Interview With Historian Barry Duvall
Barry Duvall was born in 1966 in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, where he's lived all of his life. Barry attended The University of Evansville and graduated with a BS degree with a major in Electrical Engineering. For several years, he worked as an Automation Engineer at Logan Aluminum. Barry's career was cut short when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Since that time, he's stayed at home and spent most of his time researching Muhlenberg County history. Barry has written five related books and is working on the sixth currently, a Civil War history of Muhlenberg County. Barry is happily married and has wonderful children and grandchildren that keep him motivated daily. He loves history and uses it as a tool to keep his mind sharp. History projects help Barry set and meet goals. Barry Duvall wants to preserve and educate others regarding our past.
1. What inspired you to become involved with history in your community?
Since the age of 15, I have researched family and local history. My first major influence was a book, “Steamboats On The Green” by Agnes Harralson. I have come to believe that some people are born with a desire to know history in some part. Others may have no desire while those like myself make it a part of everyday life.
2. Through all of your book research, what’s been the most surprising piece of information you’ve found about soldiers in the Western Theater of the Civil War?
This is a tough one to answer. I have found so many pieces that excite me. I am still surprised when I study movements of the soldiers. Roads were poor at best and it impresses me on how Regiments could move in what appeared to be a general direction and find an opponent. Using modern technology, people often struggle with directions and finding places with well established routes. Therefore, watching the movement of the armies through the south and to the east and how efficiently they moved is a surprise to me.
3. Why do you think the Western Theater of the Civil War is important?
For the Union Army, the Western theater provided the best Generals. From the view of the winning team, there was William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant. Of course many great leaders, several in Confederate grey, were born in Kentucky. The leadership provided by General Grant was proven in the Western Theater. He alone could be considered the one that won the war for the Union.
4. What has been your favorite book to write, and why?
“Wings of Immorality” would be my favorite completed writing. It has so many twists filled with crime and mystery, all of which are true, regarding the darker side of two aristocratic families from Greenville. I must add, once the current Civil War project goes into print, it will likely become my favorite. It has been the most labor intense work thus far and will likely be the most gratifying once it is complete.
5. Are there any historical projects that you’re currently working on, and, if so, could you share a bit about it?
I always keep a few projects related to Muhlenberg County History. Currently, and for the last five or six years, my main project has been the Civil War and what role Muhlenberg County played in it. The book will be called, “United We Stand, Divided We Stood.” Its foundation includes a series of original letters in my collection written home by Muhlenberg soldiers. This combined with notes I have from older historians, Otto Rothert, T. T. Martin and Gayle Carver, add to the writing. With this set of bones, I have gathered long-lost newspaper articles and forgotten writings by soldiers to add to the story. The book describes tensions and troop movements at home as well as details of battles that Muhlenberg County soldiers were involved in. There are also brief biographical sketches of every known soldier that was born, lived or died in the county. The book is filled with hundreds of photos, maps and illustrations. It will be released in two volumes due to its physical size of nearly 1000 pages.
6. What historical figure do you see yourself most like, and why?
Historians research and write about historical figures and places. I often think how we quote people such as Otto Rothert when discussing major players from the past. But, how often do we pay tribute to a great historian? I once gave a series of presentations I called “History of Historians.” I would talk about the chain from the earliest authorities on Muhlenberg County history until present time. One could build a line leading from the pioneers, Ephraim Brank, James Weir and Charles Fox Wing that shared stories with Historian R. T. Martin and James Weir, Jr. that shared stories with Otto Rothert that shared stories with Gayle Carver that influenced many from my generation including myself. I then get excited to see Kassidy Cobb, Lane Maddox and my son, Ben Duvall, young historians carry on with the work of preservation. Therefore, I am often flattered when someone categorizes my work and me personally with these historians. To me, the figure I admire the most is Historian Otto A. Rothert. He wrote “A Histroy of Muhlenberg County” in 1913. He is not from Muhlenberg County. He had absolutely no technology available when doing research. Yet he had a drive that moved him to write what is considered among the first and one of the best county histories of its type. I would aspire to be Mr. Rothert. But, again that would be a reach in my opinion, as I simply love our history and sharing it with everyone.
Interested in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, history? Join Barry Duvall's Muhlenberg County History Group on Facebook!