By Nancy Heywood, Collection Services
Reading handwritten letters and documents by men who experienced Civil War battles and military life can be a riveting experience. Nine collections of Civil War manuscripts are available at the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website as complete online collections. You are invited to examine digital facsimiles of over 9,000 pages including letters from a surgeon (Charles Briggs) serving in the 54th Regiment, letters from a 16-year-old drummer (Edward Peirce, who later served as a private) describing routine life within a military unit, and warm and informative letters from a Captain (Richard Cary) in the 2nd Regiment to his wife.
The following collections are available on our website:
This collection primarily contains letters by Dr. Charles E. Briggs, assistant surgeon with the 24th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1862-1863, and surgeon with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, 1863-1865.
Captain Richard Cary served in the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Unfortunately he was shot during the battle at Cedar Mountain in Virginia and died a short time later. This collection includes the letters he sent to his wife, as well as condolence letters she received after her husband’s death.
Hallowell began his service in the Civil War in the 20th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and then later served as lieutenant colonel of the 55th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the second Black regiment in the state. This collection contains letters and a large number of clippings assembled in scrapbooks. These materials relate to a wide variety of Hallowell’s activities—from his time as a student at Harvard College, through his years serving in the Civil War, to his activities as a Boston businessman.
Knapp was a clergyman and teacher from Plymouth, Massachusetts. He wasn’t a soldier, but he held the position of superintendent of the Special Relief Department, U.S. Sanitary Commission. The focus of this commission was to assist sick and wounded Union soldiers. This collection includes Knapp’s personal and professional letters as well as a manuscript of a history of the Sanitary Commission.
This collection contains letters Loring wrote to his mother and sister while he served in a variety of military units. Loring was a sergeant major in the 24th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; first lieutenant and adjutant in the 38th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; and aide-de-camp for Gen. William H. Emory of the 19th Corps.
Miles was a lieutenant in the 41st Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, later renamed the 3rd Regiment of Cavalry Massachusetts Volunteers. This collection includes letters Miles sent to his family describing his activities in the Civil War, and letters he received from his family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
This collection contains letters (some with drawings) written by Lieutenant Colonel Morse of the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, who saw action at Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Resaca, and the Siege of Atlanta in 1864. The collection also includes some correspondence relating to his post-war activities in the railroad business.
Peirce was a drummer and a private in Company F. of the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Heavy Artillery, from July 1863 to September 1865. This collection includes letters he wrote to his parents in Lowell in which he described many aspects of day-to-day activities as an enlisted soldier including accounts of camp life and troop movements.
This collection contains letters written by Weld who was promoted several times during the four years he served in the Union Army. Weld was a second lieutenant and then captain in the 18th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1863, and later was lieutenant colonel and then colonel in the 56th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1864-1865.
Please explore and read these collections from any location where you have a web browser and access to the Internet!
Funding for the digitization of the nine Civil War manuscript collections that enabled both the creation of preservation microfilm and the online version of the collections was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act grant as administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.