Collections and Resources, North Carolina Collection, North Carolina History, Rare Book Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Special Collections, University Archives

“Civil War Day by Day ” Draws to an End

A century and a half after the end of the American Civil War, a parallel project also has come to its conclusion.

On April 26, 2015 – exactly 150 years after the surrender of Confederate troops at Bennett Place in Durham – the University Library posted the black and white lithograph illustration “Conference Between General Sherman and General Johnston” commemorating the event.

The blog post was the last in the library’s award-winning four-year project, “The Civil War Day By Day.” Using the modern magic of the Internet, Facebook and Twitter, the blog allowed hundreds of readers each day to experience the Civil War as it unfolded, through the words of the people who were living through it.

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The team behind “The Civil War Day By Day” – from left, Nancy Kaiser, Matthew Turi, Stephen Fletcher, Rebecca Williams, Biff Hollingsworth, Ashlyn Velte and Elizabeth Shulman – pose where the war ended, with the Confederate surrender at Bennett Place in Durham. In the background are Civil War re-enactors.

Each of the 1,450 posts included a digital scan of a document created on that day – letters, diary entries, telegrams, newspapers – as well as a description of the document and a transcription of its spidery script or faded print.

“I kept the blog as a home page for my Internet browser so that I would look at it nearly every day,” said Todd Kesselring of Raleigh, a frequent commenter on the blog. “I followed it from the first post about Fort Sumter on the 12th of April 1861. P.G.T. Beauregard had amazing handwriting!”

The idea for the blog came up at a library meeting in 2011 about ways to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The librarians wanted to share the contents of their vast collections with a larger public while also providing a unique, personal view of how the war affected the people at that time.

With the help of colleagues Nicholas Graham, director of Digital NC, and reference librarian Matthew Turi, archivist Biff Hollingsworth set up three requirements for each day’s entry. The document had to be from the right day as well as personal and able to offer insight on social issues, like slavery.

To keep the entries interesting over four years, Hollingsworth planned the project like a fireworks display. “You kind of need a big start – a kickoff – and then have flashes and flourishes throughout,” said Hollingsworth, collecting and public programming archivist for the Southern Historical Collection. “And at the end, you have sort of a grand finale.”

Matching the dates wasn’t a problem as far as pure volume. The Southern Historical Collection alone has 17 to 20 million items, with 5 to 10 percent from the Civil War era. But Hollingsworth’s team also pulled from the other four special collections housed in Wilson Library: the North Carolina Collection, the Rare Book Collection, the Southern Folklife Collection and the University Archives.

The challenge to the archivists was to sift through the many choices and find the real gems. Hollingsworth, other librarians and graduate student interns spent hours in the stacks of Wilson Library, pulling metal boxes from the shelves and reading the yellowing papers inside. The archivist estimated that each blog entry took from two to 10 hours of work to create: searching, scanning, transcribing, tagging, sharing on social media. (In a bow to Twitter followers, the headline for each entry is a pithy, often Tweetable, quote from the document that follows.)

The result was a rich catalog of missives from top generals, diary entries from women on the home front, eloquent love letters, scribbled notes from the barely literate, painful reports from the front written by soldiers on both sides and messages from slaves to their masters.

Continue reading about the Civil War Day by Day in the UNC University Gazette.

Courtesy of the University Gazette

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