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Two weeks until World War I Daybook launch!

Posted byLori Williamson on 17 Mar 2017 | Tagged as: Civil War Daybook

Our interns and staff have been hard at work, and in two weeks we will launch the World War I Daybook blog. Each day beginning April 1 we will be tracking Minnesota’s involvement in “The Great War” with items from the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection, including diaries, letters, artifacts, newspapers, and more. Join us as we delve into the lives soldiers, nurses, senators and suffragists to examine the war from multiple angles.

Don’t miss the all of the World War I and homefront related artifact for that era in our Collections, now available digitally!

And mark your calendars for the Minnesota Historical Society’s newest exhibit WWI America, opening April 8 at the History Center in St. Paul.

Stephanie Olson
Collections Assistant

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World War I Daybook Preview: A Nurse’s Story

Posted byLori Williamson on 13 Sep 2016 | Tagged as: Civil War Daybook

Hello, my name is Rose Winter, and I was one of two interns working on the World War I Daybook project this summer. I spent my internship going through a variety of smaller manuscript collections in the Gale Family Library, my favorite of which was the Dee Smith collection.

Dee Smith left her clerical job with the Minneapolis Department of Education in June 1918 to go overseas with the Red Cross Department of Personnel in Paris. Her letters home, which are the main component of this collection, were usually addressed to her mother and a woman named Cora who may have been her sister. They are seldom about her work, and instead concerned matters such as going sightseeing, having fun with her friends, and descriptions of wartime Paris.

Letters from July 1918, when Smith was in New York waiting to ship out, reassure her family that she would not be needing a ball gown. This decision was farsighted because in September of that year, when she was in Paris, the American Expeditionary Forces took over the American Red Cross to the extent that Smith was considered service personnel and so wearing her uniform in public became mandatory for the remainder of the war. Smith was not terribly pleased with this decision, especially as it meant she had to wear it to the many dances she attended “to keep morale up.” The uniform also made her instantly recognizable as an American woman overseas.

Although writing of many lighthearted matters, Smith’s letters also directly address the war. Smith visited American troops in hospitals in some of her free time. In January of 1919, after armistice, she visited several battlefields, and that May she used her vacation time to tour Belgium and the defeated Germany. The letters she wrote about this tour show her extreme hatred for Germans, remarking that Germans were ugly, describing American troops stealing cabbage from a German woman for Smith and her friend to eat, and hinting that she thought German prisoners of war were so lazy they ought to be bayoneted. Considering that the application process for overseas Red Cross workers included letters of recommendation proving their loyalty and patriotism for the United States and its allies, this hatred is not entirely surprising. It was only long after armistice that she revealed she had been in Paris while it was being bombed, with bombs falling within blocks of where she was, as censoring had kept her from writing earlier. Other than censoring, her continual fear was that the boats with mail would be torpedoed and her letters would never make it home.

My favorite letter of Smith’s was written on January 23rd, 1919, during the Paris peace talks. While on her lunch break she and a friend went to buy as much jam as they could possibly carry, stuffing their arms and pockets so as to avoid the long lines at the store by reducing their number of trips. While walking back to work in this condition they suddenly realized that the man walking toward them on the street was President Woodrow Wilson, with his secret security agents following behind him. She states in the letter that, “We smiled our best, bowed, and said “Bon Jour” which is good morning in French. He [President Wilson] lifted his high silk hat, bowed and smiled. [...] We were in a perfect misery of indecision afterwards to as whether his affability was due to his delight in seeing us or our most amusing appearance of a grocery delivery wagon.”

See whole letter here: 1-23-19 complete

Look for more of Dee Smith’s letters in the World War I Daybook when it launches in April 2017!

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World War I Daybook Update – Knute Nelson Research

Posted byLori Williamson on 26 Aug 2016 | Tagged as: Civil War Daybook

Hello! My name is Martin Branyon and I was one of the World War I Day Book Researchers for summer 2016. My work this summer involved going through the MNHS manuscripts collection to find relevant documents for the Day Book. I specifically worked with the Knute Nelson Papers collection. Nelson was a Norwegian Immigrant who served for the Union during the Civil War and managed to rise through Minnesota politics to be a well-known Republican Senator by World War I. As a History and Political Science undergrad at the University of Minnesota I found sections of this collection to be right up my alley.

The collection sheds light on both the daily life of Minnesotans during the war and the local politics of the time period. I found particularly interesting the numerous letters that dealt with groups that were critical of the war. Many letters described how the government and citizens reacted to anti-war activity in the state.

Some of the most interesting documents concerning politics and groups opposed to war were dated from July 1917. I found a letter written on July 10, 1917, from a Minneapolis lawyer by the name of Jonas Weil to be particularly interesting. According to his letter a doctor by the name of Eugene Friedman had been held in Hennepin County jail for three weeks, without formal charges being known to him, for allegedly being “antagonistic to the United States Government”. The letter captured how suppression of alleged anti-war proponents was enforced through the government; however suppression of anti-war criticism being carried out by citizens is a common theme of the collection.

A letter from July 14, 1917, by Bemidji lawyer Elmer E. McDonald captures this theme. In a letter to Nelson describing the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizing among lumber and agricultural workers, McDonald nominates a local Bemidji man to infiltrate the IWW and essentially spy on their activity. McDonald clearly saw the IWW as a distinct threat that had to be aggressively targeted by the government and citizens. This sort of political suppression offers interesting insights to the lengths to which citizens would go to protect the war effort.

In addition to opposition to leftist groups, the war elicited strong nativist responses. A letter dated July 25, 1917, from the owner of a Duluth grocery store warned Nelson about the dangers of foreign born residents and citizens in the country. The Duluth man states that all foreign born non-citizens and citizens should be deported from the United States. A strange statement given that Nelson himself was born in Norway. However, it expresses a common theme in the collection of anti-immigrant sentiment during the war.

The Knute Nelson collection offers an interesting view of Minnesota and the home front during the war. The collection offers a personal account of diverse selection of Minnesotan political issues, from censorship and nativism to women’s suffrage and immigrant rights. Be sure to check out the World War I Daybook in April 2017 to learn more about the history and politics of Minnesota during the war!

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Ingvald Smith Diary

Posted byLori Williamson on 13 Jun 2016 | Tagged as: Civil War Daybook

My name is Matt Reicher, and I was the World War I Daybook Project Intern for the Spring 2016 semester. The majority of my time as an intern was spent in the MNHS Library working through the manuscript collections.

Reading the different manuscripts offered me the first-person perspective of events that is often lacking in historical literature. I found myself wrapped up in the life of the people involved, and hung on each of their words while their story took shape. Each story was unique, showing how different people handled the events unfolding around them while maintaining their sanity far away from their homes.

While I read many different types of documents in the library, the one item that stood out most was a diary written by former Glenwood resident Ingvald D. Smith. He was an American soldier who wrote notes documenting his service time in France almost daily. Titled “My Experience in the World War,” Smith’s narrative of events began in March of 1918 and continued through his honorable discharge from service on May 27, 1919. While it isn’t a day-by-day accounting, each of the diary’s 235 pages offered significant insight into the life of a soldier in war. Smith spared no detail, describing the seemingly mundane moments alongside events that unfolded while on the front lines of battle.

Two entries stood out in particular. First, on August 9, 1918, Smith’s sergeant came upon a makeshift gravesite that the group later discovered to be of US Private Herbert Holtke. Smith recognized the name, noting in an entry that Holtke was “one of the men in our group of four that volunteered for service and accompanied us on our trip to France.” Two entries mention Holtke, Smith’s first notation and the description of his gravesite. Though little else is revealed about Holtke and his death, it is a fascinating entry.

The second, written on October 2, 1918, found Smith describing how quickly the fighting could be upon them. “This evening while I was sitting beside a small fire making toast several enemy planes came over flying low, and with machine guns opened fire on the troops in the valley.” He noted after crawling out of a small fox hole that the four-hour barrage “was the worst thing that I have encountered yet.”

While Smith’s diary is captivating, the physical book itself is what I found most compelling. It is large, but pocket-sized and has a slight bend in it giving the impression that Smith carried it with him in his pocket during his time in France. Some of his notes, especially those during his early days in France, give the impression that they were written only moments after an event occurred.

The final few pages of Smith’s diary are a short synopsis of some of the events he took part in during the war. Smith notes his enlistment date, organizations he was attached to in France, as well as the five fronts he fought on – adding whether or not those battles were “offensive” or “defensive” engagements.

Look for Smith’s story, along with many others, when the World War I Daybook blog launches in April, 2017!!

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World War I Daybook Update!

Posted byLori Williamson on 19 Jan 2016 | Tagged as: Civil War Daybook

Hello! My name is Lisa Matson and I have been working as the World War I Daybook Research Assistant Intern this fall. I graduated in May from St. Olaf College with a History major and a Women’s and Gender Studies concentration. Over the last few months I have been continuing the research started by the first two World War I Daybook interns, Molly and Mary. I spent most of my time during the internship in the Gale Family Library reading through manuscript collections. These collections were largely in the form of letters, journals, and other accounts of the war written by men in military service, or men and women serving overseas with other organizations such as the Red Cross and YMCA. There were also a few collections relating to the role of Minnesotans at home during the war. Many of the manuscript collections that I researched will be included in the World War I Daybook blog.

One interesting source that I researched consisted of letters written by Willard W. Bixby, a Minnesota man who worked as a Red Cross ambulance driver in Italy beginning in June 1918. Bixby’s work driving ambulances as a Red Cross volunteer involved moving injured soldiers between hospitals and working on the front lines removing injured soldiers from the battlefields to hospitals where they would be treated. Bixby’s letters to his family describe Italy and his life as an ambulance driver. These letters provide an interesting and unique insight into the war as Bixby served in Italy, while most of the other collections I researched were written by people serving in France, and he was the only ambulance driver in the manuscript collection that I encountered.

In a letter from June 16, 1918, Bixby describes driving an ambulance in the midst of an attack that started the day before and (as he states in later letters) lasted for eight days. It was written from “somewhere on the Piave” in Italy. Here is a selection from Bixby’s letter:

“The anticipated attack started yesterday morning about 1 A.M. I have been on the go every minute and have had about 6 hrs. sleep in the last 48. I am well and safe but have certainly seen the thick of it. . . . I have a machine now so we all have to be on duty as it is a night and day affair. . . . I can see shrapnel bursting from my window and believe me it is not the most pleasant of sounds.”

In later letters, Bixby describes his work throughout the following months and his role in the “grand advance” at the end of the war. See more posts about Willard W. Bixby’s life as a Red Cross ambulance driver in the World War I Daybook blog!

These are two types of ambulances driven by the Red Cross ambulance men. This photo is captioned, “The Fiats carry twice as many wounded as do the Fords. The contrast in size is plainly to be seen here.”

Citation: Willard W. Bixby and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [A/.B624]

Don’t forget to check out the World War I Daybook when the blog launches in April 2017 and keep up to date with the research process blog posts until then!

Lisa Matson, World War I Daybook Intern

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World War I Artifacts Digitized

Posted byLori Williamson on 06 Jan 2016 | Tagged as: Civil War Daybook, What's New

For the past several years the Minnesota Historical Society’s staff have been digitizing our World War I related artifacts. This collection comprises approximately 1,800 objects including United States military uniforms, equipment and supplies, as well as foreign military items (most of which were brought home as souvenirs), trench art, Red Cross materials, and more. The project was undertaken in anticipation of the centennial of the Great War and two major World War I programs planned for spring of 2017: an exhibit focusing on the home front currently in development; and the World War I daybook blog launching in April, 2017.

With the digitization project now complete, all World War I artifacts in the MNHS Collection are available to view on the Collections Online database. Here are some highlights from this incredible collection:

Victory medal awarded to Tela B. Burt, an African-American from Minneapolis who served as a supply sergeant with the 809th Regiment of Pioneer Infantry in France, circa 1919. After the war ended, Burt returned to the Minneapolis and had a career with the post office, played music for several dance bands, and eventually became one of the first African Americans in the Twin Cities area to enter the real estate field.

A length of barbed wire from Verdun, France, found by Miss Frances Rogers of Minnesota, who was part of the American Fund for French Wounded.

German military field telephone inside oak case, circa 1915.

A United States Army Model 1917 steel helmet. This classic World War I “doughboy” helmet was worn by Private Clarence Ervin Ohmann of Saint Paul, Minnesota.

A ditty box owned by United States Navy Seaman Edward R. Stensrud of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It contained souvenirs relating to Stensrud’s WWI service, including postcards, German and Swedish matchboxes and an address book. Railway tags have been pasted on each end of the box.

Coat for an American Red Cross overseas uniform, worn by Margaret MacLaren of Saint Paul, Minnesota, while serving in France circa 1918.

British military issue gas mask and cloth case, circa. There were many types of gas masks used during the war, and this is known as a Small Box Respirator.

French Croix de Guerre medal awarded to Minnesotan John Bowe. When the war began Bowe was the mayor of Canby, Minnesota. He abandoned his position and went to Canada to join the military, where he was rejected due to age. He then went to England and tried to enlist, but was informed he would have to renounce his United States’ citizenship. He then went to France where he joined the French Foreign Legion in 1915.

Minnesota service flag created for the Victory Liberty Loan Campaign in April, 1919. The approximately 1,200 gold stars represent the servicemen from Minnesota who died during the war. It is 18 feet high, and 28 feet long.

Stephanie Olson, Collections Assistant

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Progress on the World War I Daybook!

Posted byLori Williamson on 11 Sep 2015 | Tagged as: Civil War Daybook

Hello everyone! My name is Mary Lesher. I’m a senior History major at Vassar College and I was this summer’s World War I Daybook Research Assistant Intern. I followed up on some of the great research the previous intern, Molly, did into the various kinds of World War I collections items the Minnesota Historical Society has acquired. I spent the majority of my internship in the Gale Family Library examining the Minnesota Gold Star Roll, which was compiled by the Minnesota Public Safety Commission in the years just after the close of the war. The Gold Star Roll is a record of every Minnesotan who died during the war from combat, plane, train and automobile accidents and influenza, which affected soldiers domestically and abroad. These records were filled out by close family members- mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, wives and children- and include various details of these men and women’s lives, from their place of birth to their schooling, character, vocation and military service. Family members often sent in photos, letters they received during the war and newspaper clippings about their loved one who died to give a more complete understanding of who that person was. I combed through every single record to find stories, primary sources and photos to share with you in the World War I Daybook.

One of my favorite Gold Star Roll records is that of Miss Sabra R. Hardy, a nurse in the United States Army Nursing Corps. She was from Minneapolis and worked as a nurse in Minneapolis Hospitals before enlisting for service in WWI. Hardy trained at Camp Travis in Texas before shipping out to New York to finish her training and await her journey to Europe. When she reached England she wrote a brief note to her parents alerting them that she had arrived safely overseas, and told them she would write again once she was permanently located at a hospital near the French Front. This was the last her family ever heard from her, as Hardy contracted Influenza-pneumonia and died about a week after reaching France.

New York
Aug 23-18
Dearest Mother and Dave:

I am here at last and, I just can’t wait till I’ve got my gov’t. outfit together & my Red cross suit on. They are such a good looking blue serge suit [symbol] & U.S.A. emblems worn on lapels beside the Caducci [plural form  of caduceus] which stands for the medical dept. & a black sailor hat & heavy brown army shoes. The duty uniform is grey crepe & white (No. 2) aprons & bibs & caps…”

Citation: “Hardy, Sabra R.” Minnesota Publc Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota [114.D.4.3B]

Be sure to join us for more incredible stories from World War I when the blog launches in April, 2017!

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Stay Tuned for Another Daybook

Posted byLori Williamson on 16 Jun 2015 | Tagged as: Civil War Daybook

Research has begun for the forthcoming World War I Daybook blog!

My name is Molly Kamph, and through the Minnesota Historical Society’s internship program, I acted as the first World War I Daybook Research Intern. Over the past few months, I have surveyed the vast collections of the Minnesota Historical Society in order to lay the foundations for the World War I Daybook blog, scheduled to launch in April, 2017.

Much of my work involved reading through the huge collection of manuscripts and attempting to make connections to other collections like artifacts, photographs and posters, and even recorded pieces from the Oral History collections, through associated dates, events, or general themes. Many of the manuscripts I initially examined discussed the war efforts abroad, but I also found many sources that detailed the various examples of sociopolitical turmoil occurring in Minnesota and the United States.

One particularly interesting example from the MNHS manuscript collections was Walter E. Quigley’s reminiscence entitled “Out where the west begins”, which describes his time as an organizer for the Nonpartisan League (NPL), an organization advocating for state ownership of various farm-related industries. The League began in North Dakota and became fairly popular in Minnesota during World War I. Leading up to the election of 1918, the Nonpartisan League started the Farmer-Labor Party and endorsed candidates running for numerous positions locally, statewide, and nationally to further their left-leaning platform.

Nonpartisan League opponents immediately began to rally against the League. Many within the government were against the League and their aims. For example, Quigley mentions that on October 7, 1918, former president Theodore Roosevelt came to Minneapolis to endorse Governor J.A.A. Burnquist’s reelection and to denounce the NPL. Due to the mention of Roosevelt, I was able to make a connection between the Quigley manuscript and some photographs within the Audio/Visual collections. Two photographs from October 7, 1918 show former president Theodore Roosevelt speaking with Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company workers on behalf of Minnesota Governor J.A.A. Burnquist.

Some opponents of the Nonpartisan League were more violent. League supporters John Meintz and Nels Hokstad, were tarred and feathered by a mob of those opposing the NPL, who saw the League as “pro-German” and “yellow”. Meintz (top) and Hokstad (bottom) are shown in this photograph. Meintz’s ordeal is also mentioned in Quigley’s account. Quigley states, “Mob rule became the worse after the primary [of 1918]. W.W. Latta, editor of the paper at Luverne, and friend of the League, was deported into Iowa. John Meintz in western Minnesota was tarred and feathered… The homes of many League workers were painted yellow, organizers were chased out of dozens of cities and towns; and all in all, the campaign was intensified by the war spirit” (Quigley p.67, 73).

Overall, the collections at the Minnesota Historical Society demonstrate the varied aspects of this complex time in Minnesota and the United States. We hope that you all will join us in April of 2017 for the launch of the World War I Daybook.


  • Quigley, Walter Eli. “Out where the west begins”. Minnesota Historical Society. [P2302]
  • Men tarred and feathered in Minnesota during 1918 campaign by anti-Nonpartisan Leaguers. Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [J1.4 p26]
  • Theodore Roosevelt speaking to workers at Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Company. Minnesota Historical Society. St Paul, Minnesota. [E435.19 p10]
  • Theodore Roosevelt speaking to workers at Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. Minnesota Historical Society. St. Paul, Minnesota. [E435.19 p11]
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Civil War Daybook – Epilogue

Posted byLori Williamson on 01 May 2015 | Tagged as: Civil War Daybook

Thank you to all of the readers and subscribers of the Civil War Daybook blog. As the sesquicentennial of the Civil War comes to an end and soldiers begin returning home, this will be our final post. We at the Minnesota Historical Society are extremely grateful for your appreciation of Minnesota’s Civil War history, and hope you have enjoyed the collections featured in this blog.

For more information about Minnesota and the Civil War please see:

The conclusion of the American Civil War comes in a series of Confederate surrenders throughout the spring and summer of 1865. Some of the most notable events include:

  • April 9, 1865 General Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox in VirginiaApril 15, 1865 US President Lincoln dies
  • April 26, 1865 General Johnston surrenders his armies at Bennett Place in North Carolina
  • May 9, 1865 US President Andrew Johnson declares the armed resistance “virtually” ended
  • May 10, 1865 Confederate President Jefferson Davis is captured at Washington, Georgia
  • June 23, 1865 the last Confederate general to surrender, Cherokee Brigadier General Stand Watie, surrenders at Fort Towson
  • August 20, 1866 US President Andrew Johnson signs a proclamation of peace – Proclamation 157 – Declaring that Peace, Order, Tranquility, and Civil Authority Now Exists in and Throughout the Whole of the United States of America, August 20, 1866.

Between July and September, 1865, the majority of Minnesota’s soldiers were discharged at Fort Snelling. To learn more about veterans’ homecoming experience, don’t miss Civil War Weekend at the Fort, August 15-16, 2015.

If you’re curious about what happened in the lives of some of the regular contributors to this blog after their discharge, check out the post-war biographies below.

James Madison Bowler (3rd Minnesota Regiment) remained in the army after the conclusion of the Civil War (much to the frustration of his wife, Elizabeth) until he was mustered out in April, 1866. When he returned to Minnesota he held a number of different jobs, including farming and railroad construction, eventually settling in Saint Paul. He served as a representative in the Minnesota Legislature in 1878, and was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 1896 and 1898. James Bowler died in 1916, and is buried in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.

Dr. Ebenezer Mattocks Brewer (2nd and 7th Minnesota Regiments) was mustered out of service in August, 1865, and returned to Saint Paul to establish a medical practice. He served as the Saint Paul city physician and health officer from 1867-1871 and 1874-1880, and was the Ramsey County deputy coroner in 1870 and physician from 1874-1882. He moved to Faribault, Minnesota, in 1882 where he continued his practice until his retirement in 1900. Ebenezer Brewer is buried in the Oakland Cemetery in Saint Paul.

Thomas Davidson Christie (1st Minnesota Light Artillery Battery) was discharged in 1865 and surveyed land for the Winona and St. Peter Railroad Company near Winona, Minnesota. He began attended Beloit College in Wisconsin in 1868, receiving a Master of Arts degree in 1874. He graduated from Andover Seminary in Massachusetts in 1877 and was ordained as a minister. In 1877 he and his family traveled to Turkey and did missionary work until 1920, when they returned to the United States. Thomas Christie died in 1921 in Pasadena, California.

Charles Goddard (1st Minnesota Regiment) was mustered out of service with his regiment in May, 1864, and returned to his hometown of Winona, Minnesota. He suffered from the pain of the wound he received at the Battle of Gettysburg, as well as mental trauma of what we might now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Goddard moved from job to job after his discharge and died of tuberculosis in 1868 at the age of 23. He is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Winona, where Mathew Marvin (also of the 1st Minnesota) was the caretaker.

Matthew Marvin (1st Minnesota Regiment) was officially mustered out of service with his regiment in 1864 while he was in Chicago, still recovering from the wound he received at Gettysburg. Marvin returned to his family home in St. Charles, Illinois, to complete his recovery. In 1871 he moved with his wife Angie to Winona, Minnesota, and in 1873 he was appointed as the caretaker of Woodlawn Cemetery. He died in 1903, and is buried in Woodlawn. His daughter, Mabel Marvin, gave a reading at the dedication of the First Minnesota monument at Gettysburg on the 50th anniversary of the battle.

Thomas Montgomery (7th Minnesota Regiment, 76th, 67th, and 65th U.S. Colored Regiments) was discharged from service in 1867 and settled in Saint Peter, Minnesota, with his wife Sarah. He was appointed to the state Board of Equalization in 1887 and moved to Saint Paul, where he served as alderman. He also served in numerous positions within the Masonic orders. Thomas Montgomery died in 1907 and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Saint Paul.

Finally, we invite you to join us in April, 2017 for the launch of the World War I Daybook blog, which will begin on the centennial of the United States’ declaration of war against Germany.

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“Surrender!” and “From Washington”, The Saint Paul Press – April 30, 1865

Posted byLori Williamson on 30 Apr 2015 | Tagged as: Civil War Daybook

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