Monday, December 18, 2023

Thoughts on My Ongoing Research and Learning

I know I haven’t posted much lately, other than occasional items in Facebook, but I am still researching and writing about local Civil War soldiers, and have been surprised by how much I’m learning, especially recently.

A few weeks ago, I started two stories in a pair of men whose stories seemed potentially intriguing. That intuition proved correct and it now appears my work on each will surpass5,000 words, which is high composted to most of my other writings.

One of these men is James Abert, who was a topographical engineer and explorer in the years and decades before the war, then a staff officer during most of the conflict  A quick Internet search turns up plenty of information about him, more than I had imagined, so perhaps my story is unnecessary, but I like to try to use my words to tell of such lives and I think my use of a combination of information from these sources as well as local newspaper reports will create something different than the others.

I also try to use direct quotes from him to add his voice to this work. sometimes I think I use too many quotes (from other articles and stories as well), but I do like how this piece is coming together. I’m really close to calling it finished and focusing on other stories.

However it ends up, his life story has been enjoyable for me to study and I’ve learned a lot about him and his role in the exploration of western territories, his part in the war, and his involvement in society in and around Campbell County.

I am, however, curious about how he pronounced his name. His grandfather had come to North America from France during the American Revolution. Did the family kept a French prononciation, such as “Ah-bear” or had they anglicized it and said it how it looks to modern Americans, i.e. rhyming with pray-bert? I doubt I’ll find any paperwork resolving that.

In a similar vein, James Guthrie was an officer whose name I came across on a piece of ephemera I purchased. I don’t know why I had not examined his career before, but he organized the 1st and 2nd Kentucky Infantry regiments (in Ohio, while Kentucky was “neutral” early in the war), but then he was in charge of the fatigue forces during the ”Siege of Cincinnati.” I’ve heard and shared the story of that episode many, many times, especially when the Ramage Museum was open, and even on here, but I’m finding out many smaller details about the day-to-day operations of the military locally during those few weeks, such as orders that leaders like Guthrie issued and problems they faced. The larger overview of the story is that tens of thousands of people willingly lived under martial law and worked to defend the area as the Confederates neared, but it was not so simple or ideal. I’m learning about some issues that arose  and I’m almost even embarrassed that I had not done this kind of research earlier. This story has truly fascinated me and significantly increased my understanding of the reality of that “siege.”

Studying Guthrie has also helped me find stories of some southern sympathizers in Campbell County. I still plan to focus on Union troops right now, with so much information already gathered, but I now have a couple more and much better leads about the other side of the story, or at least about Union officials taking political prisoners. I have seen a couple of letters from citizens and some oaths of allegiance some men took. I have not told that story much, but now am much more prepared to do do, because of information I’ve found while looking into Guthrie’s story, which led me to Henry Gassaway, a Provost Marshall who made some of those arrests and created some controversy in the county.

I’ve also taken a bit of a break from simply researching and writing about these soldiers and returned to my original idea of confirming names/information about local soldiers. I have found and confirmed several more names, but also a few more questions such as one man whose obituaries state he was a soldier, (one even states he fought at Shiloh under General McClellan, LOL), but do not mention a unit. Doing this kind of research again has been fun, though still challenging as I still have a lot of partial names I have not confirmed. Still, the progress I have recently made has been satisfying.

That said, I did start on a couple other stories that I thought would be shorter or “easier” than the Abert and Guthrie ones, but both have turned out to be different than I expected, one because his grandfather was a Revolutionary War soldier (as were a pair of his grandfather’s brothers) and Campbell County  pioneer, and the other because some records indicate he had a brother (or two?) in the Civil War, while other records don’t show those additional names. Figuring out what really happened will be a task, plus his father was a local businessman and politician for years and a Home Guard soldier, so it may turn into a family story, instead of a quick tale of one soldier.

That’s a little bit frustrating, but it is also good. I believe there are interesting and important stories to write and  these latest two might be prime examples of that, especially from a county history perspective. Nothing as noteworthy as him being captured or killed during the war makes his story an obvious one to share, but other pieces of their lives do. A person/soldier/family need not be famous in order to be an important piece of the county’s past. I hope I can do these men and families justice and help others understand better Campbell County history overall and in the war.

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