Uncovered Civil War documents give students opportunity for hands-on experience

Civil War documents found by the Madison County Recorder office will be used by history professor Erik Alexander to give his upper-level students an opportunity for hands-on experience and to work with original documents.

History professor Erik Alexander.

These 140 discharge papers were the official proof of Madison County’s veterans who served during the Civil War. The documents were given to soldiers as a record so they could apply for pensions, retirement and other benefits, according to Alexander.

The documents are not rare, Alexander said, but what is unusual is to come across that many that are so well preserved.

“They are very useful [since] they include physical description, the battles they fought in, the regiments they were a part of, where they were born, etc,” Alexander said.

Alexander added he saw an opportunity for his students to work with original sources.

“I like to show students history is not just memorizing dates and facts,” Alexander said. “It is a great opportunity for history majors to get a sense of what professional historians and archivists do and why we should study history.”

As part of the Civil War Era class, Alexander will allow students to assist the Madison County Recorder office index and catalog the documents.

“My students will get hands-on experience but also provide much needed help for the archivist at the Recorder office,” Alexander said.

According to Alexander, many of the veterans were Irish and German immigrants and there were also several records of African American soldiers who fought for the Union Army.

For Alexander, who specializes in Civil War history, these types of documents help scholars understand not just the battles different generals fought but also what happened to people who were not fighting.

“There is a lot we still don’t know and this is a perfect example. We have these documents no one has ever looked at,” Alexander said. “We [historians] try to understand the past working directly with these documents.”


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