Editor’s note: Gimme 5 is a five-question interview about a topic of local interest.
Who: Dustyn Dubuque, Dunn County Historical Society education and programming coordinator.
Talks about: His book release party, “How Newell Burch Survived Andersonville Prison, Among the First to Arrive and Last to Leave.”
Where: Russell J. Rassbach Heritage Museum, 1820 Wakanda St. N.E., Menomonie.
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Details: Free. Refreshments served. The book is available at the book release for $14.99 or at the museum after the release date. Books may also be ordered at monarchtreepublishing.com.
Who was Newell Burch?
As a young boy from New York, he enlisted in the Civil War to fight for the Union Army.
After the war, he taught school for two years in Cincinnati where he met his wife, Susan. In 1869 he married Susan and shortly thereafter moved to Menomonie.
He opened Burch’s Mercantile Co., which was located on what is now historic Main Street. He was also very influential in being one of the men who helped put together the first committee to bring electric light to the city.
The first electric light was used by the Knapp, Stout and Co., where Burch worked as a clerk. In 1908 Burch passed away and is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Menomonie.
What was unique about Burch’s experience in the Civil War?
Burch spent most of his time in the Civil War as a prisoner of war. He kept a diary of his daily life as a soldier.
When he completed a bound book, he mailed it home. He finished his second book before leaving Belle Isle and managed to get it back home.
If he had it with him at Andersonville, it may not have survived the filthy conditions.
Determined to write down what happened to him at Andersonville, he recorded his memories as soon as possible.
Thus, we have a primary account of his experiences, which is unusual.
How did his diary survive from that time to this day?
After his death, Newell’s family found the diaries, realized their value and donated them to the Minnesota Historical Society.
John Imholte, a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, fact-checked certain parts of Burch’s day-to-day experiences, but he did not focus on the second section about Burch’s time at Andersonville Prison.
What was life like at the Andersonville Prison?
Andersonville, Ga., was home to what many call the “deadliest” prisoner of war camp during the Civil War.
More than 45,000 Union soldiers were imprisoned at Andersonville with over 13,000 dying inside its walls.
It was built to house 6,000, but ended up holding over 30,000. Conditions were deplorable. Prisoners had no shelter from the hot Georgia sun. They were fed ground corn cobs. Their clothes disintegrated, and many walked around nearly naked. They were subject to disease from many different sources. Even a smallpox vaccination could result in gangrene.
Why did you write a book about Burch?
During my graduate studies at UW-Eau Claire I knew I wanted to do a thesis on the area of Menomonie.
While working at the Dunn County Historical Society someone mentioned we had a digital copy of Newell Burch’s Civil War diary. Reading his diary,
I found the fact he was among the first to arrive and the last to leave Andersonville amazing.
When I finished, I thought Newell’s story is one many people would find interesting and worked closely with Monarch Tree Publishing to share it with the public.
— Pamela Powers, reporter