OBERLIN — There’s a reason Oberlin is called “the town that started the Civil War.”
It’s the place where hundreds of people gathered in 1858 to rescue John Price from slave catchers — resulting in headlines in newspapers across the country.
And it’s the place where ardent abolitionists insisted that emancipation must be the ultimate aim of the Civil War, according to the Oberlin Heritage Center’s Richard Donegan.
Donegan will cover all of that rich history when he gives a talk on Oberlin and its quest for emancipation at 7:15 p.m. Aug. 22 at Kendal at Oberlin’s Heiser Auditorium.
Donegan said 700 to 800 Oberlin men fought for the cause, including Giles Waldo Shurtleff, who was named colonel of Ohio’s first black soldiers designated the 5th U.S. Colored Troops.
“The very next day, he leads them into battle in the Battle of New Market Heights and was wounded twice — once in the right thigh and once in the left hand,” Donegan said.
As the war drew to a close, Shurtleff was honored with the title of Brevet Brigadier General, and he returned to Oberlin, where he served as a professor of Latin and Greek at Oberlin College.
Shurtleff’s brick home, constructed in 1866, became the longtime home of James Monroe and his wife, Julia Finney Monroe. It now houses the Oberlin Heritage Center.
Besides Shurtleff, Donegan’s illustrated talk will focus on others such as Ohio Volunteer Infantryman Elliot Grabill, as well as newspaper accounts of the era from the Lorain County News and Oberlin Evangelist.
Donegan has done wonderful work researching the letters and diaries of those who fought slavery, according to Heritage Center executive director Patricia Murphy.
“He’s a great historian and great researcher and very good with tours and dealing with the public,” Murphy said.
Before heading the 5th U.S. Colored Troops, Shurtleff was a captain in Company C of the 7th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry and was a prisoner of war.
A statue in Shurtleff’s honor was erected soon after his death in 1904, and it stands in front of the grand cottage known as Shurtleff Cottage, now a bed and breakfast at 46 Morgan St. The statue holds a scroll and has one arm extended, pointing forward. The plaque contains the words, “Freedom can not be given, it must be achieved.”
Donegan is one of 20 AmeriCorps volunteers assigned by the Ohio Historical Society in the statewide Ohio History Service Corps Program.
Based at the Oberlin Heritage Center since October, Donegan has helped coordinate Civil War programming and events at museums, historical societies and other local history organizations in Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain, Medina and Summit counties.
His position is funded in part by a $2,000 grant from The Nord Family Foundation, with the balance through the Ohio Historical Society/Ohio History Service Corps (AmeriCorps).
A native of New Jersey, Donegan has a degree in historical studies from The Richard Stockton College in Pomona, N.J., and he worked at The Cape May County Historical Museum and Genealogical Society as well as the New Jersey State Archives.
Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.