Victorian Festival canceled as weather looms – The Telegraph: Local News

Victorian Festival canceled as weather looms – The Telegraph: Local News.

Had to share this story with you all, as it involves my home town. I have been to this event several times before I relocated to North Dakota, and this is the first time it’s been cancelled, but what can you do about the weather, especially when it’s the remnants of Hurricane Isaac.

As a reenactor, I know I would not plan to go to the event with that kind of weather in the forecast, even if I had committed to it before, as damp weather is not good for weapons, or powder. Also, camping would be a pain in the rear with heavy rain, as the tents are only so waterproof. While a tough decision, it was the right one in light of the situation.

I wish the Nolan’s the best of luck as they deal with this sad turn of events and to all my friends in Jersey County, please be safe this weekend.

Presenting back home and in class

As the semester nears its end, I decided to take a few moments to share what I have been up to in the last two weeks. On April 13, I departed Grand Forks for my hometown of Jerseyville, Illinois. It was a well-timed trip in light of the tornado that hit Lambert St. Louis International Airport on Good Friday, which is where I fly into. I had been selected to present a paper at the 2011 Illinois History Symposium in Carbondale. My advisor, Dr. Kim Porter, who also presented, informed me of the conference last fall, so I happily submitted, as it coincided with my mom’s birthday. I presented on the physical transition from civilian to soldier in Illinois Civil War camps of instruction, which was one chapter of my thesis. The panel was awesome, though I forgot my camera and have no pictures of it. I was also approached by a couple of folks from SIU Press who asked me to keep them in mind when I get around to writing the book on the subject. After the presentation, my dad and I traveled to Murphysboro, seven miles from Carbondale, and took in a reception at the John A. Logan Museum. It was quite fun, as Logan was the creator of Memorial Day, a past Commander-in-Chief of the GAR, which is special for me being in the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

Murphysboro was also fun to visit, as it was impacted by the 1925 Tri-State Tornado, where almost 700 people across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana were killed in a single tornado. The town still holds the record for most fatalities in a single city from a tornado at 234. This crosses into one of my other quirky historical interests, which is natural disasters. The trip allowed me to visit my folks for a few days and relax a bit from the demands of teaching and class, as well as network for future job and publishing opportunities. Plus, I met James Swan, author of Chicago’s Irish Legion:  The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War, who came to my panel. I took the opportunity to purchase his book and have him sign it (the dust jacket tore a little in transit back to North Dakota, thanks Delta). I fielded a few good questions that opened up areas of inquiry that I had not considered before, so the rewards go beyond a line on the CV. All in all, it was a great trip and I encourage those in Illinois to consider the next symposium April 26-28, 2012 in East Peoria, with the theme “Contested Lands:  1673-1840.” The deadline for submission is October 15, 2011. For more information, contact William Furry at 217-525-2781.

Upon my return to Grand Forks (it snowed while I was away), I presented my lecture on Creating Armies in my History 103 class. I broke from the usual form of lecture and team-taught with my friend and fellow reenactor Stuart Lawrence. We used some of our reenacting equipment to conduct a object-based presentation on the lives of soldiers and what training was like for them, which allowed me to combine a bit of material culture and dress up in period attire. Whether it was effective in helping them understand remains to be seen, but I figure it is a nice change of pace and helps the visual and tactile learners anyway. I am working on some book reviews and will be again appearing on local talk radio to chat about the war on the same day as the next meeting of the Northern Plains Civil War Round Table, where I will present on the Camp Jackson Affair and Civil War Missouri. If you are in the Grand Forks area, come to the E. Grand Forks VFW at 7:00 PM on Tuesday, May 3 and join our group and listen to my talk.

Finally, I have joined the 21st century a bit more. Those of you with smart phones, which does not include me, can now access my blog via the QR that I placed in the sidebar. Until next time, keep researching and I will leave you with the paper that I presented in Illinois.

Update on Grierson Days

About three years ago, I posted my visit to Grierson Days, which is held each June in Jacksonville, IL. Jacksonville is where I attended college before journeying to North Dakota to begin graduate school, so I stop there every so often when I come home to visit the folks. Well, after that post, Mr. Ron Gray, who coordinated the event, commented on the post, which resulted in a second post on the subject due to the passage of time. My main issue in the first post was the announcing during the battle reenactment, which amplified the weaponry used and, according to my father, historically inaccurate. I conceded that I wrote the first post in the heat of the moment, but was looking forward to see how they did this year when I went up on June 19.

Well, I was pleased, as there was no announcing during the battle. Rather, one of the reenactors announced before the battle, briefly explaining the three main branches of the army that would be seen that day. Though simpler than three years ago, I will say it was better than having the weapons amplified through a public address system. I also took many photos that I will upload later this week. Having been to my first reenacting event in May, I came to this event with a greater appreciation for what the guys participating go through (especially since a line of strong storms went through the area around midnight and did a bit of damage to some of their tents). Overall, I commend the Grierson Society for their work and improving the event. Had it not been so hot that weekend and had their not been (as I heard) competing events, I believe the event would have had even better attendance and participation.

On a side note to my readers, I want to apologize for the lack of content lately. I am sure this is evidenced by a drop in stats. I thank you for your support and want to let you know that I expect some new content in the coming months, as I will be finishing several book reviews for publication and freelance to this site. In addition, I also put my name into consideration to write a sesquicentennial history of one of the campaigns of the US Army in the war for the US Army Center of Military History, so wish me luck and I will keep you updated on that.

It is done, well almost

Exciting news for myself. My thesis is finished, at least for the most part. I received preliminary approval on Thursday, which means that no significant changes will be required by my committee on the draft. I only have a couple of steps left to complete my MA. I defend the thesis on Friday, July 11 at 11:00 AM (I will let you know how that goes on Friday). I also need to make any last-minute changes to the draft before submitting the draft to the Graduate School for a format check. Sometime early next week, I will submit a final copy to the graduate school for approval by the dean and if all goes well, I graduate on August 1.

Needless to say, I am quite happy that I am finished with this project. Illinois camps of instruction have been a passion of mine for four years. I began the research into Camp Carrollton, near my hometown of Jerseyville, Illinois. That camp was used by the Sixty-first Illinois Infantry from late-September 1861 to the end of February 1862. The camp was located on the Greene County Fair Grounds, which was similar to almost all other camps in the state. Eventually, the research became my senior paper as an undergraduate. Since then, I have presented a paper on Camp Carrollton twice at history conferences, as well as a paper dealing with the overall topic at the Northern Great Plains History Conference.

My thesis focuses on the transition from civilian to soldier, which the camps facilitated. The transformation took on three forms: physical, mental, and social. The physical transition encompassed the entrance into camp and the world of the soldier, with events like the medical examination, receipt of the uniform, and the beginning of drill. The mental transition focused on increased emotional expression in the soldiers’ writings as well as the learning of increased self-discipline. Finally, the social transition, which I found to be a more significant part of the transition, dealt with the soldier learning to become part of the unit. Soldiers engaged in many social activities in camp that brought them together as comrades. In addition, the soldiers ventured into the neighboring communities for attending church, dining out in local restaurants, and touring the sites. These activities, as well as the men leaving their camp, served to distinguish the soldier from the rest of society as a distinct social group.

Overall, the story of camps has been largely ignored by scholars. Most works I have encountered by historians that deal with soldiers focus on soldiers once they were in the field. I concluded that most scholars focus not on a civilian to soldier transition, but a soldier to veteran transition. Studying camps is important because to fully understand soldiers we need to know their story before they face their first battle.

In conclusion, I am quite relieved to have my thesis mostly done. I am a bit nervous about my defense, but am confident that all will work out. I plan to start my doctoral work in the fall and am currently not sure what I will write my dissertation on, but am looking forward to the challenge. As for whether I will have my thesis published in some form as a journal article, I will let you know when that comes about.

Review of A Civil War Soldier’s Diary: Valentine C. Randolph, 39th Illinois Regiment.

This review of mine will appear in an upcoming issue of On Point, the quarterly publication of the Army Historical Foundation.

book coverA Civil War Soldier’s Diary: Valentine C. Randolph, 39th Illinois Regiment. Edited by David D. Roe. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2006. 290pp. Maps. ISBN-10: 0-87580-343-1. Cloth $35.00

This is one of the best-written accounts of the Civil War from a soldier for a diary or memoir. Valentine C. Randolph takes the reader on a journey from the small town of Lincoln, Illinois to the eastern theater of the war. Along the way, Randolph served in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina with the 39th Illinois Infantry Regiment until his discharge in September 1864. The reader will find himself or herself feeling as if they are with Randolph both in camp and on the battlefield.

Randolph’s diary reads like most soldier diaries. Most entries involve commenting on the weather, battles, sickness (Randolph notes this quite often, as he ends up in the hospital for several months with apparent malaria), and daily happenings in the camps. However, Randolph’s diary has certain unique qualities that set it apart from other published sources and unpublished sources. Besides being a common soldier, Randolph is an educated soldier. The biographical section provided by Roe notes that Randolph attended the preparatory school at Illinois College (the alma mater of this reviewer), which gave him training in Classics. Randolph occasionally using Latin phrases in his entries evidences this.

Another interesting characteristic is Randolph’s religious devotion, which is interspersed throughout the diary. He typically mentions when it is the Sabbath and often mentions the church services and other religious events occurring while he is in the Army. The biography notes that he attended college after the war, earning his Bachelor of Divinity degree. He then became a Methodist preacher and eventually professor of Greek and Latin at a Methodist college in Illinois. This all supports Dr. Steven Woodworth’s assertion on the back cover of Randolph being “the most educated and articulate private soldier I’ve ever encountered by way of a diary or memoirs.”

Randolph’s entries are very much worth reading, as it gives a first-hand account of the journey of not only him, but also his regiment through much of the war. However, the commentary by Stephen Wise allows the reader to gain an understanding of the work well. This is a double-edged sword, as the reader is tempted to just read the commentary and skip the entries, which warrants reminding the reader that they are reading a diary from a soldier and not a regimental history.

This book adds to the overall scholarship available to historians and general readers on Civil War soldiers, which is a growing field in history. In addition to Randolph’s entries, the book possesses other good qualities. The book is well researched, containing many informative content footnotes as well as maps and an index, which aid readers in locating places Randolph notes, and, finding specific topics to use the diary for research. David Roe, the editor and Stephen Wise, the commentator, have done an excellent job of presenting Randolph’s diary to today’s readers. Randolph’s diary stands out as a wonderful source for readers to begin learning about the enlisted man. Military readers will connect with Randolph, as he notes things that many soldiers face in the field, like weather and battle. Overall, this book is necessary reading for Civil War enthusiasts.