Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Civil War in Texas

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

With Richard Hart
Several months ago I was invited by Richard Hart, Social Studies teacher at Mary Lillard Intermediate School in Mansfield, to provide a program on the Civil War to 500 fifth-grade students. My daughter, Lynn O’Neal Martinez, is a Language Arts teacher at Mary Lillard School, and her daughter Jessie is a fifth-grader.

With Karon, Lynn, and Jessie
During my first year as State Historian, I staged a conference on the Civil War at Panola College. I asked Lynn to assist with the programs on women of the period and on patriotic songs of the Civil War. Lynn’s two daughters, Jessie and Chloe (now a high school junior), also were recruited, along with my wife Karon. Lynn, Jessie, and Karon agreed to help me again at Mary Lillard School, demonstrating antebellum clothing, as well as the Language of the Fan. 

Jessie's introduction
Jessie asked me if she could introduce her grandfather to her schoolmates. I was delighted and flattered by Jessie’s request, and her introduction was the most personally enjoyable I've ever had. The 500 students were supervised throughout the program by watchful teachers, and they were a well-behaved and attentive audience – a credit to Mary Lillard teachers and administrators. 

Language of the Fans
I dressed in a Confederate uniform, and I brought a Union uniform to show. I brought kepis and a felt hat with yellow cavalry acorn cords. I also demonstrated accoutrements and items of equipment. I brought several Confederate flags, along with the bone-handled razor my great-grandfather, Leroy O’Neal, carried during the war. Another great-grandfather, G.W. Owen, served with a Mississippi unit, and he was captured late in the war. At war’s end Private Owen was paroled in New Orleans, and his parole was signed by Gen. E.R.S. Canby. We showed the parole on a document camera, along with Confederate money and selected images.

Lynn, Jessie, and Karon demonstrated different styles of antebellum dresses. Lynn showed some of the voluminous undergarments worn by ladies of the era, as well as mourning dress customs. Lynn also displayed and discussed jewelry and other small items. The large number of girls in the audience were captivated.

 From kepis to baseball caps
To engage fifth-grade boys, a great many of whom play summer league ball, I pointed out the role of the Civil War in the development of America’s first team sport. In the years preceding the war baseball began to be played in the growing cities of the Northeast. During the Civil War armies swelled to vast size, and in camp, while not drilling, off-duty soldiers played the new game. After the war former soldiers brought “base ball” home with them, to every corner of the country. Soon there were town teams, college teams, and professional teams. And team uniforms were topped off with short-billed caps – which had evolved from military kepis.

Following the program, we visited Lynn's classroom. Her students got an up-close look at our costumes, while Karon and I examined the latest additions to her Language Arts classroom. As we departed, Richard Hart told me that he and the other fifth-grade Social Studies teachers were on the eve of beginning the unit on the Civil War. Our program on "Texas During the Civil War" seemed especially timely and useful, and certainly the four of us had a delightful time planning and presenting to such a large group of students.

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