Short Takes

I was fortunate to do some research at the Rubenstein Rare Books and Manuscript Library at Duke recently. Nice place, friendly and knowledgeable staff. They have a huge collection of Civil War primary sources and manuscripts, including supposedly the largest collection of unpublished Confederate manuscripts in the world. Well worth visiting (certainly was for me). The only problem, like so many college campuses, is parking. Duke, like so many other fine old campuses was designed before the days before all students owned cars, so finding a place to leave the car isn’t easy.

Duke also has its own Civil War exhibit up. As is typical of colleges these days, it’s almost entirely about social issues and features women, African-Americans, and poets.

Asheville columnist Rob Neufeld has returned to Civil War themes lately.

In one column he looks at the Haywood Highlanders (Co. F, 25th NC) and explored the diary of Capt. Thomas Lenoir, recently published by a descendant.

Lenoir was 44 years old with a 17-year old wife, Lizzie, whom he’d just married, left back home.  Since he’d been assigned at age 29 by his father, a Wilkesboro planter and Haywood County pioneer, to take care of the family’s remote Forks of River farm, he’d devoted himself entirely to livestock, slaves, and local governance.  There is no record of any woman in his life until he married Lizzie, and brought her to the place he called Bachelor’s Retreat.

From Camp Lee, Lenoir would march with his troops to a camp in Kinston; and would resign before they were deployed to fight at Malvern Hill.

The next column (same link) looks at some of the other men in the company, one of which was William Pickney Inman, the hero of Cold Mountain.

In response to the question, “Why are some people so obsessed with the Civil War?” one might point to the historical record.  Primary sources abound; the dead are speaking.  People of that time had been tested in the most intense and dramatic ways, with remarkably individual results.

Privates as well as colonels put their thoughts down.  Sometimes, women did, too.  African American history demands a more assiduous search for sources.

Sgt. Garland Ferguson wrote his wife Maria in early 1863:

“I can make out if I don’t git in another fight, which I don’t want to for I don’t fancy the balls and bomb-shells a-flying as thick as hale around my head. I think I could tell you something to see men lying all around me and some hollering.”

Neufeld then looks at the writings of Asheville native author Thomas Wolfe, whose father William watched the Confederates invade Pennsylvania. Wolfe’s Civil War writings—fictionalized versions of his father’s experiences—were cut from his original books but have since been published separately.

Elsewhere (formerly has a page on the Confederate service record of Thomas Dula, Co. K, 42nd NC. As I narrated in an earlier post, he is the same “Tom Dooley” who was convicted of the murder of Laura Foster and executed in 1868.

On another page is a look at the use of “torpedoes” in the Civil War.

In the United Kingdom the “Battle to Save the Union” is underway, this time from the secession of Scotland. Abe Lincoln and William Wallace, call your offices!



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