Saturday, January 30, 2010

Interview with Dr. William L. Shea

An excellent Q&A with Dr. William L. Shea has been posted on Drew Wagenhoffer's blog. Drew has asked Dr. Shea a different set of questions than I did in my earlier interview, so they complement each other nicely. The Q&A contains some great information including news about Dr. Shea's current research project.

Campaigning in the Indian Territory

The last two postings praised, a great source for interesting and useful documents pertaining to the trans-Mississippi. There are, of course, other sites that include important primary sources relating to the war west of the Mississippi. While surfing the internet one day, I happened across a transcription of Lt. Colonel Robert Calvin Parks’ daybook. Parks, a mixed blood Cherokee, served in the 1st Cherokee Mounted Volunteers commanded by Stand Watie. I could not find a great deal about Parks' background on the internet although there was an article in The Chronicles of Oklahoma that provided some information about Parks’ family background. Also, A Guide to Cherokee Confederate Military Units by Lars Gjertveit stated that Parks was “killed by a fellow officer in a personal difficulty at Fort Washita in April 1864.” Before his untimely demise, Parks kept a daybook from 10 November 1862 to 31 March 1863. In it he discusses campaigning in the Indian Territory, supplies, issues relating to civilians, the weather (always a source of fascination for Oklahomans), and internal problems in his unit. Although it is a relatively short document, the Kansas State Historical Society is to be commended for posting the transcription as well as digital images of the daybook.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Veteran Writes

I received the comment below from one of my blog readers, and I thought it was deserving of inclusion in a regular blog posting. So, with the permission of the writer here is a first-hand account from a true veteran:

“Hello! My name is Vicki, and I'm a addict!

I've been a full member working in several Confederate files for about two years, and I've racked up over 120,000 annotations, or indexing entries, mostly in documents related to Texas although I've ventured off into Indian Territory, SW Arkansas, and western Louisiana at times. I started in the Citizens and Business File, moved over into Confederate Officers, and am currently in Confederate--CSA--Service records of Confederate soldiers who served in organizations raised directly by the Confederate government, such as the Engineers, Nitre and Mining Bureau, Sappers and Miners, and Signal Corps. I'm just finishing up the file for Caleb G. Forshey, 286 images. A West Point grad, before the war he was superintendent of Texas Military Institute at Rutersville--his letterhead paper in has two engravings of TMI. During the war he was "consulting engineer" for Magruder planning coastal defenses. His file not only includes detailed descriptive plans for the Fort Esperanza area, but also hand drawn maps for the area from Caney Creek to the Brazos, the mouth of the San Bernard River, the camps on the west side of the Brazos near the coast, the Sabine at Gaines Ferry, and the Sabine from Williamson Ferry down past Carter's Ferry. His correspondence documents his temper tantrums and his colleagues lack of confidence in him at times. Included is a report on the iron ore regions of East Texas, written by M. L. Parry, who wanted to set up foundries in Liberty and in Anderson County, a Cass(Davis) county foundry already being operational. And all of this I found by accident, since Caleb Forshey's file is actually under the name of Augustus Forsberg!

I don't think this indexing process will ever be complete--there are just too many documents and too many names, even for the Trans-Miss, and there are the serendipity moments like with Forshey. One name leads to another and another. It it truly one of the most amazing sources I've ever seen for Civil War researchers, paired with the free online searchable OR. I'm constantly amazed at how much paperwork survived, and dismayed at how much evidently didn't. (Did they have a bonfire at Bonham of much of the Northern Subdistrict paperwork at the end of the war, or what?) But beware! You will become addicted, and find yourself constantly on the lookout for "the next neat thing," wondering how long it has been since anyone has every looked at this particular document.

Vicki Betts
University of Texas at Tyler Library

P. S. I just remembered another favorite find from the correspondence of Udolpho Wolfe, quartermaster in Victoria, Texas, March 31, 1862:

‘The Influence of the ‘Almighty Dollar’ in time of War, as well as in times of peace seems proof against loyalty or patriotism. Where the money is, there will be found the seller, and where it is not[,] patriotism may solicit in vain.’”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

An Online Resource for Historians and Genealogists

Several months ago a blog reader mentioned the online resource Footnote to me, and just recently Stuart Salling, the creator of the new Louisiana during the Civil War blog, mentioned the resource. When I first heard about the site, I investigated it and found it to be quite intriguing, but I did not actually subscribe to it until last week. By the way, it is possible to sign up for a free basic membership that allows partial access. The Footnote company is based in Utah and has a partnership with the National Archives to scan various historical documents from throughout American history. What makes this site unusual is the ability that members have to upload documents and photographs, add facts to documents, and annotate or index documents. Members are also allowed to download and print off documents. Although designed primarily for genealogists, there is much of interest for historical researchers on the site. The following collections seemed most helpful for purposes of a trans-Mississippi researcher:

1860 census records

Confederate Amnesty Papers

Confederate Citizens File: These documents “pertain to goods furnished or services rendered to the Confederate government by private individuals or business firms.”

Compiled Service Records for Confederate Soldiers

Compiled Service Records for Union Soldiers [These records have not all been scanned in.]

Southern Claims Commission [This also appears to be incomplete at this time.]

The only drawback with this site is that it is addictive!! I found myself searching census records, reading amnesty papers, looking at service records, examining FBI case files, and perusing newspaper ads—before I knew it an hour had gone by.

I’m amazed at how much has changed in regard to historical research in a relatively short time. When I worked on my dissertation, I had to use microfilm to examine census records and certain other types of documents. Now I can read census records in my den and download journal articles from databases subscribed to by my university’s library. Wow!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

New Blog about Louisiana

A new blog about Louisiana during the Civil War has been created by Stuart Salling, a history teacher at Westminster Christian Academy in Opelousas, Louisiana. Salling's blog is designed to be "the" resource for all things relating to Louisiana during the war. This is a great venture that should prove to be useful to researchers as well as to those with a more casual interest in the Pelican State. Salling, by the way, has authored a book titled Louisianians in the Western Confederacy: The Adams-Gibson Brigade in the Civil War that will be published by McFarland later this year. I'm looking forward to following this new blog!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Supplies to and from the Texas home front

The flow of supplies to soldiers in the field is of interest to me. An important source of supplies was the home front. And, although it is not often considered, what supplies did soldiers send to their families? I hope you’re not weary of the correspondence of Theophilus and Harriet Perry, but their letters provide some interesting information on the type of supplies that flowed to and from Confederate soldiers in the trans-Mississippi. Theophilus served in the 28th Texas Cavalry (dismounted) that was part of Walker’s Texas division. His wife, Harriet, lived in and near Marshall, Texas, throughout the time period of her correspondence with her husband. Below is a list of supplies that the couple sent to each other via courier with the date of the letter that mentions the item. All of the quotes are from Widows by the Thousand: The Civil War Correspondence of Theophilus and Harriet Perry (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000).

October 4, 1862: Harriet sent a beeswax candle.

October 26, 1862: Harriet sent “a bottle of Tomato catsup, [and] a few dried peaches”, “candy and apples”, “over pants”, “three pair of yarn socks, comforter & cap”, and “red pepper to cook with your fresh meat.” She sent Norflet, Theophilus’ slave, two pairs of socks and his suit. Also she gave Theophilus “patches for Norflet to mend his clothes & yours too if they need it” and “your pistols”.

Feb. 1863: Theophilus sent “Sugar Lumpy [his daughter] a great sheet of paper filled with pictures of animals.”

Feb. 19, 1863: Harriet gave Theophilus “one pair of pants, two pair of drawers, a few candles & a little coffee (all I had) a towel which I designed for you to use in wiping your dishes & a piece of cloth to wash them with”.

Feb. 19, 1863: “Your Mother sends Norflet one pair of pants, two pair of drawers & a shirt—Fanny, Norflets wife sends him two pair of socks & the comforter.”

March 8, 1863: Theophilus reported that he received gloves and winter clothing in November including “overhaul pantaloons”.

July 28, 1863: Harriet mentions sending items to Theophilus, but she does not detail the items that she sent.

Dec. 18, 1863: Theophilus sent her a handkerchief, a baby’s blanket, sheepskins, bed ticks, pecans, and some cloth. Harriet said she would send him some tobacco and some shoes as well as paper if she could get it.

Dec. 20, 1863: Theophilus gave Harriet “the balance of the fifteen yards of cloth I bought.” In his January 29, 1864 letter he says that 10 yards of it was calico that he paid $10 a yard for and 4 ¾ yards were “Government Cloth” that he paid $5.50 a yard for.

Jan. 20, 1864: Harriet refers to recently sending him socks.

Jan. 29, 1864: Theophilus mentions receiving candy, apples, and pound cakes.

Feb. 14, 1864: Harriet had a bundle prepared with “flannel drawers” and “Sugared fruit” [this consisted of “figs, pears, and two qualities of Peaches”] and “two shirts nicely done up” plus a “cravat”.

Feb. 14, 1864: Theophilus reported buying “six yards of Cotton ade for pantaloons at a dollar & half a yard” that he planned to send to Harriet.

Feb. 21, 1864: Theophilus purchased “two large fine Combs & one black toilet comb” for Harriet and mentioned purchasing “Ware Cloth” and “Overcoat cloth”.

March 9, 1864: Theophilus received pantaloons from Harriet.

March 27, 1864: Harriet sent “bacon and flour” to Theophilus.

April 5, 1864: Theophilus asked Harriet to send him “two cakes, sponge cake or pound cake. Gingerbread is unhealthy.”

The correspondence ended with the death of Theophilus on April 17, 1864 as the result of a wound received at the battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana.

Friday, January 8, 2010

So Many Books and So Little Time

Thanks to Christmas gifts from kind relatives, I now have a stack of new books to read for 2010. Unfortunately, I am not a particularly fast reader so I often despair of being able to read all of the books that I really want to read. Occasionally, I enjoy highlighting books that I have found personally rewarding. Among these is The Southern Journey of a Civil War Marine: The Illustrated Note-Book of Henry O. Gusley edited and annotated by Edward T. Cotham, Jr.; I found this to be an excellent and relatively quick read. Published by the University of Texas Press in 2006, The Southern Journey of a Civil War Marine is an attractive and well-designed book. A native Pennsylvanian, Henry O. Gusley, enlisted in the U. S. Marines in 1861 at age 24. Gusley served along the Gulf Coast and was involved in blockading duties and a number of skirmishes from the Texas coast to the Florida coast. Most notably, he served in the Louisiana Teche campaigns and the battles of Galveston and Sabine Pass. Confederates captured him after the battle of Sabine Pass, and imprisoned him at Camp Groce in Texas. His captured journal made its way into the hands of the editor of the Galveston Tri-Weekly News who published Gusley’s journal serially during the war; this became a popular feature of the newspaper and even led to a brief correspondence between the newspaper editor and the imprisoned Gusley. In the book, editor Edward T. Cotham, Jr. pairs Gusley’s journal with the wartime drawings of Dr. Daniel D. T. Nestell who also served in the Gulf and observed many of the same things that Gusley did. The journal and the drawings fit amazingly well together. Of course the heart of the book is Gusley’s journal. Gusley struck me as decent, thoughtful, and observant, and I suspect that many of the readers of the Galveston Tri-Weekly reached the same conclusion. Mr. Cotham is to be commended for pairing Gusley’s journal and Nestell’s drawings and for his excellent editing. The book offers many interesting insights into shipboard service in the trans-Mississippi.