Tuesday, February 08, 2011

CWL---Warrior Priests, Baptisms By Fire, And Passing Through The Shadow of Death

Notre Dame And The Civil War: Marching Onward To Victory, James M. Schmidt, The History Press, 144 pages, charts, illustrations, photographs,notes, $19.99.

Great sacrifices were made during the Civil War. Colleges were burned, became battlefields, and lost students and faculty to the war. The University of Notre Dame was not yet twenty years old in 1861. Chartered in 1844 by the state of Indiana,and founded not by Irish Catholics but by French Catholics, Notre Dame was plagued by debts, disagreements and destructive flames during its first decade. The decade of the 1850s was a more stable time and the student body climbed from 70 to several hundred in 1860.

The Underground Railroad passed through South Bend. Militia companies organized on campus. Over 90% of the student body called free states home; about 10% of the student body's homes were south of the Mason-Dixon Line and the Ohio River. Catholics were about 10% of all Federal soldiers and among the Federal armies' 500 chaplains there were about 30 Catholics. Most famous of these is Father Corby who blessed the Irish Brigade before its assault on the Stony Hill at Gettysburg during the late afternoon of July 2.

The Sisters of the Holy Cross were housed in Saint Mary's Academy which were located on the campus. These Sisters as well as the Sisters of Charity and other orders provided constant care in the Federal hospitals encampments, hospital ships and hospital trains. At times they were the first responders on battlefields, such as Gettysburg.

Throughout the war, Notre Dame held classes and graduations. Student life during these four year was quite raucous. Among the student body political debates generated fist fights. Voting in local, state and national elections incited spirited tussles. By the war's end the campus had housed William T. Sherman's wife and children. Returning students were now veterans and Notre Dame had its own Grand Army of the Republic post.

Notre Dame is well served by Schmidt's clear, concise and well cited monograph. On each page is an anecdote that provides insight to the personalities and the climate of the opinions among the students and faculty. Schmidt's story of Notre Dame's is reflective of other Northern educational institutions that passed through the war. Other institutions would be lucky to find writers such as Schmidt to tell the story of their war years.

A chemist by education and profession, Jim Schmidt is currently employed as a pharmaceutical research scientist near Houston, Texas. Jim has had a lifelong interest in history and has written more than fifty articles for North & South, World War II, Learning Through History and Chemical Heritage magazines. He is the author of Lincoln's Labels and Years of Suffering and Change. Jim Schmidt is an active member of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and his column "Medical Department" has appeared regularly in the Civil War News since 2000.

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