How easy should it be to find out some information about the Governor Buren Sherman, the only Iowa Governor who called Vinton his hometown before becoming a statewide office-holder and moving to Des Moines, and then compile that information into a story about the upcoming Vinton 150th celebration?


Pretty easy, it should seem. Writing such a story should not take long at all.


Unless I write it.


The problem is that when it comes to studying and writing about history, my typical ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) suddenly goes all OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). I want to know everything about everything and how it connects to everything. Thus my inability to focus on one topic for more than 3.4 nanoseconds blends with my need to know absolutely everything that might be connected to whatever I am researching. This leads to endless quests for information that is incredibly important, but not necessarily totally connected -- or connected at all -- to the original topic.


When I learned that Gov. Sherman was originally Second Lieutenant Sherman, part of the Iowa 13th infantry in the Civil War battle of Shiloh, I had to learn more. I had to learn, actually, everything, it turns out.


I do what I normally do in such situations. I Google. (Sorry Bingers, I tried that, but Google has always worked way better.)


The first page that came up was a post from the Shiloh National Military Park Facebook page.


The headline reads: "The 13th Iowa Infantry 'Sees the Elephant' at Shiloh"


Now, I do now what "Sees the Elephant" means. It's a 19th Century slang for facing very challenging experiences; it often appeared in Civil War descriptions. I had looked up 19th Century Slang 15 years ago for an article about what my great-great-grandfather Thomas W. Close may have said to me if I could go back to 1850 and talk to him.


But I did not know exactly where that phrase originated.


So I googled. Again.


The answer, according to Google is: We don't really know. "Seeing the Elephant" could refer to a circus, when the elephants were at times the final act, so if you saw the elephants, you had seen it all. Others say "seeing the elephants" in a war context could refer to the times when warriors rode elephants into battle.


Yes, there was a time when warriors -- according to some historians -- mounted elephants. One such battle involved King Porus who battled Alexander the Great in the 4th Century BC. Some of Porus' warriors -- as many as 200, according to some historians -- were mounted on elephants. Apparently, the tactical goal of the pachyderms was to provide a wall of protection and privacy for foot soldiers as they planned their attack.


Or did they?


I was asking myself, "Did Porus actually use elephants, or did someone write that he did, and that story got passed down as history?"


So, less than an hour after starting to research Gov. Sherman's Civil War history, I find myself pondering a battle that took place 2,200 years earlier and more than 7,000 miles away.


While pondering this battle, I begin to wonder how historians evaluate what is true history and what may or may not have been made up. So, I send an email to a history teacher to ask that question.


How much of "history" is history is the question. The short answer says the teacher: We in the history business are constantly asking ourselves that same question. We know the Civil War happened. We can see the battlefields, read the memoirs, speak to the descendants of those who fought. So, we know who fought, where, when and why, and who won.


But what about King Porus? Did he really have an elephant unit? Or did someone make it up?


I still do not know, although every historical source I have read seems to indicate that elephants are part of the true history of King Porus.


And while pondering the feasibility of verifying history, I start pondering my pondering. I had to stop to research whether my pondering, as mentioned above, was the result of ADD and not being able to focus on one topic for very long; or whether it was an OCD issue -- needing to know absolutely everything there is to know about a particular topic before I feel I can move on to the next one.


Or is it neither ADD or OCD? Or is it both?


Then, of course, I have to ask Google if it is possible to have both ADD and OCD (Google says yes but my ADD didn't take time to ask it why).


Finally, I forget the elephant and the ADD/OCD debate to return to Shiloh, where while researching the Iowa 13th I discover the Putnam Stump, which has nothing to do with Iowa or the 13th. But at least Private John D. Putnam died at Shiloh the same weekend that Sherman was injured there, so my ponderings are at least in the same century and state as the story I am trying to write.


I said all that to say this: I have been working on a story about Captain/General Sherman for nearly a week now.


I really do think I am ready to finish writing it. But first, there's just one more detail I need to check on first..



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