Category: History

Applied History Series

Published on 7 February 2019 under Books

On Thursday, February 21st at 12 p.m. I will be on campus at the University of Southern Indiana to discuss my forthcoming book, Our American Story.

USI’s Applied History Series is a collaborative connection between the Department of History and Evansville community members and USI alumnae to discuss ways in which they have used the study of history in their field.

The series is an important piece of USI’s effort to help students and the community understand the craft of history and how we write about the past. In the words of USI’s history department, “History offers original and indispensable ways of looking at human experience because it distinguishes and evaluates continuity amid the forces of change. By means of historical inquiry, the modern world is seen as shaped by the past.”

Update: Many thanks to the students, faculty, and public who attended and prompted valuable discussion with good questions.

Lincoln Day 2019

Published on 31 January 2019 under Books
Lincoln Day 2019

Lincoln historian and author Bill Bartlet, who co-edited Abe’s Youth with me, will be the featured speaker at the annual Lincoln Day program at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial on Sunday, February 10, 2019.

Bartelt is a former employee of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial and is the author of There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth. He will be speaking about his current research with our book, Abe’s Youth, which focuses on the “Lincoln Inquiry” conducted by the Southwestern Indiana Historical Society in the 1920s. The program will begin at 2:00 p.m. (CST) and will be held in the Abraham Lincoln Hall of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City, Indiana.

The 2019 Lincoln Day program will include presentation of the colors by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, special music, and other ceremonial activities to honor the memory of Abraham Lincoln and his family. Following the indoor program, the traditional pilgrimage to the gravesite of Nancy Hanks Lincoln for a wreath laying ceremony will be held. All are invited to a reception in the Nancy Hanks Lincoln Hall at the conclusion of the program.

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial preserves the Indiana farm where Abraham Lincoln lived for 14 years — from 1816 to 1830, and the site where his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, is buried.

Frontier Thesis

Published on 17 November 2017 under History

Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis,” which burst onto the scene with a famous essay in 1893 titled “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” continues to impact the American view of history in fundamental ways. In it Turner argues the frontier shaped American democracy, independence, ingenuity, and optimism. In the process, the frontier also shaped the American story and drove American history. Turner eventually landed a place on the staff at Harvard and shaped generations of historians and public intellectuals, spawning both devotees and critics.

New research from Samuel Bazzi, Martin Fiszbein, and Mesay Gebresilasse explores the pervasive and persistent influence of the frontier on American life. Here’s the abstract on their new NBER working paper:

In a classic 1893 essay, Frederick Jackson Turner argued that the American frontier promoted individualism. We revisit the Frontier Thesis and examine its relevance at the subnational level. Using Census data and GIS techniques, we track the frontier throughout the 1790-1890 period and construct a novel, county-level measure of historical frontier experience. We document skewed sex ratios and other distinctive demographics of frontier locations, as well as their greater individualism (proxied by infrequent children names). Many decades after the closing of the frontier, counties with longer historical frontier experience exhibit more prevalent individualism and opposition to redistribution and regulation. We take several steps towards a causal interpretation, including an instrumental variables approach that exploits variation in the speed of westward expansion induced by national immigration inflows. Using linked historical Census data, we identify mechanisms giving rise to a persistent frontier culture. Selective migration contributed to greater individualism, and frontier conditions may have further shaped behavior and values. We provide evidence suggesting that rugged individualism may be rooted in its adaptive advantage on the frontier and the opportunities for upward mobility through effort.

Southwestern Indiana Civil War Monuments

Published on 31 March 2017 under Civil War

I recently completed minor pages on the history of several Civil War monuments in Southwestern Indiana:

The Jasper monument is particularly interesting because it is one of the rare Union memorials erected in part by a veteran of the Confederate army. After serving for a period with the Confederate army, John Gramelspacher fled and would go on to serve in the Union army. He was even admitted as a member of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Also of note is the Gibson County Civil War Honor Roll Memorial. This was the first regimental monument erected in Indiana in memory of soldiers of the Civil War. Moreover, it claims to be the only monument in Indiana, or in the United States, that was erected and dedicated by any regiment in honor of its dead while that regiment was still in the service.

George W. Rains and the Augusta Powder Works

Published on 29 March 2017 under Civil War

George Washington Rains, 1865

Ted Savas has a new two-part feature article in Civil War Times magazine that reflects some truly ground-breaking research focusing on George Washington Rains and the Augusta Powder Works, the South’s only major source of gunpowder during the Civil War. He writes at his blog, A Publisher’s Perspective:

After years of careful study and in-depth discussion with a couple other historians I respected, I reached conclusions that ran wholly contrary to what everyone else had ever written about Civil War strategy, General Sherman, the Atlanta Campaign, his March to the Sea, and even the beginning of his 1865 Carolinas Campaign.

The work appears to dramatically change and illuminate our understanding of the importance of Augusta and Sherman’s decision regarding the city and its ordnance complex. Savas’s essay is divided into two sections: “Part 1 sets the foundational importance of Augusta and its war industries, and Part 2 combines the objective data balanced against Union decision-making).”

Old Flag Gets New Life

Published on 15 September 2016 under Civil War
Old Flag Gets New Life

In spring 1861, five women in Sparta, Illinois — Mrs. Mary Ann McHenry, Mrs. James Ward, Mrs. Barbara Gordon, Mrs. Ann McLaughlin, and Mrs. Mary McLaughlin — gathered to hand-piece and stitch a unique American flag with 34 stars, the stars themselves in the shape of a large star. Making a flag may seem like trivial work, but soldiers placed great importance on regimental flags and sacrificed their lives defending them from enemy capture. Those flags symbolized pride and honor. Moreover, regimental flags had an important practical use: identifying a unit’s place on the battlefield.

Officers used the Sparta-made flag to recruit Union troops in Belleville, Illinois; and it traveled with various units throughout 1861. James McHenry carried the flag while recruiting for Company H of the 22nd Illinois, and it then went to Belleville, Illinois, with companies H and I in May 1861. The flag returned to Randolph County and was carried by Henry McDonald with Captain Alexander Wybus’s company to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri. The company disbanded there, some men going into the 10th Missouri and others into the 5th Illinois, but most into Company C of the 30th Illinois. Then the flag was carried by McDonald with Companies C and E of the 30th Illinois to Belleville, thence to Birds Point, Missouri. At Birds Point, flag owner James McHenry presented the flag to Charlie E. Brown of Blaire.

Charlie E. Brown used it to recruit for Company G of the 80th Illinois. Although he took it with him to Centralia as the company flag, it was so striking and effective that Col. Thomas G. Allen decided to use it for the entire 80th Illinois regiment until the unit received an official flag from the government at Louisville, Kentucky.

After the war, Mr. Brown presented the flag to the high school museum at Sparta, Illinois. The flag now belongs to the University Museum at Southern Illinois University. The museum expects to stabilize, preserve, and share the flag with the public.

Born of Clay

Published on 11 February 2016 under Books
Born of Clay

I’m pleased to announce the publication of Born of Clay: The Story of the Claiborne · Claybourn · Clayborn Families in the United States. I regard this book as my magnum opus. Clocking in at over 500 pages with detailed biographical information on thousands of individuals, this is an unparalleled history of the Claiborne – Claybourn – Clayborn families in the United States. Beginning with Joshua Clyburn in the late 1790s, this history gets progressively more detailed as the generations progress toward modernity.

As early as 1906, Verner Marvin Claybourn began collecting data on the Claybourn Family, and on the English family from whom he believed the family descended. In about 1935 Harriette Pinnell Threlkeld became interested, did some research, and with Verner collected data on the hundreds of descendants of William Divine Claybourn, her great-grandfather. From their foundational core I published this one-of-a-kind book on thousands of individuals connected to the family. Click here to buy a copy.

Civil War Commemoration

Published on 17 April 2015 under Civil War
Civil War Commemoration

On 9 April 2015, the Evansville Courier & Press ran a column of mine marking the 150th anniversary of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender in the American Civil War. Click here to read it online.

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