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Buried in archives, Civil Battle diary conjures up biography of pioneering botanist




In her biography of John Gill Lemmon, Kelly Agnew describes the Civil Battle veteran and his spouse, Sara Plummer Lemmon, because the ‘first couple’ of California botany within the late nineteenth century. The Lemmons helped develop the College and Jepson Herbaria at UC Berkeley — with 2.2 million specimens, the biggest plant assortment at any public college within the nation. (UC Berkeley video by Roxanne Makasdjian and Alan Toth)

An opportunity discovery on her first day on the College and Jepson Herbaria in 2005 modified Kelly Agnew’s life, main her down a rabbit gap of Civil Battle battles and jail camps, gold rush settlements, the exploits and foibles of California’s earliest botanists, the founding of the Sierra Membership and finally the institution at UC Berkeley of the biggest plant assortment at any public college on the planet.

An evolutionary biologist and lecturer within the Division of Integrative Biology, Agnew packs all of this right into a 550-page biography she wrote along with her father, Brad Agnew, a retired professor of American historical past at Northeastern State College in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

John Gill Lemmon: Andersonville survivor and California botanist, particulars the lifetime of Lemmon and his spouse Sara, who collected and described vegetation round California, the Western U.S. and Mexico within the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that included a flower widespread in excessive altitude meadows, Lemmon’s paintbrush (Castilleja lemmonii). Most of the couple’s curated specimens, in addition to John’s pictures and Sara’s wildflower and conifer cone work, had been among the many earliest of the herbaria’s collections.

Kelly Agnew holding her book, with diary in foreground

Kelly Agnew holding the biography of John Gill Lemmon, which she wrote along with her father, Brad Agnew. The biography was sparked by the invention of Lemmon’s Civil Battle jail diary (foreground) within the archives of the College and Jepson Herbaria at UC Berkeley. (Photograph credit score: Amy Kasameyer)

“I believe if you happen to talked to anyone on the road 120 years in the past, and also you requested them to call essentially the most well-known botanist in California, they’d have mentioned, ‘John Lemmon,’” Kelly Agnew mentioned. “However he’s simply been misplaced to historical past. And he deserved (to be remembered), simply because his life type of parallels one of many tales of the American expertise: He was within the Civil Battle — one of many worst components of the Civil Battle — and moved west because the nation grew. He was there on the founding of the Sierra Membership. He was one among John Muir’s closest associates. His story is essential for American historical past and for California botanical historical past, and it speaks to the significance of amateurs in science.”

It began with John Lemmon’s diary, which Agnew pulled from a Corona beer field stuffed underneath a tarp to forestall water injury from leaks into the herbarium from the open-air atrium above it within the Valley Life Sciences Constructing. She discovered the treasure whereas being given a tour of the herbaria as a brand new worker employed to arrange all of the so-called kind specimens — vegetation collected as the idea for describing a brand new species.

The diary’s title alone was intriguing: “Recollections of a Insurgent Jail.” However when the ebook flopped open to a map of Andersonville, a navy jail in Georgia, Agnew’s reminiscence of excursions to Civil Battle battlefields all through her childhood kicked in. She acknowledged Andersonville because the struggle’s most infamous Accomplice jail camp.

“After I held that ebook in my hand, and it fell open to a map of Andersonville — if I hadn’t been a historian’s daughter, I don’t assume I’d have acknowledged it for what it was.” Agnew mentioned. “I knew it was in all probability essential, and I knew it was in all probability uncommon.”

Whereas Civil Battle diaries are pretty widespread, diaries about prisoner of struggle camps usually are not, primarily as a result of the mortality price at prisons on each side was excessive. Of the estimated 45,000 troopers imprisoned in Andersonville, nearly 13,000 died from hunger and illness.

sepia photo of Lemmon in Civil War uniform

Pasted on the entrance of Lemmon’s Civil Battle diary, this 1865 picture exhibits him in uniform not lengthy after he obtained out of a Accomplice jail camp, weighing, in line with Lemmon, lower than 100 kilos. His diary begins shortly earlier than he registered within the Union Military, and recounts his work in navy hospitals, the battles by which he fought, and the jail camps he endured. (Photograph courtesy of College and Jepson Herbaria, UC Berkeley)

Agnew excitedly advised her father concerning the diary that evening, however he was engaged on one other ebook on the time and put her off. After nagging him for 2 years, nevertheless, his curiosity exploded and their collaboration started. Along with the diary within the archives of the herbaria, Brad Agnew stumbled throughout an earlier diary within the Huntington Museum in Pasadena with fascinating element about Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to the ocean to chop the Confederacy in half. Lemmon was a cavalryman with Sherman and helped destroy railroad strains round Atlanta earlier than being captured and imprisoned at two camps — Andersonville and Florence Stockade in South Carolina.

Whereas her father reveled within the Civil Battle particulars, Kelly Agnew dug up equally fascinating particulars about John Lemmon’s life after the struggle, when he was by what she thinks will need to have been PTSD (submit traumatic stress dysfunction).

“On the time, they known as it ‘the soldier’s coronary heart,’” she mentioned. “In World Battle I, they’d name it shell shock. He type of seems to be haunted in all of the pictures from that time on. He has some demons happening.”

The parts of the biography coping with John’s youth in a deeply non secular and staunchly abolitionist family and his Civil Battle service had been written largely by Brad Agnew. Kelly Agnew centered on John’s botanizing years within the West. The 2 visited lots of the websites John knew: the household homestead close to Ann Arbor, Michigan, the place he was raised; Civil Battle battlefields in Kentucky and Tennessee, the place he fought; Sierra Valley north of Truckee — close to the city of Sierraville — the place he recuperated; Tucson, the place John and Sara honeymooned and climbed Mount Lemmon, which overlooks town and was named for Sara, the primary white lady to climb to its peak; and finally Oakland’s Temescal district, the place the couple lived till their deaths. John died in 1908, Sara in 1923.

From prisoner of struggle to California botanist

A lot of John’s life after coming to California in 1866 to get better from the struggle was a scramble to make a dwelling, since educating, his career earlier than the struggle, proved too taxing given his frail well being. The unusual and new-to-him vegetation of the Sierra Nevada proved his salvation. Residing in Sierra Valley together with his brothers, who had been 49ers, he started sending unknown specimens to the famed Harvard College botanist Asa Grey, who would classify and identify them and put them in his manuals, together with “The Botany of California,” the primary version of which appeared in 1876.

a group of purple paintbrush plants in a meadow

The pink flowers of Lemmon’s paintbrush (Castilleja lemmoni), bedeck alpine meadows within the Sierra Nevada every spring. This picture is from 2016 within the Little Lakes Valley of the John Muir Wilderness. (Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia, licensed underneath Artistic Commons)

“He was redeemed by vegetation,” Agnew mentioned. He acknowledged that “California is at this type of uncommon intersection of ocean and mountain and desert and forest. We’ve got totally different soil sorts: volcanic, sandy, clay. And in order that fosters the evolution of plenty of vegetation which can be discovered right here and solely right here,” she mentioned.

Writing within the Pacific Rural Press in 1871, John expressed his motivation: “The leisure afforded a lover of flowers, touring in a wierd nation, is perpetual and unmeasured; whereas the enjoyment of potential discoveries, is pure and well-nigh ecstatic.”

Offering pressed vegetation to Grey at Harvard, the place the vast majority of John’s specimens nonetheless reside, introduced in little cash, nevertheless. To assist himself, John started promoting mounted specimens broadly, taking out commercials in native newspapers all through California. Novice botanists, many organized into native horticultural golf equipment, had been important to cataloging the vegetation of California, mentioned Amy Kasameyer, an archivist finally employed to arrange the books and papers within the herbaria — particularly, the sphere notebooks describing the place and when vegetation had been collected.

Old photo of Lemmons in their home herbarium, with mounted plants and paintings

John and Sara Lemmon in 1895 of their residence herbarium, the place they displayed pressed plant specimens that they had collected, a big cone assortment and Sara’s work of cones and wildflowers. (Photograph courtesy of College and Jepson Herbaria, UC Berkeley)

Grey himself made solely two journeys to the state, so he relied closely on amateurs. Even Berkeley relied on novice collectors just like the Lemmons to construct its herbaria. The couple labored incessantly with famed botanist, conservationist and author Willis Jepson, who acquired his Ph.D. in botany from UC in 1898 and served as a professor within the division for 40 years. He’s acknowledged as the daddy of California botany.

“A very attention-grabbing factor concerning the herbarium and botany in California is that, as a result of California is such a big state, Jepson couldn’t journey everywhere in the state to see the entire vegetation annually. So he actually needed to depend on these networks of volunteers,” Kasameyer mentioned. “Citizen science is a buzzy phrase now, however they (novice botanists) really made important contributions to the California flora.”

photo of Lemmon's home at turn of 20th century

The Lemmons lived on Telegraph Avenue and opened their doorways to guests because the Lemmon Herbarium, denoted by an indication above the porch. The home nonetheless stands. (Photograph courtesy of College and Jepson Herbaria, UC Berkeley)

“In California at the moment, botany was primarily pursued by individuals who didn’t have formal coaching,” added Bruce Baldwin, professor of integrative biology and curator of the Jepson Herbarium, which relies on Jepson’s unique collections and focuses solely on California vegetation. “Loads of the botanists out right here that had been energetic, just like the Lemmons, had been primarily collectors. However they had been making plenty of firsthand observations and it positively helped to determine the traditions that had been carried ahead by teachers like Grey and Jepson.”

In all, vegetation in 101 totally different plant genera had been named for the Lemmons, Kasameyer mentioned.

John Lemmon additionally earned cash by publishing tales about botany, California and his Civil Battle experiences in papers starting from Ann Arbor ‘s Peninsular Courier and Household Visitant to the Plumas Nationwide in Quincy and the Downieville Mountain Messenger — a paper for which Mark Twain had written a couple of years earlier, utilizing his actual identify, Sam Clemens.

Sara Plummer Lemmon

Earlier than her marriage, Sara Allen Plummer was one other citizen scientist, a trainer who had relocated from New York to Santa Barbara for her well being and opened a ebook and stationery store that turned a neighborhood gathering place and finally a circulating library for the small metropolis of about 3,000. She and John Lemmon met in 1876 when he was passing by way of on his option to accumulating vegetation within the hinterlands of San Bernardino County. They hit it off, and as a part of their courtship, he requested Grey to call a plant after Sara, one that they had collected collectively. The following version of the handbook contained a newly named coastal shrub: Baccharis plummerae.

old portrait of Sara Plummer Lemmon

Portrait of Sara Plummer Lemmon. (Photograph courtesy of College and Jepson Herbaria, UC Berkeley)

They married in 1880 and botanized throughout their 1881 honeymoon round Tucson, Arizona, and returned once more to gather vegetation in 1882. The Arizona Territory on the time was a harmful place due to conflicts between settlers and the Chiricahua Apache, to not point out shoot-outs among the many white settlers themselves. The gunfight on the O.Okay. Corral in Tombstone happened a bit of greater than six months earlier than their 1882 go to.

The couple finally settled in Oakland and turned their residence right into a plant museum — an indication above the door of their home on Telegraph Avenue, which continues to be standing, learn “Lemmon Herbarium.” They often interacted with botanists at Berkeley, the California Academy of Sciences, and around the globe. They befriended John Muir, who on the time was dwelling in Martinez, and joined the Sierra Membership after its founding in 1892. John was a constitution member and member of the board, and Sara was one of many first feminine members. Muir was its first president and remained so till his demise.

fluffy seed heads of Plummer's baccharis

When botanizing collectively round Santa Barbara in 1876, John Lemmon and Sara Plummer collected a flowering plant — seen right here with fluffy seed heads — beforehand unknown to botanists. John requested Harvard’s Asa Grey to call the plant after Sarah, and ever because it has been referred to as Baccharis plummerae, or Plummer’s baccharis. (Photograph credit score: U.S. Nationwide Park Service, 2007)

Collectively, the Lemmons traveled up and down the West Coast and into Mexico and New Mexico, tenting and accumulating, incomes cash by promoting the vegetation they preserved, and publishing manuals, such because the 1900 “Handbook of West-American Cone-bearers,” illustrated with Sara’s work. John took up images as an example different manuals, typically together with Sara in pictures of bushes for perspective.

In his later years, John served an ill-fated time period as an Oakland supervisor, however principally, he and Sara continued their strenuous journeys to gather vegetation. They solely slowed down in 1908, when John’s lingering ills lastly caught up with him. He died Nov. 24 of pneumonia at age 76.

“After Lemmon died, Jepson wrote a transferring tribute to Lemmon,” Agnew mentioned. “Jepson acknowledged that Lemmon might be a tough particular person to get together with, however that his contributions to the sphere of botany in California particularly had been actually exceptional.”

‘A novel and peculiar personage’

Following her husband’s demise, Sara’s life progressively fell aside, and she or he was institutionalized with dementia till her demise at age 86. Jepson finally rescued lots of the couple’s plant specimens and merged them into his private herbarium and the broader College Herbarium.

painting of an unusual white California poppy

Sara Plummer Lemmon painted this uncommon, white-petaled variant of the California poppy, which is usually a vibrant pink orange. (Photograph courtesy of College and Jepson Herbaria, UC Berkeley)

“Their herbarium was just about deserted and sat in a state of neglect of their home for years in a chilly, damp room,” Baldwin mentioned. “Jepson went in there and salvaged all of it and introduced it again right here. We’ve got the entire archive, however sadly, the label information wasn’t even there for about 40% of the collections.”

In 20212, heirs of the Lemmons donated different supplies to the herbaria archives, together with extra of Sara’s work. Sara, who was additionally a suffragette and conservationist — she led the profitable trigger to make the California poppy the state flower — is the topic of a biography printed this yr, The Forgotten Botanist: Sara Plummer Lemmon’s Lifetime of Science and Artwork, by Wynne Brown.

Baldwin identified that amateurs nonetheless play a key position in botany by accumulating samples and by offering extra formal “vouchered” specimens, that are required to explain new species. About 10 new California vegetation are acknowledged annually and uploaded by Baldwin to the web Jepson eFlora, the authoritative reference on the state’s vascular vegetation.

Whereas herbarium specimens are nonetheless the gold customary for botanical documentation and use in scientific research, he added, the iNaturalist app has grown into a possible treasure home of data on the world’s wildlife. Developed in 2008 by college students in Berkeley’s College of Info, it permits anybody to add a photograph of a plant or animal, routinely time-stamped and geo-located. The big quantity of information in iNaturalist might assist scientists perceive the shifting ranges of vegetation within the face of local weather change and habitat destruction, he mentioned.

“Increasingly of this observational information from iNat goes to turn out to be essential,” Baldwin mentioned. “The variety of folks utilizing it’s rising exponentially, together with amongst skilled botanists.”

These novice botanists are following within the footsteps of Sara and John Lemmon. John, in Jepson’s phrases, was “a singular and peculiar personage in California botanical historical past.”

“I believe Lemmon’s diary will get again to the worth of those collections,” Agnew mentioned. “Actually they’re essential as botanical specimens. They’re essential for the way we handle local weather change, how we perceive how populations change, but additionally hidden in these collections are these treasures that talk to the historical past of who we’re. It’s an essential useful resource that we have to protect.”

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