Meet Mike Maxwell—Researcher Extraordinaire! (pt. 5)

Researcher Mike Maxwell

postscript to a series

Mike Maxwell and I met on 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, 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 and  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!

9 Responses to Meet Mike Maxwell—Researcher Extraordinaire! (pt. 5)

  1. Great to meet you, Mike! I hope you’ll keep us appraised on your current projects. I’d love to get a copy of your Pensacola book whenever it’s released. I live about an hour from Fort Pickens and Fort Barrancas. It was a shock to find out Bragg was this far south early in the war. I studied their conflict a little, but it’d be great to learn more. Keep up the awesome work!

    1. Sheritta Bitikofer
      Thanks for the kind words. Pensacola Bay was scene of the first successful Navy – Army joint operation of the Secession crisis… and the first night battle of the war… and featured a daring raid against a Confederate privateer. As well, there were spies, glaring examples of perfidy, and a cast of characters that include Henry Walke, Billy Wilson, Montgomery Meigs, John B. Villepigue, James Chalmers, Jones Withers, Patton Anderson, John H. Winder, Stephen Mallory, Braxton Bragg…
      It took a while to track down all the resources, and then to separate Fact from fiction; but the book is practically writing itself.
      Wishing you success with your own writing project.
      Mike Maxwell

  2. I want to take this opportunity to Thank ECW contributor Joseph Rose (author of “Grant Under Fire,” which I claim is the BEST biography of Ulysses S. Grant yet produced.) Joseph provided valuable leads which resulted in contacting The General John A. Logan Museum, where crucial info relating to Abraham was encountered…
    Thank You, Joseph Rose.
    Mike (Ozzy)

    1. I have the Rose book and have to strongly disagree. It’s propaganda, not a biography. I don’t think even the author would claim it to be a biography.

    2. Dan
      The beauty of History is that “the science is not settled.” We can all hunt up archives, and research letters and diaries, and review existing treatises and draw our own conclusions.
      Thank you for your contribution.
      Kindest Regards
      Mike Maxwell

      1. I prefer history that tries to get it right, rather than advancing an agenda.

        The historian Thomas A Bailey once wrote that many historical writers are “hysterians” not historians.

        Bailey wrote about historical revisionism: “How many of us, seeking an instant reputation at the expense of some towering figure, have embarked upon dubious revisionism for the sake of sensationalism or in response to faddism? No one will deny that fresh interpretations are desirable, or that history becomes more meaningful when rewritten by succeeding generations in the light of their own experience, as it invariably is. But much of our revisionism comes about as a result of a flair for novelty or a reaction against the monotony of repeating the eternal verities year after year. And let us not forget that revisionists, like evangelists, universally overstate their case in their effort to get a hearing.”

      2. Revisionism? No. I merely attempt to fill in the gaps in knowledge, where such gaps exist: such as finding the Last Name of Abraham; or helping people find their relatives in historical documents; or uncovering the fact that Ulysses S. Grant suffered frequent migraine headache (about every 3 – 6 weeks during the Civil War.) If uncovering Fact and making it known is revisionism, then I suppose I will wear my new label with pride.

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