“The North Carolina Digital Collections” website offers an example of just how rich and varied digital repositories can be. The collection includes over 90,000 manuscripts, photographs, and state government publications related to the history of North Carolina that are housed in the State Archives or the State Library.
In the section on the Civil War, researchers can study letters to the governor that highlight North Carolinians’ preparations for war and frustrations over the limited resources that would plague the state later in the conflict. Petitions offer insights into efforts to limit or reshape military service. Newspaper articles capture the perspective of middle- and upper-class citizens on home front events like the 1863 bread riot in Salisbury, N.C., which revealed the economic pressures on poor families by the second year of fighting. Digitized items even include the death-bed confession of “Little Bill” Kirk, who claimed to be one of the men who accidentally shot Confederate Lt. Gen. Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Chancellorsville and inadvertently contributed to his May 1863 death. Historians doubt the confession’s validity, but it is a reminder of Jackson’s place in the myth of the Lost Cause as Southerners remembered the war and struggled to understand their defeat.
From sketches of camps in private letters, to reports of slave insurrections, to pension applications, state archives offer wide-ranging resources on the Civil War era. Many state repositories, like North Carolina’s state archive and its state library, work together to digitize samplings of their collections to aid researchers and attract visitors. Be sure to check these out online, or plan a visit, and consider supporting your own state archives to learn more about the Civil War near you.—Susannah J. Ural