by ECW correspondent Amelia Kibbe
Dr. Kelly Mezurek remembered watching the popular film Gone With the Wind (1939) on a Saturday afternoon when she was only a teenager. The movie, she said, gave her a first taste of the Civil War.
Mezurek, now an associate professor at Walsh University in Ohio, said from that day and through her undergraduate at Baldwin-Wallace College and her masters and doctoral programs at Kent State University, her interest mid-nineteenth century America grew. This week, her first book, For Their Own Cause: The 27th United States Colored Troops, will be released on Amazon.
“Sometimes popular culture can get us interested in a topic in a good way,” she said. “In college, I began to look at [the Civil War] in a more scholarly way, and I realized that’s way better than fiction because it’s about real people.”
Mezurek began For Their Own Cause fifteen years ago, she said. After finishing her doctoral coursework at Kent State University, her advisor accepted Mezurek’s dissertation topic: a study of the six Confederate Secretaries of War.
However, she said struggled to get interested in her work.
Meanwhile, her advisor asked her to do some work for him on the United States Colored Troops. “I would love to,” she told him.
While helping with the project, she learned of a black regiment from Ohio that she hadn’t heard about.
“I had understood Ohio only had one,” she said, referencing the 5th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. “In this work, I found another that hadn’t gotten much attention.”
The troop, the 27th United States Colored Troops, composed largely of free black men from Ohio, fought in Virginia and North Carolina as part of the Union army from April 1864 until September 1865, Mezurek said.
To Mezurek, the troop had an interesting story, and she asked her advisor if she could switch topics for her dissertation. Soon, she found herself immersed in the stories of the men in the troop.
Instead of focusing on the troop itself, Mezurek decided she wanted to write more about the stories of the men—why they had joined the troop, what it meant to their families, and how their parts in the war affected them once it ended.
“[After I got going] I soon found I cared about the soldiers more,” she said. “To me, [the work] was very rewarding.”
Mezurek, who waited some years before attending college, said keeping up with schoolwork while having a family made writing papers tough, and at the beginning of her project, she did not have a lot of self-confidence.
However, as she began to understand the men about whom she wrote, she found herself enjoying her work—researching because she wanted to and not because she felt the pressure of receiving her degree.
Once receiving her doctorate, Mezurek accepted a full-time position at Walsh in 2008. While she adjusted to her new life, she sometimes paused her work, which she had decided she wanted to turn into a book.
For the next few years, she worked with editors to change her dissertation-style work into a reader-friendly book by removing some of the academic requirements, doing new research, and adding in visuals.
“I was surprised by how much work happened after you write it,” she joked.
Now, her debut work will be available for family, friends, and everyone who enjoys learning more about American history, she said.
While she waits to hear reviews of her work, she has already started her next project: more in-depth research on correspondence between black troops and their families. She’s also busy with the Ohio Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Additionally, she serves on the editorial board for ECW’s “Engaging the Civil War” Series and recently wrote a chapter on black prison guards for a 2017 book by the Kent State University Press. And between 2011-2015, she served on the Ohio Civil War 150 Advisory Committee.
And, she’s already signed her first book.
After receiving her copies, she said she wanted to give one to each of her four children, so she went to see her daughter, who manages the Gold Horn Brewery in Cleveland, Ohio. When she got there, her daughter told her she wasn’t going to take the book right then, because she had a friend on the way who had already requested a copy to read.
“I signed my first book at a brewery,” she said, adding she had a picture from the event.
Mezurek said she hopes other people are just as excited to get a copy of her book as her daughter’s friend was.
“It’s important that we study history,” she said, “to get the fullest possible range of experiences from the people who lived it.”
Her book, she added, is just one part of that process.