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“Real Lives of the Civil War” Video Highlights Wilson Collections

Working amid hundreds of thousands of Civil War-era documents, images and publications, UNC’s librarians and archivists sometimes can’t help but play favorites.

The Wilson Special Collections Library at UNC is home to one of the nation’s largest assemblages of primary source material about the Civil War. In April, to mark the 150th anniversary of the conflict, Wilson Library launched The Civil War Day by Day. It’s an ambitious four-year effort to scour the stacks and post one item each day relating to the corresponding day of the war.

Through diaries and letters, telegrams, newspaper ads, photographs, maps and mementos, readers of The Civil War Day by Day walk with those who lived through the war, having no idea what their future would hold.

For the staff who encounter and research those items, poignancy and reflection are inevitable. Here’s a look their work and how others can find it.

What have been some of the most meaningful finds?

Every document tells a story. Jason Tomberlin, North Carolina research and instruction librarian, focuses on newspaper ads from the beginning of the conflict. The search for recruits and notices of new cash-only business policies reflect a population thrust into uncertainty.

African American Materials Specialist Holly Smith came across a small notation in the minutes of Chapel Hill’s University Baptist Church that marked a huge shift: the departure of African American congregants to form their own church.

For Biff Hollingsworth, collecting and public programming archivist, meaning was more personal. Looking by chance in a box of papers bearing his family’s name, he came across a letter apparently removed from the body of a Union soldier, replete with what look to be bullet holes.

Who can use these materials?

The collections of all UNC libraries, including Wilson Library, are open to the public. No special permission is required to use special collections at UNC.

Can Wilson Library Civil War materials be found online?

Civil War publications and documentation from Wilson Library can be found online:

  • Civil War Day by Day – blog publishing one item per day during the period of the 150th anniversary of the war.
  • Digital Southern Historical Collection – large scale digitization program for manuscript items in the Southern Historical Collection
  • Documenting the American South – several collections in this digital library relate to the Civil War, including “The Church in the Southern Black Community,” “First-Person Narratives of the American South,” “Library of Southern Literature” and “North American Slave Narratives.”
  • North Carolina Civil War Image Portfolio – selected woodcuts, engravings, lithographs and photographs depicting the war.

To Learn More

To learn more about Wilson Library and its collections, contact Wilson Library Research & Instruction: or (919) 962-3765.

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2 Responses to ““Real Lives of the Civil War” Video Highlights Wilson Collections”

  1. Well done! May we repost this video on the Endeavors magazine site?

    Posted by Susan H. | July 25, 2011, 8:22 am
  2. Feature in UNC’s research magazine? You bet! Will contact you directly.

    Posted by Library Staff | July 27, 2011, 1:50 pm