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Primary Sources on the Civil War Era: Civil War Era Primary Sources

Civil War Era Newspapers

Books & Periodicals

  • American Periodicals Series (APS) Historically significant periodicals from the 18th and 19th century.
  • America's Historical Imprints Digital collection of early American imprints, broadsides and ephemera. Based on the American Antiquarian Society's collections.
  • GoogleBooks Growing collection of pre-1920 materials related to the Civil War.
  • Harper's Weekly, 1857-1912 Scanned images of all the pages of Harper's Weekly together with a series of indexes.
  • Nation Digital Archive Online collection from America's oldest weekly magazine. 
  • Godey's Lady's Book, 1830-1896 Popular women's magazine from the nineteenth century. Includes colorful fashion plates.
  • 19th Century Masterfile A vast "index of indexes," bringing together in one database the contents of dozens of subject indexes that cover American and British periodicals, books, and government documents published from the late 18th to the early 20th century. A select number of periodical titles, including Harper's Monthly, Atlantic Monthly, and Scribner's Monthly, as well as the U.S. Congressional Record are available in full text.

Government Documents

Digital Manuscript Collections

Manuscript, Archive and Rare Book Library Collections

Emory's repository for rare books and manuscripts, MARBL, has an extensive collection of Civil War era materials. See their Civil War Research Guide, a guide to collections specifically related to the American Civil War. The guide is divided into thirteen categories including Slaves and Freedman, Women, and Prisons. It also includes a list of links to online exhibits and collections.

Online Exhibits

Corresponding with the National Archives’ “Discovering the Civil War” exhibit Prologue magazine’s spring 2010 issue featured a number of articles on the Civil War, including:

19th Century Microfilm, A-Z

  • A People at War: from the Civil War Manuscript Holdings of the Library of Congress [microfilm]. Letters, diaries and personal papers published for the first time, the written record of the silent majority of the Civil War--the civilians, professionals, camp followers, and ordinary soldiers: participants and observers, male and female, black and white. Guide available.
  • American women's diaries, Southern [microfilm]. Diaries of 37 women in the American South.  These candid works offer firsthand accounts of the lives, contributions, and innermost thoughts of women from the colonial period through the turn of the 20th century. Researchers gain new perspectives on a myriad of topics including daily life and the struggle to survive, religion, childbirth and child rearing, education, social issues, war and peace, and personal strengths of women from diverse ethnic and social backgrounds. Guide available.
  • Anti-slavery Collection: 18th - 19th Centuries, Society of Friends [microfilm]. Originally from the Library of the Society of Friends, this collection contains anti-slavery tracts, pamphlets, and journals pertaining to the abolition movement for ending the African slave trade. Printed guide 1283.
  • Anti-slavery Propaganda in the Oberlin College Library, 1795-1880  [microfilm]. Printed guide 1363.
  • Barred and Disallowed Case Files of the Southern Claims Commission, 1871-1880 [microfiche].
  • Black Abolitionist papers, 1830-1865 [microfilm]. The collection, gathered from over 100 libraries, contains writings, speeches, correspondence, other manuscripts and printed materials of African-Americans involved in the anti-slavery movement. Topics covered are: Northern/Southern separatism within the church; black colonization and emigration; black political action; church support of black educational institutions; and black intellectual and social life. Printed guide 3136.
  • Boyd B. Stutler Collection of John Brown Papers [microfilm]. John Brown (1800 – 1859) was an American abolitionist, the first white abolitionist to advocate and to practice guerrilla warfare as a means to the abolition of slavery. His attempt to start a slave rebellion in 1859 electrified the nation. Brown's subsequent capture by federal forces commanded by Robert E. Lee, his trial for treason to the state of Virginia, and his execution by hanging were an important part of the origins of the American Civil War. Digital Guide.
  • Confederate imprints, 1861-1865 [microfilm, 4286]. This is a 144 reel microfilm set published by Research Publications which attempted to microfilm all of the 6894 entries listed in the following two bibliographies: Crandall, Marjorie Lyle. Confederate Imprints: a Check List Based Principally on the Collection of the Boston Athenaeum. Boston: Boston Athenaeum, 1955. 2 vols. Harwell, Richard. More Confederate Imprints. Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1957.
  • Confederate military manuscripts [microfilm]. This collection includes manuscripts mostly from Virginia and Louisiana. Guide available.
  • John Brown, Junior, papers [microfilm]. Papers of abolitionist John Brown. Printed guide 1297.
  • Letters received by the Attorney General, 1809-1870. Southern Law and Order [microfilm]. Online guide.
  • Letters received by the Attorney General, 1871-1884 [microfilm]. Southern law and order Papers from the antebellum era reveal the administration of justice and political preferment. Postwar material documents the administration of the southern states under Radical Reconstruction, when civil rights acts and other initiatives were enforced by the federal courts in conjunction with the War Department. Reporting from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Virginia, the federal lawmen of Southern Law and Order give voice to the beliefs and passions of the 19th century South. Guide available.
  • Race, slavery, and free blacks: petitions to southern legislatures, 1777-1867, Race and Slavery Petitions Project [microform]. Collection of pproximately 18,500 petitions to state legislatures and county courts. Series 1, Legislative Petitions, contains 2,971 petitions to state legislatures, primarily from 7 states. The microform edition includes virtually all extant legislative petitions on the subject of race, slavery and free blacks in the South,1777-1867. Print guide 4126.
  • Race, slavery, and free blacks: Series II, Petitions to southern county courts, 1775-1867 [microform].
  • Records of ante-bellum southern plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War [microfilm]. Ante-bellum plantations had far-reaching impact on both the American South and the nation and on the political, economic, and cultural life of the South. Plantation records include journals, crop books, account books, medical records, slave lists relating to ante-bellum southern plantations from the American Revolution through the Civil War, business operations, family affairs, social and cultural life, and relations between slaves and masters. Family members kept personal diaries and corresponded extensively with friend and relatives both near and far. Digital guide.
  • Records of Southern Plantations from Emancipation to the Great Migration [microfilm]. Post-bellum plantaiton records. Online guide.
  • Records of the American Colonization Society [microfilm]. The purpose of the American Colonization Society, founded in 1817, was to help freed slaves emigrate from the United States to Africa, and it was instrumental in establishing the colony of Liberia. Its membership was a mix of both pro- and anti-slavery individuals who believed colonization was the best way to deal with racial problems. The Society achieved limited success in its endeavors prior to the 1860's. After the Civil War and the end of slavery, the Society's activities centered primarily on helping people who wished to emigrate to Liberia and on providing funds for their support after arrival in Africa. In the twentieth century, the Society was concerned chiefly with the support of education in Liberia. Printed Guide 3409.
  • Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Alabama, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870 [microfilm]. The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, often referred to as the Freedmen's Bureau, was established in the War Department by an act of March 3, 1865. The Bureau supervised all relief and educational activities relating to refugees and freedmen, including issuing rations, clothing and medicine. The Bureau also assumed custody of confiscated lands or property in the former Confederate States, border states, District of Columbia, and Indian Territory. Printed guide 3208.
  • Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Georgia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1869  [microfilm]. The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, popularly referred to as the Freedmen's Bureau, was established in 1865. Its function was to supervise affairs relating to refugees and former slaves, and to control all lands abandoned or confiscated during the Civil War. The types of activities the Bureau engaged in included establishing schools, hospitals, dispensaries, and camps for the homeless; issuing rations, clothing, and medicine; registering marriages; filing pensions; etc.
  • Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Georgia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1869 [microfilm]. Printed guide 1200.
  • Records of the Commissioner of Claims (Southern Claims Commission), 1871-1880 [microform].
  • Records of the Freedmen's Hospital, 1872-1910 correspondence and memoranda [microfilm]. Reproduces Record Group 48, Records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior, Records of the Patents and Miscellaneous Division, Records Relating to Hospitals, Schools, and Charitable Institutions, in the custody of the National Archives. Online Guide.
  • Records of the U.S. Colored Troops, Pt. 1 [microfilm]. The Records of U.S. Colored Troops collection includes letters, reports, and papers relating principally to the recruiting of soldiers for Colored Troop service. There are materials related to organization and service of African American units and officers. The name of each soldier and his unit are listed. The documents are arranged chronologically by year, they're under by initial letter of surname of soldier and there under numerically by assigned register number. In addition, there are letters from Army officers, the U.S. Sanitary Commission, surgeons of U.S. Volunteers, and chiefs of bureaus of the War Department reporting on the recruitment, organization, and mustering of African American troops. Personal reports of officers and authorizations from the Adjutant General to raise African American units and correspondence relating to the proceedings of the various examining boards reviewing qualifications of applicants for appointment as commissioned officers are highlighted.
  • Records of the, Office of the Secretary of the Interior relating to the suppression of the African slave trade and Negro colonization 1854-1872 [microfilm]. The collection records relating to the suppression of the slave trade and the colonization of recaptured and free blacks. By Acts of 1807 and 1819, Congress prohibited the importation of slaves into the United States and the act of 1819 authorized the President to employ U.S. armed vessels to seize any ships or vessels of the United States engaged in slave trade, also to return the captured Africans to Africa and to appoint agents on the coast of Africa to receive the returned Africans. The records include communications relating to colonization in Liberia, British Honduras, the Danish West Indies, and Haiti; Letters regarding the capture of slave ships and the suppression of the slave trade; communications from the president, 1861-1865; and prosecutions for slave smuggling. Guide available.
  • State Slavery Statutes [microfilm]. Printed guide 1568.
  • The Arthur A. Schomburg papers [microfilm]. The Arthur A. Schomburg Papers (1874-1938) reflect his activities as researcher, writer, collector, and curator. The collection consists of correspondence, published and unpublished writings, articles about Schomburg and the Negro Collection at the 135th Street Branch, subject and reference files, and material relating to his many speaking engagements and activities in the community and on behalf of the collection. The bulk of the papers date from 1932 to his death in 1938. The material from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries consists of transcriptions of historical documents and newspaper articles. Digital guide.
  • The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company: letters received by commissioners, 1870-1914 [microfilm]. Reproduces the records of the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company, a savings bank chartered by Congress in early 1865 for the benefit of ex-slaves. In an effort to protect the interests of depositors and their heirs in the event of a depositor's death, the bank collected a substantial amount of detailed information about each depositor and his or her family. While most of the surviving records relate to the bank and its collapse, they are still a useful source for genealogical data concerning African American families for the period following the Civil War. Guide available.
  • The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony [microfilm]. The collection includes manuscript holdings of more than two hundred libraries and private collectors, and printed matter from approximately 700 periodicals. After the Civil War, Stanton and Anthony sought federal protection of women's right to vote through a constitutional amendment. They entered the political arena, pressing Congress, state, legislatures, parties, and the president for action on their demands, and founded the movement for women's political equality in the 19th century. The collection covers the periods 1831 through 1906 and contains more than 14,000 documents such as legislative testimony, correspondence, diaries, speeches, accounts of meetings, calls to action, articles, legal papers and financial papers. Guide available.
  • The Papers of Pierce Butler (1744-1822) and successors from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania [microfilm].This collection provides documentation concerning the running of the South Carolina and Georgia estates of the Butler family from 1786 to 1885. As a series of plantation records they provide a total overview of the business from the Revolutionary period, through the Civil War, to the 1880's. Digital guide.
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