Awards and Honors, Collections and Resources, North Carolina Collection, North Carolina History, Rare Book Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Special Collections

Library’s Civil War Blog Receives National Award

Center for Research Libraries Recognizes The Civil War Day by Day

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UNC Library’s award-winning Civil War blogging team includes (L to R): Biff Hollingsworth, Barrye Brown, Jason Tomberlin, Samantha Crisp, Stephen Fletcher, Katie Harper, Helen Thomas, Matt Turi, Nancy Kaiser. (Photo by Jay Mangum)

Every day for the last three years, librarians and archivists in the Wilson Special Collections Library have posted online one letter, diary entry, news story, or document corresponding to the same date of the Civil War, exactly 150 years earlier.

That project, The Civil War Day by Day, is now the winner of a Primary Source Award from the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) in the Access Category. The national award, which CRL will present at its annual meeting on April 24 and 25, recognizes innovative efforts to promote awareness and use of historical evidence in research and teaching.

“This is a tremendous honor for our staff, who found an ingenious way to give new life to the past through modern communications technologies,” said UNC University Librarian Sarah Michalak.

Wilson Library staff launched The Civil War Day by Day on April 12, 2011—150 years to the day after the war’s first military engagement at Fort Sumter, S.C.—and will continue through April 26, 2015, the 150th anniversary of the largest surrender of Confederate soldiers at Bennett Place, near Durham, N.C.

Entries come from the voluminous holdings of  Southern Historical Collection, North Carolina Collection, Rare Book Collection, and the University Archives and Records Management Services.

Biff Hollingsworth, collecting and public programming archivist and the leading force behind the project, said that one very specific goal of the blog has been to document a diversity of wartime experiences. “We have attempted to be inclusive and to provide a wide range of voices in the project,” he said.

Those voices include women on the home front, many of whom organized themselves into aid societies, took over agricultural duties in the absence of their enlisted husbands, or even acted as spies.

Other entries show the harsh realities of slavery, such as a letter from a slave in Chapel Hill, lamenting to his owner that, “I have no young men to wait upon and can get into no very profitable business,” or the businesslike 1863 diary entry of a South Carolina rice planter, who notes, “Having determined to sell my Negroes (except some half dozen old ones, whom I shall keep at the Grove to take care of the premises, and my house servants).”

Readers have responded to the stories with interaction and dialogue. A commenter from Indiana wrote about encountering an 1861 letter from young Susie Mallett to her father in the Confederate army: “I am the great grand-daughter of Susie Mallett and her namesake … [and] was delighted to discover this family letter.”

Other commenters held a lively online debate about whether a photograph of Fort Sumter was taken immediately after its surrender in 1861, or was staged at a later date.

“Most of us learn about history first from a military or political perspective,” said Hollingsworth. “This project has put the very real human drama front and center every day.”

Watch “Real Lives of the Civil War,” a video about The Civil War Day by Day

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