Guest post: Sketching the Civil War

A guest post by Emma Rothberg, a PhD student in UNC’s History Department.

When people think of the American Civil War, they generally conjure up images of battles. The flags, the cannons, the puffs of smoke, troops steaming across the landscape in varying shades of blue, gray, and butternut—the heat of battle is very visual. However, Civil War soldiers spent most of their time off the battlefield in camp. Between the marching and military exercises, soldiers of both the Union and Confederate Armies had a lot of free time.

Thousands of men, generally between the ages of 18 and 45, found many ways to pass the time. Some men played cards or dice with their fellow soldiers. Others played music and wrote letters or in diaries. In some cases, they played baseball. Other men were more creative. Ken Burns’s documentary The Civil War includes a vivid description of men finding entertainment in the lice that littered their clothing and hair; by heating up a tin plate from their packs, soldiers could make a quick buck by racing and betting on the lice they pulled from their bodies.

Other men sketched. Some soldiers included small sketches in letters home while others had more ornate sketchbooks. They sketched what they saw—the landscape, the camps, the fortifications, their fellow soldiers, or the aftermath of battle. Some sketched in black and white with pencils while others create more vivid watercolors. Civil War sketchbooks are not only beautiful but give insight into the preoccupations of a soldier’s day-to-day experience.

Wilson Special Collections Library has two wonderful examples of the types of sketchbooks soldiers kept while serving in the Civil War. Both of them are from Union soldiers, which may be an unexpected holding for an archive located in North Carolina. The first sketchbook was by Herbert Eugene Valentine (1841-1917), a private in Company F of the 23rd Massachusetts Volunteers. He served in the Union Army from 1861-1864 in eastern Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. (See the finding aid, with a link to the digitized sketchbook, here.)

Pasted in between newspaper articles, his own writings, and newspaper photos of famous Union Generals and President Abraham Lincoln are sketches Valentine made during his time in the Union Army. Many are of landscape: a drawing of the harbor in Newburne, NC shows the church steeples and ships tucked in among neatly drawn houses (pg. 92). Others look more like cartographic maps, such as the image below of the North Carolina coast around Wilmington (pg. 52):

Valentine sketchbook p 52

But Valentine also drew his fellow soldiers in extraordinary detail. Labeled “1st gun fired at New Berne,” Valentine carefully drew an artillery crew in action. While Valentine captures the explosion of cannon in pen and pencil, the men doing the work are depicted serenely: standing like sentinels overlooking a vista (pg. 94).

Valentine sketchbook p 94

Valentine was not always so serious in his drawings and some included in his scrapbook could be classified as doodles. A personal favorite shows an unnamed officer’s profile drawn “By our own Artist, on the spot A.W. [Woodhull?] [GG] A.J.C” in 1863 (pg. 49). The man drawn seems almost startled; his eyes are wide as he stares off the side of the page.

Valentine sketchbook p 49

Valentine pasted this drawing next to an article discussing the “Affair of Cold Harbor.” The Battle of Cold Harbor, which lasted from May 31 to June 12, 1864, included siege warfare, skirmishes and one of the bloodier assaults of the war (after a massive Union assault across an open field in the early morning of June 3, thousands of Union troops became causalities within an hour). The Herbert E. Valentine is fully digitized and viewable online through the collection’s finding aid.

Wilson Library also has the sketches of William Hedge, a lieutenant of the 44th Massachusetts Infantry that fought in North Carolina in 1862-1863. His collection includes six hand-drawn sketches made while in the vicinities of Washington and Williamston, N.C. (See the finding aid here.)

Like Valentine’s, Hedge’s sketches include a black-and-white map depicting the battlefield and troop placements of the “Skirmish at Little Creek near Williamston, N.C.” in November 1862.

Sketched map, skirmish on Little Creek

Another colored sketch is of the “Block House No 4” at Fort Hamilton in Washington, N.C in April 1863.

Sketch: Block House No 4 & Fort Hamilton, Washington NC

Perhaps the most interesting sketch included in sketch is also the one where the viewer is unsure as to what exactly Hedge meant to draw. A depiction of 1863 camp life at “Shellir Town” in North Carolina, a soldier sits off to the side minding a pot on a stove. Directly to his right on the other side of a small fire, Hedge draws the bodies of two men.

Sketchbook: camp scene

What is interesting is that they very well may be “bodies”—one of the men drawn, laying on his back, is almost corpse-like at first glance. While Hedge did not add any red to indicate blood, the viewer is left wondering if the two men on the right of the image are sleeping or slain. That Hedge could leave this vital bit of information up to debate might be interpreted in support of various arguments about Civil War soldiers. The drawn bodies laying next to a soldier cooking supports the argument soldiers became immune and/or unfazed by death as the war continued. The image also speaks to how “dealing with the bodies” became an issue and industry in and of itself. (For more on this latter point, see Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War). On a more positive note, if the men on the right are merely sleeping, Hedge’s sketch speaks to the commradery between men. They were a “band of brothers” both on and off the battlefield.

Plenty of maps, lithographs, and engravings were produced during the Civil War. These sketchbooks are unique because they remind researchers, students, and the interested observer of the humanity and individualism of the individual soldiers. It is easy to lose sight of the individual when talking about the mass numbers of men of each army during the Civil War. Yet these sketches allow us to connect with these men in ways in which facts and statistics do not afford. Like letters, sketchbooks allow us to see and tease out the individual and their experience. In the end, we all doodle.

Emma Rothberg’s scholarship focuses on the constitution of identity through cultural practices, in particular parading, in the nineteenth-century United States. She was awarded a funded Clein Graduate Summer Internship from the History Department to work with Wilson Special Collections Library for summer 2018. The Clein Internship allows graduate students to undertake self-identified summer internships in a broad range of organizations outside of traditional academia. As a Clein recipient, she has primarily worked on creating library guides to assist researchers and students who are planning to use UNC’s special collections. Emma has written library guides about the Civil War and Reconstruction.

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Partnering with The San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum (SAAACAM)

The San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum (SAAACAM) is in the process of developing a vibrant and much-needed community memory 501(c)(3) devoted to African American history, culture, and experience in San Antonio. They say it best in their Mission Statement:

“The SAAACAM mission is to collect, maintain, disseminate and interpret a digital database of authentic community based African American history; encourage and promote interdisciplinary education of shared history at all levels; practice stewardship of the broadest range of resources; and produce creative and innovative programs to heighten public awareness and self esteem.”

SAAACAM volunteer and Dr. Karida Brown during an oral history training.

Just a month into our jobs in late 2017, the Southern Historical Collection’s Oral Historian and Documentarian Bernetiae Reed and I were on our way to San Antonio, along with our colleague and Mellon Community Liaison Dr. Karida Brown, to visit with SAAACAM.

So what is Chapel Hill doing in San Antonio? The SHC’s role at SAAACAM is to share and develop resources and tools that help SAAACAM succeed in its goal of becoming a self-sustaining, self-directed, empowered archive and museum. We want to share what we know and cheerlead as SAAACAM finds a path that makes sense for its own community. We do this through training and discussion modules, consultation and research assistance, a small technology budget that aims to get projects familiar with oral history and preservation work, and backup repository support when deemed useful by SAAACAM.

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Richardson Preyer and the Thanksgiving Sermon of 1979

In “preparing” for our Thanksgiving posts, I came across a sermon from the Richardson Preyer Papers given at First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina on Thanksgiving weekend in 1979, where Preyer appears to have been a member. Closely related materials in the collection suggest Preyer is the author of the sermon, though it is not explicitly stated. The speaker used Thanksgiving as an occasion to reflect on several notable events from the past year, and I felt they each deserved some individual attention to reflect upon. I decided to do a deeper dive into the events, and see what other materials we might have relating to them in our collections!

Richard Preyer Papers, Sermon, Page 1 Continue reading

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So What’s a CDAT Anyway? Meet the Community-Driven Archives Team at the Southern Historical Collection

What are community-driven archives all about?

In October 2017, the Southern Historical Collection celebrated the complete staffing of our “Building A Model For All Users: Transforming Archive Collections Through Community-Driven Archives” Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant team. In recent months, we have launched the initial steps of supporting community-driven archives initiatives and programs through our Community-Driven Archives Team (CDAT).  There are many models for community-driven archives; the upshot of ours is that we want to form meaningful, mutually supportive partnerships to build and preserve community archival collections. We provide communities with the tools and resources to safeguard and represent their own histories. And we want you to be able to CDAT, too!

This community-based approach extends to how we do our work as a team – working together proactively to tease out tricky issues and create accessible and approachable documentation. Our method for creating and publishing content such as presentations, handouts, media, peer-reviewed publications, social media content, and yes, even this blog, is all about collaborative peer-editing.

Our grant prioritizes collaboration, and owes much to the research of Michelle Caswell, Bergis Jules, and many others who have theorized and brought to life the idea of inclusive, representative, empowered archival practice. Community archives models and community-driven archival practice address the “symbolic annihilation” of historically marginalized groups in the historical record, and aim to create sustainable and accessible memory projects that address these archival absences.

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American Wit and Humor at the Dawn of Mass Media: The Billy Arthur Collection

The Fall 2017 Southern Historical Collection undergraduate student assistant, Ayush Dagar, UNC class of 2020, wrote this blog post. Ayush also provided research support and transcription work for other projects in the Southern Historical Collection during his semester on staff.

Radio personality Ted Malone and Chapel Hill, NC writer and photographer Billy Arthur (holding camera). Portrait taken at the Wilmington, NC Azalea Festival. Hugh Morton Photographs and Films (P081)

Radio personality Ted Malone and Chapel Hill, NC writer and photographer Billy Arthur (holding camera). Portrait taken at the Wilmington, NC Azalea Festival. Hugh Morton Photographs and Films (P081)

While many may remember Billy Arthur (1911 – 2006) for his size – he played many roles in his life: politician, hobby shop owner, vaudeville performer, mascot, newspaper editor, Pulitzer Prize hopeful, but through and through he was a comedian. I discovered Billy Arthur while doing research in the Southern Historical Collection on North Carolina politicians and was struck by the incredible diversity of his talents and occupations.

Undated photograph of Arthur, presumably middle-aged. Found in series 6, folder 1.

Undated photograph of Arthur, presumably middle-aged. Found in series 6, folder 1.

During his time at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Arthur was voted the “Wittiest Man” in his fraternity (Series 3, Folder 35). While chief editor of Jacksonville’s (N.C.) News and Views newspaper, their motto was “The Only Newspaper in the World That Gives a Whoop About Onslow County” (Series 3, Folder 35) And his is the only collection in the Southern Historical Collection that includes the “American wit–20th century” Library of Congress subject heading.

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A Light in the Haystack #1: North Carolina Democrats, 1960-2010

North Carolina Democrats have included an interesting assortment of characters over the past 200 years or so. In preparing for this blog, we quickly learned that the general assumptions about this party change a great deal depending upon which decade we focused. We chose this 50-year time period (1960-2010) because it reflects a recent and significant ideological shift in the party. While we have a large collection from one of North Carolina’s most distinguished democrats, Terry Sanford – this post intends to shine a light on other figures in the party, what our collections can say about NC Democrats at the end of the 20th century, and a glimpse at the scholarship on this subject.

Our dive into the archives confirmed what many political historians of the South already know: the SHC materials lean heavily toward the Democratic party in general, with most representatives falling between the years 1840 and 1920 (figure 1). Our quantitative review of collections revealed other patterns – for instance most of our politicians graduated from UNC, we have the highest representation of state level legislators (vs. national or local politicians), most of the politicians come from central and eastern North Carolina, and the political collections average about 2.5 Paige boxes of content.

Figure 1: Bar graph illustrating the year distribution of SHC collections donated by North Carolina politicians, reflects a sample of 25 collections. The big spike between 1880 and 1890 contributes to our large subject strength in Reconstruction politics

Figure 1: Bar graph illustrating the year distribution of SHC collections donated by North Carolina politicians, reflects a sample of 25 collections. The big spike between 1880 and 1890 contributes to our large subject strength in Reconstruction politics




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A Rare Gateway to an Untouchable Past: Oral Histories of Carrboro Mill Families

Between 1974 and 1978, the Chapel Hill Historical Society conducted interviews with men and women who had lived and worked in and around Chapel Hill and Carrboro during the early twentieth century. One of their first projects, “Generations of Carrboro Mill Families” consisted of 117 interviews with Carrboro residents and textile mill workers. The interviews were in response to the Carrboro Board of Alderman’s decision to tear down the original Carr Mill building. For a rather complicated, and long-winded reason, the Southern Historical Collection holds 40 of the 117 interviews conducted, both the audio cassette tapes and their 30-50 page typed transcripts. Question topics run the gamut, and there was a clear effort on the part of the Chapel Hill Historical Society interviewers to gather information about “everyday life.”

“Textile Mill, Greensboro” in the Bayard Morgan Wootten Photographic Collection #P0011, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.
This image of a textile mill in Greensboro, NC shows a carding room ca. 1904-1954, probably similar to the one the interviewees describe from the mills in Carrboro.

Some of this work is captured in Valerie Quinney’s article, “Mill Village Memories” published in Southern Exposure in Fall 1980. Quinney was one of the interviewers from the Chapel Hill Historical Society in the 1970s. She offers a meaningful overview of the oral history collection and provides supportive context. Although she includes direct quotes, there’s value in the raw format of the interview collection that is worth pursuing.

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Identity Intersections in the Spotlight: The Joan Little Case

In June of 1974, a 21-year-old black woman was placed in a Beaufort County jail on a breaking and entering charge. By August of that same year, she was on the run after one of her white jailers, Clarence Alligood, was found dead in her cell, stabbed multiple times with an ice pick and naked from the waist down. After a week on the run, Little turned herself in and what followed was a fascinating clash of southern mores, international topics of activism, and the dark truths about the American criminal justice system. On the 43rd anniversary month of the start of the ordeal, this post intends to highlight how the case is documented in the Southern Historical Collection, various interpretations of the material, and why it is a significant part of our manuscript collection.

Illustrated image of Joan Little from

The Southern Historical Collection has a small collection of materials on the Joan Little murder trial sold to us by James Reston Jr., a Creative Writing lecturer1 at UNC-Chapel Hill in March of 1976. Reston based his book, The Innocence of Joann Little: A Southern Mystery (1977) on this material. The collection includes transcripts of key witness testimonies from the defense and prosecution as well as news clippings and recorded interviews from significant participants in the trial. Reading through the transcripts, a researcher can put him or herself in the front seat of the courtroom. We learn how Alligood propositioned Joan repeatedly before the murder; we feel how Joan’s voice falters when she must relive her assault on the witness stand (Figure 1); we hear the crass interrogation as the prosecution tries to vilify Joan with assumptions about her sexual history and criminal lifestyle.

Figure 1: From page 44 of Joan Little’s testimony in Folder 1, James Reston Jr., Collection of Joan Little Materials #4006, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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