OMG: Historical Society tweets tales of #CivilWar

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY
  • Star Tribune
  • January 9, 2013 - 12:46 PM

Here's a Twitter feed where random posts about food actually mean something significant.

"For breakfast, baked beans & dunderfunk. Dinner, fried pork, coffee & hardbread. Supper, rice & coffee. #sameoldsameold"

So said Isaac Taylor, a Minnesota soldier camped with the Union Army near Falmouth, Va., in January 1863, now tweeting as @IsaacTaylorMN.

Taylor is among a dozen Civil War-era Minnesotans -- soldiers, wives, freed slaves and journalists -- recently revived online by the Minnesota Historical Society to re-live the war on Twitter in real time, 150 years later.

For the next three years, the characters will tweet regularly about daily life at home and on the front (they began posting Jan. 1). There will be mundane observations and philosophical ramblings -- not unlike the chatter coming from many modern tweeps. Around major battles and events, the tweeting will take on more urgency.

"Instead of just reading a chapter in a book about the Civil War, which took four years to happen, you get this sense over time of what was important to the people of the United States and the people of Minnesota," said Wendy Jones, director of museum education for the Historical Society.

It's the first Twitter re-enactment for the Historical Society and a prelude to a Civil War exhibit opening March 2.

On Twitter, where there are a multitude of parody accounts imitating historical figures (hello @Mr_Lincoln!), examples of re-enactments abound.

The educational website ("twistory"), which has helped facilitate the Minnesota project, has hosted re-enactments as varied as the Battle of Waterloo and the Cuban Missile Crisis. One of the more popular online re-enactments comes from a British man who has been tweeting the events of World War II for more than a year (@RealTimeWWII) to nearly 270,000 followers.

The Civil War, in particular, has drawn re-enactment interest from across social media. The National Park Service live-tweets through the eyes of a fictional reporter, @civilwarreportr, for 2,650 followers, and the Washington Post broadcasts the conflict in real time through @civilwarwp (more than 5,900 followers).

The Minnesota narrators, mostly regular folks, don't shy away from sharing their opinions. Because really, when are Twitter users shy about anything?

Some of these historical tweeters have a sense of humor and use hashtags (see: the dunderfunk-eating @IsaacTaylorMN). In a sense, this isn't much different from today's tweeters. But all along, their stories are rooted in fact, and Jones said the perspective of regular soldiers and freed slaves carries a lot of power when telling a true story.

Just don't get too attached. Some of the Twitter handles will go silent as the war wears on.

"That's part of telling it in real time," Jones said. "Not everyone survived the war."

Katie Humphrey • 612-673-4758

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