Living history revealed in Civil War manuscripts

Author: Carol C. Bradley

A Civil War manuscript

The Battle of Gettysburg, the epic battle that turned the tide of the Civil War, was fought July 1-3, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pa.—150 years ago this summer.

The University holds extensive collections of Civil War material, housed both in the Hesburgh Libraries’ Department of Rare Books and Special Collections and in the University Archives.

The Special Collections’ Manuscripts of the Civil War collection includes manuscripts originating in North America in the years 1861 to 1865; the collection continues to be added to and developed.

The letters, diaries and other material “give a human view of the war,” says George Rugg, Special Collections curator. “It’s one thing to read a historical overview, another to read about the events through the lens of another’s personal account.”

The material—which includes manuscripts from both North and South—is valuable for students, who are able to work with original materials rather than digitized texts. In addition, the collections are available to historians, off-campus researchers, genealogists and the general public. “We try to buy texts that have never been published,” Rugg says. “They are unknown to the historical record.”

The collection includes a letter from M.A. Harvey, a 21-year-old farmer from Buck Horn Township, Austin County, Texas, who was mustered into Co. B. of the Texas Cavalry—one of the most celebrated of the Confederate cavalry regiments—on Sept. 7, 1861. The letter was written from Kingston in Middle Tennessee on Nov. 15, 1862, to his niece Ava.

“I had quite a romantic adventure here,” he writes. “I noticed one of the smallest specimens of humanity I ever saw fighting in the Yankee ranks…”

When captured, the soldier proved to be “nothing in the world but a little fifteen year old girl dressed up in Yankee uniform.” They released the girl after a few hours.

Historic Civil War documents and artifacts related to the University are housed in the University Archives. The collection includes the family papers of William Tecumseh Sherman and other materials including a photograph of Notre Dame’s Civil War chaplains, with officers from the Irish Brigade, in the summer of 1862. The photo includes Rev. Patrick Dillon, C.S.C., who became the University’s second president, and Rev. William Corby, C.S.C., the third president of the University.