Sincerely Yours: The End of the Civil War

Andrea has since graduated and moved on, but she left us with some of her amazing blog posts ready to go! Congratulations to Andrea and we think we convinced her that archives is where she wants to be!  

You may recall this post by Katie Martin from summer of last year about John D. Alexander, an 1861 alumnus of IU and later Union Captain during the Civil War. Over the past week or so, I’ve been transcribing all of the Civil War letters in Alexander’s collection, including the one that Katie included in her post. It’s been a real treat to read these as the letters definitely provide some unique insight into war strategies, the day-to-day life and sentiments of soldiers, and the means of communication during the mid-19th century. As an American History major, the Civil War has been a topic of particular interest to me for some time. So getting to read a primary source not already heavily picked over by historians is exciting, to say the least.

You can read some of Alexander’s biographical information in Katie’s post. By the end of the war, he was serving as an Acting Assistant Inspector General of the Second Brigade under William Tecumseh Sherman’s army. His brigade marched into Raleigh, North Carolina in April of 1865. On April 9th, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia, a significant marker that indicated the war was almost over. By the time John Alexander was writing a letter to his parents on April 18th, Sherman had been in Raleigh having an ongoing negotiation with General Joseph Johnston about the terms of another Confederate surrender. Johnston’s surrender turned out to be the largest surrender of men during the entire war with 89,270 soldiers in all.

Here’s John Alexander’s account of how it all unfolded:

And here’s a partial transcript, since that’s pretty difficult to read:

Once again I am permitted to write to you. God in his all-wise providence has so far spared my life for some purpose. I am well and am enjoying good health. My health was never better than at the present time. You see by this letter that we are near Raleigh N.C. We entered the city without any opposition. Our Division passed review as we entered the city. General Sherman was sitting on a noble black horse in the gateway leading into the Capitol Square. We came out 3 miles north of the City where we are now encamped. General Sherman and Genl. Joe Johnston have been in consultations several days in regard to [Johnston’s] surrendering his Army. How it will terminate I don’t know. He wants to surrender on the same terms that Lee did. But I don’t believe Sherman will let him off so easily. If [Johnston] surrenders the probability is we will not go any further out but will go into Camp some place near here. Every day there are droves of men coming by here going home that belonged to lee’s Army and deserters from [Johnston] heartily tired and sick of the war. Some of Lee’s men stopped at our Camp last night and the boys shared their rations with them and their tents and appeared as cheerful as larks in each others company. Was man ever so [illegible] before. They curse their leaders and long for the old flag and Union. God grant that I may see peace in our land again. But when I think of my comrades that have fallen by my side in the dark hour of battle, something says “how can you forgive these men that have made so many homes desolate in the land”. I hope I may be charitable enough to forgive them…

Wednesday April 19th 1865

Last night it rained so I had to go to bed. My tent mate, Lieut. Hopkins of the 46th Ohio and A.A.G.M. wished me to retire as he had been out foraging and was tired. When we were opening the mail the Colonel found one for me and said “this is from your father I know his handwriting.” It is rumored here this morning that Johnston has surrendered. Also that President was shot dead by an assassin in his private box at the Theatre in Washington. Also that they visited the residence of Seward, shot his son and stabbed him in his bed. I hope it is not true…

I have reliable information just received that Sherman returned from Hillsboro last night and Johnston has surrendered his whole Army. Hallelujah. The time is not far distant when we can all enjoy peace again.

I personally learned a lot from this letter alone about the ambiguity in those few days when no one was quite sure of whether or not the war was really over. The Union soldiers weren’t entirely sure how they should treat the members of the opposing army. For the most part, it seemed like they were just happy that the fighting was over and had no desire to perpetuate any more violence. Union soldiers even offered the Confederate deserters and discharged members of Lee’s army their food and shelter (which they may have had very little of in the first place). Alexander doesn’t mention any instances of contempt or violence on either of their parts, other than his own hesitation to offer forgiveness after all the damage that had been done by the Confederates.

When Lee surrendered his army, the terms of surrender were considered, by some, to be overly lenient. Soldiers and officers only had to turn over their weapons, but were given leave to return home immediately– thus the surplus of discharged Confederate soldiers that Alexander saw passing by or through their camp. Alexander was clearly among those who thought that Lee’s army should have been more severely punished for their rebellion. Johnston’s surrender was supposed to be even more merciful than Lee’s. By the time the second half of Alexander’s letter was written (April 19th) Sherman and Johnston had agreed upon the terms that would reinstate Confederate state governments. However, officials in Washington D.C. wholly rejected these terms, outraged by Lincoln’s assassination, and a few days later, the original terms were dissolved and changed to terms identical to that of Lee’s.

There’s a lot to be learned from primary sources such as this one. The delays in communication during the Civil War, for one– Lincoln’s assassination and Johnston’s surrender were mere rumors at the time. You can also get a feel for Alexander’s unabashed optimism and patriotism in most of his letters, which– from the sound of it– wasn’t a uniform state of mind among soldiers. Alexander prided himself on being relentless in his duty as a soldier to his country, and a few times chastised others in his letters for being lazy. In another (undated) letter, Alexander wrote:

“…no man shall ever say… that I shirked my duty. It is really diverting to see how some men do. They will lay in Camp and eat and drink and smoke merry and when the marching orders come– it’s ‘Oh my back or my leg’, ‘I know I can’t go and carry my knapsack, I could not go a mile. Orderly, will the doctor have a sick call this morning[?] Ah me, I know I’ll have to be left.’ Then they will let in to consoling themselves. ‘Well, I’ll just lie down and let the [Confederates] take me prisoner and parole me and I’ll go home and they will not get me in the army again.’ This is what they want.”

Check out the John D. Alexander collection in the Archives Online to see digitized versions of all of the letters.

Sincerely Yours: How Cecil Got His Gun

Cecil K. Byrd (1913-1997) was a longtime librarian and faculty member at Indiana University. He served as Curator of Special Collections (1942-1946), Assistant Director of Libraries (1946-1949), Associate Director of Libraries (1949-1964), University Librarian (1964-1972), and finally professor and librarian emeritus at the Lilly Library (1980-1997).

Air mail envelope addressed to Dr. Robert A. Miller from C. K. Byrd
Air mail envelope from Cecil K. Byrd’s wartime correspondence with Robert Miller, June 1944.

Cecil K. Byrd (M.A. 1938, Ph.D. 1942, History, Indiana University) landed a plum job at IU as Curator of Special Collections upon his graduation, but his career was soon interrupted by the entrance of the United States into World War II. Byrd left the university for service in the U.S. Navy in April 1943, not long after an important IU special collections milestone– the donation of the Oakleaf collection on Abraham Lincoln, which Byrd cataloged, and the opening of the library’s Lincoln room (then located in Franklin Hall).

Photograph of Cecil K. Byrd and three scholars in the Lincoln Room at its dedication on February 13, 1943.
Lincoln Scholars at Lincoln Room Dedication, February 13, 1943. Cecil K. Byrd is the second from the right.

During his wartime service as a ship’s navigator, Byrd corresponded with IU Libraries Director Robert Miller, who kept him up to date with campus affairs. In return, Byrd shared some of his experiences as well as his eagerness to get back to his beloved job (“I would give my share of paradise to be sitting on my thin bottom in that red chair in Rare books and attending an auction now and again!”). One of Byrd’s more entertaining anecdotes appears in a June 23, 1944 letter, written while Byrd’s ship was stationed in France on transport duty. It concerns the requisitioning of a machine gun that he just had to have, not for himself, of course, but for Lincoln:

“Visited a German ammunition dump that had been evacuated a few hours before. Mindful of the Rare Book section, I selected a machine gun that in some mystical way had been connected with Lincoln for a souvenir. Pulled and groaned with the thing many miles and had nearly reached the ship when I was hailed by a British M.P. who wanted to know what I was doing with one of his Majesty’s guns. I gave him my little song and dance and “for Lincoln” he let me take it aboard. But I was so disappointed that it wasn’t German that I gave it to the mess boy with the story that I captured it alone and unarmed.”

Byrd’s mock-curatorial escapade was not the end of his exploits abroad in the name of the IU Libraries. During a stopover in England, he used coupons to procure “enough Harris tweed…to make myself a suit and topcoat” (stereotypical mid-century librarian wear?) and offered to buy additional cloth for Miller:

“Don’t know whether you like tweed or not. I’ve bought enough Harris tweed in Eng. to make myself a suit and topcoat. It takes coupons but I have a contact out to get more. If you are interested I think I could get you enough for a suit or topcoat. The last I got cost me $27 for 7 yards. You’ll have to trust me for the general color, etc. I’ll not make you look either like a librarian or race track tout — something in between. Let me know about this.”

After the war, Byrd returned to his beloved library, complete with a brand-new title: Assistant Director of the Libraries. And the rest is history- the expansion of library collections and branch libraries, the establishment of the Lilly Library as IU’s rare books and special collections repository, etc. etc. Except for Abraham Lincoln’s machine gun. Byrd totally made that up.

Read the entirety of Byrd’s June 23, 1944 letter to Miller here, including original handwriting and transcript.

Byrd’s wartime correspondence with Robert Miller is located in the Indiana University Libraries Director’s records, 1932-1977, Collection C540, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

Coach Billy Thom and His Boys: The Indiana University Wrestling Team, 1929-1932

Delmas E. Aldridge, 1932

The art of scrapbooking is a pastime that many partake in to highlight an important event or period within their life.  It serves a special function, as when one is feeling reminiscent, one can simply take out the scrapbook and reflect on their past events.  Thus, when becoming a member of the Indiana University wrestling team, Delmas E. Aldridge decided to keep a scrapbook documenting the process of the team and its members through collecting newspaper clippings and photographs.

Delmas Eilar Aldridge was born on January 5, 1911 in Atlanta, Indiana.  He graduated from Kokomo High School in 1928 and then attended Indiana University from 1928-1932.  While attending school, Aldridge decided to become involved in extracurricular activities, as many students do. When he joined the Indiana University wrestling team, he stated “I was one of the few that had no wrestling experience, as Kokomo High School had no team.  What success I had I owe to Coach Billy Thom.” (Inscription, 12 October 1979, Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook, Collection C656, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington)

Indiana University Wrestling Team, 1930-1931 First row, second from the right: Delmas E. Aldridge

Aldridge was a member of the Indiana University wrestling team from 1929-1932.  He was the first person to wrestle in the newly built Fieldhouse, now known as the Wildermuth Intramural Center as part of the IU Recreational Sports Facility.  During the 1929 opening season match against Cornell, the wrestling match was held immediately after the Indiana-Pittsburgh basketball game.  Thus, the largest crowd in the history of the mat game attended the opening season match in the Fieldhouse; luckily, Aldridge won the match for his weight class.  In addition, Aldridge won his first conference match against Purdue University in February of 1930, winning his first letter for a five-point fall.

Delmas E. Aldridge and George Belshaw at Aldridge’s Home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, June 1964

In 1931, Aldridge was declared Big Ten champion in his weight class (one hundred and eighteen pounds) and was elected co-captain of the team by George Belshaw after the team elected Belshaw as captain in 1932.  Still appreciative of Belshaw’s kindness almost fifty years later, Aldridge wrote “Thanks again George,” by the newspaper clipping in the scrapbook that announced their captainship. (Inscription, 12 October 1979, Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook, Collection C656, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington)

Instead of letting his memories become forgotten overtime, Aldridge decided to hand over the scrapbook depicting his time as a member of the Indiana University wrestling team.  Aldridge simply asked that the scrapbook be put “in the appropriate location where they may be read by everyone for years to come.  Please do not mutilate but leave for others.  The last portion of this book shows the mutual respect, admiration, and love that existed between ‘His Boys’ and ‘Their Coach’ ‘Billy’ Thom.”  (Letter to ‘I’ Men’s Association, 20 October 1979, Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook, Collection C656, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington)

Delmas E. Aldridge, 1929

Delmas E. Aldridge passed away on March 22, 2003 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  However, the scrapbook has now found its way back to his alma mater, Indiana University, where it will be preserved for many years to come.  In regards to the scrapbook, Aldridge wrote, “It is not as bright & shiny as it was.  Now faded & moth eaten.  But after almost 50 years we are worn down a little also.” (Inscription, 12 October 1979, Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook, Collection C656, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington)

The entire Delmas E. Aldridge wrestling scrapbook has been digitized and is now accessible through Archives Online at Indiana University, or you can request an appointment to view the scrapbook in person by contacting the IU Archives.

Daniel Read: The Professor Who Saved the Universities

Do you often wonder about the name behind a building? Most buildings on campus are named for someone, but most people probably do not know who those mysterious persons are. Some of them may have been more recent donors or some, such as Daniel Read, may be figures from the early years of the University.

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Photograph of Daniel Read

Daniel Read, for whom Read Hall is named, was born in Ohio in 1805. He attended Ohio University, from which he graduated in 1824. He went on to receive a Master of Arts degree in 1827 and then an honorary LL.D. in the 1850s from Indiana Asbury University (which is now DePauw University). He was technically a lawyer, but he never practiced. During the 1830s, he returned to his alma mater to be a professor of classics (or ancient languages, depending on the source) and eventually vice-president. He was also a visitor at the military academy at West Point.

Eventually, however, Read made his way to Indiana University. There he taught ancient languages from 1843 to 1856, a faculty member during the same time as Robert Milligan. While there, Read made an important contribution to the University, in effect, saving it. In 1850, Read attended a state constitutional convention. The University was in danger of losing its land—granted by the government. Read ensured that the funds designated for the University (the land) would stay with the University. Read had, in fact, saved the University. A few years later, in 1854, he and another professor would travel to Washington, D.C., to successfully petition for land from the federal government. Although not at Indiana University very long—only thirteen years—Read made an impact on the University.

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A speech Read gave at IU

After leaving Indiana University, Read went on to teach at the University of Wisconsin, where he was a professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy, and then to become the president of the University of Missouri, from 1866 to 1876. Read had an impact at the University of Missouri as well. He worked to widen the educational opportunities at that university in the form of a normal school and an agricultural and mechanics school. Another important contribution was once again in the form of greatly helping the university as a whole. Read worked to push the General Assembly of the state to recognize the university. Read also felt strongly about women attending universities, working towards admitting women to the University of Missouri. When he had been at Indiana and had attended the state constitutional convention, he had also been a supporter of women’s rights.

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Another letter concerning Theodore’s death

While Read had a great impact on the universities where he worked, his family also had an impact on the world. His sister, Mrs. McPherson, was the head of the Female Seminary. Another famous relation was his great-great-nephew, John Foster Dulles. Sadly, his own immediate family was marked with tragedy. Read, with his wife Alice, had two children, Theodore and Agnes, whose lives ended when they were young adults. Theodore fought in the Civil War, rising to the rank of Brigadier General and surviving most of the war. However, in a tragic stroke of fate, he was killed at Appomattox. Read wrote a moving letter in which he describes how Theodore’s death affected the family:

“[He] proposed in his very last letter to have one of his sisters, after things became regulated, visit him. But it is all over. My family is bereft of him to whom we all looked as our ornament, comfort and support. I can only cry out, O Theodore, my son Theodore. How terrible that this calamity should have come after he seemed to be safe. In my own thoughts and my congratulations with friends I had just said – Well, thank God, it is over and Theodore is living. Just then a dispatch from Major Seward was put in my hands in these words – ‘Brig. Gen. Read was killed on Tuesday 9th heading the most gallant fight of the war’ He was mistaken, I think, as to day, but oh, such glory – Moving glory that takes away all the hopes and comfort of parents, wife, sisters.”

Only the next year, in 1866, Agnes died, having been in poor health for a while. Read himself died in 1878.

Daniel Read, perhaps now lost in obscurity simply as the namesake of a hall, should be remembered as the professor who fought for the rights of women and fought to save universities, one of them being our own Indiana University.

Behind the Curtain: Katie Martin, Processor

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. Continue to follow over the coming months to read how and who make the magic happen!

Role: Processes collections within the IU Archives and Modern Political Papers Unit

Educational Background: BA in History and American Studies from Purdue University; Current MLS student with a specialization in archives and records management

How she got here: Katie’s favorite part of her undergraduate history classes was conducting research using primary materials. This interest led her to work at the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections as a student assistant. At Purdue, Katie assisted with the Purdue Oral History Project, inventoried 16mm film reels, and worked on a variety of digital projects. Because she enjoyed working with the amazing people and collections at Purdue, including the George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers, she decided to pursue an MLS at IU (although she remains a Boilermaker at heart).

Katie started working in the IU Archives as an Encoder for the Indiana University Faculty Council, but she switched to processing collections in January 2016. In the summer of 2016, Katie served as an Art Deco Trade Literature Research Intern with the Smithsonian Libraries at the National Museum of American History. At IU, Katie also worked for the Department of Information and Library as a special projects assistant and worked as a processor on the Richard G. Lugar Senatorial Papers team.

Favorite Collection in the IU Archives: Katie processed the Indiana University Folklore Archives records and collections. She considers it be one of the most amazing collections she will ever have the opportunity to work with. The collection is 32 boxes of folklore material collected over several decades from around the Midwest. There are files related to legends and stories from every county in Indiana, inappropriate college songs, multiple varients of modern horror legends, and jokes on almost every topic imaginable.

Current Project: Katie just finished processing the Indiana University Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology records and is now working on various folklore refiling projects.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Katie loved processing the John D. Alexander papers, a collection of Civil War letters. Alexander graduated from IU in 1861 and enlisted as a private in Company E 97th Regiment of the Indiana Volunteers in 1862. It is moving to read the letters he wrote home to his family during Sherman’s March to the Sea from November – December 1865. The collection has been digitized and is accessible online.

Katie also enjoys working with the fantastic IU Archives staff who serve as such great mentors!

What she’s learned from working here: Katie has learned quite a bit about the field of folklore from processing the Indiana University Folklore Archives records and collections, the Roger Mitchell collection of Micronesian folktales, and the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology records. Before working with these collections, she did not realize there was an entire system for organizing and classifying folktales, the Aarne–Thompson classification systems. The system was partly developed by Dr. Stith Thompson, a folklorist who taught at IU. Also, if the stories are to be believed, there are quite a few ghosts on IU’s campus!