Home-Front Letters during the Civil War

April 17, 2018

Responding to Affectionately Yours: The Civil War Home-Front Letters of the Ovid Butler Family, edited by Barbara Butler Davis, with a Foreword by Alan T. Nolan (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2004)

Ovid Butler (1801–1881) was a successful attorney in Shelbyville, Indiana, when, in 1836 he moved to the fledgling city of Indianapolis to form a law partnership with Calvin Fletcher. His legal practice prospered, and Butler soon became a prominent community leader as the city developed. He was an active church leader, committed to the Disciples of Christ movement that was being shaped by the theological and social ideas of Alexander Campbell in Bethany, [West] Virginia.

As soon as Butler came to Indianapolis, he became a member of the Central Christian Church and quickly was elected to be a bishop (elder) of the congregation. Following the death in 1850 of John H. Sanders, a physician and community leader, who had been president of the church’s board of officers for many years, Butler was elected his successor and served in that capacity until his death in 1881.

Because of declining health, Butler retired from his legal partnership in 1847 but he continued his active role in public life and church leadership. He was deeply committed to overcoming slavery, which he referred to as “the great national sin” (Davis, 42), and became one of Indiana’s most vigorous proponents of the nation’s struggle to create a new social pattern. In a letter dated January 22, 1865, to his son Scott, who was a volunteer in the Union Army, Butler commented on the appearance that the rebellion would soon be over.

“But there is a Power higher and more potential than the power of the Social Good or of the President or of both combined. Who holds in His own Hand the issues of this conflict and He will dispose of them for the accomplishment of His own purpose. The whole history of the war so far shows that God is in it—controlling its events and that His purpose is not or at least has not hitherto been the purpose of either the North or of the South. But it is written in letters of blood upon the unrolling canvas of the conflict and whenever the Nation shall be willing to accept peace upon His terms—it will come and will be abiding. As I read His purpose those terms are the utter abolition of Slavery—the putting away of that sin—the blotting out that stain. Then—in the language of inspiration shall “our peace be as a river” and a future will open before us—more brilliant and more glorious than any Nation as yet enjoyed” (Davis, 141).

Butler was committed to establishing a college that would educate leaders for the new society that was emerging in the new states of the former Northwest Territory. With other Disciples leaders from Indiana, he developed plans for this new academic institution and they created North Western Christian University. Butler “wrote the charter, shepherded the bill through the legislature, and procured the necessary financial backing” (Davis, 4). They had to break with Alexander Campbell who had already established a college for Disciples, Bethany College in the village where he lived.

A major factor in the dispute was that Campbell, while not endorsing slavery, was willing to accommodate himself and his church to this social and cultural practice. “Breaking with Campbell, [Butler] and other members of the charter committee succeeded in seeing North Western Christian University become the first private, nonsectarian Christian college in the country to allow men and women, regardless of race, to pursue the same degree in the same four-year study of the classics” (Davis, 4). Because of Butler’s continuing importance in the development of this school, the trustees later named it in his honor.

From 1862 through 1865, Scott Butler served as a signalman in the Army of the Cumberland, participating in the battles of Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Franklin, and Nashville. “His Signal Corps unit also marched with Sherman to the sea” (Davis, xi). During this time his family wrote him frequently and sixty-five of these letters survive. Barbara Butler Davis, a great-great-granddaughter of Ovid Butler and Elizabeth Anne McOuat Butler, has transcribed and annotated these letters. She has added eighty pages of additional material about the several families that are intertwined in the Butler lineage. This book provides a window into an important period in American history and culture.

[Personal note: My interest in this book is heightened by my family’s nineteenth-century Indiana heritage. I am a Butler graduate and for many years our family lived near the university’s modern campus, and two of my children are Butler graduates. I currently am a member of Central Christian Church in which Butler worshiped and worked for forty-six years.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What should cyclists eat so they can ride long and hard?

April 5, 2018

Reviewing Proteinaholic: How our obsession with meat is killing us and what we can do about it, by Garth Davis, M.D. (HarperOne, 2015)

Garth Davis, M.D., describes himself as “a weight-loss surgeon who runs a large surgical and medical weight-loss clinic [and is] on the front lines of the battle against obesity.” In 2008 he published a book entitled The Expert’s Guide to Weight-Loss Surgery, with every chapter “meticulously researched,” except the one on nutrition.

Seven years later, Davis published Proteinaholic: How our obsession with meat is killing us and what we can do about it. The reason for the second book: Davis realized that the patients who followed his advice about nutrition got sicker.

Perhaps more important was the deterioration in his own health. He was developing a big belly and could hardly drag himself out of bed in the morning. He was also developing seriously high cholesterol readings, elevated triglycerides, high blood pressure, and irritable bowel syndrome. Time for more research! (The bibliography of studies, in small type, is forty-six pages long.)

“I reviewed thousands of original studies, and hundreds of meta-analyses and reviews. And all of my research kept pointing to the same conclusion: Consuming animal protein is linked to chronic disorders and premature death. Eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes is associated with staying healthy” (p. 7).  Acting on this conclusion, Davis changed the way he ate.

He also developed a new pattern of physical activity when a friend introduced him to triathlons. He prepared for his first one in 2009 by running twenty miles a month. After doing a triathlon and several marathons, he competed an Ironman: a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run in a single day.

Instead of getting fatter, he now is getting stronger. “At forty-five I set a personal record in the marathon of 3 hours and 35 minutes, which is 21 minutes faster than the last two marathons I ran when I was forty” (p. 282).

In Part Two of this book (pp. 57–111), “How We Became Proteinaholics,” Davis gives a history of research and medical practice that in the early 1900s focused attention upon the positive effect that eating animal protein had upon impoverished, malnourished people who lived and worked in unhygienic conditions.

Even with the improvement in their health, they still were likely to die at early ages because of infectious diseases that had not yet been brought under control. Although animal protein is a causal factor in developing chronic diseases like diabetes, people were dying at too early an age for these problems to develop.

Conventional wisdom, supported by poorly conducted or misunderstood research, led most people to believe that animal protein was essential to good health and physical vigor. Medical providers and publishers of nutritional books followed this same line of thought and action.

In Part Three of Proteinaholic (pp. 115–236), “Death and Disease by Protein,” Davis provides a thirty-page primer on medical research and how we can evaluate its accuracy and reliability. He then outlines the evidence for animal protein’s role in developing diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, cancer, and premature death. He also presents evidence for the positive effects of plant-based foods in keeping people healthy and living long lives.

Part Four (pp. 239–327), “The Proteinaholic Recovery Plan,” can be understood as a shorter and more practical presentation of the ideas that Davis discusses in the earlier sections of the book. Conclusions that I am taking away from this chapter include: (1) “For our systems to function, and muscle to be built, we need protein and its metabolites but also energy from carbs and fat” (p. 240). (2) A vegetarian diet with enough calories, even with lower protein intake, is sufficient for the human body to produce all of the protein and nutrients that we need to function at a high level (p. 241). (3) Most people already are getting more protein than government guidelines recommend (pp. 247–8). (4) Athletes and the elderly may need more protein than other people, but even here the evidence is not clear (pp. 249 ff).

Although I’m in my eighties, I continue to be an endurance bicyclist and thus fit into two of the groups whom Davis suggests may need slightly more protein. My diet already consists largely of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, but I have also continued to use dairy and poultry products despite my growing ethical uneasiness about how they are produced.

I probably will not become a full vegan as Davis has chosen to be, but I am already increasing my dependence on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and I’m cutting back on dairy. Davis’s forty-page meal guide has lots of interesting ideas.