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.

Fun on St. Patrick’s Day

On Saturday (St. Patrick’s Day), several of us in the 5th Minnesota, Company D, also known as the Fort Abercrombie Garrison, participated in the Fargo (ND) St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It was a great time, as the weather was very nice, with the high in the low 70s, which for those of you not from the Dakotas is quite warm for March (usually we are dealing with snow still on the ground in some way and have had storms adding to the pack). Stuart and I drove down to rendezvous with our colleague Joe Camisa, who is in graduate school with us at UND and then on to meet up with the rest of the crew. Joe was quite a trooper, as he had driven all night from central Michigan and still managed to march with us.

The crowd was quite big and we marched behind the pipe and drum band, which was cool, especially when they played “The Minstrel Boy”, as we were “technically” going to portray the Irish Brigade (we’ll do that next time). We did a great job keeping our line tight at shoulder to shoulder and were able to keep in step most of the time. This was my first parade as a reenactor, but I participated in marching band in high school, so I am versed in marching for a parade. It was a good time and I look forward to doing this in the future. Below are some great pictures from the day (thanks to all who were able to take pictures).

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Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln

Though it is almost the end of the day, February 12 is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Though opinions on him range quite a bit, depending on one’s views on the war, it cannot be denied that he was one of our greatest presidents, facing a daunting challenge and seeing the nation through our bloodiest war, only to be cut down by an assassin’s bullet within days of the war’s conclusion (at least for the most part). The interest and scholarship recently blossomed on his 200th birthday in 2009, but there are still many who are interested in the life and accomplishments of this man from Illinois. In any event, Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln.

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 36,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

How many died?: New thoughts on the cost of the war

For much of the last several decades, the accepted figure for the number of dead was 620,000, making the Civil War the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history. Now, that figure is being questioned. Initially reported in September, the December 2011 issue of the journal Civil War History (not affiliated with this blog) has an article dedicated to this subject. If you have access to a library, I urge you to check it out.

Using census data, some historians now believe that the war actually cost more in dead than we have thought, by almost twenty percent. According to these new studies, the number of dead ranges anywhere from 750,000 to as much as 850,000, which is much more staggering than the 620,000 we have accepted for so long.

This poses the biggest historical question, why is this important? First, it is important because it illustrates the problems of how we accounted for our war dead as a nation. Particularly, the case of African-American dead, as around 180,000 served in the war (I am not getting into a debate about black Confederates on this). Second, it brings a whole new significance to the war in American history in terms of its effect on population. That twenty percent or more died than previously believed means that a higher percentage of the population was killed and otherwise affected by the fighting. It also means that if we place such a figure against our contemporary population figures, the death toll becomes even more stark, as the new figures are almost three percent of the wartime population, which translates to roughly nine million dead in today’s figures. Finally, it raises questions as to whether all the dead from the war have been accounted, as while it may not seem important 150 years later, it is important to understanding how the military has handled the dead, both good and bad, from America’s conflicts.

Our understanding of death and the war was greatly aided by the publication of Drew Gilpin Faust’s marvelous book This Republic of Suffering (2008). Faust examined how death and the carnage of war influenced society and is one of the more groundbreaking studies within recent Civil War historiography. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for such findings to become accepted and how long before textbooks change the figures, but if the methods hold up, this will shape how this war is remembered for years to come.

Dealing with comments on controversial topics

Today, I had to do something I have not done before on this blog, send a real comment to trash. Now, I have had my share of spam comments that get through, usually full of links, but I usually am welcoming of comments, as they are opportunities to discuss and debate, but this comment to my recent update on the Texas license plate controversy was too abrasive to be posted, as the email address included “Nsdap”, which is the abbreviation for the full name of the Nazi party. This sent up a red flag for me. The comment was also borderline white supremacist in its tone, so I had no choice, but to trash it, as such a comment would have only led to trouble.

Please remember when commenting to not use foul language, or racial slurs, as they are not welcome here. Also, hard-core neo-Confederate posts that add nothing to the discussion and only serve to inflame will either be edited or deleted. I do this because I want this civility on this site that anyone, young or old, can view. I do not do this lightly, as I want to be balanced, but some things do go beyond common decency and need to be dealt with. Those of you who have posted good comments over the years, thank you and please continue to do so. Those who have yet to comment, please consider it, but watch what you say, as we can disagree, but be respectful as well. Thanks for your understanding on this.

Update to Texas Confederate license plate controversy

Thanks to some of my intrepid readers, who followed up on this story and commented to my earlier post on the controversial proposed SCV license plate in the Lone Star State. Initial stories on the situation indicated opposition to the plate by prominent Democratic politicians in the state, which led me to believe that there might be more to this than moral opposition to the Confederate flag and Confederacy.

However, I learned from one commenter (hat tip to David Woodbury, blogger at of Battlefields and Bibliophiles) that Gov. Rick Perry expressed opposition to the plate as well. This definitely changed the situation for the future of the proposal, as he holds great sway in the state and on the commission that determined its fate, which contained several Perry appointees. This held true, as the commission rejected the plate proposal, choosing instead to honor the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, which is certainly an institution and group of soldiers worth honoring with a license plate. However, this issue is likely not dead, as SCV will likely sue to have the plates issued. The group has successfully litigated in other southern states before on the plate issue.

My thoughts on this would be for the commission to communicate to the SCV the option for a Civil War license plate that is neutral, commemorating appropriately the 150th anniversary of the war with the silhouette of a soldier and the wording of the anniversary and the war. It would allow citizens to take their own meaning from the plate and the proceeds could be directed to preservation of Civil War related items and land, which would hopefully satisfy the SCV.

The Rebel Yell in video

Hat tip to Civil Warriors for this awesome video of a film that is held at the Library of Congress, but was made available online via the Smithsonian. I have heard a recording of the Rebel Yell before, but this is by far the best, as you can see the actual veterans doing the yell. Though the audio quality is a bit grainy, this video represents the power of digital history in making a unique piece of American history available to the world. Check it out, as I am sure it will send a shiver up your spine.

What Did the Rebel Yell Sound Like?

You should also check out this interesting article on video and audio recordings of veterans.

Thoughts on the Texas Confederate license plate controversy

Recently, several legislators in Texas came out against a proposed license plate in Texas designed to denote a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans.Their opposition revolves around the organizational logo of SCV, which features the battle flag, and is used in the plate design. Keep in mind that our modern conception of the Confederate flag is actually the naval jack (you can see this in a 19th century engraving of the CSS Albemarle from the US Navy’s history website on Confederate vessels).

The SCV states that the proceeds from the plates will go to marking Confederate soldier graves, build monuments, and preserve artifacts. Texas considered the idea as we are beginning the 150th anniversary of the war, but the board that approves plate designs is deadlocked in a 4-4 tie, with another vote coming on Nov. 10. Several other states in the South have such plates and while attempts have been made to stop them, SCV has successfully sued and received approval.

Now, as a descendant of a Union veteran and a member of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), I am wondering how many states now have or would adopt plates for our organization, as I would like to have one. I have no real problem with an SCV plate, so long as it is done in good taste, which looking at the design seems so. While Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee calls the flag a “symbol of intimidation”, it is an object and is only intimidating if used in that way and allowed to be intimidating. I do find it interesting that those speaking out against the plates seem to be only Democrats. What are their motivations for opposition beyond political disagreement?

While some aspects of the SCV do annoy me, they have the right to be recognized and share pride in their organization. I seriously doubt that too many people are going to pay that close of attention to an SCV license plate, as they should be focusing on the road. I hope other states will consider adopting some sort of commemorative plate for the 150th anniversary. What are your thoughts on this?

Digital history and the Civil War

As I have been working this semester on a digital history project on the fiftieth anniversary of the Chester Fritz Library at UND, I decided to take a few moments to consider the applications digital history has for the Civil War. As new technology changes life in many ways, history also must adapt to the faster pace of a digital world.

I have posted on several digital collections devoted to the war in the past, but want to share with you the possibilities that digital history provides for the war. Beyond digital collections placed online by various research libraries and institutions, digital tools provide endless possibilities for those interested in the war and here are some examples:

Omeka is an open-source collection management software that allows users to upload various items onto a digital archive, organize them into collections, and make them available to the world. The cool thing about this resource is that if you have a personal collection of documents and objects related to the war, you can create an online museum devoted to them, with metadata that is useful to researchers.

Using online tools to collaborate with others in the field is one of the best ways digital technology improves our understanding of the war. Search engines allow us to access materials from anywhere, and software, like Zotero, which is a free citation management program, let scholars organize information and retrieve it quickly. I have a bibliography devoted to my thesis topic (Civil War soldiers) that I try and update to keep abreast of new materials. Also, using a Twitter feed offers the chance of posting a question to your followers and receiving an answer quickly.

One of the best ways to use digital tools is blogging, as it allows you to showcase your interests and research and gain a following in the digital world. This is one reason I blog, and there are several other scholars on the war that have blogs (Civil Warriors, Crossroads, and Renegade South come to mind). So, if you are interested, get out there and start a blog, or ask to join one as a guest writer.

I will leave you with a couple great posts by two professors at the University of North Dakota who are much more knowledgeable about this subject than I. Dr. Bill Caraher wrote a post on his blog, which is cross-posted to Teaching Thursday, and Dr. Tim Pasch shared his insights into digital tools as well, which while they are more to improve workflow, they have great uses in researching the war, in terms of organizing information and retaining it. It will be amazing to see how much of a role digital history plays during the 150th anniversary, and who knows what will be going on for the bicentennial. Until next time, keep researching.

Photos from Heritage Days

Like last year, we participated in East Grand Forks Heritage Days, providing a Civil War display. This year, we attended both days, and had extra help in Joe Camisa and Bud Mahnke, who provided their expertise on subjects as well. It was a bit crazy, as Stuart and I had just returned from Wilson’s Creek only a couple of days earlier. Except for a bit of wind and showers, it was fun, and we were able to do several firing demonstrations with the muskets, which the crowd seemed to enjoy. We even made the local paper The Exponent, which was fun. Below are photos from the day.

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Photos from Wilson’s Creek

I have been meaning to post pictures of my trip last month to Wilson’s Creek, which was covered here and here. Most of these pictures are from my camera, but a few are from Stuart’s and other folks, who posted them to Facebook. Overall, I will say I had a decent time, despite some issues at the event surrounding logistics and battle planning. So, for your viewing pleasure, here are some photos.

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A great site of digital collections on the Civil War

Hat tip to my colleague Joe Camisa for making me aware of this new site that links digital Civil War collections from a several prestigious libraries in the South. Civil War in the American South is a project put out by members of the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL), which include libraries at Duke, Clemson, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi State, Virginia, and the UNC system. A cursory glance shows several promising collections on a variety of subjects. I urge my readers to check it out and explore this research tool.

Review of the film Gods and Generals

Civil War historian Dr. Steve Woodworth at Texas Christian University, reviewed the film Gods and Generals for the Journal of American History in 2003. The American Historical Association (AHA) recently posted a copy of that review that appeared on the website Teachinghistory.org. I have met Dr. Woodworth in the past and have found him to be a friendly and capable scholar, and enjoyed his take on the movie, as he summed up many of the problems with the film. Being in both the reenacting community and the scholarly community, I have heard both extremes on the film, with reenactors, especially Confederate, being largely praiseworthy, while scholars are more critical. I feel that this review is a rather balanced evaluation of this Civil War film.

Click here to read the review

By the way, this is the 250th post on this blog!

Up Wilson’s Creek without a paddle: the good, bad, and ugly of the 150th annivesary event

Well, I am back from my trip to Missouri (Mizz-ur-ah, or Misery, if you prefer) to participate in the 150th anniversary battle reenactment, which was my first ever national event (check out Stuart Lawrence’s take on Bull Run/Manassas for another national event) and wanted to share my thoughts.

First, let me say that there is some buzz going around in one reenacting forum regarding the event with opinions coming down both ways on the weekend, with most being negative. Second, I am only in my second season of reenacting and will admit to not being as partial to primitive camping and using portable toilets as others, but am learning to like the camping. Third, this will be the first in a possible series of postings regarding the event from others in the unit I fell in with, as well as others interested, so you will get several different impressions of the same event. Finally, constructive comments on these postings are welcome and appreciated, as we could get a good discussion on this topic going, but please remember to be civil.

The trip began with Stuart Lawrence and I leaving Grand Forks Wednesday morning to drive as far as we could and stop for the night. With continued high water on the Missouri River, parts of I-29 have been closed for weeks and remain closed, which warranted a detour, but we arrived late that night in St. Joseph, Missouri, staying in a Motel 6, which was nice. We awoke the next morning, had a good breakfast and headed on, arriving in the Springfield area around 1:00 PM and set up our tent and gear. We introduced ourselves to Christian Shuster, who invited our unit to fall in with his 3rd Missouri for the weekend and waited for others to arrive. Once the rest of the unit arrived and our camp was erected, we prepared ourselves for the coming days of battle. That evening we were treated to the first of several fine meals prepared by our camp cooks (hats off to you ladies for your hard work).

Friday morning came early (before 6:00 AM), as we enjoyed breakfast and prepared for battalion drill at 7:30. We formed up for the morning battle around 10:00AM and had the first fight, which was a good one, as we charged the Federals and drove them back across a wooden bridge crossing Wilson’s Creek. The crowd enjoyed it, but it was a smaller gathering (most people being at work on a Friday). We went about our day, anticipating the afternoon battle and looking forward to an exciting national event. Boy, were we surprised.

Let me preface this by saying that I have only a slightly negative view of the event, mainly from a logistical point of view and issues with some of our higher level command that I believe contributed to a more negative atmosphere among some of the participants and the feedback on the forum (more on this later).

Friday afternoon’s battle found us on the hill in the trees waiting for the Union to move into position and give us battle. Well, we wound up shooting into the trees, which made us a bit upset. Saturday and Sunday’s battles went much better, as we expended more powder and put on a good show for the crowd. Several of us went down from a cannon shot (including myself) and were then covered by crickets, which made for a few chuckles. This was one of the better parts of the event.

Now then, no event is perfect, and there were a couple things that were bad and one that was ugly that upset several reenactors around our camp. The bad was how our senior command staff (brigade and battalion commanders) had us formed up over a half hour before the scheduled start of the battle. This “hurry up and wait” was only problematic from the standpoint of being in the sun and heat, and while it was much more pleasant temperature wise from earlier in the week, it was still a potential hazard if not accustomed to it. Another bad issue was running out of water for a period on Saturday, which was not good. There were a couple safety issues, including a cavalry ride through our camp during the night, and, one person riding their horse through the tent areas.

The ugly part of the event were the portable toilets. Simply put, there were not enough of them, they were not cleaned often enough, and ran out of paper. They were also not set up well and leaned at times. Now, if it were possible for a human to not use the bathroom for three days, I may have attempted, but as it was, there were times that the conditions were just bad. Having only nine portables for almost the entire Confederate camp was insufficient. Future organizers take note, please have reliable facilities for us and make sure they are cleaned more often.

On the whole, while there were several things that diminished the quality of the event for several reenactors and myself, I did manage to enjoy myself. I met new people and experienced battles with hundreds, instead of dozens, of participants. Sutler row was fun, as there were several there, including a soda dealer from near my hometown of Jerseyville, Illinois.

Special thanks to Capt. Christian Shuster of the 3rd Missouri for inviting us down and being and all around good guy. Thanks to the rest of the 3rd for being welcoming and having a good time. Thank you to all in the 1st South Carolina for coming down and making the best of it, and to our civilians in camp for the cooking (especially the Lenz family and Amundsons) and socializing. It’s the end of another reenacting season for me, but it was a fun one. I hope to post some pictures and video from the event in the near future. Until next time, keep researching and reading.

The Bull Run of the West 150 years ago

Just a quick posting to let you all know about the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, near Springfield, Missouri that occurred August 10, 1861. The battle is considered the Bull Run of the West, as it was the first major engagement of the war in the West and, like its Eastern counterpart, was a Confederate victory. In addition, Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon was killed in the battle and it paved the way for German immigrants to participate in large numbers for the Union cause, as they made up a portion of Lyon’s army. This is a short posting, as I am heading down to take part in the weekend events to commemorate the battle, including the reenactment. I will post on this early next week, but will be away from the blog for a few days. Until then, happy reading and researching.