23 November 2012 by Published in: Research and Writing 5 comments

It never ceases to surprise me how many stones remain unturned with respect to the Civil War. There is still plenty of untapped primary source material out there.

I’m working on the role played by Ohio troops in the 1862 Maryland Campaign, so I availed myself of the collections at the Ohio Historical Society today. In the course of doing so, I found something really remarkable in one of the boxes that I reviewed. There’s a collection of materials pertaining to the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry of the 12th and 20th Corps, and found a complete unpublished manuscript of a regimental history of the 66th Ohio by a fellow named Eugene Powell. There are 11 complete chapters that cover nearly the entire career of the 66th Ohio. I ordered a copy of the Antietam chapter today for my project.

Here is the description of this manuscript from the finding aid for the regiment:

The Powell manuscript consists of eleven chapters describing the actions of the 66th O.V.I. in various battles. The chapters were numbered during processing and are arranged in their apparent order. It is uncertain if the entire manuscript is included in this collection. Chapters 1-3 are entitled Preparing for the Conflict, Campaign in Virginia, and the Shenandoah Valley, respectively. Chapters 4-6 are labeled New Market, Fredericksburg, and Alexandria [Port Republic]; Pope’s Campaign, August 1862; and Antietam and McClellan’s Campaign in Maryland. Chapters 7, 8, and 9 are entitled Burnsides and Hooker, Dumfries and Chancellorsville; Gettysburg; and Campaign on the Rappahannock, New York City, and Governor’s Island, respectively. Chapters 10 and 11 are called Campaign in Tennessee and On to Atlanta!

The only thing missing is a description of the 66th Ohio’s role in Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign of 1865 and a description of its participation in the grand review of Sherman’s army that took place in May 1865, and the disbanding of the regiment at the end of the war; a subsequent author could easily fill that gap. Given that there is no contemporary published regimental history of the 66th Ohio save concise ones in compilations such as Whitelaw Reid’s Ohio in the War (although there is a recent one by a modern historian), the publication of this manuscript would be a welcome addition to the existing body of knowledge about the 66th Ohio.

I also reviewed the John T. Booth Papers today. Booth was a member of the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and he was bound and determined to document the service of his unit. He kept an incredibly detailed diary, and also engaged in extensive correspondence after the war regarding the history and service of the 36th Ohio. The 36th is another unit with no published regimental history, and there is plenty of fodder here for one to cobble one together, should one be so inclined.

As another example, I have long known of the existence of the Thomas Church Haskell Smith Papers at the Ohio Historical Society. Smith was one of John Pope’s staff officers, and spent much of his post-war life gathering material to write a book defending Pope’s conduct of the Battle of Second Bull Run, and, in particular, Pope’s bringing court-martial charges against Maj. Gen. Fitz-John Porter. The collection contains Smith’s correspondence with participants in the battle, which is invaluable, but it also contains Smith’s unpublished manuscript, which is complete. I’ve reviewed the collection, including parts of the manuscript, and its publication would be a substantial addition to the body of knowledge regarding the Second Bull Run Campaign, even if it does attempt to defend the indefensible.

My point in all of this is that these are only three of the many collections at the Ohio Historical Society. How many more of these treasures are there out there in other historical societies that are waiting for someone to come along and utilize them? These are important sources, and it’s a shame that they continue to languish underutilized by modern historians. If someone is looking for a good project, I commend them to you. The regimental history of the 66th Ohio and the T.C.H. Smith manuscript would both be excellent projects for a Ph.D. dissertation or other similar ambitious undertaking.

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Comments

  1. E. Browne
    Fri 23rd Nov 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I believe that I have Eugene Powell’s chapter on Port Republic in my files. If you search in the National Tribune (Chronicling America) you will see a number of articles that he wrote. In addition, he wrote some wartime letters to his hometown newspaper.

  2. E. Browne
    Fri 23rd Nov 2012 at 6:59 pm

    http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85026309/1862-10-01/ed-1/seq-3/

    This link should take you to his (Eugene Powell)letter concerning Sharpsburg and his wound. If not just search using “eugene powell” and 1862.

  3. Fri 23rd Nov 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Thank you!

    I appreciate the link.

  4. Heaher Nichols
    Wed 25th Jun 2014 at 8:36 pm

    There is a book out called “a Light and Uncertain Hold” that is a history of the 66th Ohio published in 1999 by David Thackery – it contains quite a few snippets of 1st person accounts. Didn’t know if that was one you were aware of or not. I am with the 66th OVI reenacting group ( company cook ) Would love to know if you plan to use the information you have found to write and publish Powell’s and others accounts- we’d be 1st in line to snap up a copy. Thanks!
    Heather Nichols

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