More than 400 students left Hillsdale to fight for the Union — a higher percentage than any other western college. Of those, three became generals, four were awarded Congressional Medals of Honor, and almost 60 died for the cause of the Union.
Thanks to senior Hailey Morgan, visitors to the library can now access this information and other Civil War memorabilia that tells an important story about Hillsdale College’s history. Morgan’s exhibit, “Hillsdale and the Civil War,” memorializes the valor the men of the college and the community showed during one of the bloodiest wars in American history.
“I always anticipated that you had to go away from campus to learn about the country’s history,” Morgan said. “This project helped me realize just how much Hillsdale College has contributed.”
Morgan said she began thinking about public history while working as a guide with the National Park Service at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park over the last two summers, which she calls “the frontlines of Civil War history.”
Morgan’s project was also inspired in part by Introduction to Public History, a one-credit seminar offered by Professor of History David Stewart which discussed museum curation, living history, archival science, historic sites, and more.
Linda Moore, public service librarian, helped Morgan put together the exhibit.
“I look at my role as a facilitator,” Moore said. “I can help students find the materials they need to use in the college’s archives.”
After the provost’s office secured a cabinet for the display, Morgan set to work collecting the artifacts she needed for the exhibit. Most of them came from the Hillsdale College archives, although some artifacts — including Captain William Whitney’s saber, which sits on the top shelf of the cabinet — are on loan from the Hillsdale Historical Society.
“In the future, we’d like to coordinate with local public history groups to find internships for students interested in public history,” Stewart said. “There’s more than 40 local history organizations within a 30-minute drive from campus, and they all could have great opportunities.”
In coming semesters, Moore and Stewart said they hope other students interested in public history will put together exhibits to show on campus.
“A lot of people have stopped by Hailey’s display, but I think even more people should,” Moore said. “She set a nice standard for future exhibits on campus.”
Morgan’s display revolves around four primary themes — cause, courage, sacrifice, and remembrance.
“Cannonballs are mighty missiles, but ideas in the possession of a skillful writer or when hurled by the logic of an orator are mightier still,” said John Patterson, a student at Hillsdale during the time of the Civil War who is quoted in one of Morgan’s display cards. “An ideal, when properly aimed, shakes the whole world from center to circumference … Ideas are the great lever by which the world is moved.”
Sophomore Josh Bailey, who is pursuing a career in the Marine Corps after graduation, said he and many other Hillsdale students going into the military share the same motivation as the Civil War veterans.
“I think the Patterson quote really sums up why a lot of Hillsdale students serve in the military, both then and now,” he said. “Hillsdale teaches us great ideas, and it is our duty to defend that heritage.”
In the years leading up to the war, Hillsdale was a seat of abolitionist activity, hosting antislavery speakers like Frederick Douglass, who will soon be honored with a statue on the campus’s Freedom Walk.
“When Douglass came to campus, he really expressed the true sentiments of the people here,” Morgan said. “His presence really speaks to our legacy as an institution — we’ve always stood firm in our principles, from his time to our own.”
Hillsdale College students fought primarily in the 4th and 11th Michigan Infantries, and saw action in a number of pivotal battles, including engagements at Gettysburg and Chattanooga.
One story recounted in Morgan’s exhibit describes Asher LaFleur and Moses Luce, classmates from the college serving in the Michigan 4th. In May 1864, LaFleur was shot charging Confederate positions in the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. As LaFleur went down, Luce ran into enemy fire to rescue his friend. The wounds Luce sustained during this act of heroism cost him his leg. But, for his bravery, Luce was awarded the Medal of Honor.
In an 1861 lecture titled “The Decision of the Hour,” Frederick Douglass wrote, “All progress towards perfection ever made by mankind, and all the blessings which are now enjoyed, are ascribable to some brave and good man, who, catching the illumination of a heaven-born truth, has counted it a joy, precious and unspeakable, to toil, suffer, and often to die for the glorious realization of that heaven-born truth.”
Morgan said her display aims to honor the men of Hillsdale College and that “heaven-born truth” for which they fought.
“I think it’s a great way to bring to life the ideas and events we learn about in Constitution 101 and American Heritage,” junior Adrienne Carrier said. “I think we need more of this here at Hillsdale. It really gives context to the things we learn about in those classes.”