That All Important Personal Connection To The Past

Many of you know that my Civil War elective is structured in part as a research seminar.  In addition to reading a wide range of secondary sources on important interpretive debates my students write research papers using the Valley of the Shadow.  We are just beginning the process of narrowing topics and formulating questions that will guide each student through the collection of primary sources.  One of my students lives in Augusta County and has the last name of Hanger.  I’ve come across the name before in the course of my own research on the Valley, and was pleased to learn that this student is connected to that larger family which traces their history back into the antebellum period.  Family members have been politically active at both the county and state levels throughout much of Virginia’s history.  When we started this student thought that she might research her family, but was unsure as to whether the amount of information on the family would be sufficient for a research essay.  Well, we did a few searches and the results are truly amazing.  Here is the census report and slave census report for 1860.  Here is just a small sample of the letters authored by Hangers plus a diary by Michael Reid Hanger. There are many more letters which mention various Hangers both during and after the war.  Finally, here are the soldier’s records for the Hanger family.

This student has decided to focus on James Edward Hanger who lost his leg in July at Phillipi and is reportedly the first amputation of the war.  Here is his service record and report in the Staunton Vindicator of his wounding.  Within three months he had invented the first artifical limb modeled on the human leg and hinged at the knee. Hanger constructed factories in Staunton and Richmond, and after WWI he built branches in France and England. On 15 June 1919 he died and was buried in Washington, D.C., his home since 1906.  Today Hanger Prosthetics continues the work begun by James Edward Hanger.

I guess you can sense that I am very excited about this student’s project.  We were both surprised by the amount of information we found; what is presented above is a small sample.  At one point I was tempted to ask the class if they would be interested in focusing on the Hanger family, but soon realized that this was more about my own interests rather than any concern for what they might be interested in researching.  Luckily this is a student who has a very serious interest in the Civil War and now in her own family’s role in that war.  I can’t wait to see what she comes up with.

5 comments… add one

  • GreenmanTim Oct 11, 2006

    Why the distinction made between black slaves and mulatto ones in the 1860 census breakdown?

  • Kevin Levin Oct 11, 2006

    Good question Tim and I am not exactly sure of the answer. I assume the information was needed for legal papers in the event that the slave escaped. Here is a link to some background information on the slave census if you haven’t already looked at it: http://valley.vcdh.virginia.edu/Reference/censi/slcensus.html

  • Erin Jan 28, 2008

    James Hanger is my 5 greats grandfather.

  • Alan Jul 17, 2008

    I am a BK amputee doing an undergrad senior project on James E. Hanger and just found this great page.
    So far, I’ve only seen one book about Hanger by Eva M. Carnes.
    Any advice on sources?

  • Kevin Levin Jul 17, 2008

    Alan, — I am sorry to say that I can’t offer any help beyond the content of the post along with the links to the Valley of the Shadow site. Good luck.

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