About the Editor

My name is Robert Welch.  I received my PhD  through the Agricultural History and Rural Studies program at Iowa State University in the fall of 2011.  I ‘m an independent scholar living in Vermillion, South Dakota.  This project began while I lived in Macomb, Illinois, so yes, I’m very close to the sources for this project.  My research interests center around the Civil War era in general, but I’m fascinated by the intersections of agriculture and warfare, as well as how civilians played a role in those interactions.  I am a member (when I have the money) of the Organization of American Historians, the Agricultural History Society, and the Society of Civil War Historians.

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23 responses

  1. Sir: My name is David Gordon and I am an amateur historian with a particular interest in the service of the Sixteenth Illinois Infantry Regiment formed in Macomb in 1861. My Great Great Grandfather, Thomas Baxter Chapman, and his elder brother Alexander Chapman were both members of the Regiment. I have been collecting any and all information on the service of this unit for many years and I enjoyed the editorial comments. I recently retired; I’m hoping to write a book on this subject. The history of this unit is a very interesting story.

    1. Mr. Gordon-

      Feel free to peruse the blog. There are several entries about the 16th Illinois here, including some letters written anonymously from camp, as well as accounts of their first battle. I try my best to include information about local men in the service when I find it, so be sure to check back often.

  2. I was trying to find you on Authentic Campaigner to PM you, but can you tell me the source of the verse in the latest posting, ““On the field of proud honor, their swords in their hands,
    Their friends and their country to save;
    While liberty gleams on life’s last ebbing-sands,
    Oh! who would not rest with the brave.”

  3. Alas, I’ve never seen this verse before, and a quick search of Google isn’t very helpful. The writer who sent this letter in from the field seems to be a very literate individual, and could very well be citing a poem or song from an even earlier era. One has to wonder if it might come from the myriad volumes of war poetry and music that sprang up during the era and never made it past the front page of a local newspaper or small publication.

  4. David L. Gordon | Reply

    Dr. Welch; I’ve really enjoyed your work on this blog. I’m struck by the polarization between the opposing news organs in this very small town. I fear the tone of our present day political discourse is disturbingly mirrored by this 19th century conflict. Is past but prologue, as the saying goes? Or is a high level of rancor the inevitable result of our freedoms and our culture?

    1. Mr. Gordon-

      I’m glad that you’ve been enjoying the blog. The project has been a labor of love, and I’m glad that others are enjoying it just as much as I am.

      I think the political polarization seen in Macomb’s newspapers is fairly typical for the period, and for humanity as well. I don’t do well predicting the future or interpreting events, but I feel that what we see historically, as well as with modern events, is a basic part of the human condition when faced with deep-seated conflict. We are at a point in our history where we are trying to determine what our core values represent for the future course of our country in the face of difficult circumstances, just as we have during the years leading to the Civil War, or during the Civil Rights Movement, and countless other periods across human history. As in all of these examples, there exists a group of people who possess a vision of our country that want to maintain a status quo, whether that condition existed or not. Conversely, there are others who wish to see changes made in how our country treats minorities, social responsibility, etc. The greatest test for our country is how we compromise with each other in times like these.

      The past is prologue in the sense that we can see patterns in how we come to conflict and deal with it. While some point to the 24 hour news media as fanning the flames and making the situation worse, the newspapers of the past did yeoman’s work to fill the same role. The Eagle and the Journal show that pattern, as would any other set of newspapers in a town anywhere else around the country. And just as today, the opposition between the two news organs is also fueled by monetary incentive, as well as in fun. The two papers prod each other in a joking manner regularly, but there is also the hope that they could sway an advertiser or a subscriber away from the other paper and raise more revenue.

      To be plainly honest, I see the people in Macomb living much as we do today. Certain political issues cause division, but on the whole, don’t we still live and interact with those whom we disagree with regularly? I’ve found it rare that these questions go so far as to separate us in every aspect of life. Those moments where we fail to find compromise are the true point of crisis.

  5. Josephine (forgive me, I don’t the correct honorific to use), thank you for visiting the website. As you can see, this is a historically based research site that discusses the Civil War through the experiences of one Midwestern town. I hope you take the time to look around and read the articles taken from the two newspapers to see what life was like in this region during the era.

    I have allowed your comment to remain as a courtesy to you this time. My comments on “The Blood of My Kindred” were based on your behavior and commentary, not on your geographic locality. Vulgar, ignorant behavior will not be permitted to go on without comment or earned reaction. Any further comments of this nature will not be approved, as they distract from the nature of the material up for discussion here.

  6. josephinesouthern | Reply

    Robert, I have studied my people from a social science point of virew and a question I have in my mind is perplexing, perhaps you can answer it for me.

    Wondering where the yankee rank and file invaders mindset is coming from? Everybody knows If you can’t leave then you are not free. What they did to the South then would be ok to do to them.

    The yankees invaded, used scorched earth policy, terrorized civilians black and white, and then occupied the former sister states (Lincoln never recognized former, but instead termed them rebels) who had left the compact of states and formed their own government. This is such a contradiction and harmful to the invaders as well that I just don’t understand why they did it?

    1. Josephine, I can not adequately respond to your query. I have my own theories and opinions as to the cause of the war, but this blog is not an editorial piece, and I do not wish to make it so. I will, say however, that you and I disagree on several key elements of vital historiography, and I have a feeling that neither of us would be swayed to the others way of viewing the matter.

      If you look through the letters to the editor written by soldiers from McDonough County, Illinois, during the early portion of the war (I’d say spring/summer of 1862), their main motivation for fighting seems to be a sense of nationalism. The letters lack any sense of abolitionist dogma, but do reflect a sense that the South acted in a treasonous manner that threatened the very core and meaning of the union of states as understood in the 19th century. As such, the men from this community who went to war and left a written record in the newspapers did so to preserve the Union.

  7. Perhaps approaching this topic of “freedom to leave” from a Constitutional perspective, one that of course will have interpretations, might be of assistance here: there is not an exit clause. This issue would mean states who voted to enter the Union had no legal grounds for leaving it. However, southern states felt they could justly vote in their state legislatures and pull their chips off the table. What seems false in this belief is that this leaves out the other step involved in becoming a state in the first place. For a state to be admitted to the union, approval must be gotten from the existing states. Would not the same apply for exit? Keep in mind, this decision to leave was not a majority opinion. In a sense the southern minority wanted to hold the northern majority hostage with the threat of pulling their rather large contributions to the tax base out of the picture. Not only that, but secession could also be seen as not so much Lincoln’s fault, but the fault of the Democratic party for splitting up over states rights and the idea of popular sovereignty. Had they gotten together and backed a single candidate they would easily have beaten Lincoln in 1860 (some northern states like New York were very strongly Democratic).

    Calling Lincoln’s soldiers invaders would be like calling southerners traitors and thieves. They did not honor the Constitution’s supremacy clause, they stole federal property by seizing forts, arsenals, and post offices, and they willingly engaged in violent action towards federal troops. Imagine if this occurred today. Lincoln was by some measures rather patient (and Buchanan a fool and flaccid leader for allowing it during his lame duck phase) for allowing it to go as far as it had by April 1861. If a group of people seized all of these things AND attacked US troops unprovoked today we’d label them terrorists, would we not?

    While I hold the above views to be perspective of the truth, I can also understand that the political motives of southern leadership do not necessarily reflect the thoughts and motives of all southerners, much like many New Yorkers of that time would be appalled to be forever linked in Lincoln’s plot to free slaves. Blanketing northerners as “invading yankees” is as reductionist and small as saying southerners were “thieving terrorists.” Lets keep in mind Dr. Welch’s higher purpose of this blog, which is not to invoke name calling, but to be that elusive time machine we all wish for. If only we could make one of those to actually ask those of the time, “just what were you thinking?”

    With much respect,
    Matthew Wood

    1. Matthew-

      Very well and ably stated. Entire careers have been made, and libraries filled, with discussions as to the cause of the war. It’s an argument that won’t be answered here, beyond the writings of those who lived in the era saw things develop. There as many opinions on matters as there are human actors swept up in events.

  8. Here’s the thing. My house, my rules. This is not an editorial site, as stated earlier. And I will not tolerate posts by someone who refuses to take part in a factual, civil conversation. So buh bye. Enjoy the view. Should you choose to interact with myself and others in a civil manner, I might allow your posts to appear again on this site. Until that time, huddle up with your ilk and honor the treason of your ancestors (and mine, by the way.) As my father would say, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

  9. Sorry Robert, I will take full responsibility for Josephine Bass showing up here. You kindly commented on some of my posts and she shows up and starts growing like a weed. Her history is worse than a weed…you can kill the weed but you cannot kill poor history.

    1. No worries. It’s part of being in the conversation electronically. Although I did like one of here comments about tracking me down. I didn’t realize that I was hiding!

      1. Well, what matters is that you always know where you are at.

  10. Robert,
    I have to say this has been an interesting discussion to follow. I am also interested in the comment earlier about the divergence of views in Macomb. Having grown up within “spitting distance” of Macomb years ago, it was a very mixed area between the rural areas of Bushnell, Roseville, Industry and the “big town” of Macomb and so I am not surprised in the variance of views 150 years ago. I would argue that even today those small towns are very different in attitude and values from Macomb. I see it when I come home to visit. It is almost like Macomb is an island to the surrounding towns in some respects. Even when I was young, there were few to no Blacks in the area, and it was segregated. In the same respect however, a very patriotic and nationalist area, and not racist, but just not accustomed to Blacks, nor anxious for integration. I have to say as a native of the area, I understand this divergence very well and am not at all suprised.
    “All for the Union!”

    1. Frank-

      At the time of the war, there were a grand total of eight African-Americans living in the county, so while I imagine that most people in McDonough County had at least some contact with them, they were not major players in community society. A couple of local communities still bear the stigma of being sun-down towns in the past. As to the island feeling, I agree. Macomb at times seems an environment unto itself, and certain areas of Macomb now don’t like to admit that other areas exist, although this tends to revolve around the University and the local opinion of the students. With the number of first and second generation people of Southern extraction that made up the county, it’s understandable why this attitude developed; not from an outwardly racist basis, but rather societal and cultural norms carried with them from where these families originated. I won’t give away the “future,” but local research for a museum exhibit gave some very colorful and interesting reactions to the Emancipation Proclamation that haven’t been seen in the column as yet. That being said, the Colonel of one of the USCT units that fought at the Crater was from the county.

  11. Robert,
    Oh how I miss Macomb Journal entries of late!! The lack of balance could be projected to today when people don’t vary their choices of news sources, i.e. strictly NY Times or CNN, or strictly Wall Street Journal or Fox, you need all of them!

    1. I agree, and it’s been one of the frustrating aspects of this project. Unfortunately, the lack of copies is entirely based in the fact that no one saved a physical copy of these papers 150 years ago. I would love to see the Republican reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation when it went into effect, but we’re left wondering. I’m working on the January 30/31 transcriptions now, and the Journal returns with great information on the battle of Stones River and the 84th Illinois. It will be well worth the wait.

  12. Frank Siltman | Reply

    I saw on the Authentic Campaigner facebook that you were looking for a good living history group in Western Iowa or Nebraska. Please don’t tell me you are re-locating, I need to follow this Journal and Eagle thing to the end!

    1. Frank, have no fear. No matter where my physical future may be (and no, I’m not moving at this time), the blog will continue through the end of the war. Heck, I want to see where this ride ends.

  13. Robert, I am looking into the killing of William Randolph for a Blandin House Museum Project, and just read your posting of November 12, 1864. This is the 3rd version of this event I have found. In one version, the killing happened outside the hotel that Mr. Langford built on Main Street. The other version happened south of the Park Hotel.

    What newspaper is your information from? I would appreciate any help you give.

    Thanks, Karen Moore

    1. Karen-

      The articles posted on November 12 are taken from the “Macomb Eagle,” and are taken verbatim. They are available as microfilm in the Special Collections department of the WIU LIbrary. Also, it runs in my mind that a student in the history department has (within the last five years) written a thesis on the topic. You might search their research for further sources. Special Collections can help with that as well.

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