Shenandoah University’s McCormick Civil War Institute prides itself on creating opportunities for students to engage in research and the real-world work of historians. Recently, two of those opportunities have resulted in the publication of the McCormick Civil War Institute’s newest book, “‘A Good Cause’: Letters from the Ninth New York Heavy Artillery,” and an interpretive handout exploring the lives of enslaved people at Shenandoah University’s River Campus at Cool Spring Battlefield.
Published last month, “A Good Cause” is the second volume in the MCWI’s primary document series and is the product of a collaborative effort between Jonathan Noyalas ’01, M.A., director of the MCWI, and a group of Shenandoah University history majors.
SU students Caitlyn Graulau ’22 (pictured right, center right), Brianna Jarvis ’24 (pictured, center left), Matthew Kohler ’21, Kimberley Oliveto ’22, Steven Stabler ’22 (pictured, far left) and Aidan Steinly ’22 (pictured, second from right), assisted Noyalas (pictured, far right) with the transcription of 60 letters penned by Union soldiers in the 9th New York Heavy Artillery, a regiment that spent considerable time in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864. Noyalas then edited, annotated and contextualized the letters into a book.
The letters were donated to the McCormick Civil War Institute by Al MacLeod, a longtime supporter and friend of MCWI. MacLeod is a descendant of a member of the 9th New York Heavy Artillery regiment.
Historian Brian Matthew Jordan, chair of the department of history at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, praised the book, stating: “Ably edited, annotated, and assembled … these letters yield valuable insights into how men navigated the war’s extremes.” Jordan added that “this gem of a collection illustrates the diversity and demands of soldiering in the Civil War.”
Copies of “A Good Cause” are available for purchase at the Winchester Book Gallery and online at Amazon.com. The book will be unveiled at MCWI’s Spring Conference on Saturday, April 2.
In addition to celebrating the book’s publication, MCWI has also released an interpretive handout detailing the experiences of enslaved people at Shenandoah University’s River Campus at Cool Spring Battlefield. The 195 acres owned by SU were once part of a 1,120-acre plantation owned by the Parker family, on which General Thomas Parker, a veteran of the American Revolution, built his home, “The Retreat,” after purchasing the property in 1799.
Thanks to financial support from Diane Kearns, a member of the Shenandoah University Board of Trustees, Noyalas and a team of SU students – Graulau, Jayce Hall ’24 (pictured above, second from left), Jarvis, Oliveto, Stabler, Steinly and Mel Siebert ’21 – investigated a variety of primary source materials, including land records, wills, receipts, census data and contemporary newspapers, to piece together aspects of the experiences of enslaved people at The Retreat.
The research endeavor has resulted in the creation of an interpretive handout available at Cool Spring and online at su.edu/mcwi. An interpretive panel providing additional details about the lives of the enslaved will be installed in the exhibition area in the Lodge at Cool Spring. Additionally, planning is underway between MCWI and Shenandoah University’s Center for Immersive Learning to create an immersive experience based on the research.