Tag Archives: civilwar

An African American Surgeon in the U.S. Civil War: Talk by Dr. Margaret Humphreys

Date: Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Time: 12:00 PM
Location: Room 102, Duke Medical Center Library
Contact: Beverly Murphy, beverly.murphy@duke.edu

Dr. Margaret HumphreysPlease join us on Wednesday, June 18 at noon for a lecture by Dr. Margaret Humphreys titled “Finding Dr. Harris: an African American Surgeon in the U.S. Civil War.” The event will be held in Room 102 of the Duke University Medical Center Library. Lunch will be provided.

Dr. Humphreys is the Josiah Charles Trent Professor of the History of Medicine and Professor of Medicine at Duke University and current President of the American Association for the History of Medicine. She is the author most recently of Marrow of Tragedy: The Health Crisis of the American Civil War (Johns Hopkins University Press); a book for which she was a finalist for the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize—awarded annually for the finest scholarly work in English on Abraham Lincoln or the American Civil War era.

Dr. Humphreys’ talk coincides with several exhibits at the Duke Medical Library. From June 9 through July 19, 2014, the Medical Library & Archives will host the National Library of Medicine’s travelling exhibit Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine. The lower level of the Medical Library includes an exhibition on Civil War medicine, highlighting many materials from the History of Medicine Collections and Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library on display through September of 2014.

Dr. Humphreys talk is co-sponsored by the Duke University Medical Center Library & Archives and the History of Medicine Collections in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. For questions about the event, please contact Beverly Murphy at beverly.murphy@duke.edu or (919) 660-1127.


Jefferson Davis’s Hair Revisited

One of my favorite Rubenstein collections is the C.C. Clay Papers, which document the life and times of Clement Claiborne Clay and his family. The Clays lived in Alabama in the nineteenth century, and sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. In the war’s early years, C.C. Clay served as a Confederate States senator. His opposition to raising soldiers’ pay (it would have been too expensive!) led to his being voted out of office in 1863. Clay and Confederate States President Jefferson Davis were good friends, however — Clay was godfather to Davis’s son Joseph — and rather than send Clay back to his plantation, Davis sent him on a secret mission to Canada to spy, bribe, and generally foment rebellion. (Clay’s mission did not end up helping the C.S.A.)

Clay was in Canada from mid-1864 through early 1865. He returned to the South just in time for the Confederacy to surrender. President Lincoln was assassinated shortly after his return, and both Davis and Clay were arrested by the Federal government on suspicions of treason relating to Lincoln’s assassination. (Clay’s time in Canada looked extremely suspicious.) The men were imprisoned in Fortress Monroe, Virginia. Clay was held for about a year without being charged until finally his wife, Virginia Clay, convinced President Andrew Johnson to pardon him. (She was a cool lady. You can read her 1905 memoir here.) Davis was imprisoned until 1867 before finally being released on bail.

This is only a selected portion of the Davis hairball held in the Clay Papers.

What does all this backstory have to do with Jefferson Davis’s hair? Well, there are giant clumps of it in the Clay Papers, and for years we did not know why. The mystery behind the hair did not stop us from displaying it in a Perkins Library exhibit three years ago. The only clue was from an envelope, where Virginia Clay had written, “Hair of Jefferson Davis cut off in Fortress Monroe, given me by Mrs. Dr. Elva Cooper.”

Recently, in reading through the Clay Papers correspondence, I came across the letter that explains it all. Virginia Clay wrote to Elva Cooper in April 1866, days before receiving Johnson’s pardon for C.C. Clay, asking her to “do send the hair if possible as directed.” Later on in the letter, Virginia recounted the number of donations received toward Jefferson Davis’s bail, adding that “the hair will sell like wildfire + will be my contribution.”

davisCollageIt appears that the plan was for the clumps of hair to be sold to Davis supporters as souvenirs, raising money for his aid. This explanation makes a lot more sense than the various reasons we had thought up over the years. Hair tokens are not rare in manuscript collections, but the fact that the Clays had so much of it struck us as a little odd. Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. An annotation from Ada Sterling, the editor for Virginia’s memoir, offers this extra gem:

davis3Even Davis’s contemporaries were not interested in purchasing locks of his hair! Sterling explained that as she helped write the memoir in the early 1900s, the hair was still lying in “‘mussy’ bundles, among Mrs. C’s things.”And so it now remains forever in the Rubenstein. Mystery solved!

Post contributed by Meghan Lyon, Technical Services Archivist.

New Acquisitions: Icons of Civil War Photography

In June and July we’ll celebrate the beginning of a new fiscal year by highlighting new acquisitions from the past year.  All of these amazing resources will be available for today’s scholars, and for future generations of researchers in the Rubenstein Library! Check out additional posts in the series here.

Some of the most celebrated, recognizable, and graphic images of the American Civil War come from Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War and George N. Barnard’s Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign, both published in 1866. Among the most important pictorial records of the conflict, together they shed a stark light on the destruction witnessed during the war and its aftermath. As legendary examples of early American photography these albums also help us to understand the history of documentary photography and the emergence of the widespread documentation of war.  Look for a feature on these important new additions to the Library’s Archive of Documentary Arts in the next issue of RL Magazine!

Alexander Gardner, "President Lincoln on Battle-Field of Antietam," 1862.
Alexander Gardner, “President Lincoln on Battle-Field of Antietam,” 1862, from Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War.
George Barnard, "City of Atlanta no. 2," from
George Barnard, “City of Atlanta no. 2,” from Barnard’s Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign.

The Rubenstein Library is grateful to the B. H. Breslauer Foundation for their generous support of the acquisition of Gardner’s Sketch Book.

Post contributed by Kirston Johnson, Curator of the Archive of Documentary Arts.

Crazy Assassin or Crazy Housepainter?

On this day in 1865 the infamous John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, died of a gunshot wound on the porch of the Garrett home in Virginia after twelve days on the lam.  Or did he?

What if I told you that Booth was actually a tobacco merchant in east Texas in 1873?  Or that he was a Shakespeare-quoting house painter in Enid, Oklahoma in the early 20th century?  And that one could view his mummified remains at various circuses after the First World War?  Crazy, right?

Not according to Finis L. Bates, a lawyer from Memphis, TN, in his 1907 confessional, The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth.

According to Bates, John St. Helen, a merchant in Granbury, TX, confessed his true identity while suffering from an illness to which he supposed he would eventually succumb. After his unexpected recovery, St. Helen elaborated on his confession to Bates and offered additional details of the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. The most explosive of these was the originator of the assassination plot, Vice-President Andrew Johnson. He also offered the true identity of the man mortally wounded by a Federal soldier at the Garrett farm. Bates immediately notified the State Department and Department of Defense but his pleas fell on deaf ears (conspiracy, anyone?).

In 1903, a house painter from Oklahoma named David E. George, committed suicide with a fatal dose of arsenic. Among some papers found on George was a note requesting that Bates be summoned. Upon his arrival several days later, Bates was able to identify the deceased George as his friend from Texas, John St. Helen, nee John Wilkes Booth. After claiming possession of the body, Bates then toured mummified remains around the United States, and, eventually, even offering for purchase to Henry Ford.

Come to the Rubenstein Library and read this true account of the life and death of John Wilkes Booth. Conspiracy theorists welcome!

Engraving of John Wilkes Booth's Mummified Hand
Engraving from The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth.

Post contributed by Joshua Larkin Rowley, Research Services Coordinator.

A Humble Petition from 1864

Greeting from 1864 Petition to Jefferson Davis from the Citizens of Cripple Creek, VA

Working on the History of Medicine (HOM) Trent Manuscripts Grant Project has revealed quite a few items of interest—but most recently, I discovered something that fits rather well into the Memories of the Civil War exhibit currently on display in the Perkins Exhibit Gallery.

Signatures to the 1864 Petition from the Citizens of Cripple Creek.
Signatures to the 1864 Petition from the Citizens of Cripple Creek. From the Trent Manuscripts Collection.

You may have seen the grisly amputation kit from the HOM collection, which might be the kind of war-related artifact that you would expect out of a collection on the history of medicine.  But here, instead, is not an example of progressive advances in medicine, nor a relic of past practice: instead, a simple plea for a family doctor to remain in service to his community by being excused for service in the Confederate Army:

“We the undersigned Citizens of Cripple Creek, Wythe County, VA earnestly petition that our family physician, Dr. C. C. Campbell, who is a conscript under the late act of Congress and whose services are indispensable to this portion of the county, be exempt, or detailed, and left with us.”

This singular petition to the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, dated February 15, 1864, was accompanied by two pages of signatures by the residents of Cripple Creek.  Did it ever reach its destination?  Do any historians or local residents know the fate of Dr. C. C. Campbell and his patients in Cripple Creek, Virginia?  If so, we’d love to hear from you!

Jacqueline Chapman, a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science, was History of Medicine Intern at the Rubenstein Library from September 2011 to January 2012.

Another March Madness: The American Civil War at 150

Date: Friday, March 16, 2012
Time: 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Location: Gothic Reading Room
Contact information: Dr. Shauna Devine, shauna.devine[at]duke.edu

Prominent historians from Duke University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and Ohio State University will gather at Duke for a one-day symposium marking the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. It will feature talks and presentations on a wide range of topics related to the war and its ongoing impact a century and a half later.  This event is free and open to the public.  See the symposium’s website for additional information.

The symposium coincides with the Rubenstein Library’s acclaimed exhibit, “I Recall the Experience Sweet and Sad: Memories of the Civil War,” on display through March 30.  Additional materials focused on Civil War medicine from the Rubenstein Library’s History of Medicine Collections will also be displayed in the Gothic Reading Room on the day of the exhibit.

“I Recall the Experience Sweet and Sad: Memories of the Civil War”

Civil War Exhibit banner

Date: 6 January-31 March 2012
Location and Time: Perkins Library Gallery during library hours
Contact Information: Meg Brown, 919-681-2071 or meg.brown(at)duke.edu

“Memories of the Civil War” shares personal reflections and memoirs of Civil War participants from a variety of backgrounds: an escaped slave, a Union volunteer, a Southern woman, and an army field nurse. Also featured is the memoir of poet Walt Whitman, whose poem, “The Wound Dresser,” is quoted in the exhibit’s title. Despite the different backgrounds of their authors, the memoirs have remarkably common themes of triumph, tragedy, hope, and pain. Though the Civil War lives on in American memory and legend, this exhibit seeks to ground that legend in the experiences of those who lived it.

Accompanying the memoirs are supplementary manuscripts, photographs, and memorabilia from the Civil War itself, including maps, scrapbooks, and artifacts such as this amputation kit from the Rubenstein’s History of Medicine Collection. Original Whitman letters, flag remnants from the Battle of Fort Sumter, and handmade playing cards are other exhibit highlights.

amputation kit
Amputation kit used during the Civil War, now on display in the Perkins Gallery.

During your next visit to Perkins-Bostock Library, please swing by the library gallery to see the new exhibit on display now! If you can’t visit in person, be sure to check out the online exhibit, which includes additional letters and photographs that didn’t quite fit in the Perkins cases.

Also, please plan to join curators Jessica Janecki, Meghan Lyon, and Kim Sims for a gallery talk on Monday, January 23, from 3-4 p.m. The Devil’s Tale will have more information about this event posted soon!

Researching the Civil War?

This has been the most terrific days battle since commincement. The enemy made a terrible charge over our Breastworks with re-inforcementz & succeeded in charging some of our men out of them, capturing many of our Division. All our Regiment that were left from the first days fight were captured.
—from the Henry Beverige Diary, Thursday, May 12, 1864.

Beverige, a soldier and hospital steward with the 25th Virginia Regiment of the Confederate States of America, describes one of the many terrifying, bloody days of the American Civil War. His diary is one of the numerous first person accounts available in the Rubenstein Library. Other perspectives on life during the conflict are offered by fiery teenager Alice Williamson;  Confederate spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow, African Americans such as Edgar Dinsmore, and the many others who experienced the loneliness, losses, and deprivations—and occasional triumphs—of the conflict.

"Come and Join Us Brothers," 1863

To commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Rubenstein Library staff have collaborated on a guide to Civil War resources that provides highlights of our rich collections. Special sections describe manuscript and print material related to military history, medicine, women, African Americans, literature, and music in the Rubenstein Library, as well as other library guides and relevant databases and websites.

We anticipate that this guide will be helpful for scholars, genealogists, and anyone with a personal interest in Civil War history. Please contact us if you have questions or comments about our collections.

Post contributed by Elizabeth Dunn, Research Services Librarian.

Letters to Diamond Hill

As part of our “RBMSCL Scholars” series, we’ve asked some of the wonderful researchers that the RBMSCL has hosted over the years to contribute a few words on their new books and research projects. Today, we have an essay from J. Keith Jones, editor of The Boys of Diamond Hill: The Lives and Civil War Letters of the Boyd Family of Abbeville County, South Carolina, released in March by McFarland Publishers.

Cover of The Boys of Diamond HillWhen I first began investigating the Robert Boyd Family Papers at Duke’s Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, I expected to find something that would appeal to genealogists of this family and those researching the history of Abbeville County, South Carolina. I didn’t know that I would discover a rich story about the triumphs of love and the tragedies of war. I would not have believed that two years later their story would be available to the world in The Boys of Diamond Hill: The Lives and Civil War Letters of the Boyd Family of Abbeville County, South Carolina. With the guidance of the staff at RBMSCL and my editors at McFarland Publishers, that is exactly what has happened.

The backbone of this work can be found in the 86 letters of the five Boyd brothers and the husband of their eldest sister lovingly preserved in the RBMSCL. With the additional research of this family and the units they served in, their full story slowly emerged. In April 1861, brothers Daniel and Pressley Boyd joined the Confederate army. Soon the war would sweep the other three Boyd brothers—William, Thomas and Andrew—as well as their brother-in-law Fenton Hall, away from their farm in Abbeville County, South Carolina. Researching this collection uncovered warmth, humor, horror and loss of four long years of war.

I understand from descendants of Fenton Hall that a number of letters from this family had been lost in a house fire. They were thrilled to learn that those destroyed did not constitute the entire body of the brothers’ letters. It is so wonderful that Duke has preserved these surviving letters so the fascinating lives of these young men would not be lost to history. The helpful staff and wonderful facilities made the marathon sessions with this collection a joy and their support through the preparation for the publication process was invaluable.

To learn more about the book, as well as Keith’s other research projects, visit his website!

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