Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Interview with Civil War Author

Michael Peake, a resident of Corydon, Indiana, is an author and historian specializing in Indiana German genealogy and history as related to the American Civil War. Since retiring from federal service in 1996, Peake has devoted his time to researching Union and Confederate German-American military organizations.

Peake is the author of the new IHS Press book Blood Shed in this War: Civil War Illustrations by Captain Adolph Metzner, 32nd Indiana. Here he talks about his new book on Metzner's stunning visual diary of sketches, drawings, and watercolors from the Civil War.

How long have you been interested in the Civil War?

My interest in the Civil War evolved from a lifelong passion for military history, and history in general. Since the early 1990s, I have been drawn to Germans in the American Civil War after discovering the nation’s oldest surviving Civil War monument dedicated to casualties of the First German, Thirty-second Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry. I had intended only to write a brief article about the condition of the monument, but after learning details of the Thirty-second Indiana, and how little had been done on the regiment's history, I determined to tell the story of the sacrifice offered by these Germans who served to prove themselves worthy of citizenship. My extensive research into Indiana’s first ethnic Civil War infantry regiment is the cornerstone of a project that grew into an investigation of America’s largest ethnic bloc, and the numerous German military organizations that served on both sides during the war.

How did you learn about Metzner and his artwork?

Soon after beginning research into the regiment I developed a detailed genealogical database on all those who served with the Thirty-second Indiana. It was through this venue that I discovered Adolph Metzner’s activities during and after the war. My first encounter with his artwork, in 1994, consisted of a thirteen-image spread in the August 1974 issue ofCivil War Times Illustrated. The article provided limited information on the regiment, the artist, his work and the current owner of the collection. Fortunately, an ad on page 23 of the same issue offered two prints from the collection for sale, and identified Mr. E. Burns Apfeld as living in Rockford, Illinois. Realizing the importance of this art to my project, I attempted to locate Mr. Apfeld only to discover the family had relocated without leaving a forwarding address, and my search for the collection owner came to a frustrating halt.

Several years later, Time/Life published a multi-volume set titled Voices of the Civil War in which seven Metzner images were utilized in two volumes. The picture credits provided Mr. Apfeld’s location as Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and the hunt was on! I managed to contact Mr. Apfeld by phone and during a lengthy conversation I explained what I had in mind, and how important this collection could be to the regiment history. We had an extremely amiable talk, but several months passed, leading me to believe that nothing would come from my effort. One day, out of the blue, a disk arrived by mail from Mr. Apfeld that contained thirty of the Metzner images. I was baffled that no correspondence was included, not even a title on the disk. Undeterred, I immediately set about marrying these images into a booklet with photographs from a second Metzner collection (Adolph G. Metzner Collection, Lot #8751, Library Of Congress) and wrote a condensed history related to those art images. This was accomplished within a week of receiving the disk, and a short time later, I mailed the product back to Mr. Apfeld. My efforts were rewarded by the arrival of a disk containing nearly the entire collection, again accompanied with no correspondence. Mr. Apfled’s faith in me has bound us together in a lasting friendship, and I am honored to tell his ancestor’s story.

What makes Metzner’s work unique?

Any Civil War art created by a soldier is unique in itself and there are numerous extraordinary aspects to Metzner’s artwork. I believe that, foremost, this collection, created in the field by an exceptionally talented soldier, provides a rare view of the terrible struggle men encountered in the Western Theater. When arranged chronologically, Metzner’s work becomes a visual diary of what his regiment experienced during three years of combat in battles from Kentucky to the severe contest for Atlanta. Images from this collection will be important to more than a dozen communities across five states due to the historic content portrayed. Less than 20 percent of Metzner’s art has been utilized in publication, and when it has been used the information provided was limited, or incorrect.

Why do you think the subject of the Civil War still fascinates so many people?

As the Metzner art collection exemplifies, after 150 years there is still fresh and exciting material to be discovered by serious research. As another example, in recent years, Joseph Reinhart of Louisville, Kentucky has uncovered a treasure trove of Civil War material hidden in German-language newspapers that remain largely untranslated. His translations of soldiers’ letters sent home to the editors of these newspapers provide accounts not to be found in any other source. But another reason for this fascination becomes a bit more personal when considering family links that many have to a war that forever marked a nation. During my years of researching the Thirty-second Indiana, I have met dozens of proud regiment descendants who have provided encouragement, support and friendship as I strive to gather their ancestors’ stories.

Are you working on any other projects relating to the Civil War?

Blood Shed In This War was an absolutely necessary sidestep I took away from the larger project of creating the regiment history of the Thirty-second Indiana. The regiment history endeavor spawned several sidebar projects, such as the Metzner book. Those sidebars include what is likely the most extensive genealogical Civil War regiment database in existence and a substantial newspaper history volume of transcribed articles taken from over sixty war-era newspapers printed across the country. Among other projects, I plan to write a final report on the First German, Thirty-second Indiana monument now that the nine year preservation effort to save the nation’s oldest surviving Civil War monument has reached a successful conclusion. After I began researching the Thirty-second Indiana, I set aside two projects I was working on that I intend to return to eventually. One covers two of my ancestors, brothers from Nelson County, Kentucky, who enlisted in the Confederate Ninth Kentucky Infantry at Munfordville, Kentucky in October 1861, while the Thirty-second Indiana was at New Haven, not far from the brothers’ home. The other project relates to the Seventieth Ohio Regiment, a mostly green organization that underwent their baptism at Shiloh under Sherman and served in his command all the way through the March to the Sea. On returning to Cincinnati following the war, the regiment was involved in a steamboat disaster on the Ohio River downstream from Brandenburg, Kentucky resulting in the loss of several veterans killed and injured. I have now expanded my research to cover all ethnic German military organizations serving both sides during the war that I plan on examining in detail on my web site, germanmansons.com, now in development.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

19 Stars of Indiana

The nineteen outstanding contemporary Hoosier men--one for each star in the Indiana state flag--profiled by Michael S. Maurer in his new book 19 Stars of Indiana: Exceptional Hoosier Men, are leaders and pioneers who have excelled in a variety of pursuits, including law, business, philanthropy, government, medicine, music, art, athletics, religion, and education.

The book, pubished in association with IBJ Media, Indianapolis, and the Indiana Historical Society, features the inspiring stories of Hoosiers shot out of a fighter jet, liberating a concentration camp, subject to court martial, knocked cold in front of twenty thousand fans, facing bigotry, and caught in the middle of ethnic slaughter--lives full of excitement, adventure, and achievement.

Maurer served as Secretary of Commerce under Indiana governor Mitch Daniels. Maurer is a regular columnist for the Indianapolis Business Journal and an irregular contributor to the New York Times crossword puzzle. He lives in Carmel, Indiana, with his wife, Janie. The Maurer's have three children and eight grandchildren.

19 Stars of Indiana: Exceptional Hoosier Men costs $24.95 and can be purchased from the IHS's History Market.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Art from a Civil War Soldier

Captain Adolph G. Metzner’s stunning visual diary of sketches, drawings, and watercolors, published for the first time in the new IHS Press book Blood Shed in This War: Civil War Illustrations by Captain Adolph Metzner, 32nd Indiana by Michael A. Peake, depict his world during three years of service with the First German, Thirty-second Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry campaigning in the Western Theater during the Civil War. Metzner chronicled the day-to-day life of a soldier’s world, at first with humor, and later, with a stark reality of life and death on the battlefield.

Metzner was born on August 16, 1834, in a village in the southwestern corner of Baden-W├╝rttemberg, Germany, and earned a degree as a prescription pharmacist. In 1856he immigrated to the United States, establishing himself as a druggist in Louisville, Kentucky. Four months after the start of the Civil War, the young druggist traveled to Indianapolis to assist in organizing a German regiment.

Once encamped with the Thirty-second, Metzner immediately began to set his impressions down on paper, recording the regiment’s activity with details as vividly descriptive as any written word and creating a series of caricatures of his associates with a tinge of comical exaggeration likely influenced by the subject. With the initial loss of comrades at the battle of Rowlett’s Station, Kentucky, on December 17, 1861, Metzner’s art changed. From that point on his work showed the turmoil and struggle the men experienced through Shiloh and General Braxton Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky to Stones River, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and culminating with the move on Atlanta. Humor was fleeting in the later days of war, and Metzner’s work mirrored that fact.

Throughout his service with the regiment, Metzner produced his works on any available material. With his training in pharmaceutical techniques, it is likely that he produced tints from natural materials such as berries and bark when supplies became scarce. After his assignment as a topographical engineer following the battle of Stones River, materials were readily available to the artist, and periods of inactivity gave Metzner ample opportunity to create his works of art.

After being wounded at Chickamauga, Metzner returned to Indianapolis, and his artwork went into storage with the remainder of his war gear. He did, however, create one postwar oil painting. While in the field, Metzner made several sketches of artillery batteries in different operations, and after returning to Indianapolis, he created his last known work, a beautiful 18 1/2 x 23 1/4 oil on canvas that appears to be a culmination of his study of man, horse, and motion. The end result shows the depth of one who has witnessed war, or who has “seen the elephant,” as Civil War veterans called it.

Three years of service resulted in great sacrifice for the Thirty-second Regiment. In September 1861, 905 men left Indianapolis. Three years later, only 281 original enlistees returned to muster out of service, with another 89 mustering out in absentia. Combat claimed the lives of 171 men, including 7 officers. Another 98 died of disease. More than 441 men were wounded, many carrying scars from numerous battles. Some died much later from their wounds, and scores became permanently disabled due to injuries or disease

Peake, a resident of Corydon, Indiana, is an author and historian specializing in Indiana German genealogy and history as related to the American Civil War. Since retiring from federal service in 1996, Peake has devoted his time to researching Union and Confederate German-American military organizations.

Blood Shed in This War costs $34.95 and is available from the IHS's History Market.

Interview with Wabash History Author

W. William Wimberly II, the author of the new IHS Press book Hanna's Town: A Little World We Have Lost, was well placed to write a history of Wabash, Indiana. Wimberly was raised in the community and it was there that his father served as a minister for thirty years. Here he talks about his experiences with the book,

What inspired your to write Hanna's Town?

1. I grew up from age one in an old, faded-elegant part of Wabash, wondering how such an elaborate town happened, and noting that the past seemed more lavish, more exuberant than its present appearance. 2. As a teen I learned that a small, rather remote, park in town had once been its cemetery and that it was named for a Mr. Hanna who founded Wabash. 3. When I was a junior-year-abroad student in Britain my mother asked me to check up on some remote Scots-Irish ancestors named Hanna: I realized I might have a family connection with Wabash's founder (There is but it's distant)... and yet I still didn't know how Hanna's Town grew into the faded-elegant town that raised me ... so I wrote a book ... and the fact that I had never used my Ph.D. in history helped snag me. Once retired to Wabash I had no excuse.

What was the toughest part of doing your research?

Following my father's advice to "keep the seat of the pants attached to the seat of the chair" while taking notes from the county museum's exensive collection of local newspapers back to 1847. It seemed to take forever.

What about Wabash surprised you the most?

1. The chronically awful condition of streets (dirt, mud, steep): bad surfaces right up to the end of the nineteenth century, and cruelly steep until cut down in the 1860s. 2. The prevelance of prostitution, possibly institgated by the presence of canal hands in the early days, perpetuated later by rail laborers, etc., but also eventually catering to upper crust clients rather openly. 3. The founders' capacity for multi-tasking: managing up to several business enterprises at once, while at the same time being deeply involved in religious, fraternal, political and community-improvement projects.

Is there a personality from the period covered that especially caught your attention?

I usually name Naaman Fletcher, journalist and newspaper publisher. He was incidentally one of the founders of Phi Gamma Delta, before he moved to Wabash. He died too young, but in his brief career he was an untiring candidate for civic improvements: he articulated a bright future for Wabash but he also scolded his readers cuttingly for failure to improve Wabash culturally and structurally more quickly. A secular Old Testament prophet was Naaman Fletcher.

How well does Wabash remember its past?

Not especially well. Many folks know about the US/Native American treaty of 1826; that Hugh Hanna was the founder; that canals and railroads were formative; and that it was the "first electrically lighted city in the world." The knowledge is largely anecdotal and out-of-context, verbal hand-me-down stuff. Interest has been raised by the excellent refounding of the county museum, a showpiece. Of course, now there will be no excuse for not knowing.

Do you plan another book on Wabash?

Not as a sequel to Hanna's Town. A good friend, Pete Jones, has, over his career (history teacher, journalist), already done a huge chunk of the research for the twentieth century. I encourage him to pick up where I left off--and I think he will do it. I have been laying groundwork for another kind of work, more in the memoir/history genre, set mostly in Wabash in the late twentieth century, but what will come of that only time will tell.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Price Wins Dunn Award

Nelson Price of Indianapolis, Indiana, is the winner of the 2010 Jacob P. Dunn Jr. Award for the best article to appear in the Indiana Historical Society's illustrated history magazine Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. Price won for his article "Ryan White: Twenty Years Later," which appeared in the magazine's winter 2010 issue.

Price was one of several Hoosiers honored at the Society's Founder's Day dinner on Monday, December 6, at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center. Pictured here is Price (center) along with Tom Hoback, IHS board of trustee chairman (left), and Ray E. Boomhower, Traces senior editor.

Named for the noted Indiana historian and author, the $500 award honors the article that in the opinion of the Traces editorial board and staff best serves the magazine’s mission. This mission involves presenting thoughtful, research-based articles on Indiana history in an attractive format to a broad audience of readers.

Dunn, who helped revitalize the Society in the 1880s, produced such standard works as the two-volume Greater Indianapolis (1910) and his five-volume Indiana and Indianans (1919). In his remarkable career, Dunn also worked on a variety of Indianapolis newspapers, campaigned to establish free public libraries, endeavored to preserve the language of the Miami Indians, and prospected for minerals in Haiti.

Price is the author of several books, including Indiana Legends: Famous Hoosiers from Johnny Appleseed to David Letterman, Legendary Hoosiers, and Indianapolis Then and Now. A former feature writer and columnist for the Indianapolis Star, he is the host of Hoosier History Live! on WICR-FM (88.7) radio at 11:30 a.m. every Saturday.

Friday, December 03, 2010

History of Wabash, Indiana, Released

In late autumn 1902 a macabre scene unfolded at the original burial ground of Wabash, Indiana, which had been called both the Old Cemetery and Hanna’s Cemetery. The task at hand was the disinterment of four bodies. The newest of the four graves held whatever might be left of the corpse of Colonel Hugh Hanna who, more than any other single citizen, was the founding father and civic icon of the prospering, rather stunning little city. It might be argued that Hanna’s disinterment was a high-water mark in an outpouring of visible progress, cultural energy, and palpable optimism that his town had experienced during the preceding sixty-seven years.

As author W. William Wimberly II notes in his new IHS Press book Hanna's Town: A Little World We Have Lost, those years ought not to be evaluated nostalgically, however. History emphatically records that Wabash was neither an ideal society by 1902 nor even outstandingly progressive for its time. It continued to display rustic and seedy aspects of its unpolished past. Wabash was still home to racism, gender inequity, crime, prostitution, pollution, and wide (possibly widening) divisions between rich and poor, drunk and sober, labor and management, educated and uneducated.

Although the twentieth century would leach from towns such as Wabash what had once loomed large with them: a sense of communal significance and a pioneer can-do confidence. The opportunity to create a community out of a forest wilderness would be gone. One could no longer simply lay out a plat on uninhabited land, start building infrastructure, hoping to keep up with the demand of those rushing in to live there, and to be engaged mostly in building anew and in adding to, rather than in replacing or restoring what others had left behind. The new century inevitably overwhelmed some of the spirit of the old century: two world wars, the Great Depression, the urbanization of America, and the growth of industry would re-shape the nation. The coming ubiquity of the automobile was part of a travel and communication revolution that tied large regions of the nation together around urban centers. Folks in communities far from city suburbs, as in Wabash, began to believe they were again in the hinterlands of progress rather than the very engine of it, as their nineteenth-century counterparts so often were.

By 1902, before the complications of the new century washed over them, Wabash citizens had reasons to stand tall and proud. A sincere local boosterism was all but a religion. The wilderness had been subdued. In its place was a city of almost palpable optimism, boasting a bustling economy, a sense of community, civic pride, broad economic connections, architectural achievements, and various other cultural pretensions, all of which more than fulfilled any visionary hopes early settlers may have cherished. Many streets at last were paved. By the time its founder was reburied, the town had achieved a kind of apotheosis: progressive, confident, quite possibly gorgeous—Hanna’s town.

Wimberly received a PhD in early American history from Indiana University. He holds degrees from Hanover College and Princeton Theological Seminary. An ordained minister, he served Presbyterian churches in four Hoosier locations: Brazil, Spencer, La Porte, and Fort Wayne. Hanna’s Town is the history of nineteenth-century Wabash, Indiana, where the author was raised and where his father was a minister for thirty years. He is married to Tracy Temple, a Wabash native, and they have two sons. He has been honored with the Sagamore of the Wabash and Hanover College’s Civic Leadership Award.

Hanna's Town costs $24.95 and is available from the IHS's History Market.