Discovering new information relating to my ancestor’s regiment is my pastime. I enjoy working with and discovering original documents relating to his regiment. Over the years, visits to several small Wisconsin county historical societies, GAR Halls, libraries and such produce a wealth of new information. During these trips to Wisconsin, I realize much is being lost to the effects of age.
In my opinion, a missing section in the preservation conflict is saving the handwritten record of this war. Schools todays are dismissing cursive writing and reading in lieu completing everything on the computer. Soon, the old folks will be the few able to read cursive including our Declaration of Independence. The original records, diaries, letters and such are in cursive. In my research of my ancestor’s regiment, I examine countless shoeboxes of cursive accounts covering the events of 1860-1865 then interpreting and transcribing these wonderful gems. Owning a Webster’s 1864 dictionary also helps with the task. The English consider one hundred and fifty year old documents as modern history. However, they realize that time is running out and are employing over a thousand volunteers to transcribe and preserve older official papers. Should we follow their example? Our local historical societies are bursting as such. Consider the wealth of information at the Army War College, Gettysburg, Vicksburg or even the National Archives.
What must we require to begin transcribing these wonderful history treasures? A volunteer organization is essential; however, it is also necessary to have the cooperation of the depository. Oftentimes, this can be a problem where the curators may believe we are invading their turf. We all need to cooperate for our mutual benefit such as, the easy exchange of information via the internet and a new source of income for organizations storing and sharing the data.
Round Table members such as Richard Matthews (discovering the grave sites of nearly one thousand Civil War veterans), Lewis Schmidt (the 47th Pennsylvania), William Goble (New Jersey regiments), Ed Root (Nisky Hill GAR Civil War plot), Jeff Stocker (153d Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry) and others accomplish much; however, additional material is waiting for our discovery. I wonder if we and other organizations ought to involve ourselves in this side of preservation, or should we lazily wait and hope someone completes the assignment?
If you wonder what tidbits are waiting for discovery, here are two from my ancestor’s regiment.
A Wisconsin private writes to his brother about his night in Nashville. “I had a really, really great night in Nashville. Do not tell mom. This is our secret.” Translation: I passed the night drinking and with hookers.
Wisconsin serves as the rear guard during the disastrous Red River retreat. They destroy everything of value and strategic importance such as bridges, food supplies and plantations. At one plantation, they discover the owner’s stash of gold coins. There’s enough loot for everyman in the detachment to receive a $20 gold piece.
Should we allow this opportunity to pass and not preserve our local wealth of Civil War data?