05 January 2006 by Published in: General musings 10 comments

Part of the researcher’s task is, of course, finding material. To that end, experience is worth everything. My years of experience in conducting Civil War research has taught me where the really good repositories of material are. As a general rule, I try to avoid sweeping generalizations, but they do sometimes have value. Here’s one: my experience tells me that the best repositories of primary source, unpublished manuscript material are, in no particular order:

1. The National Archives
2. The Library of Congress
3. The United States Army Military History Institute
4. The University of North Carolina
5. Duke University
6. The University of Virginia
7. The University of Michigan
8. Navarro College
9. Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (what an awesome collection Bob Krick and company have cobbled together there……)
10. Virginia State Archives
11. Virginia Historical Society
12. Alabama Department of Archives and History
13. Museum of the Confederacy
14. Historical Society of Pennsylvania
15. Western Reserve Historical Society

I could go on, but you get the idea. Knowing this makes it fairly easy to put together a research strategy for tackling a given project. While this list isn’t exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, it will certainly give you a damned good start on any major research project.

The Internet has also made the process so much easier. Many–not all–institutions now have on-line finding aids available, which makes it easy to get a good flavor for what’s available in their collections. That makes the task much easier and makes the process more efficient, since I can map out what I want before I ever even leave my house, and it even makes it possible to obtain some of the desired materials strictly by mail. That’s a big plus.

There’s also a real value to knowing where things aren’t. In working my way through my Dahlgren project, I thought of a few potential sources for the 6th Ohio Cavalry, a portion of which accompanied Dahlgren on his November 1862 Fredericksburg Raid, and I checked a couple of them out today. These were things that I remembered seeing during my travels, knew that they pertained to the 6th Ohio, but had no idea whether they were pertinent to my specific question. So, I called in a favor today and had someone check them out for me. Neither were pertinent. That’s okay–they are what they are. However, where it becomes relevant is that if they were, I probably would have had to have found time in my schedule to dash over to USAMHI in Carlisle, PA to get them, or hire someone to do that for me. Knowing that these two sources were a dry hole means that I don’t have to worry about them, and also means that I don’t have to go to extraordinary lengths to get what’s there.

Like I said, there is not only a real, tangible value to knowing where things are, there’s a similar value to knowing where things aren’t.

Scridb filter


  1. Thu 05th Jan 2006 at 6:55 pm

    The following probably reflects my regional bias; nevertheless, these appear in enough Civil War bibliographies to justify their addition to any list: Massachusetts Historical Society; Houghton Library (Harvard University); the Boston Public Library; the Boston Athenaeum. One resource too often overlooked is the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts Papers held at Boston University’s Mugar Library. This collection includes the Civil War papers and correspondence of historian John Codman Ropes, (d. 1899)–a treasure trove of war date and post bellum correspondence with many notable participants.

  2. Thu 05th Jan 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Hi Eric,
    I’ve never heard of Navarro College. What do they have in their possession there that warrants their high position on your list? Thanks.


  3. Thu 05th Jan 2006 at 10:49 pm


    A fellow named Pearce endowed Navarro with money to buy stuff, and they have purchased a really first rate collection. Here’s a link to the collection. Check it out. You will be impressed.


  4. Thu 05th Jan 2006 at 10:49 pm


    Thanks. I’m not familiar with many of those sources, but I will keep those in mind.


  5. Fri 06th Jan 2006 at 12:15 am

    Dear Eric: With your interest in cavalry, you may find a number of important papers at these various repositories concerning Massachusetts’ units, if that ever becomes of interest to you. (For example, as you probably know already, Caspar Crowninshield’s Journal, the bulk of which deals with his life in the 2nd Mass Cav. can be found at the Boston Public Library.) I know that you’ve recently reviewed Carol Bundy’s book on Charles Russell Lowell. Her bibliography yields some good digging at several of the aforementioned archives. One source (probably found at many of the institutions on your list) that I have found surprisingly helpful, occasionally bordering on sheer wonder, are the cheap-print pamphlet eulogies. They often contain rare nuggets of dialogue or quotations from letters and diaries long since gone, or family anecdotes supplied to the minister by survivors. There are a surprising number of these things around. Newspapers rarely reprinted entire eulogies and to read the pamphlets (15 to 25 pages on average) is a real trip–revealing good historical-theological insights as well as biographical material.

    In any event, your blog is a pleasure and posts such as these do delight the eye of those happier “in the stacks” than in the streets!

    Thank you for your efforts.

  6. Russell Bonds
    Fri 06th Jan 2006 at 1:49 pm


    Great post and great list. I am a fan of several on your list, including Western Reserve and USMHI, and even uncovered a golden nugget at Navarro once. I would also nominate Notre Dame, which not only has treasures like General Sherman’s papers, it has much of them available for free, in pdf format, online! To offer a couple here from the Southern Bureau, the ADAH is indeed great and generous, often making copies, etc. for minimal cost (as opposed to the $40.00 “research fee” you encounter at some places) and the Atlanta History Center here has a solid library and many valuable manuscripts, especially on Sherman’s campaign. Enjoy your blog as always! R.

  7. Fri 06th Jan 2006 at 2:42 pm


    You’re absolutely right about the eulogies. The one for Ulric Dahlgren has been an absolute gold mine of useful information, and I’ve used it extensively. I can say the same thing for Maj. Noah Ferry, KIA in the fighting on East Cavalry Field at Gettysburg, and the actual hard cover books in memory of Capt. Walter Newhall (3rd Pa. Cavalry, drowned in the Rappahannock River in December 1863) and Lt. Nathaniel Bowditch, mortally wounded in action at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, March 17, 1863. They’re enormously useful sources.


  8. Fri 06th Jan 2006 at 2:44 pm


    Good additions–thanks.

    I knew Uncle Billy’s papers were at Notre Dame, but haven’t ever really had much of a reason to pursue them. Good to know they’re available on line.


  9. Cena Mayo
    Fri 06th Jan 2006 at 6:40 pm

    I second Navarro. I was writing a paper on the Battle of Baton Rouge last year (fall 2004) for an undergraduate paper, and stumbled across their site. Not only did I find a letter written by a soldier who’d fought at Baton Rouge (and one I had not seen before in the relatively scanty materials available on Baton Rouge), Navarro had both a copy of the original and a transcript available. While waiting for an email reply to my request for a price, I was pleasantly suprised when I received the materials in the mail, along with a polite request for something like $7.00 (which I happily paid.)

  10. Dave Vermeulen
    Fri 04th Jan 2008 at 11:58 am

    Dear Eric,

    I am researching Noah H. Ferry for our church, Ferry Memorial Reformed Church, of Montague MI.

    I have found quite a bit of information about his relationship to our town, but the details of his service at Gettysburg are sketchy. There is also a mention of his disobeying orders at “Ashby’s Pass”(?) , seeking to resign afterward, and having his resignation rejected.

    Any suggestions on finding info on Noah would be much appreciated.

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