ways since then.

In the end, it seems that Mr. Lavery’s analysis would argue that we should let the authors of Civil War manuscripts speak for themselves and perhaps respect their privacy a bit by not delving into nuances regarding such writings. These men, and women, were writing to loved ones about an important event that was shaping their very lives, no more, no less. For them, it was a matter of staying in touch with home during a time when mail was slow and death could be quick. When faced with one’s mortality, even as a younger person, and with the technological limitations placed on your ability to communicate over great distances, the very soul of a man may be poured out on a piece of paper, in an effort to not leave something unsaid to those back home.

I welcome your thoughts on this interesting subject.

Four score and seventy years ago: Two important minutes

Today marks the 150th anniversary of an event, where roughly two minutes of “a few appropriate remarks” by President Lincoln became American history and myth. Though memorized by several generations of schoolchildren, the Gettysburg Address was just part of a larger commemoration of the final resting place of soldiers killed fighting to preserve the Union. The event was a dedication to the national cemetery that still remains as a solemn tribute to sacrifice for a nation and its ideals, with one of the nation’s premiere orators, Edward Everett, delivering a two-hour speech.

The inclusion of Lincoln placed him in a minor roll within the larger ceremony, compared to Everett. Though his speech was secondary to the main oration, Lincoln was able to encapsulate the whole of American history and the momentous occasion of the Civil War and its importance in preserving the Union, while dealing with the big issue of equality, ultimately allowing the nation to live up to the principles of the Founders and the Declaration of Independence that he referenced. In 272 words, the President stressed the importance of the sacrifice of the soldiers buried there to the larger aim of securing the Union, while also referencing the new aim of the war, the ending of slavery. He also used the Address to show how the nation was changing and the hope that the idea first put forth by the founders in 1776 would endure forever.

The remarkable thing about Lincoln’s speech was that while it was viewed in sharp contrasts by the media and nation, falling largely along partisan lines (sound familiar) between Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning papers (media bias is nothing new), who either viewed the speech as “silly” or a momentous oration that was quite fitting for the occasion, that the Gettysburg Address has become one of the best examples of oration in American history. Lincoln’s short remarks represent one of the finest uses of the English language around, as he was succinct in his remarks and made every word command power.

Though 150 years later, the Gettysburg Address is still worth remembering and commemorating. It is hoped that we still live up to the ideals of Lincoln’s “few appropriate remarks.” With that, I leave you with some cool sites related to the Address.

Library of Congress online exhibit

Learn the Address (a Ken Burns project)

PBS site for Ken Burns’ The Address (coming in 2014)

Chamberlain medal to be returned to Brunswick

From The Times Record (Brunswick, ME)

After being discovered in the back of a book in Duxbury, Mass., the original Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to Col. Joshua Chamberlain has taken a long and circuitous route back to Brunswick.

In July, shortly before the town’s annual Chamberlain Days celebration, the Pejepscot Historical Society received a small package from a donor who said he wished to remain anonymous. Inside the envelope was the medal, with the donor’s wish that it be returned to Brunswick and authenticated “in honor of all veterans.”

Historical society director Jennifer Blanchard was skeptical.

After all, she knew that Chamberlain’s Medal of Honor — redesigned in 1904 and re-issued to Chamberlain in 1907 — was safely displayed just up the hill in the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives at Bowdoin College.

Continue reading Chamberlain medal to be returned to Brunswick.

150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

Given it’s still July 1 here in the Central Time Zone, today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The battle has been the subject of much discussion and several movies, including my favorite Gettysburg (1993). It remains one of the largest battles in North America, with over 50,000 casualties. With this anniversary and the benefit of new technology the folks at ESRI produced an amazing interactive map of the battle, including three-dimensional animation related to the troop positions. I encourage you all to check it out at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/A-Cutting-Edge-Second-Look-at-the-Battle-of-Gettysburg.html.

I have been following some of the internet coverage of the 150th anniversary reenactment held this past weekend and it looks like, for the most part, the event went well, though some unfortunate reenactors suffered heat injuries. My good friend Stuart Lawrence is returning home from taking part in the event and hopefully will share an after action report and pictures. Now, I am going to take a bit of time to watch the portions of Gettysburg related to the first day. More to come in the next two days on this momentous anniversary.

LSU Press Civil War Titles 40% Off Until June 25

Baton Rouge—Hundreds of fascinating Civil War titles can be yours at a 40% discount until June 25. This offer includes classic hardcover and paperback titles, as well as new releases like Alfred C. Young III’s “Lee’s Army during the Overland Campaign” with a foreword by Gordon C. Rhea. For the Civil War buff and historian this is a great opportunity to affordably deepen your understanding and broaden your library. Through this offer only you can also buy the newly released, commemorative boxed set “Generals in Blue and Gray” at 20% off! Visit www.lsupress.org to discover more Civil War titles at up to 40% off. Order online at http://bit.ly/LSUPCW or call 800.848.6224 and use the code 04CIVILWAR.

This limited-time offer includes titles like “Lincoln and McCellan at War” by Chester G. Hearn, Mark Stegmaier’s “Henry Adams in the Secession Crisis,” and new releases like David C. Keehn’s “Knights of the Golden Circle” and Linda Barnickel’s “Milliken’s Bend.”  Visit our site through this link to explore more titles: http://bit.ly/LSUPCW.

All purchases require immediate payment and are non-refundable and cannot be combined with any other offers. Excludes reference titles.

Watch “Rebel” tonight at 10PM ET/9PM CT

I just viewed this production that is part of the PBS series Voces, which deals with Latino figures. Rebel tells the story of Loreta Velazquez, a Cuban-American, who served as a soldier in the Confederate Army, later to serve as a spy for the Union. Her story, largely forgotten for much of the post-war years is one of the more unique in the long list of women who served in the military on both sides in the Civil War.

Velazquez’s story begins with her childhood in Cuba, where she attempted to defy traditional gender stereotypes, much to the chagrin of her parents, including her doting father. Concerned for her future and seeking to mold her into a “proper” young woman, Loreta was sent to New Orleans in 1849, where she blended into the unique society of the city, being viewed as white instead of Hispanic, which was important in post-Mexican War America.

Further defying conventions, Velazquez eloped with an American Army officer, known as William, much to the disappointment of her family. She followed William to various military postings, until William left the Army upon secession, joining the Confederate Army. William later died in the war, while Loreta also joined, taking the name Henry T. Buford. After supposedly fighting at Bull Run, she took to spying for the Confederacy, then rejoined the Army, fighting at Fort Donelson and Shiloh. Later in the war, she served the Union cause as a spy.

After the war, she wrote her memoir The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Velázquez, Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry T Buford, Confederate States Army, which is the source of controversy in the historiography on the war. Her account shattered the “Lost Cause” mythology surrounding Confederate soldiers, as she described them as boorish and ungentlemanly. Her writing raised the ire of Jubal Early, who was influential in the early historiography from the southern perspective on the war. Due to this controversy, her story was largely erased from the history and memory on the war.

Through Rebel, director Maria Agui Carter attempts to draw out the true story of Velazquez and her contribution to the larger understanding of the Civil War. Complete with a cast of academics crossing several fields and disciplines, gripping cinematography, and a unique story, Rebel is worth viewing on your local PBS station and will enlighten and entertain those interested in the Civil War, spies, women’s history, or Latino history.

Check out the site for the documentary here, and buy Velazquez’s book here.

How the Civil War Changed Our Lives – AARP

Though one would not think of the AARP website as having much to do with the war, they posted an interesting reflective piece on how the Civil War changed the lives of Americans.

Echoes of the nation’s greatest fight — the Civil War — still reverberate from coast to coast.

Some ring strong: of course the end of slavery, perhaps the worst disgrace in the nation’s history. And the 620,000 ancestors lost. Other vestiges have weakened with the passage of time but are no less legacies of the four horrific, heroic years that shaped us as one nation.Here are eight ways the Civil War indelibly changed us and how we live:

1. We have ambulances and hospitals.

The Civil War began during medieval medicine’s last gasp and ended at the dawn of modern medicine. Each side entered the war with puny squads of physicians trained by textbook, if at all. Four years later, legions of field-tested doctors, well-versed in anatomy, anesthesia and surgical practice, were poised to make great medical leaps.

The nation’s first ambulance corps, organized to rush wounded soldiers to battlefront hospitals and using wagons developed and deployed for that purpose, was created during the Civil War. The idea was to collect wounded soldiers from the field, take them to a dressing station and then transport them to the field hospital.

Doctors laid out the hospitals as camps divided into well-defined wards for specific activities such as surgery and convalescence. Women flocked to serve these hospitals as nurses.

Before the war, most people received health care at home. After the war, hospitals adapted from the battlefront model cropped up all over the country. The ambulance and nurses’ corps became fixtures, with the Civil War’s most famous nurse, Clara Barton, going on to establish the American Red Cross. Today’s modern hospital is a direct descendant of these first medical centers.

How the Civil War Changed Our Lives – AARP.