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Iowa Digital Library’s “Civil War Diaries and Letters” (CWDL) site is part of the larger special collections department of the University of Iowa libraries. CWDL offers scanned images of correspondence, diaries, photos and other artifacts from the archive’s holdings. These pertain to a wide variety of topics, including military operations, medicine and home front experiences, focusing primarily on the Western and Trans-Mississippi West theaters.

The site’s content is excellent and will satisfy a wide range of interests. Scans are lucent, and nearly every collection includes a detailed finding aid if viewers scroll to the bottom of the screen. Several offer transcriptions, but it isn’t always clear how to actually access the transcriptions. Note that a number of the university’s collections aren’t listed here, even though they’re readily accessible elsewhere. Also, when visitors follow links to narrow a search by year, not all of the collections at the CWLD site with letters or diary entries from that year will actually appear. A more complete listing, with links to scanned documents and finding aids, can be found under “Related Links” as “Special Collections Civil War Resources” at sources/CivilWarResources.html.

The site is a wonderful starting point for teachers, researchers and historians. Be sure to follow the links on the left to reach the Abraham Lincoln Digital Collection and the “Children’s Diaries” collection. Overall, this site is not perfectly organized and requires patience, but it’s worth the effort.


Originally published in the June 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.