A Sword in the Archives: New Additions to the John D. Alexander papers

John D. Alexander was the oldest living IU graduate from 1929 until his death in 1931

In a Sincerely, Yours post from July 2016, we introduced you to John D. Alexander, an IU alum who rose through the ranks of the 97th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers to ultimately become Acting Assistant Inspector General of the Second Brigade of the Union Army. His collection was donated to the Archives in 2015 and contains dramatic letters written to his parents as he marched with Sherman’s army to the sea. In a letter from Camp Anderson, Georgia on December 18, 1864, he writes, “My Dear Parents, I am still alive, for which, I can thank the Good Lord.” Not only did Alexander survive the Civil War, he lived long enough to become the oldest living graduate of Indiana University from 1929 until his death on February 27, 1931.

Since the collection was first opened to researchers last spring, the collection has been popular with faculty and students for use in history and folklore classes. The collection provides a great local context to a larger national event, the Civil War.

With the rich research value of the collection, you can only imagine how excited we were to learn that the Archives would be acquiring additional materials to add to the collection. Because Alexander and his wife did not have any children to pass along their belongings to, their materials were separated among close family friends and more distant relatives.

In April 2017, the Archives learned that we would be receiving a scrapbook, a pair of Chevalier Paris binoculars, Alexander’s Union Army Captain shoulder strap insignia, and his Captain’s sword.

A pair of Paris Chevalier binoculars owned by Alexander with case
John D. Alexander’s Union Army Captain’s sword
Union Army Captain shoulder strap insignia (post-Civil War regalia)

These new additions provide researchers with a deeper connection to the man behind the Civil War letters. In his post-Civil War life, Alexander served as a prosecuting attorney in Greene, Owen, and Morgan counties in Indiana and was the representative of Greene County in the Indiana General Assembly of 1887. He was also highly active in the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization composed of Union Army veterans, and attended nationally encampments in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, Chattanooga, Toledo, Columbus, Boston, Buffalo, and Atlantic City. He served as State Commander of the Indiana G. A. R. from May 1908 to May 1909.

Alexander’s interest in the G.A.R. and veterans’ issues are reflected in the scrapbook he filled with newspaper clippings about Civil War monuments, G.A.R. encampments, patriotism, and Indiana G.A.R. activities starting in 1907 until the late 1920s. Papers found tucked within the scrapbook also offer a distinct look into Alexander’s life. These pages include correspondence to distant relatives who named their son “John Alexander,” a page from a family Bible detailing birth and death dates, and even Alexander’s personal research regarding George Washington’s potential affairs.

We’ve enjoyed learning more about one of IU’s most distinctive alumni and hope that you will consider a visit to the Archives to see these new additions. The collection is partially digitized and can be viewed here. Please contact the IU Archives if you would like to learn more about the life of John D. Alexander.

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.

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.

Sincerely Yours – Letters from the Archives: A Captain in the Union Army, John D. Alexander

Born on February 6, 1839 in Bloomington, Indiana, John D. Alexander graduated from Indiana University with A. B. and A.M. degrees in 1861.  In 1860, while Alexander anticipated his graduation, Southern tensions reached their peak. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union following the election of Abraham Lincoln.  In his “Recollections of Indiana University, 1856-1861” Alexander notes the intense atmosphere in Bloomington following South Carolina’s secession.  He recalls,

One fine morning a Red flag with One White Star was flying from the highest point of the University Building.  The whole town was thrown into a frenzy of excitement.  Students and people of the town soon filled the Campus – the flag was torn down and dragged through the street to Doctor Nutt’s residence – then to the Court House Square where speeches were made denouncing the ones who put the flag there and particularly South Carolina and the flag was burned.

Alexander taught school for a year and then enlisted as a private in Company E, 97th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers in August 1862.  On June 27, 1864, Alexander was wounded in his right hip at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia.  He quickly recovered, however, and returned to his company in October 1864.  Alexander and the rest of the 97th Regiment marched in Sherman’s army from Atlanta to Savannah, from November 15 until December 21, 1864.  The following letter is written by Alexander to his parents.  He describes his experience in the Battle of Grindswoldville in Georgia, the first battle of Sherman’s March to the Sea, as well as movements of the regiment and news of his promotion to Captain of Company D.  Just a note that within the letter, Alexander invokes some language of the time that would be offensive if employed today. See full transcription below the images.

C623_2005 C623_2004

Camp Anderson, Geo. 9 miles South West of Savannah

December 18, 1864

My Dear Parents,

I am still alive for which I thank the Good Lord. We left Atlanta, Geo. the 15th of November.  The 15th Army Corps take the extreme Right of the Army. The 17th Corps the Right Center, the 20th Corps the Left Center and the 14th Corps the extreme Left. We were all to move on roads as nearly parallel as possible. Nothing of interest occurred until we struck the Macon and Savannah Railroad where we all stayed and encamped at night. The next morning – Nov 22nd our brigade 2nd under Gen Walcott was ordered to make a reconnaissance. Once in the direction of Macon we started and got within 2 miles of the Macon and Montgomery R.R. when the Rebels Cavalry under Wheeler attacked our Cavalry and whipped them badly. Our brigade threw out Skirmishes and we drove them back to Grindswold a small Station on the Railroad and finally beyond there. Our brigade then retired to a small elevation of ground overlooking an open field where we stopped to get our drummers. We were sitting round not expecting any danger when the Georgia Militia attacked our pickets and they commenced coming in and we went to making breastworks out of rails, bags, chunks, whatever we could get together. Before we had them done however, they came upon us in three lines of battle.  They came with a vengeance and some were killed within 50 yds of our works.  The fight raged with fury for three hours and when it ceased Such a sight! The Rebels literally lay in piles, 10 men in a place all killed together. Their loss was estimated at 2,000 killed and wounded. Ours only… [section of letter missing] The Brigade Genl Walcott was wounded early on…[section of letter missing] with a piece… [section of letter missing] Shall look… [section of letter missing] Command of the Brigade and behaved with much gallantry. He still commands the Brig. Capt. Elliott of Co “H” commands the Regt. After we left there we had our ups and downs. Dec. 10Crossed Ogeechee River on the 11th we were wakened by the Reb Battery and our Shelling. On the 13 of this month Fort McAllister at the mouth of the Ogeechee River was taken by the 2nd Div of our Corps. They captured between 2 and 300 prisoners, 17 guns, 200 artillery Horses, $2,000 worth of wines and cigars. That Opens our Communication we got mail night before last and I got your letters up to Nov 30″/64. Some from Bettie also and Sam Kate and Will married Hannah. I was glad to hear you got home safely from Sister Sophia’s. Did you get my photographs I sent home? I got my Commission to Captain night before last. Will be mustered today. I will be assigned to command Co “D” for a while. Then if Captain Oliphant resigns I will be transferred to Co “E” if possible. We only have to go on the front lines every 3 or 4 days. Tell Captain O – I will write to him this evening and more if I can. Give my love to All. I am in perfect health am as fat as a pig. Have had a pack mule to carry my Blankets and Grub and a darky to lead him and cook. I have 3 blankets Always sleep comfortable. The boys have been down to where the water comes up to get oysters and can hear distinctly the roaring of old Ocean. The country here is level and swampy. Give my love to Boone, Mary, Bettie, Felix, Mat, Lee, Sam, Sallie, and families and believe me you.

Affectionate Son,

John D.  Alexander Co “D”

In April 1865, Alexander was appointed Acting Assistant Inspector General of the Second Brigade by General John A. Logan in Goldsboro, North Carolina. He was mustered out of service on June 9, 1865 following the Grand Review of the Armies, a victory procession through Washington, D.C.  Following the Civil War, Alexander served as a lawyer in Bedford and Bloomfield.  He went on to hold several elected positions in state and county government. Alexander was also regular attendant to all national and state encampments of the G.A.R. His involvement in the G.A.R. led him to write a History of the Ninety-seventh Regiment of Indiana Volunteer Infantry in 1891.  In 1929, Alexander was the oldest living graduate of Indiana University. He died on February 27, 1931.

The above letter, along with 11 others, can be found in C23 John D. Alexander Family Papers. To learn more about Indiana University and the Civil War, contact the IU Archives.

IU War Service Register Documents All IU Veterans

The War Service Register records are now open for research at the University Archives!

Used to the compile the original Golden Book housed at the Indiana Memorial Union (listing every IU alum who served in war), the War Service Register of Alumni and Former Students provides information on Indiana University alumni and former students who served in U.S. wars between 1860 and 1945 (i.e., the Mexican War, Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the first World War, or the second World War).

William Arthur Millington's World War I War Service record
William Arthur Millington’s World War I War Service record

The Alumni Office requested that each alum provide his or her name, degree, class year, dates of service, date of discharge, rank, and record. The amount of information provided, however, varies from student to student.

For those students serving in World War II, the material is much more comprehensive and often includes newspaper clippings and correspondence between IU and the enlistee and/or his or her parents. There are records for dozens of female enlistees. The Record (filled out by alumni) included, among other things, blanks for present service address, previous stations, and the question “are you receiving the alumni magazine?” In addition to the paper records, photographs were frequently sent to the Alumni Office (now housed in IU’s photograph collection).

Kathryn Griffith enlisted in the Marine Corps Women's Reserve in July 1945. At IU, she was a member of the Women's Athletic Association, Alpha Delta Pi sorority, and the Association of Woman Students.
Kathryn Griffith enlisted in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve in July 1945. At IU, she was a member of the Women’s Athletic Association, Alpha Delta Pi sorority, and the Association of Woman Students.

History of the Register

The Office of the Alumni Secretary, led by Humphrey M. Barbour in the 1920s, compiled the initial (pre-World War II) War Service Register of Alumni and Former Students, which provided information about Indiana University alumni and former students who served in a U.S. war between 1860 and 1920. The Alumni Office collated the register using alumni responses to a memo requesting information sent in the early 1920s.

During and after the end of World War II, the Alumni Office, then under the charge of George F. Heighway, repeated this same process. Besides serving as a tool to encourage subscription to the IU Alumni Magazine, the letters were also used to find out information about soldiers listed as “missing in action.”

Cpl. Julius Griesel's father responded to Heighway's letter informing him that a wounded Griesel spent ten days in a German hospital, marched seventy-two miles to Italy, before finally being "liberated" by the Russians on April 22, 1945.
Cpl. Julius Griesel’s father responded to Heighway’s letter informing him that a wounded Griesel spent ten days in a German hospital, marched seventy-two miles to Italy, before finally being “liberated” by the Russians on April 22, 1945.

 

Heighway often wrote to parents of MIA or POW soldiers expressing his concern and asking for updated information. There are many instances, such as the letter at left, when families wrote back with good news that their son was found alive. Not all replies, however, were positive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Hanna, Class of 1926, served in the Air Service Command. Here he poses with other members of the Allied troops. In a memo encouraging the use of this photo in the Alumni Magazine, President Herman B Wells commented that "it certainly illustrates the cosmopolitan character of our Allies."
Hanna 2 Harry Hanna, Class of 1926, served in the Air Service Command. Here he (top photo, far right) poses with other members of the Allied troops. In a memo encouraging the use of this photo in the Alumni Magazine, President Herman B Wells commented that “it certainly illustrates the cosmopolitan character of our Allies.”

According to some counts, 288 former IU students were killed in action during the war. The Alumni Office requested that families of the deceased fill out a special form listing service information as well as place of burial. Most families also mailed photographs with the other information (such as the two shown below, Iceal Alford and Bernard Cederholm).

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On a personal level, these photographs were the most striking. The soldiers killed in action are indistinguishable, of course, from the rest of the photographs sent to IU. Yet, viewing their photographs, I already know how their lives ended. For those who survived, however, these records detail just a few years of their life. The rest of their life remains a mystery.

The finding aid is available here. If you have a relative who attended IU and served in the war, contact the University Archives to learn if there are records available to view!