Civil War historian hopes to broaden opinions of history


Malcolm Walton

Richard McMurry gives a second lecture on campus about Civil War history Wednesday.

Richard McMurry, an award-winning author and historian who specializes in the American Civil War, presented two lectures Wednesday on Marshall University’s campus.

McMurry, who travels across the country to give lectures on the Civil War, said he hopes teaching others about it will broaden their views on history.

“I’m naïve and innocent,” McMurry said. “I think I’m naïve enough to hope that if people understand history their lives will be a lot richer. To a large extent, what we do today is very much influenced by the past—good and bad. If you understand it, it will help you cope with it.”

Professor Nat DeBruin, head of archives and special collections for Marshall libraries, said he asked McMurry to speak because McMurry frequently uses information from the Rosanna A. Blake Collection located at the James E. Morrow Library for his own research.

The Blake Collection is a collection of materials relating to the Confederacy, the southern states, the Civil War and the reconstruction era.

“He’s been using our collection for 10 years now,” DeBruin said. “So that kind of highlights the fact that we’ve got some great material right here at Marshall. It’s kind of a hidden treasure. But we also asked him to come because this is the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. In fact, this week in April, President Lincoln was shot. Just a couple days later, Lee’s army surrendered and the war was over. We’re all just really impressed with Richard’s work and thought he would be a great addition for Marshall.”

DeBruin said he appreciates the way McMurry brings the soldiers of the Civil War to life through the information he gathered.

“When you hear him speak or read some of his work, you’re getting an idea of the common man during that time,” DeBruin said. “Those are the guys that fought the battles, carried the muskets and marched 20 miles in the day. It’s really very interesting how he brings those people to life. They were human beings, just like you and I.”

McMurry said throughout his numerous years of researching the Civil War, he finds the people during that time period most interesting.

“The individuals I’ve come across, both high and low, is what truly fascinates me,” McMurry said. “It’s because we can get to know them so well through the letters and diaries. People at other times in history would probably be just as interesting, but, unfortunately, we don’t have the information to compare.”

Malcolm Walton can be contacted at [email protected]