Lincoln…in the Library!

This past Monday, a new exhibit opened on the 2nd floor of Newman Library. If you’re in the area over the next month or so, you might want to drop by! “Lincoln in Our Time” is an exhibit that includes documents, artifacts, pictures, and an interactive display with videos and presentations. Many of the materials on display come from Special Collections, and the videos are the work of a class in the Department of History, HIST2984: Abraham Lincoln: The Man, the Myth, the Legend.” You can read a bit about the exhibit in one of the photos below, but you’ll have to visit the library for more details. “Lincoln in Our Time” will be in place until April 15, so you’ve got plenty of time!

*Special thanks to Scott Fralin in University Libraries for the great photographs!

If “Lincoln in Our Time” isn’t enough Civil War history for you, you should also know about the upcoming Civil War Weekend on March 13-15, 2015. There will be guest speakers on a range of topics, showcasing Civil War history at Virginia Tech and beyond. Special Collections’ own Marc Brodsky, Public Services and Reference Archivist, will be talking about resources you can find here in our department. You can find out more about the events and register on the website!


An Uneasy Birth

Marking the 100th Anniversary of D. W. Griffiths Controversial Landmark Film, The Birth of a Nation

While recently pulling materials for an exhibit on silent films, I happened upon a small promotional flyer, probably from Blacksburgs Lyric Theatre, for D. W. Griffiths Birth of a Nation, which saw its initial theatrical release on March 3, 1915.

Though Griffith’s work is considered a watershed in cinematic history, few today can claim to have watched it in its entirety. The films relegation to a remote corner of public consciousness can be attributed to its silent film format (considered quaint or boring by most modern viewers) and to its treatment of a subject matter that is today widely seen as repugnant.

The Birth of a Nation purports to tell the story of Americas Civil War and the origin of the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction. In doing so, the film portrays the Klan as a noble organization devoted to protecting Southern society from marauding bands of brutish, lecherous Freedmen and their manipulative, hypocritical carpetbagger allies.

The Birth of a Nation flyer cover, depicting a cross-wielding Klan member in full regalia sitting astride a rearing horse, hints strongly at the films content and point of view.
The Birth of a Nation flyer cover, depicting a cross-wielding Klan member in full regalia sitting astride a rearing horse, hints strongly at the films content and point of view.


The plot for The Birth of a Nation was based on Thomas F. Dixon Jr.s novel The Clansman, the second volume in a trilogy about the Reconstruction South. A North Carolina Baptist minister, attorney, and state legislator, Dixon became a popular author around the turn of the 20th century, publishing more than 20 novels. The Clansman

The Clansman is among five of Dixons novels held by Special Collections. The librarys main collection holds several more titles.
The Clansman is among five of Dixons novels held by Special Collections. The librarys main collection holds several more titles.

is today remembered as his most famous (or infamous) work, and from it was drawn the films Southern apologist version of the Klans origins.

In bringing Dixons tale to the screen, Griffith spared no expense and pioneered a number of moviemaking techniques and technologies: The Birth of a Nation is said to have been the first film to employ night photography, panning motion shots, the iris effect, the intercutting of parallel action sequences, and many more advances that would become mainstays of cinematic narrative. Griffith also employed hundreds of extras in staging epic Civil War battle scenes and interspersed his story with accurate tableaux of scenes from American history. The film was unlike anything that movie-going audiences had seen to that time.


Inside, the flyer lists some of the innovations and enormous costs associated with the films production.
Inside, the flyer lists some of the innovations and enormous costs associated with the films production.

Griffiths accuracy and attention to detail exploited the publics willingness to take its history lessons from fictionalized accounts. An uninformed audience, seeing accurately portrayed historical scenes presented side-by-side with Dixons skewed view of events, might be partially forgiven for accepting all as fact. Even supposedly knowledgeable viewers, however, were enthralled by Griffiths prowess as a storyteller. The film is said to have been the first to be screened in the White House. After seeing it, President Wilson, himself a historian, reportedly said, It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true. The films widespread popularity and its audience’s impressionability are credited with being partially responsible for the KKKs resurgence and rise to political prominence during the 1910s and 1920s.

CAPTION: A page from the flyer illustrates how The Birth of a Nation mixed historic events with a subjective, fanciful view of the Klans origins.
A page from the flyer illustrates how The Birth of a Nation mixed accurate historical depictions of the Civil War with with a subjective, fanciful interpretation of events.

Even in 1915, however, the film spurred controversy. The NAACP staged protests in several major cities and made repeated efforts to have the film banned from theaters. Letter-writing campaigns sought to educate the public on the facts of Reconstruction and to warn of the films inflammatory nature, while boycotts attempted to provide economic deterrents against the film’s release. Such efforts were in fact successful in having the film banned from the theatres of a handful of large cities but could not prevent its nationwide release.

Testimony to its immense popularity at the time, The Birth of a Nation continued to enjoy periodic revivals for years, and it is said to have remained Americas highest-grossing film until being toppled by another Civil War / Reconstruction epic, Gone with the Wind, more than twenty years later.

Despite his films overwhelming commercial success, Griffith was not immune to criticism. Partially in response to negative comments on his films racially intolerant themes, Griffith released his magnum opus, Intolerance, the following year. The three-and-a-half hour epic tells four parallel stories from different time periods of human history, each illustrating the catastrophic consequences of intolerance. Griffith would continue to make films throughout the silent era with varying degrees of success, but he never again matched the achievements of The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance.

Should The Birth of a Nation be considered an early cinematic masterpiece that is marred by its skewed interpretation of history and its outdated, hateful view of racial relations, or should any film (or other work of art) be considered a masterpiece when it advocates a point of view that is later almost universally abhorred as destructive and wrongheaded? In answering this question in his 2003 review of the film in 2003, critic Roger Ebert wrote: The Birth of a Nation is not a bad film because it argues for evil… [I]t is a great film that argues for evil. To understand how it does so is to learn a great deal about film, and even something about evil.

Civil War Correspondence as Art?

Today’s post is about a letter. In some ways, it’s unique (it IS one of a kind, after all), and in some ways, it adds to the canon of Civil War correspondencewritten home. But this letter has a little something extra. It’sa letter from Isaac Cox to his wife, written June 29, 1862. At the time, Cox was a private with the (Confederate) 29th Regiment, Virginia Infantry. It was a regiment recruited largely from Southwest Virginia. Throughout their 3+ years, soldiers in this regiment fought mostly in Virginia, but also experienced fighting in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Cox’s letter home is brief. It talks of the regiment’s march to Princeton, West Virginia, and back, and also includes news of someone named Bill. Not all that different from many other letters written home during the war. But, that isn’t quite what caught our attention. Certainly, the local connection is important (Cox lived in Saltville, Virginia, before and after the war). When you take a look at the letter, however, there’s somethingsurprising.Cox decorated his letter, carefully cutting a design in the page…

Letter from Isaac Cox to his wife, June 29, 1862, Taswill [Tazewell] County
Letter from Isaac Cox to his wife, June 29, 1862, Taswill [Tazewell] County
Sometimes, it’s amazing that a 152 year old letter lasts this long at all. Some of the design here has been lost–you can see the tears at the tiny “finger” details and more than one spoke/petal is missing or loose. We’ve housed this item in a mylar sleeve to help prevent further damage.

If you’re curious about the letter, here’s a transcript:

Taswill [Tazewell] County June 29 1862 Dier Affectionated Wife I take the plesent [matter] of senden you a few lines to let you now that I am well at this time hopeing when this few lines come to hand they will find you in helth I received you kind best last eavining and I was truly glad to here that you was all well we had the hardest march to prinzton [Princeton] and back that I ever had we was orded to cook 4 days rashuns the other day and then we started and was gon to [two] days and a half from our camps we was march in 4 miles of prinzton and then we stade in the woods for two days and 3 nites and then return to our camps it made my feet very soar you wanted to no what had be come of bill he is still at Jeffer? [Jefferson?] Mills in the horsepital yet & hant herd from him in a bout 2 weeks and then he was getin well as he cald I am a goin to try to come home a bout harvest if I can but I dont now whither I can or not So no more at this time only Still rember your husband un till deth

Carroll Co to Charlott Cox

Isaac and Charlotte had five children, two of whom were born during the war, so he clearly managed a visit at some point! Charlotte died in 1911; Isaac in 1925.

If you’d like more information on the letter or on Isaac Cox, you can view the full finding aid here. Or, you can pay us a visit to see this amazing letter in person!

A New Look at the Diary of Jeffrey Wilson

A page from Jeffrey Wilson’s 1913 diary.

Our latest collection with a full transcription online is the Jeffrey Thomas Wilson Diary, which covers the entire year of 1913 in the life of Jeffrey Wilson, a prominent member of the African American community in Norfolk/Portsmouth, Virginia. The transcription project was funded by the Visible Scholarship Initiative, a collaboration between the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the University Libraries to provide mini-grants for projects that make visible the stages of research and creative scholarship in the liberal arts and human sciences. This particular project was a partnership between several faculty members in the History department, an undergraduate history student, and several members of the faculty here in Special Collections. The transcriptions for each of the 365 daily entries has been visually formatted and displayed as they appear on the page, and many words and phrases have been annotated with popup notes throughout.

The diary was written in a Wanamakers Diary (produced by the department store chain) actually designed for 1911. As Wilson states early on in the diary, I found myself unable to buy a diary like I wanted, therefore, I had to utilize this obsolete one changing days and dates. (January 6, 1913) Wilson hand-corrected the days of the week throughout to reflect 1913. What makes the diary so fascinating are the references Wilson makes to people, places and events that span nearly 70 years- from his childhood as a slave in antebellum Virginia, through the Civil War, the Reconstruction, the American Industrial Revolution and right up to the present time of his writing in 1913, as the early 20th century ushered in the modern world.

Jeffrey Thomas Wilson was born a slave in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1843, and, according to his obituary, his mother was a slave owned by Mrs. Eliza Edwards, second wife of Thomas E. Edwards, one of Portsmouth’s wealthiest citizens of his day According to the obituary, he never attended school and learned to read and write in secret as a slave boy. At some point in his childhood, Wilson became owned by the Charles A. Grice family, who he lived with beginning in 1853. Wilson writes:

This day 60 years ago, the writer was a little slave boy living on Bermuda street in Norfolk with my dear mother and wicked stepfather. he was a hackman, and my mother was a laundress. It was from there a year or two later, that old man C.A. Grice, and his wife, came and arbitrarily carried me back to Portsmouth, and put me at work in the garden, planting Irish Potatoes. and it no more living with Mammie for me. I learned then that I was indeed a slave. All of them are gone from earth. Mammie to heaven I believe, since then, of course. Fifty eight years ago my brother John and me walked down to the ferry landing in Norfolk, and he got into a boat, and boarded a vessel lying in the stream, loaded for Boston, and made good his escape. I never seen him again for a eleven years. That was what termed the U.G.R.R. [Underground Railroad] The Yellow fever was so serious. White people had no time to look after runaway Negroes, but after the dying whites.(August 14, 1913)

In his teens, Wilson was the valet servant of Alexander Grice, the son of his owner, and traveled with him as he served with Company A, Cohoon’s Battalion, Virginia Infantry, at least during a part of 1862. In 1866, after being freed, Wilson enlisted with the U.S. Navy and traveled through Europe and the US. After his years of service, Wilson returned to Portsmouth and worked at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, as a laborer, and as a bailiff for the Federal Court at Norfolk.

Through the course of his long life, Wilson outlived four wives and had at least twelve children. At the beginning of this 1913 diary, he was 70 years old, and married to his fourth wife of 3 years, Blanche, who was only 34. Their first son, Wendell, whom Wilson talks about frequently throughout the diary, was just a few months old. The couple would have five more children before Blanches death. Another topic frequently mentioned throughout the diary is the Emmanuel AME Church in Portsmouth, where he taught Sunday school and served on the Official Board, the governing body of the church. Wilson was a devoutly religious man, and each of his daily entries starts with quotes from Biblical verses, sometimes in reference to the events of the day, and sometimes referring or in some way similar to the daily sayings supplied by the Wanamaker Diary itself.

In his later years, from 1924 until his death in 1929, Wilson wrote a column called “Colored Notes” for The Portsmouth Star. The column included social news, Wilson’s political views, and issues of race relations, all themes that occur throughout the diary as well. Wilson was one of the first prominent African American newspaper columnists, and as well-known and outspoken member of the Portsmouth African American community, his column is a notable resource for studying the history and outlook of the community in this time period.

With the diarys pages and transcript now available and fully-searchable online, this can hopefully be another valuable resource for studying the life of this fascinating man, as well as the African American community of Portsmouth and more generally of the minority experience during this time period. The diary is available online here.

Pardoning Robert Taylor Preston

This week, I have Prestons on the brain. Actually, it’s been going on for a while. In May, I gave a presentation about Special Collections’ holdings relating to the Preston family in Virginia and Smithfield/Solitude history. In about two weeks, I’ll be taking a small selection of materials to display at the Preston Family Reunion weekend at the plantation house. Branches of the Preston family held land all over Virginia, South Carolina, and Kentucky in the 18th and 19th centuries. William Preston built Smithfield, the plantation on the edge of what is now Virginia Tech. His grandson, Robert Taylor Preston, built Solitude, located near the Duck Pond on campus. The land the main campus is on was bought from Robert Taylor Preston in 1870-1871.

A single blog post isn’t enough space to talk about everything we have (it’s barely room to talk about one collection!), but it is agood place to talk about an item or two.

Robert Taylor Preston served as a colonel during the Civil War. Many of his papers in the collection relate to these years (and many are worth a future post!). One of the stand out items, however, is the pardon he received after the war ended. The pardon itself is large and is stored in a large flat file. Along with the pardon, Preston was sent a certificate of the pardon’s authenticity. The last image is of Preston’s letter of receipt, written from Solitude, which reads in part: “[I] hereby signify my acceptance of the same, with all the conditions therein specified.”

We are currently working on digitizing all of Robert Taylor’ Preston’s papers and updating the finding aid. Once done, we’ll have them up on the web to see. We’re excited about being able to share this collection, since it’s one we are asked about often. So be sure to check back with us in the future!

150 Years Ago: The Battles of Cloyd’s Mountain and the New River Bridge, as experienced in the John Holliday Diaries

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Battles of Cloyds Mountain and the New River Bridge, significant events in the civil war that took place right in Virginia Tech’s backyard. Included in Special Collections’ vast Civil War and manuscript collections is the diary of John Holliday, a non-commissioned officer in Company C of the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment who fought in these battles, giving us a unique first person perspective of this campaign. His first diary, with entries from May 1st to August 8th, 1864, has been digitized and is available at Special Collections Online.

Holliday joined the regiment in Spring 1864, and according to his first diary entry, dated May 1st, 1864, he was stationed in Fayetteville, in the newly-formed state of West Virginia. On May 3rd he began to march south through the Appalachian Mountains into confederate Virginia with 6,100 men in the three brigades of the Union Army of West Virginia under the command of General George Crook. Crook’s objective was to destroy the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, cutting off an important supply line for the Confederate army. The rail depot in Dublin and the bridge across the New River in Radford were his primary targets.

Presumed portrait of John Holliday, date unknown, from the John Holliday Diaries and Photographs Collection (Ms2012-028)
Presumed portrait of John Holliday, date unknown, from the John Holliday Diaries and Photographs Collection (Ms2012-028)

After a week of marching, on May 9 Holliday and the rest of Crook’s forces reached a small gap through Cloyd’s Mountain, Virginia, just 5 miles north of Dublin, where confederate forces under Brig. Gen. Albert Jenkins had set up a defensive line, hoping to catch the Union forces in a choke point. Holliday’s brigade, under the cover of the woods, managed to flank the confederate line on the left and divide their attention in the fight.

Holliday wrote, “advanceing under a heavy fire we arrived at the edge of the woods in front of their works… up the hill amid a Storm of Bullets we went driveing the enemy before us, at this moment a Rebel officer Riding a fine Black horse Rode along their lines waveing his hat in full View of both friend and foe tried to Rally his Broken Regt,, in This he failed many a Rifle was aimed at him but he rode off the field apparantly unharmed… The field was ours but at a heavy Cost not less than five hundred of our little Division was either Killed or wounded during the fight”

The battle, though small and involving relatively few troops, contained some of the most savage fighting and highest percentages of casualties in the entire war. The Union sustained 10% losses, while the Confederates sustained more than 20%. In all, more than 1,200 men lost their lives.

Having defeated the Confederate line, Crook’s troops moved into Dublin and destroyed the railroad depot. After camping for the night, on the morning of May 10 they set out again towards Radford and the New River bridge.

“at ten oclock we arrived within one mile of the Bridge. the roar of artillery in our front showed that the enemy was there and ready to dispute our passage at The Bridge…soon shot and shell went screeching through the air….they kept up a heavy fire cutting off limbs of trees around us. one of these falling wounded Sergt. B Lowman of Co. G. another shell striking near by killed two of the 7th Va Cavalry one of them a mere boy the shell striking him on the Breast tore him almost in atoms… our men fired the Bridge the flames spread Rapidly at this moment the enemy Gave way and three Prolonged cheers arose from our division the enemy was in full Retreat,, once more the day was ours,, each Regt formed above The Bridge and watched it untill the Vast structure went down,, three cheers was then given for Genrl Crook our noble Leader”

A page spread from John Holliday's first diary, featuring his entry for May 10, 1864, The Battle of New River Bridge
A page spread from John Holliday’s first diary, featuring his entry for May 10, 1864, The Battle of New River Bridge

The next day (May 11) Holliday traveled to Blacksburg, spending the night at the Preston and Olin Institute, which just eight years later would become the first campus building for Virginia Tech (then known as the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College).

“Broke Camp early marched to Blacksburg a small Town in Montgomery County Containing Several fine houses the largest is the college a large Brick Building here we halted for the night had some Slight skirmishing on entering the Town in which a col of the militia was killed.”

After a night in Blacksburg, on May 12 Crook’s forces began their retreat back into West Virginia, crossing over Mountain Lake. Rain made their crossing a difficult one. “it has been raining all afternoon Cold and wet which makes it tiresome marching.”The considerable mud the troops encountered forced them to abandon many wagons and heavy supplies including some artillery along the roadside just past the Mountain Lake lodge, earning one hilltop the name ‘Minnie Ball Hill’ for all the minnie balls that were dumped there.

In the following months, Holliday and the 91st Ohio would go on to join the Valley Campaign, fighting in the battles of Lexington (June 11), Lynchburg (June 17-18), Winchester (July 20, 23-24) and Martinsburg (July 28), all recorded in detail in his first diary. An interactive online exhibit that traces some of Holliday’s movements across Virginia and West Virginia is available here.


“With reluctance I seat myself…:” A Mother on the Home Front

March is Women’s History Month. Over on the History of Food & Drink blog, I’ll be profiling women who made contributions and influenced American culinary history. Which got me thinking about our other manuscript collections, women who lived through American history and women whose words are on our shelves. If you had the time to look through our nearly 1800 collections, you would find many women’s names. Most of them aren’t famous, but their letters, diaries, architectural drawings, cookbooks, and other papers can be important both as individual objects and in the larger context.

That being said, I thought I’d share Nancy B. Harbin’s letter. Written in the second year of the American Civil War, Nancy writes from Calhoun County, Mississippi to her sons in Richmond, Virginia. Jack, John, and Edward all served with Company F, 42nd Regiment, Mississippi Infantry.

As with many mothers, her concern is first and foremost for the well-being of her sons. Her letter is really two letters: one to Jack and a second to John. She doesn’t write Edward directly, which may be the result of his being “so near death.” It is unclear if he was sick or injured. (Our research on the family wasn’t as fruitful as we might hope–which sometimes the case–and we don’t know if any of Nancy’s sons survived the war. ) On the one hand, this is a letter from a mother to her children, providing them updates from home, sharing her concern and love for them, and encouraging them. On the other, the very fact that it has survived 152 years makes it an important part of the larger body of Civil War materials in our collections and far more than a simple letter from mother to sons. BecauseNancy’s concerns are what we might expect from such a letter, it is both specific to her family anda representative voice of the Civil War home front correspondence of the time.

We have other home front letters from women (and men!) in our Civil War holdings, and if you were to keep reading, you would see similar themes, regardless of location, relationship, or loyalty. If you’d like to do so, come visit us and we’ll be happy to help!

Alexandria and Fairfax Counties Civil War Correspondence

Today I finished up the first phases of work on a great collection of Civil War correspondence. The collection includes 19 letters by 18 different authors. Unless there’s a connection (usually family, business/organization, institutional, or something along those lines), we tend to name and organize collections based on the creators. So, under “normal” conditions, if such a thing exists (one of our favorite phrases in the archives world is “it depends”), these letters might have ended up as 17 collections (two of the letter writers are brothers). These 19 letters, though, have something else in common: location. Each was written in or around Alexandria and Fairfax counties in Virginia. And each was written within the first 16 months of the Civil War. As a result of that, we’ve decided to treat them as a single, cohesive unit. This group of letters offers a unique perspective on the early experiences of Union and Confederate soldiers around Washington DC in the early months of the war. There are number of common elements: regiments cutting down trees to build up defenses, skirmishes between forces, the need for food and clothes from home, and a frequent hope that soldiers “hope to be home soon.”

You can see the finding aid for the Alexandria and Fairfax Counties [Virginia] Civil War Correspondence (Ms2013-029) online here. The contents list of the finding aid includes links to the digitized letters and, when available, the transcripts. You can also go straight to Omeka (our emerging digital content platform) and see the letters and transcripts here. The digital images all have links back to the finding aid, as well. The idea is that we’re creating online connections to help our researchers move back and forth from digitized primary sources to context for those materials easily.


Franklin B. Lukens served in Company E of the 3rd Regiment, New Jersey Infantry. His December 9, 1861 letter to his parents mentions that there is a man missing who has not been found. He talks about a woman who is a Secessionist and her slaves. He closes by asking them to write soon.

This collection remains a work-in-progress, as we expect new materials from the donor in 2014 and into the future. As new materials arrive, we’ll continue digitize them and update the finding aid. We’ll be able to offer new insight into early war-time conditions and experiences as the collection continues to grow.

The Alexandria and Fairfax Counties [Virginia] Civil War Correspondence (Ms2013-029) is not the first collection we’ve placed in Omeka (, nor is it the first one we’ve digitized, but it’s the first one to go through acquisition, digitization, processing, and addition to the web in sequence and within a short period of time. We hope it will help us create and shape our workflow for the future as we digitize more collections. It may not be a speedy process, so we also hope you’ll bear with us as we create new material to share. We promise, it’ll be worth it.

A Special Collections Mystery: Did the Butler Do It?

The Benjamin Franklin Butler Notebook contains a fiery diatribe against General Ulysses S. Grant. But did Butler actually write it?

The Suspect

Benjamin Franklin Butler (1838-1893) was one of the Civil War’s most controversial generals. Rising to the rank of major general in the Union Army largely through political appointment, Butler was castigated in the North for his military failures and reviled in the South for policies enacted while administering the wartime occupation of New Orleans.

The Evidence

The Benjamin Franklin Butler Notebook (Ms1990-060) arrived in Special Collections in 1990, as a donation from Elden E. Josh Billings, a collector of Civil War books and memorabilia. Containing approximately 125 pages, the notebook is devoted to a fiery attack, spanning several chapters, against Union leadership during the Civil War. Ulysses S. Grant is a favorite target of the writer, who charges the Army of the Potomacs commanding general with incompetence, recklessness, favoritism, and cowardice. The author supports his arguments with interspersed clippings from newspapers and reports. Divided into several chapters and heavily revised, the diatribe seems intended for publication.

The piece is unsigned and unfortunately incomplete, lacking several of the pages at the front. The only clue to authorship is a penciled note on the flyleaf:

“Manuscript book in hand of Gen. Benjam [sic] Franklin Butler, against General U. S. Grant, never published”
The Investigation

Though the writer defends Butler’s reputation while attacking Grant’s, an examination of the text suggests that Butler did not write it. The writer refers to Butler in the third person but then later refers to himself in the first person. Elsewhere, the writer mentions that he broke his sword (i.e., resigned his commission) rather than wage war on women, children and property. Butler, however, resigned his commission only after the wars end. The writer also mentions that he has never seen Grant, a statement certainly not true of Butler. Moreover, the text does not match the tone in Butlers published writings; nor does the handwriting match examples of Butler’s penmanship found online.

Evidence points toward Gustave Paul Cluseret (1823-1900), a French soldier of fortune, politician, writer, and artist as the items creator. In his critique of Grant and others, the writer refers to editorial pieces that he had published in Cluseret’s newspaper, The New Nation. The French general had come to the United States soon after the wars outbreak but soon gained a reputation as a rabble-rouser and was placed under arrest on unspecified charges in early 1863. Cluseret resigned his commission shortly thereafter and later became editor of The New Nation. Like Cluseret, the author of this piece shows personal familiarity with European military history, and the tone of the piece matches Cluserets known belligerent and iconoclastic nature.

Typical of the writer's charges against Grant is this passage, in which he charges Grant with absenting himself from his duties: "Grant, as usual, did nothing and saw nothing. . , as he was more comfortable at his head-quarters. . . he left his troops for pure Havans and champaign [sic], the green tree and delicious reveries in a recumbant [sic] position...
Typical of the writer’s anti-Grant tirade is a passage on this page, in which he charges Grant with negligence of duty: “Grant, as usual, did nothing and saw nothing. . , as he was more comfortable at his head-quarters. . . [H]e left his troops for pure Havanas and champaign [sic], the green tree and delicious reveries in a recumbant [sic] position. . .
To confirm Cluseret as the writer, we hoped to find published copies of the editorials to which the writer refers. Unfortunately, but few issues of the newspaper have survived, and of those remaining, none contains an editorial specifically issued under Cluserets name. (It seems likely, however, that any unsigned editorials in the paper would have been written by the editor.)

The alternative, then, was to find examples of Cluserets handwriting. I contacted counterparts in repositories that hold letters written by Cluseret but found that the handwriting in the copies provided didn’t match that in the notebook. On the other hand, the four letters obtained also do not match, bearing at least three different and distinct handwriting styles. It seems possible that Cluseret, whose command of English was said by contemporaries to have been limited, relied on a series of private secretaries to express his thoughts.

The Verdict

Unfortunately, with the information we have, authorship of the piece cannot be definitively credited. And so, because it bears Benjamin Butler’s name and arrived here as such, the item continues to be cataloged as the Benjamin Franklin Butler Notebook until more evidence may someday come to hand.

Claiming What’s Hers: Repayment under Reconstruction

Continuing with our Women’s History Month features, this week we’re sharing a single post-Civil War document: A claim for damages filed in Lawrence County, Tennessee, in 1868. While the item itself may seem small, it had no small meaning to Elizabeth Hughes.

We can’t identify Elizabeth Hughes with 100% certainty, but the claim does give us some clues. We know where she lived during the war. (Lawrence County, TN, is located south and slightly west of Nashville, just on the Alabama border.) We know that she was born around 1818. Her husband, not named, enlisted in the Union army and was killed in service. And, judging by the spaces requiring a signature, she did not know how to write. Her name has been written around an “X,” indicating her mark.

However, these few tidbits can tell us a lot more about her. The U.S. Census in 1860 includes an Elizabeth Hughes who was born about 1817. She lived in a household with an “A W Hughes,” age 40, who we could guess is her husband. If so, they appear to have had five children. The National Part Service’s Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database includes only one Hughes with the initials “A W” who fought for the Union–Anderson W. (4th Tennessee Cavalry). Other genealogy records suggest they were born and married in Alabama, moving their family to Tennessee between 1847 and 1852.

On a side note, there are a few small changes on the claim, presumably made by the county clerk. Even though the form includes the phrases “he (or she)” and “man, (or woman,),” both the “he” and “man” have been crossed out. There’s no question about who this document represents.

The claim is one of many that would have been filed in states around the country following the Civil War, but it also tells an important chapter in one woman’s story. Elizabeth Hughes lost a great deal in a short period of time, including a husband and a household:

By the Burning of my House I lost all of my House hold. Kitchen Furnature Some valuable Papers and many other articles too tedious to mention Supposed to be worth about [1050.00] 6 Six Sides Leather Supposed to weigh about 18 pounds Each 108# at .50 cts per lb. 50 Bushels wheat @ $1.00 per Bushel 1 set wagon Harness for 2 Horses 1 Horse 5 Years old

She survived the war and was presumable compensated for her lost property (the claim was approved, according to the signatures on the last page). Nearly 150 years later, when this copy of her claim surfaced among unprocessed materials at Special Collections, this little piece of Elizabeth’s life gives us new insight into Reconstruction and to what it meant to be a woman reclaiming her household and identity in 1868.