Mike Maxwell and I met on one of the darkest corners of the web—the Emerging Civil War blog. Many of you will recognize his name from the “Reply” section. Luckily for me—and for Abraham—Mr. Maxwell was as fascinated by the story of the “Slave Blowed to Freedom” as I was. We worked together via email to investigate the information available on this topic, and we will continue to research until we find out Abraham’s last name. Only then will we be close to finding his trut
I asked Mike a few questions so that ECW readers could get a look at the process of writing history and the teamwork it requires. So please, let me introduce Mike Maxwell, researcher extraordinaire and person who lives in—Australia!
Meg: How did you become aware of Emerging Civil War?
Mike: I am personally interested in the American Civil War because so many of my ancestors were volunteers in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Iowa regiments, I stumbled upon ECW as result of a Google search, seeking information regarding Pensacola, Florida (where the Civil War almost began.)
Meg: How did you train to become a researcher?
Mike: I came to Library Studies late in life. I was born in Rock Island County and attended university after several years of volunteer experience in the library at my daughter’s school. The course of study took place at a time when the Internet was assuming dominance as the premier receptacle of mankind’s acquired knowledge, so training in the creation of traditional paper records, operation of library-specific OPAC systems, as well as indexing of library records on the Internet was necessarily provided. Because I knew “how to code,” I was employed in the Cataloguing Department at Barr Smith Library, University of Adelaide, and soon came to appreciate that the same code numbers, subject headings and key words used in indexing information could be applied in reverse to retrieve information. With sites such as archive.org, Project Gutenberg, and HathiTrust steadily increasing their holdings of historic documents, and online access to university and state libraries relatively unrestricted, the Internet has become “the world’s biggest library,” for those who know where to l
After discovering that five relatives had been members of the same Union regiment caught up in the horror of Shiloh, I devoted myself to researching their experiences, the story of their community, and the history of the 12th Iowa Infantry, with the intention of writing a book for use by extended family. That experience introduced me to ancestry.com and familysearch.org. Combined with pre-existing Internet search skills, the project was completed in less than six years. I realized that the training acquired “on the job” could be applied to other projects.
Meg: Do you like the process of working with a historian as a team to get information out there?
Mike: I enjoy working as part of a team, and I thrive on teamwork. But a successful team requires the cooperation of all members working towards a common objective. I believe it is important to find personalities that mesh, and that agreed goals are determined early in the process.
Meg: What piqued your interest about Abraham?
Mike: Abraham. His story had been encountered previously, when I was researching the Siege of Vicksburg, and the subject was merely referred to as “a black man.” Subsequent exposure to the story revealed that every telling of the tale was different: no common date of occurrence, and no name was provided. The story had taken on mythical proportions, with every version being similar, yet different: the result of second-hand and third-hand accounts, embellished by each story-teller for effect. I am certain that the coupling of the name, Abraham, with the CDV image in Meg Groeling’s article was the first time an attempt was made to identify the subject and reveal the true story. I have attempted to “extend and verify the facts of the story” in support of the author and her impressive effort to reveal the true Abraham, and accidentally fell into the rabbit-hole of research, with some dead ends and roundabouts, but also with some unexpected rewards.
Meg: Do you have a funny or poignant story about this round of research?
Mike: I believe this research into Abraham is a work-in-progress. The most poignant event – the Eureka Moment – will result from finally uncovering Abraham’s LAST Name (as this will open the door to Pension Records and magazine reports and other post-war experiences of “the black man blowed to Freedom.”)
Meg: What else are you working on?
Mike: As part of the team assisting author, Lanny K. Smith, I am pleased to announce the recent release of “The Battle of Shiloh: the Union Armies.” Mike is also assisting first-time author, Tim Jeffers, with his nearly completed Iowa regiment project, “The Bloody Third.” And, after procrastinating for nearly thirty years, the latest endeavor is underway, with working title, “The Struggle for Pensacola: 1860 – 1862.” I hope to complete this comprehensive examination of Pensacola’s “almost” crucial contribution to Civil War by September 2020.
Working with Mike is a pleasure. His enthusiasm is infectious and he brings a great deal of creativity to his job. No historian should work alone–you just cannot do it all. Folks like Mike Maxwell make collaboration a personal and positive experience. Thanks, Mike!