CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Members of the Austin Peay State University History Club recently had the opportunity to present new research related to Fort Defiance at the historical site’s newest event, titled “Fresh Research, New Discoveries.”
A partnership between APSU’s History Club, Phi Alpha Theta history honors society and Fort Defiance, and funded through a Student Academic Success Initiative grant from APSU faculty senate, “Fresh Research, New Discoveries” saw Austin Peay students John Schuler and Jenny Brown explore the histories of African American men and women during the Civil War.
Schuler, a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran currently enrolled in APSU’s Master of Arts in Military History program, presented findings related to an African-American man named Thomas McReynolds. A member of the 16th U.S. Colored Infantry during the Civil War, McReynolds joined the Union Army in Clarksville and survived the conflict. Schuler’s research is focused on uncovering McReynolds’ actions during and following the war, and the student-historian presented a rare photo of the soldier taken during his service as a part of his presentation.
Brown’s research focused on the experience of African-American men and women in so-called “contraband” camps throughout Middle Tennessee. A term coined by Union soldiers during the early days of the war, “contraband” referred to a Union policy of treating enslaved people as property confiscated from the Confederates. Brown’s research explored life in these disease-ridden “contraband” camps, where those confined to its walls understood the value of their hard labor.
“One of the interesting things Jenny notes is that Union officers noted that ‘contrabands’ demanded to be paid for work they did for the Union army up front,” Dr. Kelly Jones, Austin Peay assistant history professor, said. “They knew what freedom meant and sought to define its terms. Jenny has helped us uncover that valuable story in her work.”
Jones said both research projects remain ongoing, and they hope to present more findings at the upcoming “Liberation and Reconstruction: Clarksville and Montgomery County, 1860-1880” symposium. Organized by Jones and Dr. Richard Gildrie, emeritus professor of history at APSU, as well as other emeritus professors and local historians, the Oct. 28 event will be free and open to the public.
For more information on the Austin Peay Department of History and Philosophy, visit www.apsu.edu/history. To find out more about the Fort Defiance Interpretive Center, visit www.cityofclarksville.com/index.aspx?page=161.