Primary Sources: Through a Telescope Backwards

Perhaps no experience is more fulfilling for a historian than becoming immersed in contemporary first-person chronicles, viewing dramatic happenings through the eyes of those who lived them.

Thankfully, our Civil War ancestors were avid and literate recorders of that fascinating era. We are blessed with an embarrassment of riches in diaries, letters, newspapers, memoirs, articles, reports, etc. ranging from the commander-in-chief to the lowliest soldier, sailor, and citizen.

Our challenge is to empower their voices to tell their story, distilling vivid accounts into insightful narrative history. But taken individually, these sources furnish constricted and dim views of little pieces of huge, complex events—like looking through a telescope backwards. They are subject to human vagaries of memory, perspective, bias, and personal agenda. We must interpret, fill in gaps, and provide context.

This author’s experience in writing his first book manifested the joys and struggles of dealing with these voices from the past. A Confederate Biography: The Cruise of the CSS Shenandoah (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2015) relates the story of the last Confederate commerce raider.

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ECW Podcast “Talking About Primary Sources” Is Now Available

Keeping with our “Primary Sources” series this month, Chris Mackowski and Kris White talk about the use of primary sources in research and writing.

This is a must for anyone interested in learning more about how historians work behind the scenes. Plus, learn about some of their favorites! Find this latest podcast exclusively on the Patreon platform. Continue reading

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Reflections on the Emancipation Proclamation

In September 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the New York Civil War Centennial Commission’s Emancipation Proclamation Observance, reflecting on the impact of that historic document on American history and the world.

It had been one hundred years since President Lincoln had announced his intentions and set forth a precedent for freedom. Dr. King – involved in the struggle for civil rights – looked back to that promise of freedom and its significance in the country’s past, present, and future. Continue reading

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A Visit with Stonewall Jackson on his Birthday

Jackson Bday Lemon 2019It’s 21 degrees in Lexington, Virginia—a cold morning for a cemetery visit. It’s Stonewall Jackson‘s birthday, though, and I’m passing through town on my way to St. Louis, Missouri, for a talk later this week. (I’ll pass through Lexington, KY, later today.) I thought I should take a quick stop in Stonewall Jackson’s hometown to pay my respects. Born in 1824, he would be 195 years old today.

When my daughter was little, we would stop at the local grocery store and pick up a lemon for her to leave at the gravesite. On behalf of that little girl (who’s now in her mid-20s!) I stop and pick one up, although it’s likely to turn into a lemon popsicle in today’s chill. Continue reading

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Question of the Week: 1/21-1/27/18

What is your favorite primary source from the Civil War? How has it helped your studies or why is it special to you?

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Week In Review: January 14-20, 2019

We hope you’re enjoying the Primary Sources series. If you’ve missed blog posts this week or want to read your favorites again, we’ve got the list for you!

Have a wonderful holiday weekend, and be sure to follow along next week as we continue the discussion about letters, diaries, and newspapers from the Civil War era… Continue reading

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Primary Sources: One Farewell Letter

Ken Burn’s lengthy documentary The Civil War featured excerpts from many primary sources. One of the most unforgettable letters in the documentary was written by Major Sullivan Ballou of the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry Regiment. Continue reading

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Primary Sources: Local Newspapers

My first foray into Civil War newspapers came almost twenty years ago while researching Camp Anderson, an early war training camp that had existed for all of a few weeks in south-central Ohio. I traveled to a local library to peruse their microfilmed newspapers in hopes of finding a few references to the short-lived camp. If you have done much work with microfilm you know that squinting and slogging through frame after frame will eventually make your eyes bleed. I’m only kind of kidding…

Camp Anderson – Lancaster, Ohio

At the expense of my eyesight, I was rewarded with more than I could have hoped for – printed correspondence from soldiers stationed at the camp and accounts of local residents who visited the soldiers during their stay. The newspapers had printed all they could get their hands on in the early war fervor and I had found enough to better flesh out the story of a camp that had otherwise been explained away in a singular sentence. If I could turn up such a goldmine on an otherwise unspectacular training camp, what else was out there? I was hooked…
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Preservation News: Historic Preservation a Focus for Tennessee in 2019

Tennessee has made it clear to its citizens and to the country – historic preservation is a priority for 2019.

The Lotz House, known for the damage it received during the Battle of Franklin, was saved from demolition by the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, Tennessee. Courtesy of the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County.

In Franklin, the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County made it public that they support the creation of a statewide tax credit to encourage the rehabilitation and restoration of historic buildings and structures throughout the state. This kind of program would grant up to 20% income tax credit for preservation projects. On average, these programs grant $6 billion of tax credits each year for preservation nationwide. Continue reading

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ECW Weekender: Looking For Artifacts and Primary Sources?

We were looking around the ECW Blog Archives and came across this post from 2016 by Kristopher White. Since we’re talking about primary sources – ones to read and where to find others – it seemed like a good time to re-run the visiting notes about one of our favorite research sites in the Fredericksburg, Virginia area.

ECW Weekender: The White Oak Civil War Museum and Stafford Research Center

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