N. B. White, Reporting from Boliver Heights

In October of 1962, Private N. B. White was at Boliver Heights, not far from Harper’s Ferry. White is likely N. Berdett White, a private in Company B of the 145th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry. On the 19th of the month, he wrote a letter to his cousin, Darius, in reply to one received on the 12th. Like many soldiers, he offers an account of mutual acquaintances and fellow soldiers: who has fallen ill (measles was making the rounds), who was on picket duty, who has or hasn’t written (or should write more!), a request for news, and even an apology for his spelling (“I dont know that I can think of eny more for my bad writing and spelling”). Like many other Civil War letters from soldiers, it offers us a snapshot of White’s days in mid-October. But in the middle, he has a rather interesting story to tell. First, here’s the letter itself. We’ll get to that story…and a transcript…shortly.

Around the start of page three above, in the midst of telling his cousin about his own sickness and a recent fight, he suddenly states “there was a grate explosen the other day.” That, of course, might catch someone’s attention–as it did ours here at Special Collections. He goes one: some of the men built an arch to cook on. there was fore cooking the other day and there happened to be a shell in the dirt under the arch and when they built the fire the shell bursted and kild fore men.” White then goes back to talking about who his cousin got a letter from and who he wants to write him. He skips right over the lessons we might learn from this story: Always look where you dig? Don’t light a fire until you know there’s nothing under it? Don’t stand near a cooking spot someone else built? It seems like there could be several takeaways. White, however, seems to place it in a different context. And “context,” I think, is the key word.

To us–or to me, at any rate, as someone who spends too much time around food history–I find this surprise story fascinating. What did this cooking arch look like? What was it about that particular spot that seemed appropriate to build one? Was there any hint of something beneath the surface? What where they planning to cook? What kind of supplies did this Union regiment have relatively early in the war? For White, this was an off the cuff mention. After all, wasn’t the news of the recent fighting, in which no one was killed and only seven wounded, far more important than an accidental explosion and death of four men? Isn’t it better to focus on who is still alive, rather than think about who has died, especially during wartime? In the context of the time and his letter, most certainly. And of course, White had no idea his letter would last 156 years and I would have questions about this incident and he may not have had the details himself. He may have simply included it because it was an event of note or because it was something different to report back home.

If you’d like a little more context for this collection, the finding aid is available online. As a final note, this letter came with a transcript, so here’s the content in its entirety (I just didn’t want to spoil it before). Enjoy!

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Special Collections is opening LATE on Friday, May 10, 2018

Due to Commencement exercises on campus, Special Collections (along with the University Libraries) will be opening LATE on Friday, May, 10, 2018. We will open at 10am and close at our normal time (5pm). We will be CLOSED for a staff event on Monday, May 14, 2018, and we will resume our normal hours on Tuesday, May 15, 2018.

A Poetry Sampling for National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month! Since I happen to be a bit of a fan and spent too much of my undergraduate and graduate career reading (and writing about) it, you can’t hold it against me if I go digging into our literature holdings for this blog post. Although we aren’t actively engaged in acquired a lot of literary materials, we do have some great holdings on our shelves. In the past, we received collections of books from English faculty, as well as a few manuscript collections relating to literary figures. We have a first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses (number 222 of the first 1000), a signed Langston Hughes, a signed F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author’s edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass…You get the idea. But we also have our fair share of poetry. All this month on the culinary history blog, I’m writing about poetry relating to food, so I won’t get into that subject here. While there is basically too much for me to choose from, I picked out a few volumes from our shelves that show the variety of poems you might find in Special Collections. Beyond that, I encourage you to check out our catalog or pay us a visit. We’ll be happy to help you find a poem or poet to suit your mood!

We’re starting with some Latin poetry by Catullus. Although this particular book comes from 1820, the poetry is much older. As you can see, each poem is laden with commentary by a 19th century scholar. Catullus wasn’t known for being a very clean or appropriate poet, so through this volume, some previous owner wrote “vile” or “indecent” next to many of the poems. I’m sharing a far less controversial poem–the English translation is posted below.

Mourn, O Venuses and Cupids
and however many there are of more charming people:
my girl’s sparrow is dead—
the sparrow, delight of my girl,
whom that girl loved more than her own eyes.
For he was honey-sweet and had known
the lady better than a girl [knows] her mother herself,
nor did he move himself from that girl’s lap,
but hopping around now here now there
he chirped constantly to his mistress alone,
he who now goes through the shadowy journey
thither, whence they deny that anyone returns.
But may it go badly for you, evil shadows
of hell, who devour all beautiful things.
You have taken from me so beautiful a sparrow.
Oh evil deed! Oh wretched little sparrow!
Now through your deeds the eyes of my girl,
swollen with weeping, are red.

Next up, I found a 1909 facsimile volume of the text and manuscript of an 1818 unpublished John Keats poem. The poem is longer than one page, but below are the first pages of the “clean” text, as well as the first page of the actual manuscript. The poem may even be older than 1818, since Keats likely worked on it before he dated it as “finished,” since Fanny was born in 1803 and Keats was eight years older than her.

Our rare book collection also contains poetry for children. In 1916, Richard Hale reissued the poems of his great-aunt, Sarah J. Hale, originally written in 1830. She wrote “Mary had a Little Lamb,” as well as other “instructive” poems, often religious in nature, for children. I’ve included the background on this pamphlet, along with the first poem, “Birds.”

Since one of our major collecting areas is local history, I also found some poetry from a Virginia author. In 1905, Elizabeth May Foster’s Poems was published. This seems to have been her only published work, and it contains largely religious poetry and a few “occasional” poems. As it sounds, “occasional” poems are poems written for a specific event. In this case, it’s for the anniversary of a married couple.

Also building on our “local” theme, we have many, many works by Sherwood Anderson, which I have blogged about before. We have three copies of Mid-American Chants, a collection of poetry published in 1918. Of the three copies, I happened to pull one that still has uncut pages! I choose a poem that fit on a single page, but since its uncut, the poems on the following pages are trickier to read (and would be impossible to scan).

For our last poem (but not our last poet), I found Allen Ginsberg’s The Gates of Wrath, published in 1972. I chose a very short poem, but I’ve given you a lot to read so far. 🙂

Before we depart from our smattering of poetry (that really is the tip of the iceberg!), I took one more picture for this post. We have many books by Virginia Tech faculty member and author Nikki Giovanni. These are a few of titles on one of our shelves. The gap represents a book that is in our display in the reading room from Women’s History Month, which is coming down today.

I hope I’ve given you some idea of what we have and perhaps inspired you to read a little poetry for National Poetry Month. There’s so much variety in poetry, even if you don’t think you like it, you might be surprised at what you can find. If you have a favorite poem, share it in the comments–I’d love to know (and am always looking for recommendations)! And you can engage in larger conversations on social media using #nationalpoetrymonth or #napomo!

Women’s History Month 2018

Women’s History Month is only a few days away and again this year, Special Collections and the University Libraries, in conjunction with some friends around campus, have some plans a-foot!

“Coeds: The History of Women Students at Virginia Tech” (sponsored by University Libraries and Virginia Tech Alumni Association). Virginia Tech first admitted women as students in 1921, but it was a long road to acceptance. Women had to create their own yearbook and unofficial sports teams in the beginning, and it took decades to achieve important student leadership positions in student organizations. Additional barriers prevented women students of color from reaching the same status as white women students for years and sometimes decades, as with the first Black women who didn’t matriculate until 1966, a full 45 years after the first white women and 13 years after the first Black man. This exhibit highlights the many women who overcame these obstacles in order to obtain a quality education and to open doors for others to join the Hokie Nation. Wednesday, February 14th through Friday, March 30th, Monday-Friday from 8am-5pm at the Alumni Museum in Holtzman Alumni Center.

“Courage, Resistance, and Leadership: Women in American History” (sponsored by Special Collections and University Libraries).  Special Collections and Newman Library will be collaborating on two exhibits in two spaces on the first floor of Newman Library. Special Collections will have items from our collections on display in the Reading Room, along with a digital slideshow of additional materials, trivia, and fun facts. In a nearby location on the first floor of the library, there will be a display of posters highlighting women represented in Special Collections holdings, as well as from the Women’s History Month website, which contextualize their roles in American history. Open Thursday, March 1 through Monday, April 2, during Newman Library Hours. Posters will be on display on the first floor of Newman Library in the hallway across from classroom 120; the Special Collections reading room is on the first floor near the cafe. 

“Together | We: Troubling the Field in 20th Century Architecture” (sponsored by Special Collections and University Libraries). The Special Collections Department at Newman Library will have an interactive digital exhibition on display focused on materials from the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA).  The exhibit will highlight a number of women working primarily in the 20th century who were practitioners and often pioneers in the field. In addition to their architectural work they often had to overcome significant barriers to entry into the field, including access to the resources and networks of professional organizations. Several of these women became avid organizers and advocates, highlighting the contributions of other women to the profession and working to rectify the disparities in representation across daily practice and professional associations. Open Thursday, March 1 through Monday, April 2, during Newman Library Hours. Display will be on the first floor of Newman Library in the hallway across from classroom 120.

For the sixth year running, our What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?! blog will continue its “Women’s History Month” series, highlighting the contributions of women to the culinary and agricultural fields! (You can view the posts to date online.)  New posts should also show up under this category as they are published. So far, we’re planning to look at Martha Lee Anderson (pamphlet author for Church & Dwight, aka Arm & Hammer), the legend of Betty Crocker, and a manuscript cookbook from an alumnae of Randolph Macon College from the 1920s.  And you may see some women’s history-themed posts on our Special Collections at Virginia Tech blog, as well as on our social media channels (@VT_SCUA on Twitter and through our contributions the University Libraries’ Instagram account, @vtlibraries).

We are also involved in a set of individual events in March:

  • Wikimedia Share-A-Thon” (sponsored by University Libraries and the Women’s Center). Come help enhance the visual record ahead of the next two events in this Wikipedia intervention series (see below). The workshop will start with an introduction to Wikimedia Commons and then dive into sharing photos on the platform. As Wikimedia Commons only accepts freely licensed images, there will also be an overview of Creative Commons Licensing. Tuesday, March 20 from 2-3:30pm in the Newman Library Multipurpose Room. 
  • “FlowGround Session Wikipedia Editing Workshop” (sponsored by University Libraries and the Women’s Center). Drop in for an informal session to chat with colleagues about intersections between fields that could generate a push to make Wikipedia articles a more complex—yet still accessible—resource for the general public. Set up an account, learn about editing, talk with people from a wide range of disciplines about intervening in social spaces, and just generally share ideas that transcend specific disciplines, technology, tools, and processes. Wednesday, March 21st from 11:30am-1pm in the Newman Library Athenaeum (room 124).
  • “Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon” (sponsored by University Libraries and the Women’s Center). Drop in any time to help edit Wikipedia—or just learn about the process and purpose. Tutorial sessions, online modules, assistance in setting up accounts, and other resources will be provided throughout the day for new editors or anyone who wants a refresher. Share ideas, update articles in your area of interest, work with others to enhance existing materials, and enjoy the experience of coming together to make a difference. Wednesday, March 28 from 11am-8pm in the Newman Library Multipurpose Room. 
  • 2018 International Archive of Women in Architecture Symposium(sponsored by College of Architecture and Urban Studies Diversity Committee and the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA)).  For centuries, women in architecture have been involved in pushing the boundaries of architecture and architectural practice. Whether as registered architects, members and leaders of architectural firms, academics and scholars, or in any of the less conventional capacities, women have helped transform the discipline of architecture and the related design fields shaping the built environment. Wednesday, March 28th: 7pm; Thursday, March 29th and Friday, March 30th: 9:30am-4:30pm

There will be about 45 events going on during March all over campus to celebrate women’s history month and we encourage you to check out the calendar (which will be posted online this week) and get involved where you can!

Ansil T. Bartlett & A Bird

In April 1865, a young man named Ansil T. Bartlett was in Farmville, Virginia (or, as he put it, Farmsville). From what we know, Bartlett enlisted with Company D of the 58th Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry in early 1864. Although he spent less than 18 months in service during the war, his regiment was involved in action at Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, and the fall of Petersburg, among other places. On April 15, 1865, he wrote a letter home to his father.

58th in camp at Farmsville
April 15th 1865
Dear Father
I now seat myself to write you a few lines top let you know that I am alive and well and hope to find you enjoying the same pleasure it is a very hard place here. Sheridan’s Cavalry has made havoc in and about the houses. they took all that they had to eat and in some places all of the women’s clothing. that taking clothing I don’t think was just right they took everything even to the babies clothes. it looked rather hard. I am on guard at a house now while I am writing these few lines to you. give my love to all and take care of yourself and not get sick for I want you to live and see your son when he gets home and then we will try to live and enjoy our self for the rest of our life. it is a very pleasant country around here it is planting time but the niggers are all leaving for the north. I heard that General Curtain was giving no discharge all of his boys in 4 months. and I heard that Grant said that the volunteers army would all be discharged in 6 weeks but you cannot believe all that you hear this is all that I can think of now this is from your son good bye yours truly

Ansil T Bartlett
Co D 58thRegt Mass. Vet. Vols
Washington
DC
give my love to all and tell them that I expect to be at home by the 4th of July there is a good time coming

Written only days after Lee’s surrender, Bartlett cautions his father against believing any rumors about when he might be discharged, though his own post script suggests he thought 2 months wasn’t unreasonable. His letter is not uncommon in many senses: he reports on his current activities, recounts what he has witnessed around him recently, and looks forward to a life after the war. (Bartlett was actually discharged in late July of 1865.)

What really struck me about this letter the first time I saw it, though, was what came at the end–Bartlett’s drawing of a bird. 152 years later, we don’t have any clue as to why he drew it or what it symbolized to him. He doesn’t comment on it and it looks almost like an afterthought, tacked on to the close of his letter. But, it’s also write on the heels of his final reminder: “there is a good time coming.” Perhaps it was a reminder of that, and an image that represents a good future. Perhaps is meant to be an eagle, a bird used by many regiments on their flags and, at the time, at least part of the country. Perhaps it meant something specific to his father. Or maybe it’s just something he drew to fill the space at the close of his note. Whatever the case, it certainly makes Bartlett’s letter something unique.

The finding aid for this collection is available online. In addition, it has been digitized. You can see these two pages, as well as the third (which includes an addresses and some calculations) online.

Quick Announcement Re: November 17, 2017

Just a quick announcement from our staff: Newman Library will be closing early at 4pm on Friday, November 17, 2017, for a donor appreciation event. This includes Special Collections. We will open at 8am, as usual, but we be closing an hour early. We will re-open at our usual time on the following Monday morning (November 20, 2017).