Sunday, July 21, 2013

As of today, this blog has drawn over three thousand viewers, so I reason that there are lots of people out there who are interested in the subject of contraband camps in general and of President's Island in particular.

A new development this summer is that I am teaming with some very fine folks at the Cedar County Historical Society (Tipton, Iowa), who have shown deep devotion to telling the story of Lucinda Humphrey Hays, army hospital and contraband camp worker, as well as the noted founder of LeMoyne-Owen College, in Memphis, Tennessee. Sources that historians at CCHS have tapped into are too numerous to mention in one blog post, so I will instead offer bits and pieces of really significant information (actually, all of it is really significant, but I'll do my best to be selective in this blog).

In addition to this blog is my Last Road to Freedom site, which is undergoing redesign this summer. I am aiming for a greater focus on the war in the west and camps and persons who worked in various capacities in the Mississippi Valley. I will soon have a page on key figures, which will include John Eaton (and other chaplains such as Asa Severance Fiske), Humphrey Hays, brothers Capt. Thomas Walker and John Walker. I may also include something on the 63rd Regiment since it is becoming very clear that this black unit, led by Eaton, played a really important role in wartime Reconstruction.

The work goes slowly, however. At the moment, I am working on a timeline that will reflect the narrative offered by Thomas Knox in Camp-Fire and Cotton Field. Knox was a war correspondent and his recounting of troop movement, as well as his own movement, provides I think a good indication of the various windows of opportunity for African Americans to enter Union lines. Knox's timeline will be cross-referenced with The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant (John Simon, Southern Illinois UP, 1982). Hopefully, this will be the first of several timelines that supplement text with visuals. Speaking of which, I have been having great fun living in Mississippi and taking to the roads to visit the towns where the Union opened camps. Another year will not pass without my visiting the camp at Corinth; however, I suppose that I had not earned the right to visit before accepting that in Mississippi the name of the town is not pronounced in keeping with its Greek roots. Instead, the "o" is pronounced as an "a," and strong accent falls on the second syllable. Car-renth. In any case, I will be there soon. In the mean time, I have taken pictures of other areas including Grand Junction (the site of the first camp after Eaton's appointment) and LaGrange (which must have followed soon after). So, the flag or masthead of the Last Road site features doctored photos, somewhat like collages, taken along Highway 7 in Marshall County. This is not the road that freedomseekers would have taken, but symbolically it sends the right message.

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