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Earlier Articles Appearing in the Hartford Courant
Friday, May 8, 2009
RE-EXAMINING STATE'S ROLE IN CIVIL WAR
CCSU PROFESSOR SAYS CONNECTICUT WAS KEY, WILL EXPLAIN IN NEW BOOK WHY WE FOUGHT
Connecticut provided 55,000 men for the Civil War, along with uniforms, guns, munitions and other materiel that proved vital in quashing the Southern rebellion.
"It's really questionable if the Union could have survived without Connecticut," said Matthew Warshauer, a history professor at Central Connecticut State University.
To document the state's role in the war, Warshauer and a crew of researchers are writing a book, "Civil War Connecticut: From Slavery to Commemoration," which will be available at CCSU in April 2011 during a series of exhibits, lectures and re-enactments to mark the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter.
The battle at the South Carolina fort sparked four years of bloodshed, deprivation and disease that killed one in every 10 of Connecticut's soldiers and caused thousands more to desert. But the book will explore not only the battles Connecticut soldiers fought but also their views on race and slavery, the labors of those on the home front, the role of the state's African Americans and the state's sharply divided political scene, centered on Gov. William A. Buckingham.
"It will be a concise, accessible history of Connecticut in the Civil War," Warshauer said.
He launched the project after finding no centralized effort in the state to mark the war's sesquicentennial, Warshauer said. Furthermore, the last book covering the broad spectrum of Connecticut's Civil War experience - "Connecticut for the Union: The Role of the State in the Civil War" by John Niven - was published in 1965, and much new material has emerged since then.
Since last fall, Warshauer and his team of researchers have been gathering information from letters, newspapers, photographs, diaries and other sources throughout the state. He and the team of graduate and undergraduate students meet every few weeks to go over what they have and what they still need.
Warshauer said he also is pursuing funding for a documentary based on the book. The video, he said, would be made by Karyl Evans, a Connecticut-based, Emmy-winning producer, director and writer whose previous work includes "The Amistad Revolt: All We Want is Make Us Free."
If it is made, the documentary would have its premiere at the three-day commemoration at CCSU. Planned events for the commemoration also include a Civil War encampment at Stanley Quarter Park and exhibits from historical organizations and museums.
Monday, June 1, 2009
CIVIL WAR STRESS BATTLE FOR RECORDS
A group of researchers says the state's mental health agency is withholding information about a significant chapter in Connecticut history.
The researchers, who are compiling a book on the state's role in the Civil War, are seeking files from Connecticut Valley Hospital on veterans who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, known in the 19th century as "soldier's heart."
The conflict pits the historians' desire to tell complete stories of those Yankee fighters against the state's responsibility to protect patient rights, extended in this case to the living relatives of those long-dead soldiers.
"The reason that we're pursuing it, we're interested in the lives of these soldiers," said Matt Warshauer, a history professor at Central Connecticut State University. "Over the last 50 years, there has been a real shift in the study of war. It's moved from big battles and the strategies and the actions of generals and much more toward the average soldier. ... People have become tremendously interested in the lives of these soldiers."
Warshauer is leading the research for a book to be published in 2011 on the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, the battle that launched the nation's bloodiest war. He described the planned book, "Civil War Connecticut: From Slavery to Commemoration," as a concise, accessible history of the state's role in what was known as the War of the Great Rebellion.
The book will cover the state's substantial role in providing war material, the political leadership, the home front and the lives of common soldiers and their families before, during and after the war. An important component of the soldiers' story is the mental trauma some men suffered after witnessing unprecedented bloodshed.
Consider a letter from a Connecticut private to his wife after the battle of Antietam in Maryland in September 1862. Confederate artillerymen were firing not only regular projectiles, but also any metal they could find - horseshoes, twisted telegraph wire, doorknobs and hammer heads. In the letter, Pvt. William Relyea asks his wife to think of a hailstorm beating on the window panes.
"Imagine ten times worse than that, and all the demons of Hades howling an accompaniment ... the singing sound of 2 feet of railroad iron, yard after yard of telegraph wire hissing over your head, the whirring noise of sledgehammers, nails singing on their way ... mingled with the groans, shrieks, curses, hurrahs and shouts of men, and the wailing cry of wounded animals."
How does a man process such a memory and carry on? Some could not. Combat veterans then - and now - suffered deep, sometimes incapacitating mental wounds.
"With all we have learned about PTSD, it makes it that much more relevant and fascinating" to study how the condition was treated 150 years ago and how Connecticut veterans and their families dealt with it, Warshauer said.
The effort to document those individual stories, as well as the extent of PTSD among state Civil War veterans, began last fall. Michael Sturges, one of the book's researchers and a graduate student of Warshauer's, was denied access to the files and told that he would have to get permission from living relatives of the former patients.
Warshauer complained in a letter to a Connecticut Valley Hospital official on Feb. 13 that the information should be available under the state Freedom of Information law. The law's provisions against invasion of privacy do not apply, Warshauer wrote, because the patients are all dead.
Warshauer's complaint then was passed to Doreen Del Bianco, FOI officer for the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Del Bianco wrote to Warshauer on March 5 that CVH records would "not be helpful to this search" because the files do not indicate whether a patient was a veteran and because of the sheer volume of records - "we are talking many volumes here, up to 100 patients per volume, involving probably tens of thousands of patients over a 40- to 50-year span."
First of all, Warshauer wrote back to her on March 23, he and his team had found through other sources that Civil War veterans had been treated at what was then known as the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane, which opened shortly after the war ended. Also, he wrote, historians are used to sifting through piles of material. He assured Del Bianco that "my research team and I will treat the records of all patients with the utmost respect."
Del Bianco then offered to supply copies of patient records - from the list of names that Warshauer and his researchers had uncovered through other sources - with the names redacted. That was unacceptable to him and his team, Warshauer responded, because in their goal to tell complete stories, they needed names to connect the patients to home towns, relatives and regiments.
In a letter dated April 28, Del Bianco shifted from citing FOI laws to another state statute that specifically governs research into "psychiatric communications and records." The law says the director of a mental health facility must review and approve researchers' plans for release of medical records.
Tracie Brown, an attorney with the state FOI commission, said people can use different means to get government-controlled information. Some information may be available under FOI laws, while other information is available under other statutes. In any case, Brown said, the laws "don't cancel each other out. One doesn't trump the other."
Warshauer said he and his researchers will follow the FOI track. They have filed an official complaint and are awaiting a hearing.
Wayne Dailey, spokesman for the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said the department supports research into PTSD, but is concerned about living relatives of the Civil War soldiers.
"This type of information might impact them and the legacy of their ancestors," Dailey said. "The other side is the benefit that research might have for military personnel today. These are both important issues, but we want to proceed cautiously so that in the interest of assisting people today we're not somehow having a negative impact on living descendants."
State Veterans' Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz said she supports the researchers' efforts to document PTSD among Civil War veterans, but she also has a problem with publishing the veterans' names.
"It's tricky, because you have families," Schwartz said. "I have on my wall an 1864 roster of soldiers who served in the Civil War. They still have living relatives."
But Sturges said he would be surprised if relatives objected.
"The attitudes today toward PTSD are accepting," he said. "I would be very surprised if the population was opposed to it, although it's not a bad idea for us to contact living relatives and get their say-so.
"The fact that the war didn't end in 1865 for so many [veterans], I would think that's a story they would want to be told," he said.
"CVH," Warshauer said, "is holding the key to a lock that would open a tremendous story of the men who served for Connecticut in the Civil War, and we really want to be respectful of their patient files, but we also want to see them."