Volume 1, Issue 4
May , 2006
Monroe County Civil War Roundtable
Illinois author with hoosier roots uses rare family letters
To tell the story of the ovid butler family of Indianapolis during the Civil war
The April Roundtable featured the first out-of-state presenter the group has had the privilege of hosting in its short history. Barbara Butler Davis of Lake Forest, Illinois, spoke on her recent (2004) publication of her premier book Affectionately Yours: The Civil War Home-Front Letters of the Ovid Butler Family. Ms. Butler is a Chicago area teacher and an avid student of Indiana history. She is the great-great-granddaughter of Ovid Butler, the founder of Butler University in Indianapolis.
Ms. Davis’ book is a collection of 65 letters written during the Civil War and sent to Ovid Butler’s son, Scot, while he served in the eastern theater from Indianapolis to Franklin to Atlanta and into South Carolina by war’s end in 1865. This is somewhat unique in that most letters studied and published from the war are those written by soldiers at the front and sent back home. As the author pointed out, soldier’s at the front had almost no room to carry extra items, even things as small as a letter, and certainly had no way to preserve them in the harsh conditions of camp life or the extremes of existing “on the march”. Thus, such a complete collection as these letters represent provides a fascinating opportunity to get an intimate look at the thoughts and feelings that those at home felt and sent on to their loved ones so far away.
Ms. Davis’ fifteen year odyssey to the final editing and publication of the letters began as a master’s thesis in college and became somewhat of an obsession when she almost accidentally became aware of an undetermined group of letters in, of all places, New Jersey, that added to the collection and was capped by the unearthing of more that had been stored in the basement of the tiny Irvington branch of the Indianapolis Public Library for years before she became aware of them. Then, aided by the mentoring of noted Indiana Civil War historian Alan T. Nolan, she began the difficult task of transcribing and editing them into a cohesive and readable history of one of the most prominent families the State of Indiana has ever produced.
Ovid Butler was a respected lawyer, publisher and educator in the mid-19th century community in Indianapolis. His son Scot went off to war as had so many young men of the era, spending the largest part of his service in the U.S. Signal Corps. His mother was Elizabeth Anne McOuat Butler, a stout woman of strong Scottish heritage and the second wife of Ovid. After the war, Scot married Julia Wesley Dunn of the Dunn family of Bloomington, a family instrumental in the early history of Indiana University and which is remembered today by the Dunn Cemetery adjacent to Beck Chapel on the IU campus.
These letters make fascinating reading. The book is published by the Indiana Historical Society Press and is available through their History Market and in other locations throughout the state.
Summer Break Means Chances for Members to “Explore the War”
As the first full year of the Roundtable nears its end and we approach the “hiatus” months of July and August, members can look to opportunities for travel, study and reflection on their passion for everything Civil War related.
If you have travel plans or experiences you might like to share with those in the group, please bring them to the last two meetings, contact one of the officers or ask for a “classified ad” to be placed in the last two Sentinels of the year. If possible, arrangements can be coordinated to visit a battlefield, attend a re-enactment, enjoy a museum or other CW related places and events.
Thank you Monroe
County History Society
As a token of their appreciation to the Monroe County History Society for its support and for providing a “home” to the Roundtable, the membership voted without dissent a gift of $100 to the Society at the annual meeting in April. Without the generous support of the MCHS and its new director, Jill Lesh, the MCCWR would find it much more difficult to operate. Loyal partners are hard to find, and the Roundtable values its association with the MCHS!
Unfortunately, even a small organization such as the MCCWR cannot run on enthusiasm alone. If you were unable to attend the April meeting at which annual dues were collected, please help us by sending your check to Kevin Shiflet, our treasurer, at 1104 Forest View Drive, Ellettsville, 47429. Dues are $15 for an individual, $20 for a family and $5 for a student membership. This money helps to defray the cost of postage, refreshments, printing and other incidental expenses incurred regularly. We thank you.
Join fellow members and friends at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, May 16th, at the Monroe County History Center for a presentation by Stew Devane on The Story of the 42nd Indiana Volunteer Infantry during the war. Stew is a reenactor and a friend of Roundtable member and former presenter Joel Foust.
Civil War Trivia
“Brevet rank” was a Civil War term borrowed from the British during the Revolutionary War. Different from a commission, officers were often awarded a higher rank due to meritorious service in combat or allowed to serve in staff positions. Many West Point graduates were awarded brevet rank because there were not enough vacancies in the regular army. The rank also allowed volunteers to be promoted. It has not been used in the U.S. military since 1918.
Steve Rolfe, President 336-0757
David Wiley, Secretary 339-5081
Kevin Shiflet, Treasurer 876-2415
John Crosby, Programs 339-2572
Deborah Cronin, Hospitality 323-9615
Call any of the above people for questions, suggestions or comments regarding the Roundtable.
Unique Chance to Assist in Archiving Project
MCCWR members are have a rare opportunity to help in the preservation, archiving and transcription of a group of letters belonging to the Monroe County History Center including at least some Civil War documents. The actual contact and value of this collection is unknown, but members are excited to have the chance, perhaps, to touch history with this project.
Anyone interested in helping or even “kibitzing” this project should contact Lisa Simmons or Erica Kendall at the History Center, 332-2517. Forms will be provided to become “official” History Center volunteers.