When I saw the movie Gods and Generals, I started thinking about how hard it is to comprehend the daily life of our Civil War ancestors—both soldiers and civilians. I have a fairly extensive library of pioneer women’s diaries, and because they really do give a clear picture of day-to-day life, I decided to look for Civil War diaries and letters on the Internet.
I discovered that Duke University has put together a dandy site called Civil War Women scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/women/cwdocs.html. The site features transcriptions, which document women’s experiences in the Civil War, from their manuscript collection. Among them are letters from Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a Confederate spy.
The Diary of Basil H. Messler www.augustana.edu/library/SpecialCollections/special/Messler/index1.html spans from February 1864 to January 1865. The majority of the diary chronicles his stay in Vicksburg, Miss. I particularly enjoyed his July 4, 1864, entry in which he writes about seeing the elephant (engaged in fighting). He wrote “there’s whare we seen the Elephant and he was tramping on our Toes we limbered up 7 of Them There and then and Then They came so thick and fast we a got on the elephant’s and rode across the cornfield.”
Letters from an Iowa Soldier in the Civil War www.civilwarletters.com/home.html contains a sampling of correspondence sent during a three-year period from Pvt. Newton Robert Scott, Company A of the 36th Infantry, to neighbor Hannah Cone. You get a lot of insight into the soldier’s feelings about the 1864 election when Scott writes, “The Election is near at hand and I am glad to tell you that Co. A has No McClellen Men Amongst our No. I think that Every man that Belongs to Co. A will Vote for Old Abe without a Doubt.”
If you’d like to learn more about daily life in the mid-1800s, Everyday Life During the Civil War (Writer’s Digest Books, $16.99) by Michael Varhola. You can order it online at www.familytreemagazine.com/store/display.asp?id=10635 or by calling toll-free (800) 448-0915.
Also, be sure to check out these Web sites for Civil War research resources:
• Cyndi’s List—Civil War
• National Archives—Civil War Records
• Researching People of the Civil War Era
• American Civil War Research Database (subscription site)