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Behind the Scenes at the Indiana Civil War Exhibit at the Indiana Historical Society

“A Letter Home from Gettysburg” is the new exhibit at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick lettersfromhomeHistory Center in downtown Indianapolis. Our family, two children, spouses and one grandchild were available to go to participate in this interesting “living history” presentation.

And participate is the correct word. A group of about ten people meets a costumed interpreter at the entrance to the exhibit, which is on the first floor of the Society, beyond the Cole Porter room. That room in itself is wonderful: a singer accompanied by a grand player piano sings the Cole Porter songs the listeners wish to hear as they sit at little café tables: “You’re the tops,” “Begin the Beguine” and several others are there on little menus to choose from. Our family loved it.

We had come to see the “You Are There” exhibit of the very regiment being featured in a letter home from Captain David Beem of the Fourteenth Indiana Volunteers. Many letters from the articulate young lawyer from Spencer are in the library collection of the Society. We have our own connections with this regiment, now regarded as one of the top Yankee regiments from Indiana. It served the entire war in the East, quite rare for Indiana soldiers, thus participating in the major battles the public knows of: Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and many others. My own great-grandfather John R. McClure was a private in the Fourteenth and was one of David Beem’s lifelong comrades and friends. They served as president (Beem) and secretary (McClure) of the reunion regiment 1865-1921.

The young portrayer, dressed in a beautiful period gown made by a Civil War dress specialist in Fort Wayne, ushered us into a cultural history anteroom which has records from Captain Beem’s unit. The time is July 12, 1863. The interpreters, (actors who play Beem’s father or mother or his wife Mahala) cannot know anything after that time, so we the audience are “friends visiting” and are ushered into the Beem parlor, decorated in period style.

“I am glad to see you, friends, as I wait for my ladies’ group to wrap bandages for the boys of the Fourteenth at the front,” says Mahala. She reads us the letter sent by her husband right after Gettysburg and as her voice fades, the battle in Pennsylvania which in reality decided the war, comes up on a movie screen. As Beem competently describes the battle of the second day at Gettysburg, where the Fourteenth was involved in preventing the capture of guns on the top of Cemetery Hill, scenes flash before us: cannon fire, muskets loaded and fired, men falling, and a color bearer, like that of the Fourteenth, falling dead with the flag still in his hands.

When the eight-minute film is over, Mahala asks for questions and we all can ask about things Hoosiers care about: Morgan the Raider, other bloody battles and her life at home. Our family and other families can experience what their Indiana ancestors actually lived and then go out again to see one of the flags they carried into battle, on loan from the War Memorial, which restored it.

So much goes into these exhibits at the Indiana Historical Society. And so much behind the scenes, which I was privileged to see as the exhibit went together: building of the”set,” assembling of the artifacts and posters and photographs, training of the actor-portrayers and publicity so the public knows what they can see if they make a trip downtown and a grand opening party with “camp food.”

Plaudits to the society. True patriotism and service are celebrated her.  As the men in the regiment used to say, “Here’s to the spirit of ’61-65.”

by Nancy Baxter, author of Gallant Fourteenth: The Story of an Indiana Civil War Regiment

You can click back and order the book on the Gallant Fourteenth.

 

 

Posted in civil war, Welcome |

GUEST APPEARANCE: Robert E. Lee and us: Robert May of Purdue gives us a sensible roadmap for statue replacing

LEECharlottesville, Virginia is roiling over the city council’s planned removal from a local park of a bronze statue of Robert E. Lee, seated upon his horse Traveller, with its replacement by a memorial to enslaved people. The controversy reignites contested issues that have played out frequently in recent years regarding the status and continuance of not only Confederate monuments but also Confederate flags and place names. In Charlottesville’s case, Ku Klux Klaners have been noisily defending the Lee monument, claiming, among other things, that removing it amounts to an erasure of history and heritage. Counter-protesters, contrarily, condemn the monument as an implicit endorsement of slavery, the Confederacy, and the South’s record of racial repression.

We seem to be deciding such controversies case-by-case. Some Confederate monuments and place names remain. Many, as we have seen recently in New Orleans, go. Much depends on the politics of a particular locale or the racial composition of its citizenry. Are there commonsense standards we should apply to all such cases? Could such standards also decide similar controversies about tarnished non-Confederates like Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson? Should we commemorate the former, who not only owned slaves but whose presidential administration upended Native Americans from their lands and moved them westward? What about Woodrow Wilson, whose presidency brought institutionalized segregation to federal agencies in Washington? I think there is a formula that could apply universally, which has as much to do with us as the historical persons at dispute.

Let me explain, using Lee as an example.

There are many things to admire about Robert E. Lee. Take his record during the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-48. His brilliant reconnoitering of enemy positions and battery emplacements played a pivotal role in the crucial campaign that wound up conquering Mexico City. One can legitimately assail the U.S. war with Mexico — which acquired California and much of the West — as an example of U.S. imperialistic aggression. Abraham Lincoln did. But Lee’s record in the service of his nation was impeccable and merits our remembrance.

Were Lee’s heroism in Mexico, as well as his other national service accomplishments (e.g. tenure as superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point) the reasons for statues in his honor, there would be no cause for their dismantling. But, of course, we know too well that no one would have memorialized Lee in 1924 (when Charlottesville’s monument was unveiled) and no one would worship him today had he not commanded the largest and most important Confederate army during the Civil War — the Army of Northern Virginia. During the conflict, Lee and his army virtually embodied the Confederate cause, even though there were other sizable Confederate forces in the field. After Appomattox, people exalted and romanticized his memory as a way of keeping the so-called “Lost Cause” viable. There is no separating Lee’s memory from the Confederacy.

When Lee resigned his U.S. army commission in April 1861 after the Civil War erupted and his state of Virginia left the Union to join the already-formed Confederacy, he made a voluntarily disloyal decision. He did not have to do this. Many southern U.S. army officers in the spring of 1861 acted differently, including Lee’s former commanding general in the U.S.-Mexican War, Winfield Scott, another Virginia native. Certainly Lee did not have to resign to make a decent living. The Lincoln administration, on Scott’s advice, actually offered Lee command of all Union armies just before Lee resigned his commission. Still, Lee joined a movement and military dedicated to destroying the United States as it existed at the time. Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea as dismemberment of Ukraine pales in comparison to the U.S.A.’s loss of eleven states in 1860-61. For good reason, many Confederate leaders went into exile when the Civil War ended, fearing prosecution for treason. Lee, it might be argued, committed treason the minute he bore arms against his former country.

Compounding Lee’s disloyalty, he cast his fate with a state and aspiring nation dedicated to preserving and expanding slavery, which is why so many Americans today, especially African Americans, take strong issue with Confederate monuments. Southern secessionists and Confederate founders repeatedly insisted they would preserve slavery against anticipated northern threats, especially from recently-elected U.S. president Abraham Lincoln and his Republican party.As the new government’s Vice President Alexander H. Stephens was proud to admit, the Confederacy upended the Declaration of Independence’s affirmation that all men are created equal. Instead, the Confederacy’s “cornerstone” rested “upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery … is his natural and normal condition.” Although the U.S. Constitution never used the word “slavery,” the Confederate Constitution was loaded with such mentions and carefully designed provisions to insulate their coerced labor system from attack.

Contrary to myth, Lee was implicated in human bondage. Although he apparently disdained slavery in the abstract, famously calling it “a moral & political evil” in a letter to his wife, he held slaves at Arlington into the war and punished slaves for trying to escape. More damning, he affirmed in that same letter it might take 2,000 years to end slavery since African Americans needed long-term tutelage “as a race” to prepare for freedom! Even as the Civil War drew to a close in 1865, Lee confided in a private letter to a Virginia state senator that there was no way society could improve on the “humane” slave-master relationship that enlightened Christians had established in the South.

With Lee in mind, I would suggest the following formula for resolving disputes over Confederate monuments and place names. It measures why we venerate the particular persons in dispute. We need to ask, in all such cases, whether we commemorate men like Lee or, to give a parallel example, Jefferson Davis, for any reason other than for being symbols of a failed state unworthy of our approval? Davis not only was a U.S.-Mexican War hero like Lee, but he served as U.S. Senator and as a skilled U.S. Secretary of War (equivalent to today’s Secretary of Defense). Yet virtually all our statues and place names for Confederate figures, including Lee and Davis, only exist because of their treasonous attempt at a new nationhood to preserve slavery. We should insist, therefore, that they come down. In contrast, we venerate Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson not for their racially oppressive policies. We celebrate Jefferson for his contributions to American independence, his affirmations of religious liberty, his commitment to education, his inventiveness, his presidency’s success in acquiring Louisiana from France, and other matters like his role in originating America’s political party system. Wilson’s presidency is remembered primarily for its “New Freedom” legislative agenda and its responses to the challenges of World War I, not just its racial policies. Different standards apply in their cases than Lee’s.

Instead of using place names and statues to venerate Confederates responsible for the deaths and maiming wounds of astronomical numbers of Union soldiers trying to preserve this country, we should tell their history in books and articles and with historical markers and museum displays. According to one count, Lee’s army alone inflicted nearly 135,000 Union casualties just in its major battles and campaigns. We should not be worshiping him. But rather than removing statues of Jefferson and Wilson or renaming places honoring them, we should remember that virtually every national leader, of whatever country, is flawed in one way or another, while recalling their accomplishments. By ruminating over history’s complexities, we advance collectively as a people.

Robert E. May is the author of four books about the Civil War era. Most recently, his book “Slavery, Race, and Conquest in the Tropics: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Future of Latin America” was a finalist for the Gilder-Lehman Lincoln book prize. He was consulting editing for Hawthorne’s new book A Cabinet of Curiosities from the Civil War in Indiana. Click back to order the book.

Posted in civil war |

Hawthorne editor Allen Boyer has a personal new book about World War II: here’s how it came about. . .

When my father talked about the war, it was at night, on an empty highway.  We lived in Mississippi, all our relatives lived in Indiana, and we made that long round-trip twice a

RAB - edited

year.  After dark, hours behind us, hours still to go, my father would stretch his arms, shift in the driver’s seat, and talk about New Guinea and the Philippines.  My mother said he did it to keep awake.

When I was growing up, the Pacific War histories I read were about American fighter planes dog-fighting with Zeros.  My father’s war stories weren’t like that.  He talked about recklessness and accidents and waste.  One pilot he knew crashed while dropping leaflets, because the leaflets were sucked into his plane’s air intake.  Another pilot killed himself trying to dip his wingtips in the tall kunai grass.

There was irony, but none of it was cheerful.  My father told how a bomber crew died on a mission to drop maps to infantry on a beachhead.  Nervous American anti-aircraft gunners saw their plane coming in low and fast, saw that the bomb-bay doors were open, didn’t wait to check the markings, and shot them down.

My father talked about the beachhead at Biak, where the airstrip was a no-man’s-land.  His air group was on the side by the beach, and the Japanese were holed up in the hills across the runway.  At another beachhead, on Mindoro in the Philippines, there was one very bad night, when Japanese destroyers raced in and shelled the airfield.  He drove a jeep to the airstrip, and they got the planes armed, lugging bombs and heavy belts of machinegun ammunition, while Japanese planes dived in and strafed them.  The next day, of the five lieutenants in his tent, he was the only man still alive.

While he was overseas, my father kept a diary.  I read it when I was fourteen and I thought it spoke pithily about the absurdity of war and the rigmarole of military life.  Which it does – but three years ago, when I started turning the diary into a book, I found that the daily entries didn’t speak for themselves.

My father’s stories checked out against the squadron records.  I learned the names of the pilots who had died: Lieutenant Swanson when the leaflets clogged his air intake, Lieutenant Minton doing the wingtip-dipping air-show stunt, Captain Hancock and his crew killed by mistake.  But if the history was straightforward, assembling the memoir took work.   My father grew up on a farm in Clinton County, where diaries were for recording what happened, not how you felt about it.  Just as he hadn’t talked about the war later, there were parts of the war that he hadn’t written about at the time.  He had written about one notebook page a day, usually less than 300 words.  From those brief lines, I had to infer a war’s worth of impact and emotion.

I had one advantage.   Researching your father’s life is the mirror image of raising a child: you can look back from the matured personality you know and recognize the moments when a trait first showed itself.  I knew that my father would teach Sunday school for twenty years.  That cued me to pay attention when he wrote about going to church, often twice on Sunday (and the one time when he disagreed with what the chaplain was preaching, and walked out).

I could pick out his friends.  They were the lieutenants from whom he heard rumors and who drove around with him in jeeps – other young men a couple of years out of college.  There was Kepler the radar officer, with whom he traded gripes about Colonel Hutchison, and Foliart, who was there that night in Sydney when they commandeered the trolley-car.

My father was level-headed, a math major turned radio officer, not a man to talk about dreams or ghosts. So it mattered when he wrote about a ghost, a fraternity brother who had died at Midway.  He dreamed that they met again back at college (“and as usual his hand grip was crushing,” he added).  That dream came to him as his troopship steamed into the war zone – and that mattered, too.  As he moved toward the war, he was grappling with its ghosts.

My father didn’t talk about being in love, but I knew he would marry my mother after the war and spend sixty years with her.  When he tapped out a letter to her on the teletype in his radio truck, I knew how to read it:  “This is fun, writing you, seeing the country, all I need is an ice cream cone and a blue-eyed girl on my right, one on my left always cramps my style if I had one.” He was joking; he was love-struck.

Stray remarks went in, remembered conversations, lines from a few letters.  It was enough.  My mother read the galley proofs and laughed out loud; she could just hear him saying that, she said.

Her laugh meant that the book had been worth writing.  And perhaps I honored my father in one further way.  When I think about writing his story, I remember writing it late at night, when the world is dark and quiet, and the story is what keeps you going.

Allen Boyer edited his late uncle Arthur Dillard’s history of Orange County, “Casinos, Copperheads, Pioneers, and Politicians,” which Hawthorne Publishing issued in 2012.  Allen Boyer’s most recent book, based on his father’s wartime diary, is “Rocky Boyer’s War: An Unvarnished History of the Air Blitz that Won the War in the Southwest Pacific.”  “Rocky Boyer’s War” was published in May by the Naval Institute Press and will be featured in the 2017 Indiana Historical Society holiday author fair.  An early version of this essay was published online by the Phi Beta Kappa Key Reporter.

 

Posted in Welcome |

CINCINNATI TO HONOR DORIS DAY – SEPTEMBER 27

DayataTimeOn September 27, 2017, I will be in Cincinnati when Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and the city council will honor Doris Day at a special ceremony.  Doris is no doubt one of the most famous celebrities who claim Cincy as their home. She may well be the most famous!

I have been a devoted fan since age 9 when I first saw Doris in Calamity Jane and the rest is history.

Three years ago I was giving one of my “A Day to Remember: Doris Day” programs at an upscale retirement community in Cincinnati.  After I spoke, a Dr. Bob Maltz, approached me and said he shared my mutual admiration for Miss Day.  During our conversation Bob relayed his idea/dream of having the city of Cincinnati honor home town girl, Doris Day.   He had the idea for several years, but said he wasn’t getting anywhere.  He asked if I would help him see this through. Of course I would.

Bob has many contacts and finally was able to present his idea to P.G. Sittenfeld , a city of Cincinnati council member since 2011.  It just so happens that P.G.’s parents are big Doris Day fans, which turned out to be an added bonus in making this happen. Thanks to P. G. Sittenfeld, the idea was approved! The city of Cincinnati was willing to honor one of their most famous citizens, on the condition that they obtain some kind of recognition from Miss Day, which is totally understandable.  That was our next mission.

I have not had contact with Doris or her staff for many years, but thought of contacting fellow animal lover and actress Jackie Joseph, who co-starred with Doris in her “Doris Day Show” sitcom at CBS. I phoned Jackie, explained the situation and the need to get this to the proper people in order for the plan to go through. It happened.

On Monday, August 28th I received a call from Bob, who was overjoyed in telling me the city of Cincinnati will officially honor Doris Day on Wednesday, September 27th – details to come.  I was thrilled with the news and began thinking of media and people to contact.  You know the old saying, “If you throw enough spaghetti on the wall, some is going to stick.” Right now we are awaiting final plans with all the details on exactly what, when and where everything will take place on that day.  I have been asked to say a few words.  This is going to be a wonderful tribute to a multi-talented and gracious lady—Miss Doris Day. A street will be named for her: Doris Day Way!

by Mary Anne Barothy

Click back to the website and order Day at a Time: An Indiana Girl’s Sentimental Journey to Doris Day’s Hollywood and Beyond

 

 

Posted in Doris Day |