Question of the Week: 11/21-11/27/16

Question-HeaderThere are many primary sources that are incredibly helpful to historians…and we should be grateful for those who took the time to record their observations and thoughts.

Who would you want to thank for writing a memoir, diary, letter, or other primary source?

11 Responses to Question of the Week: 11/21-11/27/16

  1. Records of the Provost Marshall of the United States Army. These records, in the National Archives, have never been transcribed or printed. They detail the relationship between the occupation forces, under the Provost Marshal, and Southern civilians. These records show an aspect of the war which has been much neglected by historians.

  2. “A Diary with Reminiscences of the War and Refugee Life in the Shenandoah Valley, 1860-1865” by Cornelia Peake McDonald. From Wikipedia:

    “Her diary is very beneficial in aiding research about women during the Civil War. In her diary she discusses the war, her feelings toward the war, her opinions on the issue of slavery and she gives insights into being a woman in the United States in the 1800s. Peake shows a devotion to her state, Virginia, not her country or even the Confederacy. She also describes her inner conflict of following her husband and their friends in their thoughts on slavery or to follow her own instincts about slavery being outdated and wrong. She confesses the need for some change in the South, but she also expresses fears about losing her way of life. Cornelia Peake McDonald’s diary is very insightful about a woman’s role during the Civil War and the conflicts women were facing during that time.”

  3. I am thankful for Thomas W. Colley of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, who wrote a multi-volume journal of his wartime service. In addition, thankful for his family members who have shared his work with me for transcription, editing, annotating, and publication. Watch for the work from the University of Tennessee Press sometime in 2017.

  4. Miss Carrie Spafford kept few of Colonel Ellsworth’s letters after his death, but she kept enough to create a remarkable treasure trove. I suspect her youth may have driven her to destroy letters she considered too personal, but what remains gives us a grand, insightful, and very human look at early Chicago, Lincoln as a politician before he was President, Illinois militia groups, and the efforts of an exceptional young man trying to find his own way in a complicated world.

    One other piece of memorabilia she kept–a scrapbook of accounts of Ellsworth’s various funerals. Hidden for years within the mucilaged pages of those old newspaper accounts is a piece of dried, pressed greenery. The specific funerals that surround the dried flowers and leaves are the ones held in New York City, replete with complex descriptions of all the floral arrangements. Surely this little stem is from one of them, clipped and sent to Carrie as memento mori. I am not certain if there are enough letters extant to create a book, but this project may make its way on to my Bucket List. What think you?

    Remember Ellsworth!

  5. I thank them all, as each account helps our understanding of their lives and times.

    That said, there is a “first among equals” category, and in that one (among others) is John Breckinridge, who ordered the preservation of Confederate War Department records in April 1865.

  6. Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman for their memoirs.

    Sure, both books are a bit self-serving. (Name me a Civil War memoir that isn’t.) But Grant’s is by far the the best written, and Sherman’s contains some great logistics info, especially on how he kept supply trains operating during the Atlanta Campaign.

    Too bad Robt. E. Lee and George Thomas died before they could write theirs.

  7. Actually, Richard, I have made a small dent. I have transcribed all the records for Military Sub-District #1, Defenses of the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. Based on this research I have written a book “With Blood and Fire” published by White Mane Press. The title comes from a letter sent by one of the Provost Marshals describing his policy toward the civilians under his control.

  8. I thank the officers of the CSS Shenandoah who poured their hearts and minds into wonderful journals, describing an almost daily basis not only what was happening but how they felt and thought. I don’t know to whom they were writing: themselves in the future, their descendants, the future in general, or just venting, but am sure glad they did. I spent many years with them, learning a great deal while living their experiences. We don’t seem to do that kind of writing today.

    1. I am particularly interested in the Shenandoah and her crew as they worked the Pacific, especially anything having to do with California. Any journal recommendations? And I agree–a world memorialized by tweets is just damned sad to contemplate. At least “No other terms than immediate and unconditional surrender. I propose to move immediately upon your works.” fits that model.

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