Students, McClung Museum Uncover Civil War History with Transcription Project

Students from UT and other area schools have been working with the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture to uncover the history of African American soldiers by helping to transcribe a Civil War-era handwritten text.

More than twenty-five students joined McClung Museum staff last month to volunteer for the crowdsourced transcription project, which brings to light the records of the 1st Regiment United States Colored Troops (Heavy Artillery) of Knoxville.

The United States Colored Troops were regiments of African-American soldiers who were recruited to serve in the US Army during the Civil War. The 1st Regiment was formed in Knoxville beginning in January 1864, immediately after the Union secured Knoxville as its base in East Tennessee. Free men of color and emancipated slaves rushed to enlist. Their ranks grew to more than 1,100, but despite their crucial role in the Union victory, little is known about these men. Much of the information about their service was poorly documented, if recorded at all.

Six leather-bound handwritten volumes with the official records of this extraordinary regiment are housed at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. As part of a city of Knoxville community agency grant to bring the content of these handwritten volumes to local researchers, the East Tennessee Civil War Alliance has had their more than 2,100 pages photographed and is in the process of transcribing the handwritten documents so the information will be searchable.

“The efforts of many eager volunteers utilizing digital technology in an innovative and rewarding group format means that it will no longer be necessary to travel to Washington, DC, to research the Civil War experiences of troops who enlisted and were stationed right here in Knoxville,” said Joan Markel, McClung Museum Civil War curator. “Being able to search and study these records is a great asset for all historians and genealogists, locally and worldwide.”

Student volunteers helped with a one-day “transcribe-a-thon” at the museum, in which ninety-two new pages of the volumes were translated from handwriting to searchable text, and another student volunteer event is planned for the near future. Crowdsourcing is a growing trend in museums, archives and other cultural institutions that find engaging with the public to be rewarding in not only expanding institutional knowledge and engagement, but also in helping to stretch otherwise limited resources.

Students will volunteer again from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. on March 22 at the museum for a second transcribe-a-thon session. The plan is to have the transcription completed by April 2015 and the resulting digital files made publicly accessible. The Civil War Alliance hopes that by making records readily available, they can help families learn more about relatives who served in the 1st Regiment, and this important part of Knoxville’s Civil War history will finally receive its due.

Other Knoxville Civil War experts and historians have been instrumental in the transcription project, including Calvin Chappelle of the Knox County Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, who applied for the grant, and Steve Dean of the East Tennessee Civil War Alliance, who is coordinating the volunteer transcription effort.

The McClung Museum is located at 1327 Circle Park Drive. Museum admission is free, and the museum’s hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays. Free two-hour museum parking passes are available from the parking information building at the entrance to Circle Park Drive on the weekdays. Free public transportation to the museum is also available via the Knoxville Trolley Vol Line.

Additional parking information is available online.

For more information about the McClung Museum and its collections and exhibits, visit the website.

CONTACT:

Joan Markel (865-974-2144, jmarkel@utk.edu)

Lindsey Waugh (865-974-2416, ljwaugh@utk.edu)

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, lalapo@utk.edu)