By Jane Dail
Saturday, November 23, 2013
While doing research on his life’s passion, the Civil War, one East Carolina University librarian noticed a name that kept popping up. He eventually turned his findings about the man into a book that has raked in two statewide awards.
In his free time, Barry Munson browses through old newspapers, looking for bits and pieces of information about Civil War soldiers, including obituaries and marriage announcements.
“I’m what you would call a data miner,” he said.
While looking through microfilm of the Fayetteville Observer from the Civil War era, he kept noticing one name that came up over and over.
A Confederate soldier and newspaper correspondent sent in more than 80 letters to the Fayetteville Observer during the war and signed them “Long Grabs.”
Munson said few news correspondents signed their real names.
“The advantage of not putting your name is that you can kind of say what you want,” he said. “If you want to be critical of a general … or the food is bad or the commissary is terrible, if you sign a fictitious name and send it, nobody knows.”
Munson was determined to find out the true identity of Long Grabs.
While looking through the letters, he found one about the Battle of Petersburg in 1864 that mentioned he was in the 26th regiment and was shot between the eyes.
After looking through a roster of the 26th regiment, he found his first clue.
“I found a particular soldier who had been shot between the eyes and the bullet traveled around under his eye and over his left ear,” Munson.
The soldier named Murdoch John McSween survived the ordeal, but Munson needed more evidence.
Munson eventually found an obituary from 1880 for McSween in a newspaper out of Salisbury.
“In essence it said he was a popular writer for the Fayetteville Observer who was known as Long Grabs,” he said. “So I said, ‘Aha! I have it!’”
Munson compiled the letters from McSween into “Confederate Incognito: The Civil War Reports of ‘Long Grabs,’ a.k.a. Murdoch John McSween.”
Munson said the South had much fewer journalists covering the Civil War and had about 100 civilian journalists, while the North had about 500.
Union soldiers would read Confederate newspapers and vice versa during the war. Munson said Confederate soldiers would trade tobacco for items, including newspapers.
McSween’s writings noted the conditions of civilians and battles, listed people wounded and killed and other general information that gave readers an up-close-and-personal view of the war.
Munson said McSween stopped writing into the newspaper in 1863 and reappeared the summer of 1864.
“He said, ‘It’s nobody’s business to know where I’ve been,’ so I had to do a little research,” Munson said.
Munson discovered Maj. Gen. Matt Ransom had McSween court marshaled. He was sentenced to one year of hard labor in Richmond during his absence.
“He was ambitious,” he said. “Nothing seemed to stop him from seeking what he wanted no matter how much trouble he got into.”
Munson has not been able to track down any living direct descendents. From his research, he believes his last descendent died in 1970 and had no children.
For his work on the book, Munson earned the 2013 award for excellence in publishing for a book of transcriptions of original North Carolina primary source material from the N.C. Genealogical Society. It was his first time entering in the organization.
“I was surprised, I was really surprised,” he said about winning the award.
He also received the Willie Parker Peace History Book Award from the N.C. Society of Historians. He had won three previous awards from the organization for his work on other books.
“Confederate Incognito,” published in 2012, is available for purchase on Amazon.com in hardback and Kindle.
Munson said he is currently working on two other projects.
“We’re 150 years away from it and yet material is still being found about the war,” he said.
Through his research, Munson never did find out why McSween picked the nickname Long Grabs but knows one thing for sure.
“Murdoch John McSween, what a rascal he was,” he said.
Contact Jane Dail at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9585.
via The Daily Reflector.