Sunday, October 21, 2012

Trans-Mississippi Treasures

This past Thursday and Friday were Fall Break at my school. Fall Break is a marvelous holiday for both professors, staff, and students—the weather is usually nice and it comes midway through the semester. Road trips, particularly those to Civil War sites, are often what I do on holidays, and I went on a special adventure on Thursday.
Quite some time ago I embarked on a new trans-Mississippi research project. Currently, I am preparing the diary and other papers of Albert C. Ellithorpe for publication. Ellithorpe served in the 1st Indian Home Guards regiment and documented a number of interesting events in his diary and other papers. The diary was actually first kept by a Confederate soldier, but Ellithorpe acquired it after the Union victory at Locust Grove in the Indian Territory. One of the attractions of this project is that Locust Grove is just a twenty-minute drive from my house; in fact, all of the places that he mentions in his diary are a relatively short road trip away. A number of years ago, Dr. Thomas P. Sweeney purchased the diary for his collection. Some of you probably remember seeing parts of his collection on display at General Sweeney’s Museum that was adjacent to the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. Wilson’s Creek now owns Sweeney’s collection, including the Ellithorpe diary. It is an incredible treasure trove. Some of the documents, including Ellithorpe’s diary, have been scanned and are available for viewing on the Community & Conflict website; a selection of artifacts may be viewed on the Trans-Mississippi Theater Virtual Museum.
As an aside, Wilson’s Creek is also the home of the John K. and Ruth Hulston Civil War Research Library that holds several thousand volumes with the primary concentration being the trans-Mississippi.
On Thursday, I traveled to Wilson’s Creek and actually saw, held, and read Ellithorpe’s diary. Having digital images to look at are quite convenient, but there is nothing quite like the thrill of working with the original source. In the process I was able to clear up some mysteries in the transcription—deciphering illegible words primarily.
Besides the excitement of working with Ellithorpe’s diary, the staff at Wilson’s Creek welcomed me warmly. I have worked at several archives over the years, and all of them have helpful and friendly staff. However, the good people at Wilson’s Creek have now taken first place for helpfulness and hospitality. They even took me to a storage area to show me the “Cherokee Braves” flag captured at Locust Grove. Very neat! 

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