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An old Washington and Lee alum—with a little help from his friends—has posthumously provided his alma mater with a treasure trove of firsthand observations of the Civil War in Virginia, after some alert re-enactors and a Lexington historian spotted his six-diary set about to be sold at auction.

The diaries’ author, Alexander Sterrett Paxton, was a member of Washington and Lee’s celebrated Liberty Hall Volunteers (4th Virginia, Co. I). “I feel privileged to receive this gift,” said Vaughan Stanley, Special Collections librarian at W&L. “It’s one of the most significant gifts we’ve gotten in my 19 years here.”
Paxton reflected on what it felt like to be under fire, the stresses of battle that made fighters of normally good-natured men and the “bravery & coolness” of his commander, Stonewall Jackson.

The diaries came to the school’s attention when historian Seth McCormick-Goodhart, a student of the Liberty Hall Volunteers, stumbled across them a week before the documents were to be auctioned. They also caught the eye of C.J. Roberts, a member of the 4th Virginia Infantry Association re-enactors group from Indianapolis. The re-enactors hastily collected enough money to place the winning bid for the collection and return it to its home.