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Research Guides

History: 3750, Civil War

HIST 3750

Beginning Research in U.S. Civil War History

Where do I start?

The U.S. Civil War (1860-1865) and its aftermath, Reconstruction (1865-1877) are two of the most studied moments in national history.  Before one contributes to history it is best to become familiar with what has already been written and what sources are available.  This guide introduces readers to major publicly available sources.

  • Learn to search Library of Congress Subject Headings in library catalogues.  The full contents may be found in the six-volume headings list, available on the second floor (Z695 .Z8 L5226 2005). 
  • Wander the shelves:  Library of Congress classification system

Class E  United States (by period; roughly chronological)

300-453 Revolution to Civil War. Antebellum

456-655 Civil War.

660-738 Late nineteenth century, 1865-1900. Postbellum

Class F   United States. British, French, Latin America

1-975  United States (by state, region)

  • If you can find one book on a subject, the classification system locates others on similar subjects to either side.
  • Look at the notes and bibliography of secondary scholarship to see what other authors cite.

Explore background sources like encyclopedias, dictionaries.  You won't cite these, but they can help you get a picture of events, consequences, factors, and personalities involved--targets for further research

Secondary Sources (Civil War)

Much manuscript material from individual participants has been published in scholarly editions and is now available through library catalogues.  Links to some of the major collections are listed below.  Most published material can be acquired through Interlibrary Loan.

Primary Sources--Published (Civil War)

Much manuscript material has been published in scholarly editions, but there is no substitute for going to the manuscript source. Much of the material is now digitally available.

Primary Sources--Print (Civil War)

Publications were commonplace sources of information about the war and its progress. Today they provide a window into the way the war was experienced and understood by noncombatants.

Before digital or photographic technology made it possible to duplicate images of a page, publication was the only way to disseminate primary sources.  These are some of the significant collections of material on the Civil War.

Primary Sources--Official Record (Civil War)

Often cited as "Official Records" or "OR," this 70v. series was a federal project to collect and publish primary source material relating to the Civil War. It is the defining record for the conduct of the war and of military service.

Primary Sources--manuscript (Civil War)

Primary Sources--Graphic (Civil War)

The Civil War was one of the first conflicts captured photographically. Photographs, prints, and drawings provide some of the most significant records of the conflict and perceptions surrounding it

Libraries & Archives (Civil War)

Most institutions in combatant states publish guides to their library/archives holdings on the Civil War sources they hold.  Many include links to digitally available records.  It may take a bit of digging, but at Websites of state archives, major universities, and local historical societies you should find plenty to work with.

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Richard Saunders
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Sherratt Library 303f