Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Giving Blue Day - December 2, 2014

Giving Blueday is the University of Michigan's first-ever university-wide day of giving. Around the world, December 2 is known as Giving Tuesday, a global day of giving.

This is YOUR chance to make a gift to the Clements Library to support acquisition, conservation and outreach. Help spread the word about the Clements Library and tell the world about our great collections and resources.

Join us on December 2 to be part of a global celebration of a new tradition of generosity.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Today in History: Veterans Day

Post by Jayne Ptolemy, Manuscripts Division Curatorial Assistant

Veterans Day serves as a poignant reminder of the great sacrifices the men and women of the military have made for their country. In the United States, Veterans Day evolved out of the annual celebration of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I on November 11, 1918. To highlight the profound significance of this day, we look to a letter penned by American Lieutenant Joseph C. Holbrook who was stationed in France when peace was declared.

Lt. Joseph C. Holbrook ALS to Effie Granade, November 16, 1918, in the Duane N. Diedrich Collection
"I shall never forget the night of the 11th of November," he wrote, having entered a large French city to witness the celebrations. "Joy, cheers, songs, music by a Negro U.S. band, also a white U.S. band played everything from 'The Star Spangled Banner,' 'Marseillaise' to 'Livery Stable Blues.' For the first time in 4 long years the city was brilliantly lighted!! Since I've been in France every city has been like a vast, silent, dark, motionless spot hid away in the gloom. Not a bit of light for fear that the Boshe planes would drop bombs of death. But on the memorable night of Nov. 11th every city removed its shroud of gloom and the women and little children who for many months had listened for the call of the siren as a signal to go to their cellars or dugouts, came out into the streets—into the streets full of cheering, brilliantly lighted, thronged with a multitude full of joy of triumph!!" Holbrook vividly illustrates the shift brought about by the successful conclusion of the war. From darkness to light, he saw the French people emerge to celebrate peace and the soldiers who helped bring it about.

Holbrook goes on to note the comingled joy and sorrow of veterans' families. "Little children (Petites enfants) ran yelling, 'La Guerre est fini; Mon père sera à sa maison bientôt!' ('The war is finished; my father will be at his home soon!' [ ) ] Old women were radiant with smiles! Some dressed in deep mourning smiled the smile of sacrifice; happy that, even though full of sorrow, their husband, brother, father or Sweetheart had died for their country and that their cause had triumphed. But beneath it all was that countenance of one who is ever conscious of the 'vacant place.' " Winning peace comes with a price, and Holbrook acknowledged the pain that continued for many.

Serving with the American Expeditionary Forces in France, Holbrook showed a sincere pride in the service he and others provided for their country, service that was also recognized by the French. "The French and Americans [sic] soldiers danced together in the lighted streets. The city was absolutely covered with the Allied flags. And second to the French 'Old Glory' was most numerous and conspic[u]ous... To be in a foreign land, war-torn, bleeding but triumphant, and to see 'The Stars and Bars' waving in majesty and triumph from every door is Heaven on earth and makes a fellow happy that… he is an American and willing to be a Champion of right."

This image of French celebrations of peace, featuring both French and American flags, can be found in the Graphics Division's collection of Signal Corps photographs.
To all of those Champions of right-- who have served, who are serving, and who are considering serving-- we at the Clements Library send our gratitude this Veterans Day.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Recent Acquisition: Fantastical Militias

Post by Clayton Lewis, Curator of Graphic Materials

David Claypoole Johnston. Col. Pluck. [Boston?] : Pendleton, lithographer/publisher, circa 1825.

A pair of recently acquired prints point to a little known episode in American military history and pose questions about where satire ends and factual evidence begins. Satiric criticism is strongest when there is an element of truth behind the ridicule, but when the subject is already itself a parody, is the artist acting in collusion with the parody or simply reporting the facts?

The engraving Col. Pluck, by prolific parodist David Claypoole Johnston (1798-1865), shows a bawdy, disorganized, misbehaving, undisciplined American militia unit and its foppish leader. This image may in fact be a fairly accurate representation of a specific Pennsylvania unit and its commander’s carefully contrived appearance. The antics of Colonel Jonathan Pluck and the "Bloody 84th" Pennsylvania Militia from Philadelphia, as described in newspapers from Boston to Richmond in the 1820s, are close to matching the scene depicted.

During the period between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, state militia units, prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, played a key role in national defense and greatly outnumbered the standing army. Militias were also a source of tension and resentment between classes as privately sponsored volunteer units rubbed against state compulsory militias along class lines. The necessary purchase of uniforms and weapons, coupled with time away from paying jobs, made required participation doubly expensive for the working poor. Resentment simmered under militia leadership self-selected from the leisure class, rising to the boiling point when that leadership was incompetent and/or corrupt. A crisis rose during the 1820s and 1830s as the general public lost faith in the ability of the militia structure to protect the populace. When efforts at reform from within failed, a creative and outrageous protest emerged from enlistees.

The urban environment of the 18th and 19th centuries had often witnessed collective celebrations, political demonstrations, rallies, and social protests in public spaces. Inaugural parades, hangings in effigy, mock funerals, and public humiliations were all part of the street culture of America's larger cities. Philadelphia saw public parades in support of the Declaration of Independence, a two-headed Benedict Arnold paraded and hanged in effigy, a solemn mock-funeral for President Washington, and many other examples of street theater.

In this context, the enlistees of the 84th Pennsylvania Regiment from the dockyards and shops of the Northern Liberties district of Philadelphia were likely very conscious of the public spectacle that would result with the election of a colorful hostler from the stables in a tavern district, Jonathan Pluck, to the position of colonel of the regiment in May of 1825. Pluck, described in Niles Weekly Register as a "poor, ignorant, stupid fellow," was elected not because he was seen as particularly well qualified for the position; he was seen as conspicuously unqualified. The rank and file elected Pluck as a pointed rejection of the officers placed by the circumstance of class and title. Reportedly, the state Governor refused to ratify the election, forcing a revote. The second ballot had Pluck winning again, with even more votes. The 84th would get the officer they wanted and deserved.

The results were reported in the Philadelphia Gazette the following day under the headline "Grand Farce." When the 84th was on parade, crowds gathered. Pluck rode at the head of a deliberately ragtag, irregular, anti-orderly militia unit that wore mismatched uniforms and carried brooms and cornstalks in place of weapons. The story was picked up by papers up and down the country. The Democratic Press reported that "No one talks of anything else."

"The events of this eventful day, which will ever be memorable in the annals of Pennsylvania chivalry, are the cause of the lots of merriment contained in the aforesaid Philadelphia papers" stated the New York Commercial Advertiser. Pluck led his 84th militia through Philadelphia to the Bush Hill mustering ground. The Advertiser reported "It was with great difficulty a person of ordinary activity and strength, could obtain a sight of the great object of such universal solicitude." His appearance was described as hunchbacked, bowlegged in the extreme, with baggy burlap pants cinched by an enormous belt and buckle, bulging eyes and a huge head topped with a massive tri-cornered hat, all mounted on a sagging white nag of a horse. "Napoleon was low in stature, Pluck is lower still." The Washington Reporter was preoccupied by his boot-spurs, stating that they were "the most singular part of his accouterments . . . made of iron and weighed better than one pound and three quarters… on which was suspended a small bell. The rowel of the spur was three inches and three quarter in diameter, and the whole length of the shank from the heel was better than five inches . . . an enormous length, and would have had a fine effect but that they occasionally, unintentionally gored his charger's flank… [which was] rather lean to be sure."

Colonel Pluck and the 84th had made their point and amplified the ongoing debate on the subject of the readiness of the militia. Although ridiculed for a presumed mental incapacity, Pluck seems to have understood the meaning of his role and when compared with other officers stated "well, at least I ain't afraid to fight, and that's more than most of them can say!" Pluck was both lauded and deplored in editorials and letters to the press as he toured with the 84th from New England to Virginia. Other state's militias followed in self-mockery, going to further extremes of ridiculous dress and behavior. The prank had become a movement.

It all seems a ludicrous joke today but many of Pluck's contemporaries saw his ascension as a serious threat. It wasn't just the competence of military officers that was being called into question by Pluck's presence; he also represented an infectious critique of the social order, in step with Andrew Jackson’s aggressive populist politics. Pluck did not help his own cause by charging admission for an audience. "He exhibited himself at a shilling a sight, to the infinite dishonor of the venerable 84th, which he commands." The Philadelphia Gazette exclaimed "Our people say that the militia system is all a farce… dimagogues have been using commissions in the military as stepping stones to offices of profit and honour, and that a cure must be found for the evil."

Pluck returned to Philadelphia in 1826 to face court martial and demotion but his removal did nothing to deter the 84th, who determined to top themselves. In 1833 Colonel Peter Albright led the 84th in dress that was frequently described as "fantastical," with mismatched uniforms of calico, women's frocks, and huge hats with enormous plumes. The now familiar broomsticks and cornstalks were shouldered along with colossal oversized muskets, broadswords of six to twelve foot length, and large fish. They marched to the music of a penny whistle, each member endeavoring to outdo the next in preposterousness. The Pennsylvania Gazette reported that "To all intents and purposes… the folly and absurdity of our ordinary militia parades was most fully obtained."

Like Pluck before him, Albright was court-martialed for "unsoldier-like conduct." His arrest inflamed the regiment which continued to parade as before, but also as knights clad in armor, cavaliers in bearskin, and as Native Americans." Albright's surprising acquittal triggered exuberant celebrations where Albright appeared dressed as a Revolutionary War officer with powdered wig, powdered face, and his nose conspicuously browned with shoe polish.

The period of the 1820s and 1830s also witnessed the rising sophistication of American graphic satire. In its infancy during the colonial and revolutionary period, graphic satire expanded in the United States along with a general expansion of printing and publishing. Two of the most prolific American satiric artists, David Claypool Johnston and Edward Williams Clay (1799-1857), produced popular prints commenting upon the militia crisis. Regardless of their opinions on the subject, as satirists, they clearly shared an appreciation for these farcical militias and their use of absurdity to emasculate those in power.

Edward Williams Clay. The Nations Bulwark. A Well Disciplined Militia. Etching. Philadelphia : R.H. Hobson, 1829.

Originally from Philadelphia and later New York City, Edward Clay remains an enigmatic figure. He created highly provocative racial, social, and political satire until late in his life. His 1829 engraving The Nation's Bulwark, a Well-Disciplined Militia (LC) shows a lineup of bored, undisciplined soldiers smoking pipes, chatting, barely awake, confronted by a plump officer with a bottle bulging from his pocket. The slogans on the tent banners in the background, "Hurrah for Old Hickory" and "Jackson Forever" indicate the unit's loyalty to Jacksonian principles of democracy.

D.C. Johnston, a talented artist and actor from Philadelphia, then Boston, engraved Col. Pluck showing the Colonel marching in full dress uniform, brandishing his sword, wearing a hat with dangling baubles at each end. The chaos seen behind Pluck includes a soldier riding a cow, others marching with ludicrous banners of men sawing logs and a cow being milked, and of course, cornstalks and sticks as weapons.

Both artists played to an audience of urban consumers of satire, familiar with the tropes of ridiculousness, but here presented with views not at all far from reality -- satire ready-made.

David Claypoole Johnston. Much Ado About Nothing, Or, A Militia Court-Martial!! Boston : Kimball, lithographer/publisher, circa 1833.

Another recently acquired engraving by Johnston, Much Ado About Nothing, Or, A Militia Court-Martial!! shows an unsightly officer standing before an inquisition made up of caricatured officers in exaggerated uniforms, poring over a massive list of witnesses. One panelist comments "I fear the worst and hope he is prepared to hear the awful–the overwhelming sentence 'deserving of the censure of this honorable court.'" Another observes that [the proceedings have] hardly commenced, we've been sitting only six weeks." Both prints Col Pluck, and Much Ado About Nothing . . . are undated but likely coincide with the trial of Colonel Peter Albright in 1833.

The veracity of the newspaper accounts could be questioned but the breadth of evidence suggests that events unfolded much as they were described. These "fantastical" militias can be traced in the Library's newspapers and magazines, satiric prints, and other sources. There is certainly a lot more to the story of the American militia of the era. Further investigation is bound to be very rewarding.

Davis, Susan G. "The Career of Colonel Pluck: Folk Drama and Popular Protest in Early Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia." The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. Vol. CIX (1985).

The careers of Colonels Pluck and Albright appear in numerous newspapers including:
The New York Commercial Advertiser, May, 1825
The Philadelphia Gazette, May 3, 1825
The Saturday Evening Post May 7, 1825; May 21, 1825
The Democratic Press, May 26, 1825
The Essex Register, May 26, 1825
The Reporter, June 13, 1825
The Geneva Palladium, August 23, 1826
The Pennsylvania Gazette, May 21, 1833

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Newly Cataloged: 1,661 Manuscript Collections and Photograph Albums

The Manuscripts Division at the Clements Library is proud to announce the completion of a National Historical Publications and Records Commission's (NHPRC) processing grant, which began in 2011. Former Curator of Manuscripts Barbara DeWolfe, current Curator Cheney J. Schopieray, grant-funded project archivist Megan Hixon, and a staff of volunteers, work-study students, and interns completed the two and half year grant to create online finding aids and catalog records for over 1,600 collections - a total of 646 linear feet. Part of this work included descriptions of 125 photograph albums.

The collections date from the 17th to the 20th century and represent many topics of historical research, such as business and trade, education, sports and leisure, slavery and anti-slavery movements, Native American history, politics, travel, westward expansion, religion, and military conflicts. Many of the finding aids highlight the history of minorities and groups that tend to be under-represented in the archive.

The project has reduced the manuscripts division backlog to 197 collections (of 2,546), most of which are Spanish-language materials, recipe books, later 20th century military materials, and recent acquisitions. The 125 photograph album finding aids (part of the library's Graphics Division) are one of the first two groups of the division's EAD records available to the public. The Graphics Division's finding aids became available online in mid-June 2014, thanks to the efforts of the University of Michigan's Digital Library Production Services (DLPS), and the NHPRC-funded descriptions now provide some of the first access points to this previously invisible, though rich, set of research materials.

The William L. Clements Library extends its most sincere thanks to the NHPRC for its generous contribution to this project.

For records associated with this grant, search our finding aids and catalog for the term "NHPRC."

Examples of NHPRC-funded finding aids include:
  • Lydia Harper collection, 1822-1830. Catharine and Condy Raguet, who lived in Brazil while Condy served as U.S. consul to Rio de Janeiro, sent 11 letters to their niece, Lydia Harper, describing their domestic slaves and stories about enslaved Brazilians, including the experiences of two children's capture in Africa. 
  • Hiram B. Crosby journal, Duane Norman Diedrich Collection, 1872. Crosby took a prospecting trip to the iron mines of Northern Michigan, in 1872. He described the area's Native American population and included several pen and ink drawings that feature his Native American guides. 
"The 'Menominee,' going up the Menominee river Oct. 7, 1872, 3 P.M. a beautiful October afternoon," Hiram B. Crosby journal, Duane Norman Diedrich Collection, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
  • James Gibbs collection, 1843. Six documents provide insight into a lawsuit between James Gibbs, a free African American, and Joseph E. Embertz over the possession of a "spotted sow." 
  • Vine Utley, Observations on Old People 80 Years of Age, 1809-1827, Duane Norman Diedrich Collection. Utley interviewed elderly residents of New London County, Connecticut, from 1809 to 1818, and reported on their ages, families, dietary habits, and physical and mental health. Entries include information about a man who had been held captive by Native Americans, a Native American woman, and a Black woman who had been born in Africa and enslaved at nine years old. 
August 16, 1811, entry regarding Celia. Vine Utley, Observations on Old People 80 Years of Age, Duane Norman Diedrich Collection, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
  • Leopold Mayer Family collection, 1864-1970. 0.25 linear feet of correspondence, a journal, a speech, documents, and genealogical research related to Leopold Mayer, his family, and Chicago's Jewish community in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 
  • Henry Brevoort Eddy letters, 1895. Eddy penned 14 illustrated letters, wherein he described his social life in Tuxedo Park, Mamaroneck, and New York City. Included in these illustrations are depictions of men, women, and children in bathing suits as well as several images of an African American doorman that make especial note of his clothing while off-duty. 
  • Southwest Territory and Mississippi Territory collection, 1794-1818. This collection is made up of 46 letters and documents related to the Southwest Territory and Mississippi Territory. The materials concern subjects such as governance and law, militia units, property ownership and finance, slavery, and Native American tribes. The collection includes post-statehood letters by Andrew Jackson and other prominent politicians and military figures. 
  • Women Photographers carte-de-visite album, Frederick P. Currier Collection, [1860s-1880s?]. This carte-de-visite album contains 21 studio portraits made by female photographers and husband-and-wife teams in the United States and England. 
Example portrait from the Women Photographers carte-de-visite album, Frederick P. Currier Collection, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

From the Stacks: Unannounced Visitor to the White House

Post by Cheney J. Schopieray, Curator of Manuscripts

Gone are the days of lawful, unannounced visits to the White House. The security of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW has increased steadily since World War II and, for the protection of the First Family, will likely continue to expand. The following Civil War soldier's story reminds us of the casual manner with which citizens could once visit the home of the President.

Sixteen-year-old Hugh P. Roden became a drummer in the 7th New Jersey Infantry Regiment in September of 1861. Within a month, Roden held a temporary position at Camp Casey in Arlington, Virginia. Despite marching orders forbidding him to leave camp, Roden traveled to Washington on the morning of October 12, 1861, in order to buy a new pair of shoes. While there, he entered the White House in hopes of requesting a transfer to the 2nd New Jersey Infantry Regiment, to serve beside his older brother George Roden.[1]

Roden entered the White House and, finding himself alone, rested a bit before ascending the stairs to the second floor. As he walked along the center hall carrying his old shoes under his arm, he heard voices coming from President Lincoln's office. Upon entering, he joined several men who were hoping to find paid employment. The small group was a contrast to the throngs of persons that often crowded the reception area waiting for an audience with the President. In the narrative he produced the following day, Roden wittily remarked on the self-serving motives of the "office seekers." The young drummer left the White House after speaking with the President and shaking his hand. He returned to the 7th New Jersey (adopting a stray cat along the way) and received a round of applause from his fellow soldiers for the tale of his "Adventure."

[Hugh Roden] AL to his mother, father, and sister; October 13, 1861. Camp Casey, [Arlington, Virginia]. Pages 2-3. Hugh and George Roden Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

"I was in the presidents house yeasterday I was all alone I had heard that they received visitors so I walked in to the reception room every thing is style there after I had reasted myself I went up stairs, I had my new shoes on my feet and the old ones under my arm but I wanted to see the President of this Glorious Republic so I marched along the large Hall till I was arested By the sound of voices wich proceeded from a Small room. I imediatly Continued my march in the Direction of said room when I arived who should I see But the Object of my search seated around a small table with other Men of less distinction. Some were Ofice seekers who were trying hard to talk sweet to the president. one man wanted an ofice as major in the reagular army and he Delivered a fine speach about Sheading his last drop of Blood for his --- Country (Pocket) he said it was not for gain that he wanted the office but it was for to serve his country and he thought the country would be benefited By his Services. Mr President replied that there was not a Place open at present, But if his visitor was so willing to sacrifice for his country he could find Plenty of opportunity in the Volunteers. Th[e] Visitor sighed and walked away I shook hands with the President and took my leive of all the Hon members Promising to call again I poot my shoes under my arms and comenced my march to the Camp wile on the way I picked up a cat just like the Cat I had home, & carried it in triumph to the Camp where I was received with Shouts of Aplause and so ended my Adventure the cat sits at my feet while I am writing, little thinking that she Bears such a prominent part in my naritive"

Stereoscopic photograph of the "State Bed-Room in the President's Mansion, Washington, D.C." (J.F. Jarvis, ca. 1870-1899). Hugh Roden walked by Mary Todd Lincoln's bedroom as he followed the sound of voices to the President's office.

1. Basler, Roy Prentice Basler, ed. Collected Works: The Abraham Lincoln Association. Vol. 4. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953. Pages 552-553. The date given in the Collected Works is October 11, 1861, source the Daily Times of Troy, New York, in August 1881. Lincoln gave his approval for the transfer "if it will not injuriously affect the service." The transfer does not appear to have taken place as Hugh Roden mustered out of the 7th New Jersey Infantry in the fall of 1864.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Today in History: The First Day of Fall

Post by Jayne Ptolemy, Manuscripts Division Curatorial Assistant

In Ann Arbor, the weather has started to have a chilly bite, and at the Clements Library we look to our collections to help celebrate the first day of fall.

From our Schoff Civil War collection, we hear from Henry H. Seys, a Civil War surgeon and medical inspector, who wrote to his wife Harriet in late October 1862 about the spectacular autumn facing Union troops at Camp Elkwater in West Virginia.
"[O]n the whole thus far it's very bearable during these superb fall months—which seem like a dream of beauty—All day long I have feasted on the romance of our possition [sic]—The cloudless dome of blue—the hills gathered closely around us—Clothed in their 'Sere & yellow leaf' the dark sombre green of hemlock & fir, in splendid contrast, with the russet & gold, crimson yellow & green—the white tents—the me[a]dows still green despite the frost—the clear, cold, water rippling in music by hurrying on to the 'Ohio,' the solemn stillness only broken by bugle calls—the notes of the drum—and now & then the sharp report of a musket, all combined form a picture full to the very fullness itself of poetry."
[Henry H.] Seys ALS to [Harriet Seys], 1862 October 27, Henry H. Seys papers, Schoff Civil War collection, William L. Clements Library.

While Henry Seys wrote about the poetic experience of the changing seasons, our Book Division holds examples of published poetry about autumn. For instance, we have a number of later editions of John Thomson's (1700-1748) collected nature poetry published as The Seasons. We hear of nature's colorful, if also mournful, beauty, when he writes:
"But see the fading many colour'd Woods,
Shade deepening over Shade, the Country round
Imbrown; a crouded Umbrage, dusk, and dun,
Of every Hue, from wan declining Green
To sooty Dark. These now the lonesome Muse,
 Low whispering, lead into their leaf-strown Walks,
And give the Season in its latest View." 
To help us visualize the turn to fall, we look to our Graphics Division and its T.C. Moore Sketchbook.

Showing the leaves' first surge of golden color, Moore's sketchbook reminds us of the quiet beauty of the early days of autumn. While summer always passes too quickly, the rich collections at the William L. Clements Library help illustrate why cooler weather is welcome, too.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Today in History: David B. Douglass Papers Addition and the Battle of Lundy's Lane

Post by Jayne Ptolemy, Manuscripts Division Curatorial Assistant 

In the late evening hours of July 25, 1814, one of the bloodiest battles of the War of 1812 commenced, continuing until after midnight. Unplanned and fought in the dark of night, the Battle of Lundy's Lane claimed over 250 fatalities and 1,700 casualties across both British and American troops. While American forces had recently defeated the British at the Battle of Chippawa and were continuing their advance into Canada, the Battle of Lundy's Lane halted their forward progress. The Americans instead retreated to Fort Erie. Despite the heavy losses, neither side could claim a decisive victory.[1]

Battle of Niagara, in The Port Folio, Third Series, vol. 6, no. 3 (September 1815), p. 220.

Here at the Clements Library, we have multiple manuscripts collections that shed light on the Battle of Lundy's Lane. Our War of 1812 Collection, the William Williams Family Collection, and our David B. Douglass Papers, for example, contain materials that touch upon this military encounter. Recently, the Library received a generous donation of over 430 Douglass family letters, nearly doubling the size of its existing David B. Douglass collection. This incredible array of personal correspondence includes letters written during Douglass's march to the Niagara battlefield and immediately following the bloody engagement at Lundy's Lane.

David Bates Douglass served in the 1814 Niagara Campaign during the War of 1812 as a second lieutenant of engineers, having recently joined the army after his graduation from Yale. Following the war, Douglass accompanied various surveying parties, including the Lewis Cass expedition in 1820, and led a successful teaching career at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The Clements Library's original Douglass collection includes a bound volume of his lecture notes, wherein he recalls the July 25th battle, and a copy of his journal documenting his march to the front. The recent addition of Douglass's personal letters provides an exceptional counterpart to these materials relating to Douglass and the War of 1812.

Lieutenant Douglass described his impressions of the British forces seen from Queenston Heights preceding the Battle of Lundy's Lane in his lecture notes, Reminiscences of the Campaign of 1814, first delivered in 1840. "[Y]onder in plain sight are the colors of the Enemy waving proudly over the ramparts of Fort Niagara and Fort George, and a straggling ray now and then reflected tells of bayonets fixed there too... This, then, was no mere parade, -- no stage play for effect; it was a simple and sublime reality—it was war."[2]  Written decades after the war with a public audience in mind, Douglass's lecture has a theatrical ring to it. In our recent addition to the collection, we have several more candid letters penned by Douglass while he was at Queenston in mid-July 1814. In one, he apologizes for the state of his handwriting, explaining, "I am sitting on the ground and writing on the soft top of a leather Trunk, and added to this, my right thumb is just beginning to recover from a most painful sprain which I got for it at Canandaigua." On July 16, 1814, Douglass wrote to his future wife, Ann Eliza Ellicott. In it he writes of his recent purchase of a locket in Albany, where he knotted together locks of their hair, "It hangs round my neck by the cord you made—a charm to shield me from danger and spur me to noble deeds." With the addition of these incredible personal letters, our David Bates Douglass collection now reveals these compelling, intimate details. We see a lovelorn man suffering from the everyday trials of camp life that complements our understanding of him as a renowned engineer and military figure.

Loring Austin ALS to Jonathan Austin, Queenston Heights, July 23, 1814. William L. Clements Library. Seen here is a first-hand depiction of the view from Queenston Heights. For more on the Clements Library's War of 1812 holdings, including the full text of this letter, see our online War of 1812 exhibit.

Two letters in the new addition directly precede and follow the Battle of Lundy's Lane. One written by David Bates Douglass' mother is dated July 19, 1814. She wrote a scathing letter to her son, lamenting his lack of correspondence. "I beg and bese[e]ch you never let a new moon ap[p]ear without writing if tis but a few lines to your parents," she writes, underscoring a family's fear and anxiety for a son serving actively during wartime. The first letter written after the battle is from Douglass to his beloved Ann Ellicott, written on July 29, 1814, assuring her of his safety. He described the Battle of Lundy's Lane and his role in it, also including small details that can escape narratives of military events. The battle was long-fought and upon its conclusion Douglass took a brief rest, "(if rest it could be called to lay coiled up on spades & shovels in an implement Wagon)," before rising again to prepare his company to move. As he worked, he defied other officers' expectations of what could be accomplished. In writing to his future wife, he allowed himself these small moments of triumph, aware that she would be "gratified to hear them, but to any one else it would be egregious vanity." In these private letters, then, we gain a personal perspective on Douglass and the Battle of Lundy's Lane. In official accounts, both in the Clements Library's collections and beyond, we see Douglass as a competent, respected officer. Through this new addition, we see him also as very human—enamored, tired, proud.

David B. Douglass ALS to Ann Elicott, Camp at Fort Erie, July 29, 1814. David B. Douglass Papers, William L. Clements Library.

Military history is enriched by these details—a mother chastising her son on the eve of a battle; a man walking into combat with a locket at his breast to give him courage; a prominent historical figure sleeping amidst shovels. These personal glimpses give breadth and texture to the story, and we are grateful for the recent donation that will enliven and deepen our research.

The addition to the David B. Douglass Papers contain letters and content pertaining to his multifaceted career as a War of 1812 officer, an educator at West Point, a surveyor and civil engineer, and a president of Kenyon College. Equally important are additional letters of his wife Ann Ellicott Douglass; his siblings Julia Douglass and Marcus Douglass; his daughters Sarah, Ellen, Mary, and Emily; and sons Andrew, Charles, Malcolm, and Henry. We anticipate processing the collection and making it available for research later this year.

  1. "Battle of Lundy's Lane," Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition, accessed 15 July 2014. For a detailed account of the events leading up to and during the Niagara Campaign and the Battle of Lundy's Lane, see Donald E. Graves, The Battle of Lundy's Lane on the Niagara in 1814 (Baltimore: Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1993). 
  2. The notes for this lecture were subsequently published in the Historical Magazine 3.1 (July, 1873), 1-12.