How time flies; seems only yesterday Jack Melton (publisher of Civil War News; [CWN]) and this writer discussed the possibility of a new monthly column for the publication Melton had just acquired. Article number 36, just completed, marked three years of writing on primary resources, aiming to help all those seeking to enrich their understanding of our nineteenth-century conflict.
Discovering years ago, the quest of many folks to understand better the myriad details of the American Civil War left many frustrated. Too often, they stood looking at a stone wall, and they held a position nowhere near Henry House Hill! Their obstacle, their challenge…where to search for specific information? Years later, this led to the development of a course entitled ‘Researching the American Civil War,’ which this writer first taught at Kennesaw State University’s College of Continuing and Professional Education. The students in the initial course echoed the same concerns previously heard. Questions such as “Where might one find reports from the Battle of Knoxville?” or, “My ancestor fought in the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry, but I have no idea where to locate information on his regiment or their engagements.” Thus, the origin of the monthly column in CWN entitled ‘The Source.’
Focusing exclusively on primary source materials, each month readers can (hopefully) enhance their knowledge of resources like the Official Records; the MOLLUS Papers; Confederate Veteran; where to access Civil War maps, printed copies as well as online repositories; and discover many other sources, tips, and research practices. Readers frequently email this writer indicating subjects they would like to see covered in future columns. This helpful, and welcome feedback assists in scheduling future topics. Among the more popular columns to date, those featuring online sources. The interest in these columns prompted Melton to create a special tab on the CWN website (http://www.civilwarnews.com) for ‘The Source.’ There, researchers can find several previous installments with the links archived.
Realizing many of the books covered thus far have gone out of print, or if available, prove costly, this writer always reminds readers to check WorldCat http://www.worldcat.org/ for help in finding materials in a local library. If a printed source contains unique maps, illustrations, or images, one or two of those frequently appear with the column. Historians do not have answers to all questions, but most know where to research the subject. Hopefully, this article will continue to serve as a GPS for today’s researchers.
Michael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, lecturer, instructor, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians, the Historians of the Civil War Western Theater, the Georgia Association of Historians, and the Georgia Writers Association. Readers may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his website www.civilwarhistorian.net to request speaking engagements. Follow him on Facebook www.facebook.com/michael.k.shaffer and Twitter @michaelkshaffer.