In 1887 when Union veteran John D. Billings published his book Hardtack and Coffee: The Unwritten Story of Army Life, he wrote the following for the dedication:
To my comrades of the Army of the Potomac who, it is believed, will find rehearsed in these pages much that has not before appeared in print, and which it is hoped will secure to their children in permanent form valuable information about a soldier’s life in detail that has thus far been only partially written, this work is most affectionately dedicated by their friend, THE AUTHOR.
In the decades since Billings penned that dedication, thousands more pages have been written about Civil War battles and personal experiences. Still, thousands of primary sources lie unpublished – some nearly forgotten – in archives, in attics, or in private collections. While it is true that many of these unpublished primary sources are “less-than-thriller” reading, most contain valuable information in their own way.
Historians and researchers are often looking for that “missing” document that would answer the nagging questions, clear up some of the plague-y what-ifs, or pull back the curtain with a completely new idea. Historical process is necessary, of course, before something in a document can simply be believed and contextual examination is important to consider as well.
Here at Emerging Civil War, we’ve had series about primary sources in the past, and we frequently share primary source excerpts. While crafting the series themes for 2022, the editors had an idea to revisit primary sources with a twist: unpublished.
Over the next few weeks, you’ll find the series taking a variety of turns. Some authors will be highlighting unpublished collections and where/how to find them. Others may describe the contents of unpublished primary sources or (with permission) share that previously unpublished document. To the best of our knowledge, these featured sources have not been previously published in their entirety in book form or otherwise readily transcribed and available. Also, to the best of our knowledge, the documents are in the public domain or we have permission from the holder of the documents to share them publicly and reverse that unpublished status.
We’ve been enjoying the preparation for the this series and hope that you’ll read along regularly as we turn the spotlights into the archive files and dark attics to bring some fascinating letters, diaries, reports, and more into an emerging discussion. May “these pages…that [have] not before appeared in print” be filled with “valuable information” for the ongoing studies of America’s defining moment and most costly conflict.