One day, I walked into my American History class, tired just like any other teenagers and just like on any other days. The first thing I saw was an object that looked like a projector. Then I remembered what Mr. Barry, my American History teacher, had told the class the day before; we are going to learn about the Civil War through something different than power points.
I did not predict that I was going to fall in love with the “antique” slide projector and the history that it projected on the board.
The lesson began and Mr. Barry projected the first few images. The images showed the sites of the battles. I was already enthralled. To be honest the photographs of the blue skies were so beautiful that I was more committed to the photographs than to the history that the photographs were showing. Thankfully, Mr. Barry allowed me to include some of the photos in this blog post. The photographs had an odd effect on me. I felt nostalgia for the past, but the photos were taken in the 90’s (before I was born or when I was very little), I have never been to the battle sites, and the actual battles took place around 150 years ago. It didn’t make sense for me to feel nostalgia for an event, a place, a time that I have never been through.
That’s when I realized that this presentation is much more powerful and meaningful than power point presentations that I stare at day after day. The images were visually and emotionally relevant to my personal experience. The sky is blue today, it was blue 20 years ago, and it was blue 150 years ago. I always knew that history is relevant to the present, but this was the first time that I felt that history is relevant to the present and to me.
Mr. Barry explained to us that these photographs were taken when he was given a grant to follow the footsteps of his great great grandfather, Timothy Carroll, in the Battle of Gettysburg. This made the Civil War even more relevant and personal because it was explained through the experience of someone related to my history teacher, not through the experience of a famous general found in my textbook.
At that point, I was fully interested in the history of the Civil War, not just the photographs. When I decided that this blog article is going to be about Timothy Carroll, I was a bit worried. I did not take any notes during class. I was so immersed in the story, which Mr. Barry was telling us, that I forgot to take notes. I was nonetheless eager to write about Timothy Carroll. I asked Mr. Barry for an interview. He gladly accepted.
Formulating the interview questions was unexpectedly challenging. I didn’t know how much Mr. Barry knew about Timothy Carroll. I went to Mr. Barry to interview him not expecting for him to be able to answer all the questions I have.
Q: What battles did Timothy Carroll fight in?
A: Oh this interview is about Timothy Carroll? Cool! He fought in many battles. I’ll name the important ones.He fought in the Battle of Fair Oaks, Malvern Hill, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. His throat was wounded in Spotsylvania, so I am not sure if he actually fought in the Battle of Cold Harbor. He fought in many more battles, but those are the important ones.
Q: What is his nationality?
A: He was born in Ireland. I don’t know what county in Ireland he was from, but many Irish immigrants were from County Cork or County Clare, so he might be from one of those counties. I know that by 1847, he was 5 years old. He was buried in the Calvary Cemetery in Queens. An Irish family was buried on top of him, but that was common for graves in that Cemetery.
Q: How did he end up fighting in the Civil War?
A: He volunteered. In fact he even reenlisted as a veteran for 3 more years. A furlough and bounty were granted to each soldier who reenlisted.
Q: What was his experience like in the Civil War?
A: His unit was formed in the summer of 1861 and was trained at Willetts Point in Queens, which is now more commonly know as Fort Totten. Then in the fall of that year, the unit fought in the Battle of Bull Run, which is the first major battle of the Civil War. His regiment, the 65th New York had a brilliant record. It was the last regiment in the battle of Potomac. He was wounded three times. He nevertheless enlisted. Half of the soldiers in the 65th New York reenlisted. 3 days before the Civil War ended, Timothy Carroll’s left shoulder was wounded at Sailor’s Creek (or Sayler’s Creek). That knocked him out. Then in March or April, he was given the title of lieutenant, which is the highest rank for a sergeant. Long story so much shorter, he entered as a private (the lowest rank) and then earned the title of lieutenant by the end of his career as a soldier.
Q: How did you find out that Timothy Carroll became a Lieutenant?
A: I went to the National Archives in Washington D.C. They have pension records and military records. Anyone with a relative who fought in any American War can find their relatives’ records at the National Archives.
Q: If you could ask one question to him, what would it be?
A: These are really great questions. Did you make these on your own? (me: Thank you, and yes, I did.) That’s something I discuss with my Civil War classes. I want to ask him many questions. I can’t just ask one. Can I ask maybe two or three? (me: sure!) I would ask him “How did you keep going?” Battle environments are harsh and cruel. I wonder how he went through that and even reenlisted after having fought in many battles. I would also ask him “What did you think of general McClellan?” McClellan was such a controversial character in the Civil War. I wonder what Timothy Carroll, a Union soldier, thought of McClellan, a controversial Union general.
Q: Did you always know about Timothy Carroll?
A: Timothy Carroll is the great grandfather of my mother, so she had some stories about him. I visited Gettysburg with my family and found the battle site interesting. There was also a document in a frame about Timothy Carroll on our wall when I was growing up. When I was little, I simply wondered about Timothy Carroll, and then when I learned a bit more about him, I was more interested. I found out that he was part of the 65th New York, so I researched the regimental history. When I was teaching at another school, I got a grant to take a trip to follow the footsteps of Timothy Carroll. There was one requirement. I had to present something to the faculty, so I took photos throughout my trip. I put my photos together and prepared a presentation. Power point did not exist at that time. The presentation went really well. It began as a “wow”, but now I am writing a whole book about the 65th New York.
Q: Why did you choose to tell the story of the Civil War with the photos projected by the slide projector and through the eyes of Timothy Carroll?
A: It’s a different way to learn. I thought it was a good deviation from the power points. It was a personalized presentation that puts a different spin on the battles of the Civil War. Students have told me that they like it. Also, I put too much work in the presentation to just store it somewhere and never show it. And I like bringing in the slide projector to go along with this presentation. It’s like an antique, and when I bring it in to school, it’s dusty. I get made fun of when I bring that it.
Mr. Barry was able to answer all of my questions. It is fascinating how a primary document that was hanging on the wall when Mr. Barry was little has ultimately led him to write a book about the 65th New York. History can inspire individuals and relate to our daily lives. It is so easy to forget that the Civil War was much more than Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. I often feel distant from historical figures because, well, they’re dead, but also because of the way textbooks portray them. I find it hard to relate to heroes in my textbook. Learning about Timothy Carroll gave me a whole new perspective on the Civil War. Now I can relate to the Civil War more than before I knew about Timothy Carroll. I like to think that the descendant of Timothy Carroll is teaching me.
I do not like the commonly accepted definition of “history” which is “the study of past events”. This definition separates the past from the present even though they are interrelated. We fail to recognize that certain things from the past are still the same today. History most certainly relates to the present.
After all, we are all living under the same blue sky that Timothy Carroll and Lincoln used to live under, aren’t we?
– Seunghee Kim