Through the Valley of Death: A Special Collections Perspective on the First World War
February 20 – June 2, 2017
in Upper and Lower Main Galleries and Lecture Hall
LSU Libraries Special Collections marks the 100th anniversary of U.S. involvement in “The Great War” with the exhibition, “Through the Valley of Death: A Special Collections Perspective on the First World War,” running from February 20 – June 2, 2017 in Hill Memorial Library.
The intent of the exhibition is not to serve as a comprehensive overview of the political and military aspects of the war; nor do all of the items on display date to 1917. Instead, “Through the Valley of Death” features letters, documents, photographs, oral histories and published materials from our major collections, including Rare Books, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, and University Archives, that provide a window into politics, propaganda, combat, home front activities, and social issues of this tumultuous era. Life at LSU during the war, and the university’s efforts to honor the sacrifices of faculty, students and staff, through the building of Memorial Tower and the planting of the Oak Grove, are also explored.
Soldiers’ letters number among the many publications and original documents on display. Transporting us to the battlefront, the letters are humorous, poignant, and at turns heartbreaking:
“It might be hard to explain, and again it might be easily understood by you and some, what it means to sit down and think over and put into thoughts the horrors which one goes thru when he has been in the trenches, ‘over the top,’ and then such an advance as I went thru at St. Mihiel, but the physical discomforts, not the dirt, the filth, the fatigue and at times utter exhaustion – not the continuous day and night going, going – not the hunger or thirst one has – and we had, at times – nor the strain – worry–lack of sleep and rest, one does not even regret the shelling – the gas the machine gives or the sniper. But every time I recall those poor devils with their heads arms legs off with gaping wounds, every time I think of my sergeants, my corporals, my lost men killed, wounded missing – and whenever I have to think of poor Captain Craig and Captain Peters, two of my best friends, killed, one while I was giving him a cigarette, the other just after telling me he didn’t think the Bosche had a shell for him – then one can only know what utter hell this war is.” Excerpted from October 11, 1918 letter from Lt. Hopkins Payne Breazeale, 358th Infantry, 90th Division, to his mother, from the Nita Sims Breazeale Family Papers, Mss. 2442.
But there are also moments of beauty in these war-time documents, as in this letter of thanks on the day the war ended, to Corporal William Hughes Head, Jr., from a young French girl whom he befriended:
“Your letter gave me much pleasure because in these days of triumph I am happy to be able to tell you how much I have thought of you and all your compatriots, for it is thanks to you all that today the war is over and that Papa is also going to come back soon. I love you very much, William, and I love all your comrades as well, and if you were at Messac I would kiss you all.” Excerpted from November 11, 1918 letter in the William Hughes Head and Family Papers, Mss. 3238.
Images: Col. Troy H. Middleton (Troy H. Middleton Papers and Middleton Room Memorabilia, RG U106; Camp Beauregard (Eugene M. Violette Collection, Mss. 615, 893); and Nurse’s Certificate of Identity, Jane C. Bright Scrapbook, Mss. 1810.
The exhibition is free and open to the public. For more information visit lib.lsu.edu/special or call (225) 578-6544.
John Earle Uhler Papers
in Reading Room
John Earle Uhler was a writer, scholar, and English professor at LSU from 1928-1961. Prior to joining the faculty at LSU, where he served as first president of the LSU Faculty Club, Uhler worked as a reporter, copy editor, and actor. A charter member of the Renaissance Society of America, his research interests included Shakespeare, 18th century English drama, English Renaissance literature, and linguistics. The collection consists of correspondence, literary and academic manuscripts, printed material, teaching materials, and photographs.
In 1931, Uhler published Cane Juice, a novel depicting southern Louisiana and student life at LSU. A public controversy ensued in which Uhler was accused of slander by Father F. L. Gassler, culminating in his suspension and eventual removal from the faculty by the executive committee of the LSU Board of Supervisors. After a six-month legal battle involving the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Association of University Professors, Uhler was reinstated in April of 1932.