With its roots in 19th-century Texas, Juneteenth has grown into a popular event across the country to commemorate emancipation from slavery and celebrate African American culture. Juneteenth refers to June 19, the date in 1865 when the Union Army arrived in Galveston and announced that the Civil War was over and that slaves were free under the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the proclamation had become official more than two years earlier on January 1, 1863, freedmen in Texas adopted June 19th, later known colloquially as Juneteenth, as the date they celebrated emancipation. Juneteenth celebrations continued into the 20th century, and survived a period of declining participation because of the Great Depression and World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s Juneteenth celebrations witnessed a revival as they became catalysts for publicizing civil rights issues of the day. In 1980 the Texas state legislature established June 19 as a state holiday.
It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that Juneteenth spread to other parts of the country, including Virginia. Inspired by a Juneteenth event at the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Community Museum in 1992, Juneteenth celebrations were being held each year in cities and towns throughout Virginia by the end of that decade. In a 2007 resolution, the Virginia House of Delegates recognized June 19 as “Juneteenth Freedom Day” in the state. Across the country, Juneteenth events now can … read more »
The Civil War 150 Legacy Project has been travelling around Virginia and scanning privately held Civil War-related manuscript documents for the past four years. Recently, as I was cataloging some of the scanned materials, I came across a letter, written 14 August 1864 by Ole R. Dahl of the 15th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Company B. Dahl had been captured by Confederate forces and was imprisoned in Savannah, Georgia. Written to his son, Anton P. Dahl, the letter relates his suffering in prison, his concern for various family members, and his hopes for release. Dahl writes that if he knew “all the truble [sic] and suffering I since have been subject to I would rather be shott [sic] down on the spot before I would surrender.” What really caught my attention was the beautiful drawing at the top of the letter, assumedly done by Dahl. The drawing features two prisoners in camp washing and cooking, with areas labeled “the death line” and “guard line” surrounding the prison. Underneath the drawing was written ‘Oh Abraham Abraham!! Why has thou forgotten me!”
According to information on the Wisconsin Historical Society website, Dahl enlisted on 9 October 1861 and was mustered into service on 13 February 1862 to serve with the 15th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Company H. In March 1863 he was promoted to first lieutenant … read more »
Laura Drake Davis and I spent most of 2010-2012 on the road scanning and collecting images for the CW150 Legacy Project. It was not until recently that I have had much time to study and catalog the images that we scanned. I just came across this lovely letter that was scanned in Tazewell County, Virginia, in September 2010.
What grabbed my attention was the first line: “My dear and most affectionate lover…” What a way to start a letter–doesn’t it sound racy? But actually many letters written during the 19th century were as full of love and feelings as modern letters are. The difference is that the 19th-century term “lover” does not necessarily carry the same connotations as it does today. This was a letter written by George Ward (1837-1927) of Tazewell County on 16 July 1861, while serving with 21st Virginia Infantry Regiment, Company H, to his love interest, Mary Jane Ratliff. Ratliff (1842-1905) was the daughter of Abednego and Louisa Vicey Matney Ratliff, also of Tazewell County. George writes of his feelings for [Mary] Jane (“dear Jinnia”), his hopes to marry her, and how he hated parting from her. George mentions the possibility of his death numerous times in the letter, ending it with his hopes that they meet in heaven should he not survive the war.
The Civil War experiences of Virginians from all walks of life and all corners of the state can be found at the Library of Virginia. The papers of Governors John Letcher, William “Extra Billy” Smith, and Francis H. Pierpont; military rosters, reports, and orders; diaries, letters, and photographs of soldiers blue and gray; county reports on indigent soldiers’ families and minutes of Boards of Exemption; records of state agencies; and both Confederate and Union documents—all detail the Civil War in Virginia. The Library of Virginia houses nearly 2,000 (and growing) collections of state records, local records, and private papers chronicling life in Virginia during the conflict of 1861-1865. Military life, politics, business, and the homefront are all documented in collections ranging in size from one leaf of paper to almost 600 cubic feet (Tredegar Iron Works records). Now, information about all of these collections is gathered in the Civil War Records in the Archives Guide, an online resource located on the Library of Virginia’s website.
The guide is organized alphabetically by name of the individual, organization, business, or political entity that created the record and includes a letter index at its top to facilitate searching. Each entry contains name, title of the collection (whether a private papers collection or a public record), date range and size, accession number, a description of the material, and … read more »
Recent efforts by the Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission to digitize Virginia’s Civil War legacy is reminiscent of a similar, yet very different, endeavor by the state of Virginia over one hundred years ago. Created in 1904 by an act of the General Assembly as the Office of the Secretary of Virginia Military Records, the Department of Confederate Military Records was tasked with assisting the federal government in compiling a complete roster of Confederate soldiers from Virginia. Although the modern approach is to digitize collections held in private hands, the Department of Confederate Military Records was charged with simply compiling the names of Virginia’s Confederate veterans. This small agency accomplished their mission by borrowing or collecting original muster rolls and other records listing Confederate officers and enlisted men in the various branches of service. The secretary also relied heavily on finished rosters gathered by the Office of the Adjutant General in 1884 and rosters sent to commissioners of the revenue throughout the state in 1898 and 1900. Despite these earlier efforts, a truly complete roster of Virginia’s Confederate veterans was still lacking which prompted the need for a Department of Confederate Military Records.
Major Robert Waterman Hunter, a veteran and an officer in the 2nd Regiment of Virginia Volunteers, was appointed the first Secretary of Virginia Military Records by Governor Andrew J. Montague in 1904. … read more »
The CW 150 Legacy Project was recently in Fairfax for a scanning event at the City of Fairfax Regional Library. The event was a great success with a number of diaries, letters, and photographs scanned. We also had one of our biggest ‘wow’ moments when a donor brought in a box of almost 400 letters from her ancestor for scanning. Most of the letters, written between Cecil A. Burleigh of the 20th Connecticut Infantry and his wife, Caroline, were still in their envelopes. It is exciting and rare to see a collection that is not only large but also comprehensive, with letters written from husband and wife. These materials give both sides of the story of a couple separated by war, as Cecil wrote from localities such as Stafford Court House and Alexandria, Virginia, and after participation in the Battle of Chancellorsville, while Caroline gave updates on life in Connecticut.
Due to the size of the collection it will take us a while to scan and post everything, but to have such a great resource from one family is just amazing!
-Renee Savits, CW 150 Legacy Project — Eastern Region… read more »
Sometimes archivists encounter the unexpected. While looking through an unidentified business record, I expected to see the usual debits and credits typically found in nineteenth century business volumes. The ledger, found in the Lynchburg (Va.) Courthouse, belonged to a group of volumes entered as an exhibit in some long ago settled court case. Only one of the volumes was labeled – with “A. J. Ledger” inscribed on its spine. This volume turned out to be A. J. Ledger C (Barcode 1097496), but it contained more than the financial activities of an unknown Lynchburg area merchant.
Amidst the notations of customer purchases and payments made in 1812, names were written in pencil at the bottom of pages – Charles B. Stewart, James Ellis, William H. McCune. Additional names and doodles were scribbled over the carefully organized ledger entries. Curious, I continued to thumb through the ledger and discovered it had been autographed by the 206th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry while the unit was on provost duty in Lynchburg, Va. The 206th was among the first to march through Richmond after it fell, and the troops were later sent to Lynchburg where they spent two weeks on provost duty.
Many members of the regiment signed their names in the ledger. Lieutenant Abraham E. Litz wrote an account of their march on Richmond in the … read more »
Check out this video of our own Tom Camden, Special Collections Director, discussing a rarely seen copy of the Ordinance of Secession at the Library of Virginia. It’s provided courtesy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.… read more »
(Note: Guest contributor Mari Julienne joins us this week with some timely background information on a pivotal document in the state’s history. Virginia’s signed Ordinance of Secession will be on display at the Library of Virginia on Saturday, 16 April 2011. See our schedule for other events related to the Library’s exhibition, Union or Secession: Virginians Decide.)
17 April 1861. While meeting in secret session, the Virginia Convention took a vote on whether to secede from the United States. Two weeks earlier, on 4 April, the convention delegates rejected a resolution to secede by a vote of 90 to 45. The convention, which was called to consider Virginia’s response to the secession crisis, had been meeting in Richmond since 13 February. The delegates had spent many weeks debating whether secession was legal, wise, or in the state’s best interest. Following the surrender of Fort Sumter on 13 April and President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops on 15 April, the question facing the delegates became which side to take: to fight with or against the new Confederate States of America. Late in the afternoon on 17 April, the convention chose the Confederacy and voted 88 to 55 to submit an ordinance of secession to the voters in a referendum. On 23 May, Virginia voters approved the Ordinance of Secession, which repealed Virginia’s 1788 ratification of the … read more »
Editor’s Note: Guest contributor Brent Tarter offers the following post, pointing out some interesting finds made by the creators of the Library of Virginia’s Union or Secession exhibition.
During Virginia’s secession crisis in the winter and spring of 1860-1861, men and women across the state wrote to Governor John Letcher to comment on public affairs. They wrote to tell the governor what to do, to ask for help, to offer advice and assistance, or to get something off their chests. While researching in preparation for the Library of Virginia’s exhibition, Union or Secession: Virginians Decide , we spent time looking through the letters received by Governor Letcher. Like the records of every Virginia governor since 1776, the letters are preserved in Record Group 3 of the state’s archives in the Library of Virginia. The Governor’s Office records are an extremely rich source for the beliefs and words of ordinary Virginians.
During 1860 and 1861 the governor received letters from men and women in every part of the state who expressed every possible opinion and political allegiance. “I would like to Know from you what is to prevent me from Voting for Lincoln,” Giles County resident John M. Smith asked Governor Letcher in September 1860. “As he is the man I prefer. the reason of this letter is that there is a great deal of threatning … read more »