The Peckinpaugh Collection: From Connection to Inspiration

*This post was written by Stacy Waters, an English 601 student, at the University of Southern Indiana.

I recently went to Rice Library’s archives looking for a project topic, I selected the Peckinpaugh collection because it consisted of Civil war correspondence, family histories. Having a chance to use and intimately examine personal letters and actual physical memorabilia from this time period, perked my interest in connecting American’s Poet, Walt Whitman to the Captain William Henry of

As an English major, I knew Whitman poetry reflected an accurate portrait of the war and its participants, many of whom are unknown. As a young student I learned about the Civil War from The Big Book of the Civil War, a pop-up picture book that contains treasure flips full of historical reference and personal information, portrait flips with pictures and biographical information, and paper canons.


From the book I learned the Civil War was a result of social, racial, and economical tensions and differences divided the nation. The Civil War began in 1861, coined the largest and bloodiest war fought in the United States, because citizens had varying beliefs on how the country should ran as well as their personal right’s and parotic obligations. The book also focuses on the hardship the nation and outlines personal stories of soldier’s life, reveling the attitudes and experiences of soldiers and civilians.

As explained in The American People (2006), the Civil War of the United States was bloodiest battle in our history in terms of lives lost. This horrible time of war was a due to a conflict between the northern and southern states, mainly over slavery policies, being adopted with the newly elected president Abraham Lincoln in 1860. This resulted in the southern states succeeding from the Union forming the Confederate States of America in attempt to form their own country.

Below is an excerpt from Nash’s Book which reflects the effects of war on the nation.


The experience of discovering knowledge from treasure troves lead my investigation to the many hand writing letter between the captain and his wife “Mollie,” pictured below with her family. Like the books, the Peckinpaugh collection yields many treasure like these photos of the family.

Wm. Henery and Mollie Peckinpaugh, and their fathers, Paul Peckinpaugh and Sallie Emmick, and their son Harry J. Peckinpaugh. Notes attached to these photography’s told me that the Peckinpaugh men had a long history with war, active in the Revolutionary War and Civil War. In this time of war, it was crucial for soldier’s morale to try and keep in touch with their loved ones.

These were times of limited media and communication sources so hand written letters were the main source of communication. A good example of this is the letters between Captain Henry Peckinpaugh, of the Union forces, and Mollie Emmick of Stringtown Indiana. These letters obtained from USI library archives are the actual letters is from the Peckinpaugh Collection.

Captain Henry Peckpaugh’s letters are valuable because they present hints of struggles and disparities of a young Union soldier and his wife during the hardships the nation face in attempting national unity while living his life.

These letters are only a few from hundreds of letters found in the collection dating back to 1860, not only allowing Henry and Mollie catch up on what’s happening at home, but reflecting their concerns and hopes for the future. Very rarely are actual letters written anymore, but in the Civil War they were, at times, a lifeline that may be the only thing soldiers could look forward to, escaping the death and destruction all around.

In this letter from Mollie dated April 29, 1865, just a week after Lincoln was assassinated, Mollie replies that “The intelligence of the assassination of our beloved President amid the shouts of victory was truly appalling” and “If rumors are true, President Johnson isn’t exactly a man into whose hands a people could consistently desire to government affairs transmitted” (2).

Thus expressing her ire and concerns about the events of the previous week. She goes on to express some fears and hopes that the war will end in speaking of John “he will remain at home until his physician pronounces him able for service. I am greatly in hope that he will not be called upon to jeopardize his life, for surely the war must be almost over” (3-4).

This valuable letter reflects their reaction to the events and happening of the war. Here, Mollie expresses her concerns after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the future of the nation. She goes on to reveal how she feels about new President Johnson. Not only does Mollie talk about her national concerns, but proceeds to tell Henry how much she misses him and reports the happenings in her life and community.

Unfortunately, Henry’s letters replying to Mollie’s letters have started to faded away, almost impossible to reads, so I turned to Whitman’s emotional poetry and writings, to find his reaction to the war as well as his perspective of the turbulent atmosphere and warily temperament of the times.

But from an English major’s perspective, I find these writings capture and enhance the essence of personal and national struggles and insights to the personality and character of those involved in the Civil War and reconstruction of the nation.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), a very notable writer and poet of the Civil War era, often heralded as “America’s Poet, gives us more glimpses into the war’s atrocities and personal struggles and uncertainties. Interestingly, Whitman echoes and reinforces the perceptions and attitudes of the Peckinpaugh’s on the state of the nation, and President Lincoln.  Whitman poetry, like the letters in the Peckinpaugh’s collection seems to be talking about the struggles of soldiers on the battlefield and the struggles of those at home, actually allowing the reader to becoming a part conversion, and allowing a realistic portrait of the life in the late 1800s.

It was during this time that Whitman’s writing style took a somewhat darker tone, revealing how deeply affected he was by what he was witnessing. One of the most heartbreaking events for Whitman during this time was the assassination of President Lincoln compelling him to pen one of his most famous poems “O’ Captain my Captain.” Here, courtesy of The Poetry Foundation.

Another treasure I found was this excerpt from his memoranda book, Specimen Days titled “The Inauguration” in Holt’s Element of Literature.


Here, Whitman reflects on his thoughts and perception of President Abraham Lincoln as well as the condition of the nation’s morality. Whitman, notes that “the real war will never get in the books,” and it is in the personal writings – letter, journals, and diaries of people who was there -like the Peckinpaugh’s, that the true story of the Civil War is found.


My mind set when making the visual presentation, The Peckinpaugh Collection: From Connection to Inspiration, was focus on how as a student I created a treasure trove of information from books, photos, and writings.I selected the Peckinpaugh collection because it consisted of Civil war correspondence and family history. Having a chance to use and intimately examine personal letters and actual physical memorabilia from this time period, perked my interest in connecting American’s Poet, Walt Whitman to the Captain William Henry Peckenpaugh.

Work Cited

Beers, G. Kylene, and Lee Odell. “American Masters: Whitman and Dickinson.” Holt Elements of Literature, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Orlando, FL, 2008, p. 377.

Eason, Katherine, and Croft, Tom; Spender, Nick; Mitchell, Jim; Thakrar, Sailesh. Big Book of the Civil War. Kettering, UK., Book Studio, 2008.

“Forever Words.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,

World War 2 through Owen Hamilton’s Eyes

*This post was written by Jessica Reinbold, an English 601 student, at the University of Southern Indiana.

While looking through letters written by a World War II soldier, I couldn’t help but wonder who the man behind the letters was and how he was affected by his three-year deployment in the United States. Below are summaries and annotations of three letters: one from the beginning, one from the middle, and one from the end of his two-and-a-half-year deployment across the United States.


I have been unable to confirm who Morgan is to Owen Hamilton, but it seems as though he could be a close friend due to the informal writing style and contents of this letter. Morg, as Hamilton refers to him, gives Hamilton access to an application for a job as a Mason, I presume, as the writing is unclear.

After thanking Morgan for the application and inquiring what he should use as his address on the application, he tells Morgan about his military job and surroundings beginning with the airplanes. As though in awe of his surroundings, he writes

Fort Sill is really a fine place Morgan, you really should see it… We have an airport at the Fort… On Sunday they are all grounded and there is some 350 or 400 planes all lined up. You have never seen so many planes in one place.


Hamilton then references June, who I have discovered to be his sister. Because Morgan is in contact with June and the contents of the letters she receives from Hamilton, I am beginning to think Morgan may be June’s husband or June and Owen’s brother.

Hamilton’s job as “Section leader” is then explained to Morgan. He describes life where he is stationed as “it would be in some resort.” He doesn’t have “extra detail,” and doesn’t have to do the treacherous drills the others must complete. For this, he seems glad because not participating means not working in the stifling 118-degree temperatures.

Lastly, he explains an upcoming opportunity that includes travel and women. Hamilton shares his excitement to travel to Dallas, Texas, a place he has never been before, with a “fellow” who lives there and who promised Hamilton “Texas beauties.” Hamilton’s character changes as he explains his eagerness to meet Texas women and offers an explanation of Oklahoma women.


Hamilton says he does not think too much of the Oklahoma women, who he describes as “Indian Squaws,” and follows the statement with “and I am not that hard up yet.” Through a little bit of research, I found that a squaw is another term for an American Indian woman but haven’t found anything that says the term is derogatory, though it may have been in the 1940s.

Hamilton tells Morgan that he “got in” with a California girl whose father is a Captain. He explains that “if you play the right angles, you can take these girls out Dutch as they realize the income of a poor soldier,” with “out Dutch” meaning that each person pays for his/her own entertainment; he does not have to pay for two when going on dates.

Hamilton tells “Morg” to write when he gets the chance and closes with “as I enjoy hearing from you.” He signs with his first name, Owen.

The first letter shows Owen Hamilton’s youth, eagerness, and excitement. It also seems as though he enjoys himself and makes the most out of his situation. The second letter, taken from the middle of his deployment, shows a different persona. This can be attributed to one of two factors, or both factors, really: a change to whom he writes and his experience in training.


The majority of the letters in the archived collection were addressed to June, Hamilton’s sister. He opens this letter with a reminder to his sister that he wants to hear from her regardless of the dollars she sends with her letters. My best guess as to why she might do so is due to the “income of a poor soldier” as stated in Hamilton’s letter to Morgan. Regardless, Hamilton feels appreciative of the dollar and June’s thoughtfulness.

An inquiry about his family and friends follows, which is common in almost all of Hamilton’s letters to his sister. He worries about his mother and ensures she has good company. Also common are updates about his schooling, training, and personal life. Here, he describes the increased difficulty at school, a place where he takes pride in his hard work.

Hamilton updates June about his most recent outage with Edith, presumably his close friend or girlfriend, during which he went on a double date with a Tennessee friend and his new wife to a national park where they swam and “had a good time.”

He excuses himself from June with the want to “write a few more letters before supper.” He requests that June “tell Morgan hello” for him and says he will see them on the upcoming weekend. He closes with another thanks for the dollar and “Lots of Love” before signing “Owen.”

In the letter written towards the middle of his deployment, Hamilton seems as though he found a routine and has settled. His demeanor is much calmer than it was in his first letter to Morgan. In the final letter of the series, Hamilton’s demeanor changes, once again, this time to a more anxious one and one that did not appear until around his final month of deployment.



In January of 1946, after almost two and a half years of being stationed all over the United States, Owen Hamilton writes his second-last letter to his sister.

With an address to June, he opens this letter. He describes the “fog” he experiences “as to when [he] will leave.” He has knowledge of his Division’s inactivation not taking place until February 15 and expresses his frustration with the thought of having to stay until then with the statement, “I will blow my top.”

Hamilton is unsure of when he will leave; if “they don’t hold [him]” there, June will receive this letter as her brother makes his way home. He assures her that either way, he will send their mother a “cablegram” when he leaves before informing June of the upcoming lack in writing after he leaves.

Disbelief about his approaching leave “after all this waiting around” is expressed. Hamilton seems anxious to go home but says he dislikes thinking about the long trip “as [he] will be really anxious the last 100 miles or so.”


An update about his job is provided. Hamilton writes that he “made Tech Sgt” on his birthday and follows with “that was quite a nice present.” He mentions the new income of $150 a month that accompanied the promotion but hopes he “won’t draw over a couple more pays.”

Hamilton concludes this letter with an inquiry about “everyone at home.” He requests that June tells his family hello before expressing his hopes to “be seeing [her] shortly.” He closes with “Lots of Love” and signs his name.

In the final letter, Owen Hamilton appears calm, yet anxious. He speaks less of his job than usual; instead he uses this letter to express his thoughts about when he will leave and his return home.

When comparing the three letters, Hamilton goes from excited to settled to anxious. He wrote to June frequently, sometimes, every day of the week. In almost all letters, Hamilton requests updates about family and friends from home and sends updates about his life in various states including, but not limited to, Oklahoma, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and Kansas. In reading these letters, I learned that Owen Hamilton valued his friends, family, and freedoms. But, because I only had letters to read, I was left wondering about the rest of Hamilton’s life: What was life like upon his return home? Did he remain in the military? How did being away from home affect his person, physically and mentally? Unfortunately, these questions will never find an answer.

T0 Betsy Wells Hall

*This post was written by Theresa Oser, an English 601 student, at the University of Southern Indiana.

My archival folder contained Civil War era poems written by Betsy Wells Hall.  They were written in a script-line longhand on lined paper and were bound with cardboard and string.  Betsy abhorred slavery and everything it stood for.  She also detested the war and the terrible loss of life it incurred.  She knew all too well the terrible effect this had on the enlisted men and their families.  I am sure if she could have had her way, slavery would have been abolished without a single hanging or shot being fired.  Liberty for all was vastly important to Betsy.  A true patriot, she wrote on the necessity of freedom, the wrongs of slavery, and that abolition was essential and what was best for her country.  The poem I chose had no title. It spoke of the death of a young sailor, obviously a personal loss for Betsy.  She received few details of his passing, and this weighed on her.  This poem, along with others, inspired my own poem, an ode, of sorts, to Betsy.

To Betsy Wells Hall

Was he your brother? Your son?

The man, the sailor who died?

You reached out with your words,

Tears in the form of words

To touch others,

Letting them know

How you were devastated

By this terrible war

And of your young sailor?

You know only that he died

You know not where or when.

Heart broken,

You wept

Not only for yours,

But for all who perished

In this terrible war.

I know you miss him,

His empty pillow a weary reminder

That you know not where he rests,

Yet you feel him near.

You remember, too, the other

Mothers, sisters, wives

Who shed tears for their men,

Victims of this terrible war.

But take heart, dear Betsy,

For though he is gone

His death was not in vain.

For those held in bondage

Have at last been set free

And our country is whole again.

He did his part

And the sacrifice he made

Helped end this terrible war.

The War Back Home: A Creative Essay

Everyone during a war, and rightfully so, thinks about the troops overseas. What have they been forced to see and do? Are they in danger of being wounded or killed? Have they lost their innocence? Will the same person return home, or will he be a stranger to those who knew and loved him?

Rick’s Vietnam War letters aroused great empathy within me. His unit was shattered by casualties in just a few days, and many numbered among the dead were his close buddies. Rick talked about Death as if it were as familiar to him as the buddies he lost. But while his tone carried hints of resignation, it also carried hope. After telling about a devastating RPG attack, Rick wrote, “but anyway I didn’t get hurt so that’s all that counts right.”

I began to think of Rick’s audience: his mother and father. I wondered if Rick infused hope into his letters for the sake of his family. I also wondered how his parents could write about their jobs, friends, and hobbies in response to Rick’s gritty descriptions of stifling weather, nonstop fighting, and death. I imagined Rick’s parents as they read of his patrols and ambushes, then sat down to respond. I imagined an ink blot forming on the paper around a pen that refused to write. Tears dripped onto the blank page as they recalled his post script, which simply said, “WRITE.”

Rick’s parents must have felt conflicted. Their son was fighting in the jungles of Vietnam at the same time they prepared for the ecstasy of another child bearing their first grandkid. We’re justified in focusing our attention on soldiers and their plights. But we rarely stop to consider those who await them back home. The aching helplessness, the paralysis. Loved ones back home fight a war, too.

*This post was written by Peter Barringer, an English 601 student, at the University of Southern Indiana.

A Close Reading of Betsy Wells Hall’s “To the memory of our good President Abraham Lincoln”

Though he be a Humble Man

A Close Reading of Betsy Wells Hall’s “To the memory of our good President Abraham Lincoln”

It goes without saying that the death of President Abraham Lincoln is hailed as one of the worst tragedies to ever strike the American people. Revered as one of the best presidents in the country’s history, Lincoln’s legacy still lives on in his long list of accomplishments that he accumulated during his four years as president. But his life was cut tragically short on April 15, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth, a man with a deplorable hatred held against him, supposedly for his monetary policies regarding the Civil War. The aftermath of his shooting lead thousands of citizens to mourn his loss, from crying in the streets to anyone who would listen to suffering in silence within their own homes. Betsy Wells Hall, a citizen of New Harmony, Indiana during Lincoln’s presidency, chose to share her grief in a gut-wrenching poem dedicated to the president. In it, she details not only the heartbreak and loss felt by the entire country upon his death, but the ways in which the country admired and respected him.

Hall begins her poem with a sigh and a revelation: “Alas: Our language is too feeble ever to show/The light the depth can shadow of our nation’s woe” (1-2). For Hall, who consistently writes memoirs and poems, it is painfully difficult to find the words to describe the sorrow she feels at the news of President Lincoln’s death. “The nation’s woe” aligns with her feelings as the shadow of President Lincoln’s death grips the entire nation, leaving them in the dark about whom they would turn to in this dark hour. Hall goes on to accentuate this sorrow, reciting “It seemed that liberty with him received a blow/For even the goddess draped her head in deepest woe” (11-12), possibly referring to Lady Liberty as the “goddess” who drapes her head in deepest sorrow that one of her “good sons” (5-6) of the country has had his life stolen from him at his highest political peak.

It is interesting to note that Hall refers to Lincoln as both a “father” and a “son,” depending on the context in which she is using his name. To the country, he is the nation’s “father,” guiding them through life and through justice: “He held the life boat helms amid lurid storm and of strife/With firm and steady hand to save our country’s life” (15-16). Here, Hall paints the picture of Lincoln as a man with a firm grip on the problems of the country, ready and able to guide the country through turbulent waters to take his citizens back to the safety of solid ground that is the country’s foundation. But when referring to Lincoln after his death, Hall sees him as a “son of earth” (5) who was “great in being good” (6). Even though he held a “father” status, he was still a “son” of Lady Liberty, tasked to do her job to uphold justice and the law in her name.

One of the more profoundly written lines of Hall’s poem refers to the work ethic of Lincoln and how he handled his fame: “No dazzling glory, no bright promethean flame/But gems of rarest worth wreath round his crown of fame” (7-8). Hall speaks of Lincoln as if he were a humble man, resisting glory in his reign over the country and shying away from the spotlight so he could do his job as president. She references Prometheus, a famous Greek Titan who stole fire from the gods in order to help mankind thrive. And although Prometheus did so for the greater good, Hall recognizes that he also basked in the praise and worship he received for doing such a kindness; she writes of Lincoln as resisting the urge to do the same. Instead, he is adorned by “gems of rarest worth” from his people, as if only the rarest of jewels are reserved for such a humble man.

Hall’s words resonated within the community and still do to new generations who come to read her works. She uses eloquent language in order to bare her soul and cope with her feelings, and in reading this poem it is evident that President Lincoln was loved by her and the nation. His memory and his accomplishments will forever be preserved by her heartbreak that flows through the lines of her poem.


When I came across this poem, I was captivated. I have always loved the history that surrounds the Civil War and President Lincoln, as well as admired what Lincoln did for this country. Never one to have a “political sense,” it was easy to read this poem for what it was: a story of heartbreak. I chose the close reading because I am not very “creative” when it comes to writing; I like facts and looking closely at texts to find the deeper meanings behind them. This poem seemed like it had the perfect language and flow to do such a close reading.

*This post was written by Jacqui Epley, an English 601 student, at the University of Southern Indiana.

Student Assistant Highlight: Shelby Gilliam


Shelby taking a selfie of a 1920’s pulse during UASC’s National Archives Month promotion:

After working in the library archives for one year, I’ve discovered that there are many ways that I benefit as a student worker (aside from the paycheck!) Firstly, the flexibility of the schedule allows for me to earn money without my grades suffering. Even the title “student worker” puts the “student” first. The library archivists always put my needs as a student first and allow for flexibility if my workload from class causes a need for it. Also, I experience an increased awareness of student events. The library always stays up-to-date on campus activities, and since I am here often for work, I have the opportunity to hear about the events. Finally, since I specifically work in the archives, I benefit from the many historical resources that I have access to on a weekly basis. Many students are not aware that the archives exist as a resource to students, and the archivists are full of helpful information. I am able to benefit from the archives as a reference for many of my projects, and I hope that other students will realize the value of the archives’ resources as well!

*Post was wrote by Shelby Gillam, student assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.


The 1968 Presidential Election: Hubert H. Humphrey and George Wallace

As Lyndon B. Johnson’s first complete term wrapped up, LBJ decided not to run for reelection in 1968. LBJ started out popular; however, by the end of his presidency, he was unpopular because of the Vietnam War. 1968 caused the Republicans and Democrats to scramble and find their nominees in order to control the Oval Office.

For the Democrats, four individuals submitted their names for the Democratic nomination: Senator Eugene J. McCarthy of Minnesota, Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, and then Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota. Suddenly on June 6, 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan at the Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel. The Democratic race was narrowed down to McCarthy and Humphrey; moreover, Humphrey won the Democratic nomination in Chicago.


HHH: Hubert Humphrey’s 1968 Button:

Hubert Humphrey was born on May 27, 1911 in Wallace, South Dakota. His father was a local pharmacist and he began to follow in his father’s footsteps. He attended and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1939; moreover, he attended graduate school at Louisiana State University. Humphrey returned to Minneapolis and was politically active: he unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Minneapolis in 1943 but served as mayor from 1945 to 1948, campaign manager for FDR in Minnesota in 1944, U.S. Senator for Minnesota from 1948 to 1964 and 1971 to 1978, vice-president to Lyndon Johnson from 1965 to 1969. Humphrey passed away on January 13, 1978, at 66 in Waverly, Minnesota.

As the Democrats and Republicans began the race to the White House, there was a new third-party on the scene: American Independent Party. Former Democrat governor of Alabama, George Wallace, was interested in running; however, the Democrats had Hubert Humphrey. The party decided to nominate George Wallace: he accepted.


“Stand Up For America” – George Wallace’s 1968 Button:

George Wallace was born on August 25, 1919 in Cilo, Alabama. Born poor, Wallace excelled and attended law school at the University of Alabama. Wallace served multiple political positions: assistant state’s attorney in 1946, judge of the Third Judicial Circuit of Alabama in 1953 to 1959, and served as governor of Alabama from 1963 to 1967, 1971 to 1979, and 1983 to 1987 as a Democrat. During his tenure as governor, he was well-known for his pro-segregation views. He campaigned for a presidential nomination in 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1976. While he was campaigning in 1972, he was shot; however, he was paralyzed from the waist down permanently. In 1987, Wallace retired from politics due to his health. On September 13, 1998, Wallace passed away at 79 in Montgomery, Alabama.

The 1968 Presidential election featured Republican nominee, Richard Nixon of California, Democratic nominee, Hubert H. Humphrey, and American Independent Party nominee, George Wallace. Nixon won 301 electoral votes in comparison to Humphrey and Wallace’s votes, 191 and 46, respectfully. This was the most current election in which a third party candidates won states and their electoral votes. Wallace had won Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana and close to 10 million popular votes.

*This post was wrote by James Wethington, library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.