The Tale of 250 Letters: The Discovery

Written by Brynn Elson

“You need to see this!” Tom Harvey’s wife exclaimed one rainy fall afternoon in 1994. Harvey, ’69, looked at the letter his wife was holding and read, “I was at the funeral of Abraham Lincoln.” The two of them sorted through the contents of four wooden crates unearthed from Harvey’s parents’ house: 250 letters written during the Civil War.

Though Harvey recognized that the letters contained a story that was begging to be told, writing that story “would have to wait.” At the time of the letters’ discovery, Harvey was knee-deep in his career. He studied as an English major during his time at Hillsdale, but his experience working as a bookkeeper for a publishing firm led him to pursue an MBA at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. A few years later, a turn of events necessitated another job hunt; he applied to Union Commerce Bank to work in the Treasury Department after the publishing firm concluded the project in which he was involved. After some 15-odd years of working with Union Commerce and Society National Banks, Harvey tired of corporate life. He started his own consulting firm with the goal of “working with smaller banks and helping the State Department with a project to modernize the banks in the Russian Far East.”

Once he became his own boss, Harvey found the time to write two books: Quality Value Banking and The Banking Revolution. He also dedicated six years to the acquisition of his Ph.D. from Cleveland State University. With his new doctorate, he taught upper-level finance classes and did upper-level research in the financial services industry for 14 years before he retired from Ashland University in 2013.

In retirement, 17 years after he found the crates of letters, Harvey (now Dr. Harvey) sat down to parse out the story of the 250 letters, most of which were missives sent home by his great-grandfather and great-great uncle during their service in the Union Army. Dr. Harvey’s undergraduate training as an English major served him well, even after all his years in the business and finance sector. As he transcribed the letters, Dr. Harvey synthesized their contents into a book titled Seeing the Elephant: One Man’s Return to the Horrors of the Civil War, which retells the story of Lt. Thomas S. Armstrong of the 122nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. As he transcribed his ancestors’ letters, Dr. Harvey realized that his book “would educate readers about the Civil War and the changes it caused in the United States,” something that he thinks is lost in our current society.

Dr. Harvey claims that he would not have written his book without his four years at Hillsdale, “especially the last two-and-a-half years in the English Department.” His experience exemplifies a helpful lesson for students who are currently struggling under the weight of midterms, papers, and lab reports: a Hillsdale education will serve undergraduates in unexpected ways down the road.

The independent research required for both his senior English thesis and most upper-level English courses taught Dr. Harvey how to be thorough and meticulous in his work. He explained that these skills were useful both for the development of outlines for his books and lessons for his students at Ashland. More influential than his coursework, however, were Dr. Harvey’s two mentors, Dr. James King (an influential professor) and Mr. Charles Wesley (Dr. Harvey’s senior thesis advisor). These professors took an interest in Tom as an undergraduate and challenged him to succeed. One such challenge that they posed to Dr. Harvey was allowing him to student teach freshman English courses. Their individual attention helped him not only succeed as an English major at the College, but also inspired him to work as a professor himself.

As evidenced by the publication of his book, Seeing the Elephant: One Man’s Return to the Horrors of the Civil War, Dr. Harvey continued to reap the benefits of his English degree even in retirement. This book educates readers on the hardships and sacrifices that soldiers endured. Dr. Harvey writes that “It is my hope that those events and the impact they had will never be forgotten.” Thanks to him and his Hillsdale education, they will not be.

      Dr. Tom Harvey










Brynn Elson, ’23, is a biochemistry major with a decent comprehension of the English language. She enjoys drinking coffee, playing the clarinet, and overcommitting to things. When she’s not studying (which is rare), you might be able to find her running (read: getting lost) on the back roads or complaining about Hillsdale’s lack of mountains.


Published in October 2021