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Tag: civil war

The true story behind the Gettysburg sharpshooter

Today’s post comes from curator Bruce Bustard. These photographs and documents are on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC, until July 15 in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

On July 5, 1863, photographer Alexander Gardner and his assistant, Timothy O’Sullivan, arrived at the site of the Battle of Gettysburg. The battle had ended two days earlier. On parts of the battlefield, bodies were still unburied.

Over the next three days, Gardner did not hesitate to photograph the carnage. On July 6, when he saw the body of a Confederate soldier in an area called “Devil’s Den,” he photographed it. He and O’Sullivan then saw an opportunity for another, more dramatic photograph. They moved the corpse more than 40 yards to what they believed to have been the sharpshooter’s position, and O’Sullivan made another exposure.

The photographs became two of the most famous of the Civil War, but for over 100 years historians did not question the captions Gardner wrote for them in his Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War. These described a “sharpshooter” who had died a slow death and who had spent his final moments thinking of his family. Gardner also wrote that when he returned to Gettysburg in November 1863, the body and the gun were still there.

In 1975, historian William A. Frassanito … [ Read all ]

A glimpse into the Civil War experience of Company F

Today’s blog post comes from Mary Burtzloff, archivist at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.

The black leather-bound journal had water stains and mold around the edges. It looked a bit icky, but the contents of the Civil War journal fascinated me.

One hundred and fifty years after our nation’s bloodiest conflict, we are  reminded of the lives and accomplishments of famous men like Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. The experiences of ordinary Americans (31 million or so who are not featured in films and books) are much more mysterious. What sort of people were they? How did they experience the war? George Boardman’s story helps me relate to those missing multitudes.

I began identifying Civil War–related holdings at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library as I worked on a proposed exhibit. Believe it or not, a 20th-century Presidential library may have records from the 19th (and even 18th) century, too!

My favorite find was the journal of George Boardman, a young man who served in Company F of the 22nd Maine Infantry from October 1862 to August 1863. Mrs. M. Hobart gave the journal to President Eisenhower in 1967. It is currently displayed in the exhibit “Civil War: Lincoln, Lee and More!” at the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, Kansas.

I researched Boardman’s life using digitized census and military records on Ancestry.com, Fold3, and … [ Read all ]

Emancipation Proclamation: A Letter Home

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation brought freedom to the slaves in the Confederacy. By the war’s end, the U.S. Colored Troops Bureau had recruited hundreds of thousands of black soldiers, who fought for both their own and others’ freedom. The Emancipation Proclamation meant that their military victories resulted in the liberation of others.

Samuel Cabble served in the Massachusetts 55th Infantry. In a letter to his mother and his wife, Leah, Cabble expressed his desire to see his wife freed from slavery:

…though great is the present national difficulties yet I look foward to a brighter day When i shall have the opertunity of seeing you in the full enjoyment of freedom I would like to no if you are still in slavery if you are it will not be long before we shall have crushed the system that now opreses you for in the course of three months you shall have your liberty. great is the outpouring of the colored people that is now rallying with the hearts of lions against that very[?] curse that has separated you an me yet we shall meet again and oh what a happy time that will be when this unGodly rebellion shall be put down and the curses of our land is trampled

[ Read all ]

Emancipation Proclamation: Creation of the United States Colored Troops

The issues of freedom for the slaves and military service were intertwined from the beginning of the Civil War. News from Fort Sumter had set off a rush by free black men to enlist in military units. They were turned away, however, because a Federal law dating from 1792 barred them from bearing arms for the U.S. Army (although they had served in the American Revolution and in the War of 1812).

The Lincoln administration thought about authorizing the recruitment of black troops before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, but they were worried that doing so would prompt the border states to secede.

Nevertheless, the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, did include mention of military service, although Lincoln did not call slaves and free blacks to serve as combatant troops in the war. Lincoln wrote, ”And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable conditions, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.”

This statement directly applied to slaves in the slave states, and many black men moved to free themselves. Despite the restrictions of the Emancipation Proclamation in loyal border states, Tennessee, and portions of Union-occupied Louisiana and Virginia, slaves found their way to the Union armies … [ Read all ]

The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

Throughout the Civil War, when President Lincoln needed to concentrate—when he faced a task that required his focused and undivided attention—he would leave the White House, cross the street to the War Department, and take over the desk of Thomas T. Eckert, chief of the military telegraph staff.

The hub of the Union’s military communication center had become an unlikely refuge for the President. Anxiously awaiting the latest reports from the front, hovering over the shoulder of an operator, he would enjoy the easy banter of the telegraph staff and, somehow, find relief from the strain of his office.

In early July of 1862, President Lincoln asked the telegraph chief for some paper, explaining that he had something ”special” to write. Slowly, putting down just one or two lines at a time, Lincoln began to work.

Only when a draft was finished did Lincoln reveal that he had composed an order ”giving freedom to the slaves in the South, for the purpose of hastening the end of the war.”

This Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation indicated Lincoln’s intention of issuing the final proclamation in the near future:

That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or

[ Read all ]