The great big world of miniature books

When I arrived in fall of 2014 as a new employee, the department had an exhibit on display featuring miniature books from the 19th and 20th centuries. It was a perfect introduction to the curious, strange, and unexpected variety of materials that I would come to find in Special Collections.

The Library of Congress defines miniature books as works 10 centimeters or less in both height and width, which is a little under 4 inches. The Miniature Book Society maintains a more circumscribed definition of no more than three inches in height, width, or thickness. Within these parameters, American collectors recognize several sub-categories, including macro-mini (3-4), miniature (2-3), micro-mini (1-2), and ultra-micro-mini (less than 1). Often intricately bound and printed, miniature books are considered a testimony to the printers skill.

Dew Drops Devotional, cover and text
One of our miniature books, an early 19th century devotional entitled Dew Drops, is about the size of a house key.

According to the American Antiquarian Society, the oldest miniature books were produced on clay tablets in Mesopotamia; scholars and monks from ancient Egypt to medieval Europe produced miniature manuscripts by hand long before the invention of the printing press. The Diurnale Mogantinum, published in 1468 by Johann Guttenbergs assistant Peter Schoffer, is the earliest example of a traditionally printed miniature book. The tiny texts became particularly fashionable in America during the 19th century as a portable and novel way to carry decorative and instructional texts. The most popular books in this time were religious tracts, advertisements, and childrens books.

“Imitacin De Cristo.” This 1964 text, which measures a little under 3.5 inches long, is ornately bound in gilded leather.

Miniature books experienced a new wave of popularity in the 1970s as artists and independent publishers explored new methods for binding, printing, and distributing. Like their full-sized counterparts, modern miniature books are incredibly diverse in construction and purpose, ranging from plain and conventionally bound to elaborately illustrated pop ups, scrolls, and accordions.

Maurice Sendaks Nutshell Library, a collection of children’s stories.

Although Special Collectionsdoes not collect tiny books on the scale of some passionate hobbyists, we have accumulated a limited but fascinating assortment of miniatures over the years. Highlights include an ornithology text published in 1810; several 19th and 20th century childrens books; a collection of Lincoln speeches reprinted in the mid 20th century; curios, art books, and poetry chapbooks by American micro-presses in the 1960s and 1970s; a handful of foreign language texts; and an edition of Five Articles by Chairman Mao Tse-Tung.

A simply but beautifully bound chapbook by master printing James Weil
Five Articles by Chairman Mao
Published in 1972 by Peking Foreign Languages Press, this edition is bound in red plastic.

We also have several tiny books about food, which you can read more about on Whats Cookin @Special Collections, the blog for our History of Food & Drink Collection. If you want to learn more about the history and making of miniature books, check out Louis Bondys Miniature books: their history from the beginnings to the present day available in the Newman Library and Peter Thomas More making books by hand: exploring miniature books, alternative structures, and found objects available in the Art + Architecture Library.

Bill Berkson "Ants" inside cover
1974 chapbook by acclaimed poet Bill Berkson, with illustration by “Yellow Submarin” animator Greg Irons.

LGBTQ History at Virginia Tech Part 1: The Struggle for Recognition

Going off to college is when many students discover who they really are for the first time, and for some this can be a very scary thing. This is especially true if the real you is someone that your university and society at large refuses to recognize or accept. This was the reality for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer communities at Virginia Tech for many years, and it continues to be in many places around the world even today. From an archival and historical perspective, this presents a big challenge. If a group is marginalized and denied acceptance, then they wont show up in the mainstream. If theyre forced to live in secret, their history wont be in the written record, at least not accurately. So basically, how do you document the undocumented?

One option is to record the histories that were never written down, but still remembered by those who lived them with oral histories. This was the inspiration for the Virginia Tech LGBTQ Oral History Project, which had its beginnings in 2013 in the Ex Lapide Society, a Virginia Tech LGBTQ alumni group. Since then, Special Collections and members of various organizations and departments around campus have gotten involved, including graduate and undergraduate-level oral history classes, in which students conducted a series of oral history interviews in Fall 2014. Those interviews will be online in the coming months as part of an interactive exhibit, and the project will undoubtedly grow beyond oral histories to include many other collections, materials and exhibits documenting the history of the LGBTQ communities at Virginia Tech.

Constitution for the Gay Alliance of Virginia Tech, the first openly-gay student organization.

As an early part of this project, I started digging around in some of our university archives collections from the late 1960s and early 1970s, looking for some of the earliest documentation we have of the LGBTQ community at Virginia Tech. This documentation involves the Gay Alliance, the first openly gay student group on campus, and their struggles with university administration to be recognized as an official Virginia Tech student organization. In the records of Vice President William McKeefery, I found a file with documentation regarding the decision to accept or reject the Gay Alliance as an official student group. Included was a copy of the groups constitution,a report on homosexuality from the Department of Health, a memorandum to President T. Marshall Hahn regarding the commission’s decision, and correspondence between Gay Alliance President Robert Frye and Virginia Tech Vice President William McKeefery. In the Office of Academic Affairs Records 1961-1977, I found a letter from the Dean for Student Programs to the Vice President for Student Affairs, discussing the Student Constitutional Affairs Boards vote to recognize the Gay Alliance as an official student organization on May 12, 1971. Although the board had voted four to one to approve the Gay Alliance, there was a major point of contention over the fact that the organizations purpose and objectives were in violation of Virginia state law (Virginias laws against same-sex sexual relations were not officially repealed until 2014).

A statement written by Executive Assistant to the President and General Council Walter H. Ryland to University President Dr. T. Marshall Hahn, Jr. regarding the Gay Student Alliance.

Ultimately, the decision was appealed and struck down by the Commission on Student Affairs. But the struggle continued. In the papers of Alfred H. Krebs, Vice President for Special Projects, I found a written statement from May 5, 1976, on the rationale for rejecting the approval of the Gay Student Alliance as an official Virginia Tech student group.

The Gay Student Alliance didnot gain official status at Virginia Tech until Fall 1976, butthen fell inactive for several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s due to lack of leadership. It would not be until 1985, when the next LGBTQ organization, Lambda Horizon, officially formed that the LGBTQ communities would begin to play an active role on campus. That will be in the next part of this story, so stay tuned!

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.

Agriculture Experiment Stations & Food History

I’m posting on both Special Collections blogs this week, so I’m all about food! On this blog, we’re looking atthe intersection of agriculture experiment stations, recipes, and meal planning. And a work by a man named George Washington Carver.(If you want to see the latest History of Food and Drink post about sandwiches, you can view it here. Either way, you’re going to hear about peanut butter. 🙂 ) Here’s a bit ofThree Delicous Meals Every Day for the Farmer from 1916. (And no, that’s not a typo–“Delicous” is how it appears on the title page and throughout the text.)

George Washington Carver served as the director of theTuskegee Institute’s Agriculture Department from 1896 until the time of his death in 1947. During his tenure, he published numerous bulletins, including this one.Three Delicous Meals Every Day for the Farmerbegins with an introduction about the relationship between people and food, including what he saw as some of the issues of the time. The majority of the provides a plan of three meals a day for one week.

What grabbed my attention was the “Explanatory” section at the end, which includes recipes for eight dishes that are among the planned menu. There is a focus on simplicity, economy, and (re)use. “Granulated Toast” is basically breadcrumbs which can be used in a number of other ways and in other recipes. “Bacon Puffs” are made from a piece of the bacon that’s already been used at least once. Carver’s recipe for “Nut Sandwiches” means using whatever kind of nut or nuts you have available, peanut or otherwise. These are easy, satisfying, sustainable (if a bit repetitive) dishes meant to appear over and over again in meal plans and they require (mainly) ingredients that were available on the farm.

You can see the full version if you pay us a visit. Or, you can find it online through the Tuskegee University Archives Online Repository here:

The Upper Quad of Days Past

If you’ve been to campus lately, you might notice some changes in the Upper Quad. If you haven’t visited us recently, you might be surprised next time you do. And if you’ve never been to Virginia Tech, the Upper Quad is the square shape of buildings here:[googlemaps!1m14!1m12!1m3!1d1588.3712597470194!2d-80.41959080499333!3d37.23008683294229!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!5e0!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1403120933222&w=600&h=450]
The library is just across the way, so we get to see all the action unfold as buildings are razed and rebuilt. Two dorms (Brodie and Rasche Halls) are coming down to make room for bigger dorms to support the growing Corps of Cadets. You can read more about the changes on the university’s website.

This week, I decided to dig into the Historical Photograph Collection andshare some photographs of the Upper Quad back in the day. Several of the photographs have captions on the back, which are quoted below. In other cases, I’ve done my best to guess the time and location of the photographs.

Undated, apparently taken from the smokestack. Barracks No. 6 is at the center, with No. 5 just behind it. To the right of the No. 5 is the old YMCA building.
Undated (probably around 1930), apparently taken from the smokestack. Barracks No. 6 is at the center, with No. 5 just behind it. To the right of the No. 5 is the old YMCA building.
"Looking south from the tall smokestack of the new powerplant. Barracks No. 1 at left center. Clockwise around Barracks No. 1, starting at the top left: First Academic Building, Second Academic Building, Barracks No. 3 [part of the former Brodie Hall], Barracks No. 5, Barracks No. 6." You can also see part of the old library at the top center.
“Looking south from the tall smokestack of the new powerplant. Barracks No. 1 at left center. Clockwise around Barracks No. 1, starting at the top left: First Academic Building, Second Academic Building, Barracks No. 3 [part of the former Brodie Hall], Barracks No. 5, Barracks No. 6.” From Fall 1929. You can also see part of the old library at the top center.
Barracks No. 1 (now Lane Hall), Spring 1931, "Rat Numeral Painted on Tower." Apparently, a freshman cadet was being called out!
Barracks No. 1 (now Lane Hall), Spring 1931, “Rat Numeral Painted on Tower.” Apparently, a freshman cadet was being called out!
"Quadrangle Tennis Courts (looking from Barracks No. 4)," Spring 1934
Tennis? On the Quad? “Quadrangle Tennis Courts (looking from Barracks No. 4),” Spring 1934
Bonfire being built in the Upper Quad, 1940
“Building a bonfire on the Quadrangle, 1940”
Upper Quad, before 1950. Barracks No. 1 (now Lane Hall) on the left. Rasche Hall (old Barracks No. 2 plus additions) at the center.
Upper Quad, before 1950. Barracks No. 1 (now Lane Hall) on the left. Rasche Hall (old Barracks No. 2 plus additions) at the center.

Lane Hall will remaining standing amid all the changes. It’s currently on its way to being listed on theNational Registry of Historic Sites. Soon, it will have new neighbors, but the spirit of the old Quad will stick with us here on campus. And here in Special Collections, we’ll always have the photographs!

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.


Montgomery County (Virginia): A 1784 Land Survey

Montgomery County, Virginia, wasn’t always what it is today. It used to be much, much, MUCH larger. A 1784 land survey in our collections show a portion of it that reached as far as Ohio, at one time.

Ms2011-023, Land Survey, Montgomery County, Virginia, 1784
Ms2011-023, Land Survey, Montgomery County, Virginia, 1784

The text at the top reads as follows:

I certifee that this is a Draught of thirty two thousand acres of Land Surveyed for M. Levi Hollingsworth merchant of Philadelphia in the year 1784, situate onGuyandotte river which falls into the ohio river between the great Ranhaway river, and the Caintucky river, on warrants and orders of Survey (?) from the Land office of Virginia, which warrants with a draught of each thousand acres, and numbered as set down in this draught are returned to the Register Generals office for the said State of Virginia, that the said thirty two thousand acres are surveyed in thirty two Tracts of one thousand acres each in the manner herein delineated, that the whole of the titles are Indisputable. This Land is situated in a most agreeable Climate about thirty nine degrees north Latitude, is fertil well Timbered and waters, and produces many kind of grove(?). Tobaco, Hemp Peas. The river that passes through the Land is navagable into the Ohio, from which all produce can be taken to the best marketts by water, this Country abounds in fish and fowl, and is situated near that (?) and fertile settlement of Caintucky. that Tract of Land is well Timbered with Oak, Hickory, Walnut ash yew, is covered with under growth with Cain and pappaw, and is well watered with (?) (?) Springs.

In actuality, this land covers part of what we would now consider West Virginia. The Guyandotte River breaks away from the Ohio River at the border near Huntington, WV, not far from the Kentucky border. It’s not all that close to our modern Montgomery County, but it does show us how the name, location, and identityof a place can change dramatically with the growth of a nation.

You can read more about this land survey and then-owner of the property, Levi Hollingsworth, in the finding aid online. And if you’d like to see and learn more about historic Montgomery County, we have maps, books, and manuscripts that just might interest you. Feel free to stop by!

Spring Splendor in Special Collections

Spring has officially begun, and it’s time to start planning out gardens and planting seeds. Seed catalogs, with their plethora of new and unusual varieties to grow and try, have been a typical part of Spring gardening preparations for a very long time. With that in mind, I decided to take a look at what past years have had to offer in Special Collections’ old seed catalogs.

The one that caught my eye was less a seed catalog and more a tour de force of vegetables and flowers in lithographic design. The Manual of Everything for the Garden, an annual seed catalog published by Peter Henderson & Company of New York, contains some of the most beautiful vegetable illustrations I have ever seen. Through their illustrated catalog, one could order nearly everything for the garden and yard, including seeds for vegetables, fruits, grasses, grains, and flowers, as well as gardening tools and equipment. Henderson founded the company in 1871, and by his death in 1890 it was one of the most successful seed companies in the United States. His son, Alfred Henderson, took over the business after his father’s death and continued the success- from the 1890s though the 1920s the company mailed out some 750,000 copies of its annual seed catalog each year. Yet despite its popularity, finding an intact Peter Henderson & Co. catalog today is extremely rare. The exceptional quality of their color plates and chromolithography made them highly sought after for the popular Victorian pastimes of scrapbooking and decoupage, resulting in most being cut to pieces.

Virginia Tech Special Collections is lucky enough to have a first edition copy of the 1898 catalog, which has survived completely intact, including two tipped in price lists. Nearly all of its 190 pages are filled with highly detailed chromolithographic prints, illustrating all the botanical splendor that the company’s seeds promise to grow. These beautiful graphics were made by Gray Lithograph Co. of New York, and Stecken Lithographic Co. of Rochester, NY, one of the largest centers of lithography in the country. As the long and dreary winter dragged on, I can only imagine how exciting flipping through these pages in anticipation of Spring would have been.

“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!

A Medal of Honor in Special Collections

Portrait of Earle Gregory as a VT cadet, early 1920s
Portrait of Earle Gregory as a VT cadet, early 1920s

While Special Collections is primarily concerned with collecting rare and unique textual materials (we are, after all, part of a library, NOT a museum), there is still the occasional three dimensional artifact that finds its way here, usually as part of a larger manuscript collection, and/or because it provides valuable documentation of a particular subject in a significant way.

And as far as significance goes, one could argue that a Medal of Honor would be near the top of that list. The Medal of Honor is the United States of America’s highest military honor, awarded by the President of the United States in the name of Congress to US military personnel for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. Since its creation in 1861, 3,468 Medals of Honor have been awarded to servicemen (nearly half of those were awarded during the Civil War, when it was the only military award available). Due to its prestige and status, the Medal of Honor is afforded special protection under U.S. law against any unauthorized adornment, sale, or manufacture, and recipients are given special lifetime privileges and benefits from the US government, with their names and actions immortalized in ceremonies and monuments.

We have one of these Medals of Honor here in our collection, and this particular medal was awarded to Virginia Tech alum Sergeant Earle Davis Gregory (1897-1972). Gregory, of Chase City, Virginia, was the first native Virginian to receive the Medal of Honor, and one of seven Virginia Tech alums that have received the honor. Gregory earned the Medal of Honor for actions as an Army Sergeant in the 116th infantry regiment during the Meuse Argonne Offensive in World War I. The medal was awarded for gallantry at Bois de Consenvoye, north of Verdun, France on October 8, 1918. With the remark, I will get them! Sergeant Gregory seized a rifle and a trench-mortar shell (which he used as a hand grenade), left his detachment of the trench-mortar platoon and advanced ahead of the infantry, capturing 22 enemy soldiers, as well as a machine gun and a howitzer.

Earle Gregory as a student at Virginia Tech
Earle Gregory as a student at Virginia Tech

On October 11, 1918, three days after Gregorys heroic charge, he was seriously wounded by shrapnel from an exploding artillery shell in the left thigh, earning him the Purple Heart. Exactly one month after he was wounded, World War I ended. Gregory spent four months in a hospital in France before returning to Virginia in February 1919. On April 24, 1919, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by Major General Omar Bundy in a ceremony at Camp Lee. Gregory was also subsequently awarded equivalent medals from the Allied countries, including the Italian Merito di Guerra, the French Croix de Guerre and Medaille Militaire, and the Montenegrin Order of Merit.

Gregorys World War I medals from top left to bottom right: The Italian Merito di Guerra, the French Croix de Guerre, the U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars Medal, the World War I Victory Medal with Meuse-Argonne and Defensive Sector Army battle clasps, the Cross of Military Service of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Medal of Honor, the French Mdaille militaire, and the Montenegrin Order of Merit
Gregorys World War I medals from top left to bottom right: The Italian Merito di Guerra, the French Croix de Guerre, the U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars Medal, the World War I Victory Medal with Meuse-Argonne and Defensive Sector Army battle clasps, the Cross of Military Service of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Medal of Honor, the French Mdaille militaire, and the Montenegrin Order of Merit. Pictured in the top right is also his Virginia Tech 1923 class ring.

After the war, Gregory enrolled at Virginia Tech as a member of the Corps of Cadets and studied Electrical Engineering, graduating in 1923. As a senior, he was a Cadet Captain and Company Commander, President of the Corps of Cadets, and selected as “Most Popular Cadet.” After graduating, Gregory spent his career working for the Veterans Administration and was an active member of several veterans organizations. He passed away in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on January 6, 1972.

The Virginia Tech precision military marching unit, The Gregory Guard, was named in honor of Sgt. Gregory in May 1963, and in 1965, Gregory bequeathed his medals, along with his papers and photographs, to Virginia Tech Special Collections. An exhibit of highlights from the Earle D. Gregory Collection, including his medals, are currently on display in the Special Collections reading room.

Gregory meeting president John F. Kennedy at a military reception at the White House, May 2, 1963.
Gregory meeting president John F. Kennedy at a military reception at the White House, May 2, 1963.