Rare Reads and Soldiers’ Stories at Hanover College Archives Center

by Rachel Edgren, Lindsay Kenderes, Ulrich Houzanme, Whitney Olthoff, Alison Reynolds & Danielle Emerling

The Special Collections and Archives Center at Hanover College, tucked away on a scenic campus in Southeastern Indiana, holds a number of treasures from the Civil War era. These documents, books and artifacts help tell the stories of that time from the perspectives of famous orators and authors promoting the case for abolition and ordinary people coping with difficult circumstances.

In the center’s walk-in vault are rare books representing local historical value and English and American Literature classics, including works by Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Virginia Woolf and Frederick Douglass.  Included in this collection is a first edition of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, published in Boston at the Anti-Slavery Office in 1845.

Another  interesting item in the archives is an autograph book, a popular past time from that era. It consists of signatures – many of which belong to Civil War-era figures – collected by one individual. Autographs include Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, Jefferson Davis, and General William T. Sherman. Although this book may not offer significant value to researchers, it does provide the rare opportunity to see the actual handwritten signatures of historically famous people in person, while reminding us that a fascination with the rich and famous is not a recent phenomenon.

Several important Hanover Civil War collections include letters between soldiers and their families. One small letter speaks to the scarcity of a number of resources, including paper, during the war. The small postcard (pictured right) was written in three ink colors and in three directions – horizontally and diagonally both ways – to maximize space.

The diaries of Samuel S. Crowe, son of the college’s founder John Finley Crowe and member of the Indiana 93rd Infantry, also reside here. A typed transcription of the diaries is included, detailing Crowe’s daily experiences of the Civil War.  Described in one of the diary entries is the loss of some members of the infantry to measles and the experience of being in war on Christmas Day 1862.

In the Adkinson Family Civil War Letters manuscripts collection are letters from three brothers, all serving in the Union, to their family. One of the brothers, Joseph, was wounded and sent several letters from Hammond Hospital at Point Lookout Maryland. On May 27 1864, he wrote:

“My Dear Father. I have not yet heard from you since I have been here & I write again. My wound which is in the right leg above the knee is doing [illegible] well now. A few days ago it commenced bleeding. The artery being cut by the wound. The Doctors took up the artery & tied it & they now say it is doing well – I am quite weak from the loss of blood. The bone is not broken & I hope to get along without much difficulty…”

A friend of the family would write the following month to report that Joseph Adkinson had died due to complications with his wound.

Another letter, from the Ebenezer Muse Papers, discusses the Civil War in an extraordinary way. In correspondence to his sister Clara on July 25, 1861, from Harrisburg, PA, Ebenezer Muse writes that having joined the army, he is prepared to give his life for his country. Additionally, he lists reasons why he feels he must go and fight. He wrote:

“Dear Sister, I suppose you have not known that I am in the army and in route for the seat of war. I joined a company which was attached to the 9th Pa. Regiment and we are going in to the seat of hostilities. Today we leave for Baltimore and from there to Washington. I may not return alive but am willing to give up my life for my country. It must be remembered though that a small proportion of those who fall in battle who go to war not more than one and twenty…I hope you will all of you be easy about my enlisting. Some one must go. Married men are going and leaving their families destitute and a young man who has no one depended upon him who declines is either no lover of his country or a coward…”

However, the archives center contains more than paper materials, books, and photographs. As part of its Civil War collection, the center holds the epaulets of Civil War solider Phillip Smith, as well as a small copy of the New Testament he carried with him when he died, the result of an amputation after a war injury.

While these materials may not have as much research value as a log of the daily activities of a Civil War lieutenant, they add their own unique value by acting as reminders that these letters and journals once belonged to real people. Seeing physical artifacts adds another dimension to paper documents and allows us to see a broader picture of the past, in which we can envision a physical interpretation to go along with the voice in the documents.

These artifacts, along with the rare books and manuscripts collections at the Hanover College Special Collections and Archives Center, provide a number of opportunities to develop a deeper, and more tangible, understanding of the Civil War.

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Special thanks to Archivist and Curator of Rare Books Douglas Denné.

This is the second part in a series of posts celebrating American Archives Month. In recognition of both the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences Themester “Making War, Making Peace,” and the Civil War Sesquicentennial, the IU Society of American Archivists Student Chapter is visiting repositories in southern Indiana to highlight materials related to the Civil War.

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About SAA-SC IUB

The Society of American Archivists Indiana University Student Chapter seeks to: *provide a forum to address issues in the archival profession in an informal and relaxed atmosphere. *facilitate a meeting place for students with interests in Archives, Special Collections, Manuscripts, or Personal Papers. *raise awareness about archives and their importance in the university and surrounding community.
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