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William Tecumseh Sherman’s Civil War Uniform: a treasure returns

An important part of the Sherman Thackara Collection has been returned to Falvey Memorial Library from a long term loan to the Civil War Museum. General William Tecumseh Sherman’s U.S. Civil War frock coat had been reunited with the papers, photographs, and other items donated by the Sherman Thackara family, making this a unified collection once again. This specific coat was worn during the period when Sherman was a major general. Sherman was promoted to this rank officially on August 12, 1864, but it was likely he wore the uniform much earlier from 1862 when he was promoted to Major General of Volunteers just after Shiloh, so this coat was likely worn during the fateful Georgia Campaign and the subsequent Union army “March to the Sea”. One can almost smell the whiff of burning Atlanta!

Frock Coat

The physical coat is on prominent display on the 2nd floor of Falvey Memorial Library in the climate controlled and secure Special Collections Rare Book Room which houses other treasures of the University. A digital surrogate can be viewed online as part of the Digital Library’s Sherman Thackara Collection which documents Sherman’s family especially his favorite daughter Elly Sherman Thackara and her husband Alexander Thackara.

As can been seen in this photograph of the coat, the army’s regulations stipulated an organization of buttons to designate the rank of general officers. The buttons on a major general’s frock coat, like Sherman’s, were grouped in three sets of three; those on a brigadier general’s coat were arranged in four sets of two. This helps us date the garment to a specific date range.

Here is a detailed photograph of the buttons from the Sherman coat, which were specific to the General Staff, and worn on Union general’s coats:

General Staff buttons

Two period photographs from the Library of Congress’s Civil War Photograph Collection showing Sherman wearing his Major General’s coat follow:

Sherman on Horseback

Sherman leaning on cannon


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From Ellie with Love

Posted for Scott Grapin, Digital Library Team:

ellie2.jpg

Sometime in the 1890s, the love letters shared between Eleanor Mary Sherman (Ellie) and Alexander Montgomery Thackara (Mont) were donated with the rest of the Sherman-Thackara Collection to Villanova College, presumably by Ellie herself. Surely, Ellie saw the value of preserving documents pertaining to her famous father, General William Tecumseh Sherman, as well as to her husband Mont, who was appointed to serve as a U.S. Consul at Le Havre, France in 1897. As the library and its patrons have been discovering, this collection also reveals much about Philadelphia and the Main Line toward the end of the nineteenth century and is a rich primary source for studies of middle-class Victorian life. Because they are available in both Falvey’s Special Collections and Digital Library, these letters are also situated to reflect how different technologies might impact the ways we write and receive personal correspondence.

Although Ellie could not have envisioned their digitization, wide dissemination, and nearly instantaneous accessibility, her donation ensured that letters to Mont would become letters to each of us. At the same time, personal letters are characteristically private. We generally ensure this privacy by sealing a letter in an envelope intended for one recipient. Privacy, therefore, also personalizes the document. Letters may be sealed by drops of wax imprinted with a unique stamp or by glue moistened with the sender’s own mouth. In her letters, a young Ellie repeatedly claims this sort of private intimacy with her “own dearest, dearest Mont” , anticipating the days when she would be his wife in singular devotion. Until that time, the tangible letters would often serve as a surrogate presence when Ellie and Mont were apart. Just as we can see, touch, and smell one of these letters in Special Collections, Ellie would repeatedly delight in her beloved’s epistolary touch, even were Mont unable to drop by to share one of their customary four o’clock walks.

Combined with Special Collections, digital availability might seem to compromise the private intimacy of these personal letters. However, while electronic communications are popularly blamed for the handwritten letter’s fall from favor, the Digital Library potentially balances the direction of influence between electronic and written texts. Generally, the investment of personal time, energy, and attention valued by letter writers is deemed an unnecessary expense by digital correspondents. But a digital transcriber steadily gains an intimate appreciation of Ellie’s letters as he faithfully reconstructs them, collaboratively renewing her creative energy and attention. Any reader can likewise peruse digital images of Ellie’s letters and participate in the slower pace of time and human correspondence in which intimacy deepens.

A reader will also witness the impassioned frequency of Ellie’s letters, sometimes several in a day (see, for instance, March 12, 1880; letters 381, 382, and 383), whose impatience is necessarily tempered by the tension of time required for Mont’s response. Ellie creatively delights in these spans of time. In one instance, she opportunely poses an impromptu riddle to Mont and promises an answer for when they next meet, thereby sweetening the expectation of their intimacy. This game may seem quaint in an age of truncated text and instant messaging, when cascades of emails often overwhelm our ability to respond, let alone contemplate, our textual relationships. Here in the Digital Library, however, some of the best qualities of electronic and handwritten correspondence complement one another. Right now, everyone can repeatedly examine and enjoy any image in the collection, much as Ellie would have pored over Mont’s letters. In time, users will be able to search transcriptions for particular keywords with a virtual familiarity akin to Ellie’s attentive devotion. In the process, the digital medium will preserve and exhibit—and possibly inspire us to participate in—the kind of correspondence we can savor like an intimate walk with a companion … perhaps Ellie, Mont, or someone else we’ve been meaning to write.

ellie1.jpg


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No Time like the Present, For a Timeline

As some readers may know we have been diligently working with students and staff members here at the library to provide transcriptions for handwritten letters. This project was piloted with the Sherman-Thackara collection and the number of letters transcribed continues to grow. At this point those letters are not available for viewing in the Digital Library software but excerpts have occasionally been posted to this blog.

The first long transcription project was completed last March by an undergraduate intern, Brittany Dudas. As a history major here at Villanova University she worked with the digital library on transcription during a for-credit internship. A talented transcriber, she was able to transcribe far more letters than we were able to review at any given time so it was decided that perhaps a longer project was in order.

In 1872-1873 Alexander Montgomery Thackara wrote a diary while out to sea on the USS Nipsic. His tour of duty brought him to the then “West Indies.” Among other places, he visited Key West, Samana Bay, Puerto Plata, Havana, and St. Thomas. His journey lasted roughly six months and resulted in nearly 50 pages of diary entries. This entire diary has been transcribed and reviewed, but is much too long to post here. Instead, I would like to share snippets of the diary as used in a timeline.

Dipity LogoDipity is an emerging software that allows users to create an online, interactive timeline. You can include links from any number of online sources, such as Google books, Wikipedia, Flickr, blogs, and much, much more. Moreover there is a feature that allows you to “map” locations on your timeline. This seemed like the perfect venue to create a resource that would allow users to experience Mont’s Journal in a completely new way.

Most entries are titled with the page upon which the text appeared in the actual diary. Next, the date was added for that entry, and usually a link to either the scanned page from the digital library, or to a Wikipedia article that helps explain the location or subject at hand. A fun addition was linking the book, as scanned in by “Google Books”, that Mont was reading while on this voyage. Locations were also added to most entries so they could be mapped and images were used to brighten things up. Dipity allows users to view timelines in four different ways, as a timeline (the standard way), a list, a flipbook, or as a map. The map feature is especially fun for this project as it allows users to “play events” and view the events as they are listed on the map. In this case it allows users to virtually sail around with Mont.

This was certainly an enjoyable project and something that could be an asset for some of our other long transcription projects. I hope that you will check out the timeline and I would love to hear any feedback you may have.


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Sherman-Thackara Collection Digitization Completed

After two years of work our first large personal paper collection has been fully digitized and described. A comprehensive digital finding aid is in the final development stages and should be available for use by the end of March. While the digitization and description have been completed, ongoing work still continues as a broad team of students, staff, and interns works to transcribe, and thus make keyword searchable, these handwritten texts.

Containing over 2,100 discreet items the Sherman-Thackara Collection is largely composed of correspondence containing many letters from Eleanor to her father, General William Tecumseh Sherman, frequently referring to public events and personalities. Another feature of the correspondence that calls for special attention is the local color and references to many individuals, events, and institutions of Philadelphia and the Main Line in the 1880’s and 1890’s. A unique part of the collection is A. M. Thackara’s correspondence, photographs, and memorabilia relating to his years at Annapolis up until his marriage. Here can be found an unusual first-hand picture of Naval life after the U.S. Civil War.

While the transcriptions have not yet been made available, final editing has been completed on a growing pool of letters and documents, so starting in this Blue Electrode post we will be making selected transcriptions available. Here is a part of the transcription from a letter from A.M. Thackara to his father Benjamin Thackara, April 12, 1866, from the ship the U.S. “Constitution”:

Dear-Pop,
As I have some spare time I thought I would write you again. Frank Biruey has returned from Philadelphia. He says he saw you while he was there and he brought me some paper and stamps, for which accept my thanks. It was what I wanted as I was entirely out. We went to an entertainment Friday Evening given by a party of midshipmen. It consisted of a pantomime, called “The Magic Trumpet” and an afterpiece called “The Mummy” it was very good. The magical feats were performed very well. We play ball a great deal now. Every afternoon after exercise

[p.2]

we go out and practise. We have very nice grounds over by the Hospital. We are going to play the return match, next Saturday with the 3rd classmen. I suppose they will beat us this time. I am in the First Section in “Math”. I went up this last week. I tell you it is a big thing to be there. There is a photographer coming from Philadelphia to take photographs of the Midm. He has a place in the yard built for him and I suppose he will be here in a few days. From what I can hear it is Gutekunst. I know it is him I now. I suppose You will want me get some taken. We are getting along all right here now, the even numbered crews sleep on board the Santeo. They commenced last Evening the fellows are all around me

[p.3]

sulking about leave and different things. I tell you it is very nice. During recreation hours I enjoy myself almost as well as home. Al sends his best wishes and hopes you will have a splendid time on your Journey. The Winnepec left here Yesterday for Boston, she is going there to refit for the cruises. I see by last night’s paper that the Senate has passed the Civil rights bill over the veto of the President. We have to make hammock clews and splice ropes and make grummels It leaves us a great deal, we have to make a certain amount every week. The unsatisfactory list just came, I am not on it, in fact I have not been since I have been here. I hardly expected to get up in Math. This

[p.4]

week I wish you would come down and see me before you go across the water. We will soon begin to talk about examinations as it commences next month.
I must close now,

Give my love to Mother, Julia Herarlee
From You Affec. Son,
A. M. Thackara


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Last Modified: March 19, 2008