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January 21, 2014

For McArthur, history is a family tradition

Growing up on the University of Alabama campus, the daughter of long-time university library dean and historian William Stanley Hoole, Elizabeth “Betsy” McArthur developed a love for history, especially Southern history from an early age.

“During his tenure at the University of Alabama, he gradually built up their special collections, and it’s now known as the W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library,” she said. “It’s certainly the best Alabama collection, and one of the best Southern culture collections in the nation. I grew up hitting all these old cemeteries and going to these little old ladies’ houses  looking for rare books with him.”

The collection includes the papers of Dalton poet Robert Loveman, and Hoole authored “It’s Raining Violets: The Life and Poetry of Robert Loveman.”

McArthur earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Alabama and a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Georgia. She moved to Whitfield County in the 1970s to teach at Northwest Whitfield High School, where she spent more than 20 years.

“I guess I picked up where my father left off in regard to history and especially family history,” she said. “But my interest isn’t just my family history. As a historian, I try to use the people I know about to show the big picture and make history come alive through these personal stories.”

McArthur has written numerous articles, including one that appeared in The Daily Citizen on Sunday about the Civil War, “Fun, frolic and frivolity,” and three books: “Bound for Glory: A Brief History of the Darlington Rifles,” “The Yankee Invasion of West Alabama, March-April 1865” and “The Sword Returns to Chickamauga.”

That final book tells of her great-grandfather, Lt. Col. Axalla John Hoole, whose sword the family donated to the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park where it is now displayed in the museum and visitors center.

“He was a South Carolinian. Even though I was born in Alabama, my family is from South Carolina,” she said. “He joined the 8th South Carolina Regiment right at the beginning of the (Civil) war.”

Hoole saw action at First Manassas, the Warwick Line, Savages Station, Harpers Ferry, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.

In the fall of 1863, Hoole and his regiment were dispatched from Virginia to Georgia, where they stayed overnight in Dalton.

“He wrote what would be his final letter to his wife Betsie while he was in Dalton. We still have that,” McArthur said.

“On Sunday morning, Sept. 20, he was killed in one of the early assaults on Snodgrass Hill (during the Battle of Chickamauga). His third child was born just five days after his death,” she said. “Since he was an officer, his widow was able to make arrangements for some of her male relatives to bring his body home to Darlington. They brought him back in a wooden box, and his sword and gun and other belongings were there.”

The sword stayed in the family for four generations until McArthur and her sister donated it to the Chickamauga battlefield.

“It’s hard to give up something you love so much, but they restored it and have it in a beautiful display,” she said.

McArthur is currently at work on a history of the 8th South Carolina Regiment, which will be published as part of Broadfoot Publishing’s Regimental Roster series.

In addition to her work on the Civil War, McArthur has written about her grandfather, William Brunson Hoole, who was just 5 when the war ended.

“He grew up during Reconstruction and didn’t have a lot of advantages, didn’t have a lot of educational opportunities,” she said. “He grew up dirt poor, but he apprenticed with a local pharmacist, which is how you learned to be a pharmacist in those days, and eventually opened his own drugstore.”

In addition to her writing, McArthur speaks to many groups about various aspects of Civil War and Southern history. She has spoken to the Dalton Civil War Roundtable on a couple of occasions, and Mike White, director of programming, says her presentations have always been well received.

“She has that historical research that is very solid, but she also has a personal connection to these stories that helps her bring them alive,” he said.

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