American Civil War Histories

Description of the Battle of Fort Sumter from <a href=

In today’s culture we may be far more preoccupied with Marvel’s Civil War than with our own history. It is easy to forget how relatively recently our country underwent the traumatic internal strife which set brother against brother in a conflict which would have lasting consequences to this day. In the interest of decoding the event and it’s more immediate consequences, the Burns Library holds several historical texts dated to the last days and early aftermath of the American Civil War. These texts not only provide a fascinating and detailed exploration of the events, but also prove interesting to those interested in the cultural history of reactions to the Civil War. Through them, one gains a fertile starting point for a study of changing views of the war over time.

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Of particular interest is Benson J. Lossing’s Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America, published in 1866. In it, the author compiles elaborate historical reports of the events of the war, taken from interviews with individuals at the forefront of said events. He juxtaposes these descriptions with illustrated sketches of his subjects and maps taken from magazines such as Harper’s Weekly, whose reporters accompanied the military on the front lines. Part of a three volume set, a physical copy of the first volume can be found at Burns, while the other two volumes exist in digitized format in our online collection. This first volume details events from 1860 to the Battle of Bull’s Run.

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Another intriguing volume is Life and Death in Rebel Prisons by Robert H. Kellogg. Published in 1865, Kellogg relates his personal experiences being held as a captive in a southern prison camp, as well as tales collected from other camp survivors.  The unique subject matter of the text provides a fascinating area of study. The book, at the time of its publication, saw relatively small circulation, being sold by traveling agents of the publisher, L. Stebbins, exclusively. This is a shame, as perhaps a wider initial circulation may have produced more public interest in this oft overlooked aspect of the war.

Books like these shed some light on the American Civil War and the public reaction to its ending. In addition, the Burns Library owns the letters of Michael H. Leary, an Irish American from Boston, Massachusetts and soldier in Union Army during the Civil War. The Leary Letters have been digitized and are available at http://hdl.handle.net/2345/1009.

If you have further questions or would like to look at these books, then please contact the John J. Burns Library at (617)-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Zach Weinsteiger, Burns Library Reading Room Assistant & M.A. Student in the English Department

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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