Robert Cromwell (1838-1918) was a Union soldier serving in the 10th Illinois Infantry Regiment, Company A. For several months during the spring and summer of 1864 he kept a diary. The Civil War 150 Legacy Project was lucky enough to scan, catalog, and digitize the diary, and numerous other papers of the Cromwell family.
Robert’s company took part in Major General William T. Sherman’s so-called “Atlanta Campaign,” a relentless and brutally long-lasting effort to sweep through Georgia, and ultimately seize Atlanta from the Confederate army. In his 30 May 1864 entry, Robert beautifully described the thrilling grotesquerie of the battlefield, with all its horrific forms of sensory overload:
“…crack crack in our front followed by a continuous crash of small arms then increased by heavy artillery soon brought us to our feet. For 35 or 40 minutes the roar was terrific.
…The unceasing roll of musketry the concussion caused by the booming cannon and bursting shell conspired to produce indescribable sensations, mingled exultation and awe.”
But the levity and humor found in the following anecdote from 13 July 1864, is even more noteworthy. Robert’s company is encamped on one side of the Chattahoochee River, and the Confederate troops they fought mere weeks earlier are encamped across the way. As Robert states:
“Although against orders conversation will occur. Agreed last night to xchange [sic] papers
Recently I stumbled upon one of the more interestingly-worded government documents that I have ever encountered. Housed in the papers of Confederate soldier G.B. Lamar, Jr., of Georgia, was a leather-bound “passport” dated 1867. But this wasn’t just any ole’ passport–embossed in gold letters on the book’s cover were the words:
Hand Book of Loyalty.
Passport for Any-Where.
Being a holder of a passport myself, and thereby glancingly familiar with the process of attainment and the general requirements of such, I couldn’t believe that such fanciful language could accompany something heretofore seen as banal and utterly devoid of hyperbole or flights of fancy. But–here it was! A passport to anywhere!
One might argue this is just a statement of the obvious, for a United States passport is, clearly, a document allowing one to travel “anywhere.” Yet the language trumpeted on Lamar’s leather cover hints at possibility and adventure in a way that my prosaically blue passport vehemently does not.
To open the book is to be confronted with yet more extravagant jargon, for it announces these intentions:
To produce the most
Soothing Feelings of Patriotism
In the Shortest Space of Time.—Works like Magic.
It turns out this was not a passport per se, but a wryly humorous book for former Confederates who had, perhaps reluctantly and out of pure necessity, sworn their allegiance to the … read more »
In my work for the Civil War 150 Legacy Project, I recently came across the diary of Aquilla Peyton (1837-1875). A private in the Confederate Army, Peyton was a young man with a loving family living near Fredericksburg, Virginia, and an avid diarist with a spiritual nature and a naturalist bent. Peyton kept this particular diary from August 1861 to August 1863. His final days as a soldier were in December of 1862; in January 1863, he returned home and recommenced teaching school.
Peyton’s diary is quite long at 186 pages, and is teeming with quotes from the Old and New Testaments, daily logs on the weather and the changing of seasons, and achingly personal observations on the unworthiness of his character and his struggle to be a better Christian. On Wednesday, 19 December 1861, Peyton wrote:
constantlyalmost constantly disturbed by a sense of my sinfulness, and I can not be satisfied with any thing less than true religion. I view the law of God as perfect and lovely, and it seems to me that I pray sincerely for the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. But so cold is my heart, and so feeble my efforts, that I can not conclude that I am a Christian. I am afraid I am devoid of the faith that works by love, purifies
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 »