Dickinson College / Gilder Lehrman Institute

Author: leahy

Touching History

As I walked into my friends house my interest was slightly peeked. Her description of some civil war stuff her mother in law had me a little curious. As I entered the dining room I actually gasped and became short of breath . I looked at not a couple of papers, but 150 authentic 1864 enlistment papers of soldiers who had enlisted in Gallipolis, Ohio in September of that year. These were real ,authentic, genuine 148 year old documents in my hands. I touched them with extreme care and asked in wonder how on earth did you get these? How come they are in such beautiful condition? Pat (Mother in law ) explained to me that her great great grandfather was the Captain in charge of enlisting the men of the Gallipolis. Ohio  area. He was essentially the clerk in charge of all the paper work. In civilian life he had been a lawyer , a very neat and particular man it turns out. He had kept every document on every man he had enlisted. Pat tells me that these documents had been in a box in the basement of her grandmother for over 40 years . Pat had them in her attic for over 10 years and had just recently thought to see what was actually in the box. My co-worker called me and I have been helping research and talking to museums to figure out what to do with these precious and historically important papers.

As an educator this has been overwhelmingly satisfying to help research and preserve these wonderful pieces of history. I plan on scanning and copying every one of these (very delicately of course ). I will hopefully get hold of some experts to  help research and perhaps solve some century and a half old mysteries.  The search for knowledge of the past within these men’s stories. History can come alive as we  connect with their experiences. These documents hold a window to the past. A look into the lives of these soldiers and the sacrifice they made to keep our country whole and free. It is indeed, a golden opportunity for me to use these documents to help my middle schoolers do some primary source research. This is so exciting to me I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with these documents.

183rd Ohio Volunteer Enlistment Document September 1864

Kansas and the Civil War:Unit Plan

Standard: Kansas History

Benchmark 3: The student understands individuals, groups, ideas, events, and
developments of the territorial period and the Civil War in Kansas.

This student will:
1. explain the concept of popular sovereignty under the Kansas-Nebraska Act. 2. explain why control of the Kansas territorial government was affected by the fight over slavery. 3. describe the influence of pro-and anti-slavery ideas on territorial Kansas (e.g., Bleeding Kansas, border ruffians, bushwhackers, jay-hawkers, the Underground railroad, free state, abolitionist). 4. describe the causes and consequences of Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence during the Civil War

These are just parts of some of our 7th grade standards in Kansas for my unit I thought I would concentrate on the time period between the Kansas-Nebraska act and Quantrill’s raidLincoln Tagxed Kansas

William Clarke Quantrill


Leader of perhaps the most savage fighting unit in the Civil War, William Quantrill developed a style of guerrilla warfare that terrorized civilians and soldiers alike. Quantrill was born in 1837 in Ohio, but little is known of his early life. It appears that after being a schoolteacher for several years, he travelled to Utah in 1858 with an army wagon train and there made his living as a gambler, using the alias of Charles Hart. After a year, he moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where he was again a schoolteacher from 1859 to 1860. But his past and predisposition soon caught up with him and, wanted for murder and horse theft, Quantrill fled to Missouri in late 1860..

This is obviously a work in progress but my plan is to have two google maps one of Quantrill’s entrance into Kansas from Missouri and of his masterful escape out of Kansas, the other would be a google map of Lawrence, ks and the location of the murders and destruction maybe even a virtual tour.


Valley of the Shadow

The archives on this sight are unbelievable. My favorite part is the animated battlefield. I was amazed at the number of battles some of these units were involved with like the First Virginia Cavalry they must have been in 20 battles. I liked the assignment ideas Will came up with. The first one was selecting a family and follow them throughout the war. The election of 1860 through newspapers and finally what were women’s lives like. I could see anyone of these being short term or long term projects and being able to set a difficulty level for each of them for example seventh graders could talk about one battle or one person whereas 8th graders could go more in depth.

Abraham Lincoln in Kansas

In 1859 Abraham Lincoln visited Kansas from November 30th through December 5th . He had been invited by a distant relative Mrs. Mark W.Delahay. Her husband Mark Delahay had a personal friendship with Abraham Lincoln originating with their mutual cause in establishing the Republican Party.In 1859, Delahay sought the Republican nomination for a United States Senate seat for Kansas.This is history that Kansas students seem to really enjoy and it gives them a sense that our state was an important part of US history especially from the 1850’s and throughout the time period of the Civil war. I tell them the towns he visited and what he did and said while he was there.

  • Lincoln crossed the Missouri river from St. Joseph Missouri and arrived in Elwood, Kansas delivering his first Kansas speech November 30,1859
  • Traveled to Troy on a cold morning gave a 2 hour speech and that same day traveled ten miles to Doniphan and spoke again December 1,1859
  • Friday morning December 2, 1859 travels to Atchinson gives a 2 hour speech and learns that John Brown was hung for treason.
  • Travels to his final Kansas destination in Leavenworth and stays with the Delahay family whom he was a distant relative to.
  • Much of his Cooper Union Speech was used while in Kansas . The future President thought Kansas would be a good testing ground for his famous New York City speech.

I have attempted to create a Google Map to show you where Abraham Lincoln traveled while in the state of Kansas.

Henry W. Spradley is not forgotten

I was quite impressed with Colin Macfarlane’s digital story about the black soldier Henry Spradley. It was refreshing to see this young student care about the past. He understood that finding out the story of this black soldier was important, to Colin ,Henry mattered. His gravestone had been removed and his contribution to the community,the college and his country was to be forgotten. This young man researched for hours and hours, followed clues and solved this intriging history mystery . He brought dignity back to the lost sole of Henry W. Spradley. He found a connection to the very school he was attending. Henry was a beloved custodian of Dickenson college , and a man whose funeral was so big they needed an auditorium for those whose life he had touched.   thanks to Colin a whole new generation can be touched.

The idea of solving a mystery such as this would really excite my middle schoolers. I can see my students wanting to create a “movie” by using some of the rich history our town has to offer. They initially would want to be part of a movie regardless of the subject. My job is to motivate them to want to find the history and eventually love it like I do. I have been fortunate to have worked on two historical docudrama films about Kansas through Lone Chimney Films and am eager to share my knowledge with my students.

An Eye Opening Perspective of the Emancipation Proclamation

In my capacity as a teacher and a historical performer I often ask people What they know about the Emancipation Proclamation. The answers are varied but usually people have an incomplete understanding of the famous document. Most people children and adults alike will say it freed the slaves. They think all the slaves were freed but of course it’s much more complicated than that. While watching Allen Guelzo’s excellent presentation it opened up many realities of the great document . It was not well received at all by anyone North or South except of course by the slaves who were freed. Guelzo points out that many people thought it was a legal sham, that Lincolnused it to promote himself as the great crusader for freedom. Others claimed Lincoln’s heart was not in it that it was a propaganda ploy ,that’s why it was so plain and boring very unLincoln like writing , a document of disappointment ,not freedom. Many questions arose Why was the document so bland?, Why did Lincoln wait two years into the civil war to issue it?, What were his real motives? The simplified answers are Lincoln was not pushed reluctantly by zealous abolitionist toward Emmancipation , in fact he was working on a way to do just that since the beginning of the war. It was not a sentimental trick in fact it cost the Republicans 31 seats in the elections . It was not a political device. Guelzo said Lincoln felt to save the Union was to Emancipate the slaves and to Free the slaves was in fact to save the Union. Allen Guezo’s presentation was very eye opening to me and it gives me some great insight and wisdom to pass along to my students and adults that I present to.

The cabin floor

When Professor Pinsker (I mean Matt) spoke of how Abraham Lincoln used quotes from John Brown’s trial in his second inaugural address it sent shivers down my spine. The two of them were closer idyllically than either wanted to admit.

It was September 20,2009 I was standing on a floor in the Adair cabin. My feet were still upon the floor where 150 years ago escaped slaves had seeked refuge for a night. It was also a place John Brown frequented to be safe. It was the house of  his cousins the Adairs. I was part of the Freedom Festival for the  John Brown Museum in Osawatomie ,Kansas . I stood their in my Lincoln attire feeling proud of who I was about to portray on stage. Yet an uneasy feeling came over me as if someone wanted me to never enter the cabin . I felt some eyes pearcing into me. I slowly turned and saw a women in civil war period dress in Florella Adair’s rocking chair . Her eyes were watery and seemed full of hate. I gracefully and as peacefully as possible extended my hand  “I’m Abraham Lincoln” “I’m Florella Adair  and you have unjustly and cruely ruined the good deeds of John Brown”. We stayed in character for twenty minutes and through many tears and a patient ear we agreed both men wanted the same thing.Somehow I had won  her over . She hugged me and I hugged her . In my speech I stayed true to Lincoln’s words but I did not condem John Brown’s character. The woman I talked to, her real  name was Mary Buster, Florella Adair’s great-great-grandaughter.

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