*Post 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about the Civil War from The Big Book of the Civil War, a pop-up picture book that contains treasure flips full of historical reference and personal information, portrait flips with pictures and biographical information, and paper canons.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.
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, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/.