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Georgia Civil War Manuscript Collections: An Annotated Bibliography

David H. Slay,  University of Alabama Press

Students of Civil War history revel in primary material. Nothing can compete with eyewitnesses in the evidential hierarchy. David Slay’s guide to manuscript holdings throughout Georgia unveils a vast array of priceless sources—about 4,000 collections, large and small. But it has a few fatal flaws.

Most of the documents, of course, are housed in familiar repositories: the state Department of Archives and History, Emory University, the University of Georgia and the Georgia Historical Society. The bibliography’s sweep also extends to smaller colleges: the DeKalb History Center, the Rome-Floyd County Library and several battlefield park collections.

As expected, Georgia troops and units predominate in the entries— 64 of them for Cobb’s Legion, for example, and three dozen for the renowned 12th Georgia. Listings also include a surprising wealth of manuscripts from other Confederate states: 55 Alabama units (virtually every one of that state’s organizations), 30 Mississippi units, 40 from South Carolina, 33 from Tennessee, 31 from North Carolina and a dozen Texan. Collections cover 110 Confederate generals, 79 field-grade officers, 77 surgeons and hospitals, 36 staff officers, 32 published authors and just about every Federal prison camp, including 41 entries for Johnson’s Island and Fort Delaware.

But the compiler evidently reproduced the descriptions from card files without careful review of the facts. Outlandish postwar ranks appear with names, unit identities are garbled or wrong, and some collections lack a useful context because they remain unidentified. Some entries helpfully define the scope of holdings by dates, volume and content, but others entries do nothing in that line. Accordingly, casual errors in the original cards migrate into the published listing—in one case transmogrifying Albert Pike into a Yankee. Consistent misspelling of “ordnance” and “aide” may well be the compiler’s own anomalies.

Those defects would be easy to ignore within a really splendid reference. But an additional problem disfigures this work: The absence of an index vitiates its value and renders it close to useless. I produced an index for my own use within a few hours. Anyone unwilling to go to that trouble might just as well ignore this book.


Originally published in the December 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.