This exciting collection boasts plenty of documents showing how Civil War soldiers from Wisconsin fought and lived as members of the army. Since these soldiers were all from Wisconsin they fought for the Union side against southern states, or the Confederacy. Both sides had huge armies separated into smaller units. These documents correspond to the smaller units called companies and regiments (see glossary). They give you access to a ton of great details about brave Wisconsinites and fighting in the Civil War.
The documents in this collection can be thought of as falling into two categories: 1) documents tracking individual soldiers and their experiences and 2) descriptions of the combat activities.
There are a range of documents that help bring the characteristics and experiences of individual soldiers to life. Muster in papers, for example, give information about the soldiers when they signed up for the army, like height, hometown, and occupation. Discharge records give reasons why soldiers left the army, often because they were injured or killed. Court cases shed light on the rules soldiers needed to follow and the corresponding punishments. The large numbers of troops and savage combat of this war meant that armies were constantly replacing their soldiers. As a result, muster in and discharges appear in every folder in this collection and provide a great sense of the range of Wisconsinites who fought in the Civil War.
Soldiers’ letters and written histories are much rarer but reveal the important role these Wisconsin units played in combat. There is a letter from one of the North’s most famous and brilliant generals, William T. Sherman. He praises his Wisconsin troops for their success in battle. There is also a written history by Lucius Fairchild. It gives specific details about battles. Fairchild describes the “murderous fire” and “disaster” his regiment encountered in some of the most important battles of the war like Bull Run and Antietam. Amazing stuff!
The handwriting in these documents can be challenging – but not impossible – to read. Documents which describe individual soldiers’ identities (like muster in roles and discharge papers) are forms with a lot of filled in blanks, which makes figuring out the handwriting relatively easy, while Fairchild’s documents contain paragraphs of rather sloppy penmanship. I suggest beginning with the documents that describe individual soldiers so that you can get used to this style of cursive before tackling long written paragraphs in Fairchild’s and Sherman’s documents.
This collection consists of one small box with six folders and two larger boxes each containing over ten folders. The folders in the small box correspond with a company, while those in both large boxes focus on the 2nd Wisconsin regiment. This review focuses on just a few of the folders from each box, focusing on soldiers and combat.
Folder 3 contains William T. Sherman’s letter praising Company I of the 8th Wisconsin regiment for their success in battle (until an illness in camp kept them from entering future combat).
Folder 4 holds Colonel Lucius Fairchild’s written history describing the fighting and marching his regiment endured.
Folder 4 holds an order given to the whole regiment which describes soldiers’ daily routines like when they woke up, ate and drilled. Very interesting!
File 8 contains lists of clothing which show that many soldiers lacked full sets of clothing!
Folders 1 and 2 contain the largest group of court cases in the entire collection. These documents reveal the rules soldiers needed to follow and the punishments if they disobeyed them.
Reviewed by: Steven Bonin
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Murphy Library Area Research Center
Orris “Bob” White, the man behind the collection of the Orris O. White Papers, 1919-1962, lived through two World Wars and the Great Depression. This finding aid will focus only on his experience during and after World War I (1914-1918), because it had a large and long-lasting impact on the rest of White’s life. White was a poet and English professor at La Crosse State Teacher’s College, (which later became UWL), from 1914-1952. His teaching career was interrupted when he left to serve in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France during World War I. The battlefields were not at all what White and his fellow soldiers were expecting. With hardly any training, the AEF was thrust into the first modern war, with machine guns and more advanced weapons than they could have ever imagined.
After the war, White returned home to his job as a professor, but he and many other veterans still could not make sense of their experiences. Because the soldiers felt misunderstood and different, they were called “The Lost Generation.” They carried not only visible scars, but invisible ones as well, like “shell shock,” or what is known today as PTSD. White and many other veterans turned to poetry and creative writing in order to better understand and explain what they’d experienced during the war. Because of this, they became known as soldier-poets. The soldier-poets tell their own personal history of World War I and the aftermath as the world moved into the modern era.
The Orris O. White collection is made up of two boxes. The first box includes various drafts of White’s poems. The second box also contains drafts of poems, as well as some of White’s creative stories and essays. Since there are multiple drafts and copies of each work scattered throughout the collection, this finding aid will indicate only where a particular document first appears. White and his fellow soldier-poets were rather straightforward with their experiences, because they wanted to explain the reality of war and their memories. The poems and stories are fairly easy to read and interpret. His essays are the most straightforward out of all his works. Nearly every document in the collection is typed, except for Box Two, Folder Four. All documents in that folder are handwritten.
A Note on Poetry and the Themes of the World War I Experience and its Aftermath: The soldier-poets aimed to make sense of their own war memories while they showed the public the reality of these experiences. The themes in these poems often vary between bitter feelings of loss felt during and after the war and disconnection to the modern world, to optimistic patriotism and national pride. Works like “War is Hell” and “Cootie” come straight from White’s experiences. However, an important thing to remember is that though these poems hold value as firsthand accounts of memories, soldier-poets often embellished their memories. It wasn’t on purpose, but the modern warfare of World War I rattled many of the soldier-poets. Even with embellishments, White still acts like a historian, writing down his own experiences and his own story through poetry. Poetry may not be a fact-filled history, but it is still a wonderful form of writing history!
This finding aid lists a selection of poem titles that all deal with World War I and its aftermath. There are many more poems included in the collection than are not listed here. Look at the “See Also” section for other topics White writes about.
Folder Two: Poems
“The World…CALLING or…crying”: This is poem is a patriotic call to duty. Look for examples of White’s nationalism. He places the U.S. in a superior status above other countries, even during a time of uncertainty.
“The Unknown Soldier (of France)”: This poem is in memory of Alan Seeger, another famous soldier-poet. It describes Americans getting ready for war, as well as the soldier’s accounts of the French peasants and the countryside. Many soldier-poets would fall in love with this Old World country, which led some to remain in Europe, or to travel often like White did.
“Torch out of Flanders” and “A Stranger”: These two poems describe the post-war experience. “Torch out of Flanders” tells about the end of the war on Armistice Day (November 11, 1918). “A Stranger” tells about losing a companion in battle, as well as the loss of self.
Folder Seven: Poems
“The Freighter Cook”: This poem is filled with gloomy emotions from the physical injuries leftover from World War I, and life in the U.S. before the Great Depression.
Folder Nine: Poems
“Then God Dropped for War”: White writes that “flying (airplanes) was a means of war” and no longer a joy. This poem describes White’s negative response to the war.
“Tomorrow” (to all the Allied Forces): Contrary to the title, this poem details White’s longing for “yesterday,” or the “good old days.” The poem actually reminds fellow soldiers and veterans “to live, not destroy.” It seems to be a direct response to the violence experienced during World War I, explaining White’s personal reflections and thoughts about his experiences and the aftermath he lived in.
Folder Eleven: Poems
“Silhouettes (of Mississippi Valley)”: This poem uses images of ghosts, dreams, and nature to explore post-war grief.
Folder One: Essays
“Modern Ancient Mariner”: This essay shows White’s confidence in America’s “comeback” after the war. He is hopeful for a return to the “good old days.” He explicitly states that his hope for the future lies in the students he teaches every day at La Crosse! (See Box Two: Folder Seven if you want to read more about the classes White taught).
“The Lost Battalion”: This essay discusses White’s life as a veteran and a professor. He is concerned about the “lost youth,” or the Lost Generation, and states that education, literature, and the arts are the way to help this generation and the United States out of the post-war rut. As a college professor, this perspective makes sense. He puts his hope more in the individual and the arts, rather than industry and development. Fun Find: This typed out essay has an edit in pencil, adding “world” between the “recent war.” World War One was simply called The Great War while it was actually happening. The “world” wasn’t added until later, and the “one” certainly wasn’t added until after World War Two.
“After That—The Deluge”: White tries to explain the struggle of his post-war experience. He feels that the United States is caught in a “national game of make-believe,” avoiding the violence and negative aftermath of the war.
“A Reverie (No. 2)”: In describing violent Midwest blizzards, White mulls over the post-war experience and the odd feeling of “gain out of loss.”
Folder Two: Clipped Essays
“Free”: White criticizes post-war government in this essay.
“Reflecting on the Atmosphere of AEF”: This story explains the specific scene of Armistice Day. It describes the French village he stayed in, as well as the French family he lived with during his time at the front. He explains the loss and disbelief he felt, even as messengers declared the Allied victory. Remember soldier-poets embellished their memories even while they tried to show the reality of war.
“War is Hell”: This seems to be another one of White’s memories. This work tells the story of the soldier’s French friend Pierrot who helped the Allies by discovering and relaying important information. The scene actually takes place after the war was officially over, but raiders still attack the French village overnight.
“Cootie”: Cootie is a French woman who runs the Alley-way Café, an improvised cafeteria for the Allied troops stationed in her French village. White describes the reactions of the soldiers and Cootie to recent battles. Fun Find: Before this story, there is a handwritten apology from White. He apologizes for the actions portrayed in the story. White says he was not himself during the “game of war,” and apologizes for this part of himself that committed such violence.
Folder Three: Poems and Prose
“A Bald-Headed Bachelor Looks at Himself in the Mirror”: This is a fictional story, but it directly references “no man’s land” and trench warfare. This story also explains war injuries, referring to them as “noble wounds.”
Folder Five: Poems
“Bombardier”: This poem shows White’s support for the air force. It describes the feeling of flight and the heroic deeds of pilots.
Folder Seven: Poems and Prose
“Creed”: This poem describes the bitter victory many soldiers felt post-war. Although the Allies won the war, the soldier-poets lament the violence they experienced and committed. They fear these memories will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Reviewed by: Jenae Winter
Created by Kaley Brown
Thai Vue was born around 1953 near the Vietnam border in Laos. He grew up during the Vietnam War era and the American funded “Secret War” in Laos. The Hmong supported the Americans fighting against the communists during the war, but because it was secret, few Americans knew about what the Hmong did. America lost the Vietnam War, and so Thai Vue and the rest of the Hmong population had to go into hiding to avoid being killed by the new government. As a result, thousands of Hmong risked their lives to escape Laos, and many, like Thai Vue, immigrated to the United States.
UWL professor Charles Lee interviewed Vue during the summer of 1994. The interview covers all of Vue’s life until that point. He discusses everything from his childhood in Laos, to hiding from the Communists and escaping to Thailand, to his experiences in America after immigrating in 1978. The recorded interview lasts for over six hours! This finding aid concentrates on the interview’s written transcription and digital version, and covers just the sections that relate to Thai Vue’s life during the war, escaping Laos, the refugee camps, and the cultural differences between America and Laos.
The collection consists of a 160 page typed transcript, several tapes, and a digital audio recording.
Listening to oral histories allows the researcher to become more familiar with the subject. Thai Vue shows a lot of emotion and laughs a lot during the interview, and the transcript does not capture that. He also repeats words or phrases that are important to him, and the transcriber cut a lot of those out. However, listening to the tapes can be difficult since they are frequently recordings of earlier recordings. The tape numbers do not match up with the ones written in the transcript and they can be very fuzzy at times. Tape players are also difficult to use if you are not familiar with them. The digital recording might be easier to use since it is on the computer and allows the user to jump to a specific spot in the interview.
If you decide to listen to the interview, the numbers below will help you locate topics on the digital version. Use the numbers to pick sections for listening – listed below – and quickly jump from subject to subject.
1. Personal Background (pgs. 1-5)
3, 10. Vietnam War (pgs. 5-8 and 26-28)
5. Education (pgs. 8-12)
6, 7. Parents (pgs. 12-17)
8. Leaving Laos for Thailand/ Living with Communists (pgs. 17-24)
11. Communist Soldiers
12. American Evacuation (Fighting Communists) (pgs. 32-53)
13, 14. Hiding in the Jungle and Deaths (pgs. 53-57)
15. Marriage (pgs. 57-65)
24. Hmong People and the Government of Laos (pgs. 95-96)
8. Leaving Laos for Thailand/ Living with Communists (pgs. 17-24)
9. Experiences, Prison Camps (pgs. 24-26)
16, 17, 18. Leaving for Thailand, Prison and Refugee Camps (pgs. 65-86)
21. Resettlement Interview (pgs. 86-92)
23. Refugee Camps and Thai People (pgs. 92-94)
25. Finances, Family separation (pgs. 97-98)
4. American Impressions (pg. 8)
25. Finances, Family Separation (pgs. 97-98)
26. United States (pgs. 98-101)
27. Cultural Differences (pgs. 101-105)
30. Employment/ English/ Winter (pgs. 105-109)
35. Opinions, La Crosse (pgs. 115-122)
36. Parenting (pgs. 122-131)
37. Shamanism (pgs. 131-132)
38. School Board Membership/Hmong in Public Schools (pgs. 133-153)
39. Social Issues, La Crosse (pgs. 153-159)
Reviewed by: Kaley Brown
Murphy’s Area Research Center (ARC)
This collection contains many wonderful letters from across the globe. They were all written to Frank J. Fuchs from friends and acquaintances serving in the American Armed Forces during World War II. The letters are divided into two boxes. Box 1 has 14 folders filled with letters dating from 1942-1943, all in chronological order. The first folder is different than all the rest. It holds a few “Return to Sender” letters written by Mr. Fuchs himself. Having never reached their intended reader, they were returned. Folders 2-14 are all letters from soldiers to Mr. Fuchs. They are labelled by month and year, and ordered chronologically (ex: March 1943, April 1943, May 1943, etc.). In each folder the letters are chronologic by day. This organization continues with Box 2, which holds 8 folders containing letters from 1944 to September, 1945. The last two folders in Box 2 contain Mr. Fuchs’ many address cards, ordered alphabetically, and the Eagles Service Rosters. Since the collection of letters is ordered chronologically, it is easiest to find specific letters by knowing the date written.
Frank J. Fuchs was a prominent member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a charitable club still active today. He even became president of La Crosse’s branch of the club during WWII. Throughout the war he wrote to over a hundred fellow members – some close friends, others merely acquaintances – who were serving overseas. These men varied in rank, education, and age. Most were bachelors others, such as Roy Cleary, were husbands. Their military duties varied greatly as well. Many were average infantrymen, but some piloted airplanes, drove tanks, worked artillery, did vehicle maintenance, and saved lives in hospitals and on the field. Some men were brothers, and some served in the same divisions, but mostly they were soldiers scattered across the globe. In the early years, (contained in Box 1) most of the letters are from soldiers still being trained in the U.S., but as time goes by these men all begin to travel overseas to fight. Understandably, letters arrive less frequently from men serving on the front, and combat was rarely the topic of discussion in their letters. Instead, because many of the men were terribly homesick, La Crosse, and club happenings are common topics!
Below are all of the men Frank Fuchs received letters from through the years 1942-1943, sorted by date for easy retrieval. Also, included is their location. If no location is mentioned, it is due to the government’s censorship of mail, a measure taken to protect the soldiers and the war effort. Highlighted are a few of the men whose situations or duties may be of particular interest to readers. Before cell phones or the internet were invented, to keep in touch friends and family needed to write actual letters if they wished to communicate over long distance. While slow and painstaking in comparison to today, the value given to these messages was often much higher than any email or text sent today. It was a more intimate form of communication and letters were often kept for sentimental value.
WARNING: Most of these letters are handwritten in cursive. While most can easily be read, some take a bit more effort and patience. Also, 1940s slang is slightly different from today. Some phrases may be outdated or confusing. When in doubt, ask!
Brothers Alois and William Abel both served on the Pacific front and even in the same base for a short while. They mention one another frequently in their letters and their brotherly bond can easily be seen. Both were sent overseas but only William continued to write to Frank once deployed. Alois signed his letters as Al and William signs them as Bill.
Many of the men served in the Pacific, but Virgil Cullen’s and Charles Boyle’s letters are the most vivid. Virgil even met General Douglas McArthur while in Australia! Charles signs his letters Buzz.
The war across the Atlantic was fought in many places. Don Hall drove a tank in North Africa and sent pictures and foreign money in his letters. Roy Cleary fought in Sicily and Italy. And Karl Fischer describes what Britain looked like after years of Air Raids.
The finest examples of American pop culture from the 1940s come from William Parizek’s letters while stationed in Virginia. William attended musical concerts and many professional sporting events including the World Series and an NFL game. William signs his letters as Bill.
Reviewed by: David Kopczynski
Alvin M. Peterson was an amateur naturalist from La Crosse County who lived from 1884 to 1977. He wrote nature articles for newspapers and school papers, and kept detailed records of the plant and bird species he saw on his own land, as well as other areas throughout Western Wisconsin. In addition to nature writing, Peterson also wrote various children’s’ stories, many of which he never published. The collection also has articles from his days as a small-town principal, various anti-war articles and letters (not all written by Peterson), and a journal he kept during the time of the Korean War. Almost everything in this collection is typed.
Boxes 1-7 contain Alvin Peterson’s published, self-published, and unpublished writing. Peterson wrote for children’s magazines, as well as nature journals, such as Field and Stream. Most of the writing in these boxes consists of articles that he cut out and pasted into blank books. The dates range from the 1920s into the 1970s. Box 2 contains a published travel book about our area,Palisades and Coulees, and box 3 (folder 8) lists all the plants he found on his Onalaska property, including some very nicely done leaf drawings.
Box 8 contains more articles written by Peterson, however folders 4 and 5 also contain various newspaper clippings that he found of interest, including newspaper articles and drafts of letters about the Vietnam War. The box also contains information about comedian and Civil Rights activist, Dick Gregory’s appearance at UWL.
Box 9 has 38 folders in it. Each folder holds an article of Peterson’s in draft form. His editing marks are all in pencil.
Box 10 also has many folders in it. Folder 33 holds a notebook where Peterson wrote down his thoughts, drafted articles, and made “To Do” lists. It also includes newspaper articles he found interesting. Folder 37 has a ballot withJoe McCarthy on it.
Boxes 11-16 contain more examples of Peterson’s writing. Box 14 (folder 22) contains a scrapbook with various newspaper articles. Box 14 (folder 11) is a journal kept during the Korean War. At the back of the journal is a 1971 letter that Peterson wrote to Gaylord Nelson concerning overpopulation.
Box 17 is bigger than all the other boxes. It is filled with scrapbooks of Peterson’s writing, but also included in folders 1 and 5 are newspaper articles Peterson wrote and collected while he was a principal in the 1910s. Some of the articles discuss WWI, including one by Theodore Roosevelt.
Box 18-20 contains Peterson’s “Outdoor Journals.” They began in 1948 and continued to 1961. Peterson discussed a number of nature issues throughout the journals, and recorded plant, bird, and animal sightings along with the dates when each was first seen. There are many leaf drawings and prints. Each journal is indexed. Some of the boxes also contain bird census work, such as Christmas and May Day bird counts, as well as counting Peterson did for the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
Box 21 contains more articles and self-published books.
Edited by: Patricia Stovey and Kaley Brown