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.

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.

China Remixed: Ting Su, Doctor of Education, 1940

As part of China Remixed, a campus-wide initiative to celebrate Chinese culture, the Indiana University Archives is celebrating the long history of Chinese students at IU with a series of blog posts. This is the last post in this series. 

In 1937, Ting Su came to IU to pursue a doctoral degree in Education. He had previously earned a Bachelor’s in Education from Peiping National Normal University in China and came to the United States to study at Stanford University and Columbia University Teacher’s College in pursuit of a master’s in Education.

While at IU, Su was active in the Cosmopolitan Club and served as an assistant instructor. After submitting his dissertation titled A functional program of organization and administration for the public schools of Suiyuan Province, China,  he graduated with his Doctorate of Education in 1940. He spent the year following his graduation traveling the state of Indiana giving lectures on Chinese affairs. In July 1941, Su returned to China to serve as a professor of Education in the Teachers’ College of Sun Yat-sen University at

April 5, 1951, The Terre Haute Tribune: “China is the vanguard against Communist world aggression.”

Ping-shek. Su gave 15 speeches to schools and clubs in Hong Kong about the American way of life.

He returned to IU in 1950 and served as a Research Assistant in Area Studies and part-time instructor in Education until June 1951. During this period, Su served as one of an eight-member investigation mission of the Political Consultive Conference established at the suggestion of General George Marshall to investigate the military disputes between the US government and the Communists.

Upon leaving IU, Su taught Chinese-Mandarin Language along with advanced courses in Chinese-Mandarin History, Geography, Engineering Technology, and Military Terminology at the Army Language School at Monterey, California. In this role, he taught Mandarin to Army and Air Force personnel. In 1956, the rise of communism in China led to increased scrutiny of Chinese citizens living in the United States, particularly on the West Coast.

Letter to Ting Su from Herman B Wells: “Several of these congressmen are good and loyal personal friends of mine and I am sure they will leave no stone unturned in your case.”

When Su was threatened with deportation, he wrote to Herman B Wells for support of Bill HR11228, a bill introduced by Congressman Teague of California to prevent deportation of Dr. Su and his wife, Grace Yu Ying Ling. At that time, he lived in Seaside, California with his wife and two children. President Wells wrote letters to six Indiana congressional representatives to resolve the deportation threat.

Letter from Indiana Representative Earl Wilson to Herman B Wells supporting a bill to prevent the deportation of Dr. Ting Su and his wife, Grace Yu Ying.

Based on correspondence past 1956, it seems that alumnus Dr. Ting Su and his family avoided wrongful deportation and remained in California.

China Remixed: Showin Wetzen Hsu, BA 1909

As part of China Remixed, a campus-wide initiative to celebrate Chinese culture, the Indiana University Archives is celebrating the long history of Chinese students at IU with a series of blog posts and an exhibit in the lobby of the Wells Library.

Showin Wetzen Hsu, 1930

Showin Wetzen Hsu was the first Chinese student to graduate from Indiana University, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in History in 1909. Hsu came to the US in 1905 and studied at the University of California until the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire compelled university officials to end the academic year early. He transferred to the University of Illinois, where he stayed for 2 years, but decided to continue his studies IU in 1908 to specialize in Political Science, International Law, and Diplomacy under professors he admired.

Showin Wetzen Hsu’s War Service Record detailing his judicial service in China until 1919

Shortly after graduation, in 1909, Hsu was recalled to China to serve as a law compiler in the Councilor’s department. Hsu rose through the ranks of the Chinese government quickly between 1911 and 1930. Hsu earned a master’s degree in 1911 and was appointed secretary of the Ministry of Education.  In 1912, Hsu was involved in transitioning the Chinese government from an imperial dynasty to a republic after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, a group that held power for more than 250 years. In 1912, the president of the newly established Republic of China appointed Hsu to serve as a justice of the Supreme Court of China. Hsu served in many high-level governmental and judicial capacities during his long career.

Letter from Showin Wetzen Hsu to President William Lowe Bryan, November 20, 1916 written on stationary from the Supreme Court of China

Hsu fondly remembered his time at IU even after his return to China. He corresponded with President William Lowe Bryan, donated money to IU causes, and frequently communicated with the IU Alumni Office. In October 1909, Hsu wrote a letter to William Lowe Bryan stating, “For the last whole academic year, I enjoyed my work in your university very much. I have been always proud of being the first Chinese graduate in Indiana and in the near future if I should be able enough to do any thing for my country is of course all due to your great supervision of our alma mater.” In January 1916, Hsu wrote to the Alumni Office to say that, although there were not enough IU graduates in Peking to hold a Foundation Day reunion, his thoughts were with his alma mater.

Pages four and five of letter from Showin Wetzen Hsu to IU President William Lowe Bryan, October 12, 1909: “I have been  always proud of being the first Chinese graduate in Indiana.”

Showin Wetzen Hsu paved the way for many Chinese students to attend Indiana University. Within 10 years, more than 10 Chinese students would find their way to IU.

Feel free to contact the Indiana University Archives if you would like to learn more about the history of Chinese students at IU.

The Legendary Prankster: Leon Varjian

It’s April Fools’ Day, which means that it’s officially the 42nd anniversary of the first-ever Banana Olympics held on the Indiana University campus. As ridiculous as it sounds, yes, it was a very real event—and a political one, at that, as it was held as a fundraiser for the campaign of graduate Leon Varjian, who in 1975 was running for mayor of Bloomington. Some of the very, very serious campaign promises included: turning Indiana University into a theme park similar to Disney Land called “IU-Land,” constructing a giant Monopoly board in downtown Bloomington around the Courthouse Square, a 100% unemployment rate (as everyone will become, instead, a civil servant, taking over new posts such as the town drunk or the resident derelict), carpeting all of the sidewalks, and replacing all of the parking meters with bubble gum machines. Still don’t believe me? Have a look for yourself:

Yes, Leon Varjian was a real person, and a real clown (okay, not a literal clown, but he was a hilarious guy.) Unfortunately, Varjian passed away in 2015, but the archives recently received his papers from his time in Bloomington. I’ve been given the task of processing them, and it’s been one of the most fun projects I’ve ever had during my time at the archives. Several times during the processing of these papers I’ve been caught in an unstoppable fit of giggles.

Right-click on the image to open it in a new tab, zoom in and read the article. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Varjian showed up in Bloomington in 1972, and from that moment on, nothing was the same. Originally hoping to receive his graduate degree in mathematics, he ended up with that and more—a reputation for being the funny man on campus. He was politically active from the start, running first for student government representing the “Birthday Party,” then for mayor of Bloomington on the “Fun City” ticket, and finally for IU Trustee on an equally ridiculous, nonsensical platform. I’m not sure if he won a seat on the student government, but he tragically did not become mayor of Bloomington (coming in third out of four candidates with 776 votes) or the IU Trustee. But if I’ve learned anything about Varjian from his papers, it’s that he was certainly a politically active and opinionated person, even if his campaigns weren’t serious at all. He collected numerous newspapers and clippings with political stories and held onto documents he received from the “War Tax Resistance” in the early 70’s. I have an inkling that he did want to make a difference, and his campaigns did in their own way. Larry A. Conrad, Indiana’s Secretary of State at the time, certainly seemed to think so.

He was smart, too. You can tell by the hundreds of loose leaf papers found in this collection that have free-form notes scribbled over them, which you could probably glean something from if you had the time and patience to make sense out of them. The notes could be anything from political notes to song lyrics to article ideas for one of the several publications he was involved with, such as Fun City. Fun City was an alternative publication that ran from 1975 to at least 1976, but probably discontinued after that when Varjian left Bloomington to pursue a short-lived career as a computer programmer in D.C. Anyone remember seeing one of the 13,000 weekly copies of this floating around on campus?

Some of the other publications he might have had a hand in were The Daily Stupid and The Daily Horrible-Terrible, both of which we have copies of in this collection. They were mock versions of the Indiana Daily Student and The Herald Times that came out annually, filled with satire articles and parodies. If you come in to see the collection, I recommend giving them a read.

When he left D.C. after only a short time, he returned to school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where his trickster ways gained national fame. He teamed up with friend Jim Mallon (future executive producer of Mystery Science Theater 3000) and pulled off a couple of enormous (albeit harmless) pranks. They covered historic Bascom Hill with a thousand pink flamingos for a fundraiser and put a huge replica of the Statue of Liberty’s head and torch on Lake Mendota while it was frozen over.

 

Imagine the time they spent planning this.

So today, on April Fools’ Day, we remember and celebrate prankster legend Leon Varjian. He certainly brought a smile to my face– and I think he brought about laughter and happiness during a time when America desperately needed a little sunshine. I’ve had a great time processing this collection, and I only wish I could have met the man himself.