Field of Science

Two Great New Finds

...and they are not fossils. I'm taking a short break here from Triassic fossils to talk about one of my other major interests, the American Civil War (1861-1865). My great-great-great grandfather joined the northern (Union) army in April of 1861 right after the war started. He served in the 1st Connecticut Volunteer regiment, a three months unit hastily organized to put down the southern rebellion (by the way...that does make me a Yankee, although I have relatives on both sides of the conflict). Because the 1st Connecticut Volunteer Infantry was only in existence for a little of three months and only fought in a single engagement (the Battle of Bull Run or Manassas in July 1861) there is not much information available on this unit besides the official regimental history and a single newspaper image from Harpers Weekly (see below).
Even though the 1st Connecticut Volunteers fought at Bull Run (which was the first major battle of the American Civil War), they had a minor and not very flattering role in the battle (they half-heartedly charged up a hill and then ran away), and again not much information can be found.

My personal interest in the 1st Connecticut and the battle of Bull Run is a result of receiving copies of my great-great-great grandfather's war correspondence about 20 years ago. The letters are an extremely detailed, at least four pages each and written almost daily, of the camp life of a soldier and is essentially the day to day history of the regiment. Because of this I am actually one of the few (if not the only) expert on the history of this regiment. Unfortunately, although the letters are detailed up the the Battle of Bull Run, there are no letters the few days prior to the battle and no details given afterwards (maddeningly he tells his wife he will give her the details when he gets home!).

I have spent quite a bit of time over the last 15 years collecting books and pieces of information on the regiment and the battle. One key account is an out-of-print book called "Wooden nutmegs at Bull Run", a humorous 1872 book written by a soldier in the 3rd Connecticut Volunteers (who fought alongside my ancestors regiment). This book is only available on microfiche in a Connecticut historical museum (very far from Arizona). By the way, Connecticut is the nutmeg state, hence the name.

However, just two weeks ago I came across two very key resources in my search for information. First I found a reprint copy of "Wooden Nutmegs" on Amazon.com! There is a book series called the Gale Archival Editions on Demand that provides copies of out-of-print historical texts (much like Google Books is doing now, although only PDFs). Secondly, I found out that my ancestor has a set of diaries preserved at a Connecticut museum. I was able to order PDFs made from microfiche copies of the diaries and these turned out to be a veritable gold mine. Not only did he write letters home (which I already had), but he kept a day to day "war journal" which contains much information not in the letters including all of the information leading up to, during, and right after the battle. These are filling in numerous holes in the regimental history and of my ancestors role. Amazing! Prior to two weeks ago I had no idea that these even existed.

It is incredible to read the actual day to day account of a soldier fighting in a war over 140 years ago and experience exactly what these men went through. Even more fun is matching his letters and diaries to written history and seeing how they match, my great-great-great grandfather even saw Abraham Lincoln! I am slowly transcribing all of this information and one day plan to write a book on his experience and his regiment. At some point I'll have to get back to my Triassic studies......

4 comments:

  1. Way cool!!! History is a wonderful, fascinating thing. . .my family wasn't in the US yet during the Civil War, but I always enjoyed hearing my great-uncle telling about his time on the South Dakota during the battle of Guadalcanal. The bummer in this case is that he's now dead, I don't know that anyone really kept the letters, and most of the government service records from that time were destroyed by a fire in a warehouse years ago!

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  2. Of course, you are actually still talking about the Triassic! The primary lithology of the Bull Run/Manassas region is Newark Supergroup, so Late Tr/Early J stuff. (Hey, for that matter, so is Gettysburg!)

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  3. Definitely very cool. I never knew you were such a serious historian, Bill. No wonder you kick ass at presidential trivia!

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  4. The primary lithology of the Bull Run/Manassas region is Newark Supergroup, so Late Tr/Early J stuff. (Hey, for that matter, so is Gettysburg!)

    Very true. I need to find a way to get myself detailed for a week or so at Manassas to conduct a paleo inventory, and get some of my historical work in as well.

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