The purpose of this research guide is to help you discover primary sources related to the Civil War in the Library's collections. The links in this guide will lead you to diaries, letters, memoirs, travel narratives, newspaper articles, government treatises and documents published in Falvey's print, microform and digital collections. The catalog search links below will generate lists of books that include primary sources.

Visit the Primary Sources Research Guide for more detailed information.

Primary Sources in Print Collections

Primary Sources in Newspapers and Magazines

  • Historical New York Times
    Complete digital archive of the New York Times back to 1851.
  • America's Historical Newspapers, 1690-1922
    *This database consists of digitized copies of many of the American Antiquarian Society’s considerable newspaper holdings, including 102 Pennsylvania newspapers, and six that span the war years. Among these are the Philadelphia Public Ledger, Inquirer, Evening Post, North American, and Illustrated New Age, as well as the Harrisburg Patriot. Searches can be limited by town, state, and time period.
  • American Periodicals Series Online
    *This collection includes more than 130 nineteenth-century Pennsylvania publications, of which 118 were published during the Civil War. Among these were such popular titles as Philadelphia’s Lippincott's Magazine and Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine.
  • The Civil War: A Newspaper Perspective
    Contains full-text of the Charleston Mercury, the New York Herald, and the Richmond Enquirer published between 1860 and 1865. Contains news articles, eye-witness and official reports of battles, editorials, advertisements, biographies and images of battlefield maps and illustrations.
  • Pennsylvania Civil War Era Newspaper Collection
    Penn State University Libraries.
    *Consisting of over fifty Pennsylvania newspapers published between 1831 and 1877, this collection features publications from major cities like Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh, as well as smaller communities throughout the state. The collection can be searched by keyword, date of publication, and article type.
  • African American Newspapers: The 19th Century
    Includes the complete text of major 19th century African-American newspapers. The Christian Recorder, published in Philadelphia by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, is part of this collection.
  • Pennsylvania Historic Newspaper Collection
    State Library of Pennsylvania.
    *An impressive collection of historical newspapers from across the state, this database includes the Philadelphia Sun and Christian Observer, the Lancaster Intelligencer, and the Lewistown Republican. While none of the collected papers span the years of the Civil War, those listed above cover portions of the late antebellum period. This collection’s contents can be sorted by both newspaper name and publication date, and like other databases hosted by Access PA, offers an unwieldy keyword search function.
  • Digital Newspaper Collection / Pennsylvania Center for the Book
    Penn State University Libraries
    *This impressive collection of Pennsylvania newspapers includes Civil War-era editions of Philadelphia’s Saturday Evening Post. The contents of the database are keyword searchable, and can be sorted by county of publication, article type, and date of publication.
  • The Lancaster Examiner & Herald
    *This database features a complete collection of one of Lancaster’s leading weekly newspaper between 1855 and 1872. A sister collection offers issues of the same publication between 1834 and 1854. The database can be sorted by both newspaper name and publication date, and, like other databases hosted by Access PA, offers an unwieldy keyword search function.
  • Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
  • Harper's Weekly
  • Harper's Weekly
    1861-1865 (print volumes)
  • OpinionArchives
    Includes the complete archives of Harper's Magazine (1850-) and The Nation (1865-).

Primary Sources in Digital Collections

  • U.S. Congressional Serial Set
    Reports, documents and journals of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives from the 15th Congress through the 103rd Congress.
    Search by subject "U.S. Civil War (1861-1865)" to find close to 60,000 documents related to the Civil War. Search results can be further narrowed by subjects, geographic names, organizations, court cases and act names with the help of a menu on the right side of the results screen.
    Includes maps and illustrations.
  • Sabin Americana, 1500-1926
    Included are books, pamphlets, serials and other documents.
    The advanced search screen includes a Civil War subject area limit.
    The collection includes such publications as the annual reports of the Ladies' Aid Society of Philadelphia, annual reports of the Woman's Central Association of Relief, contemporary views of women's contributions such as Frank Moore's Women of the War: their heroism and self-sacrifice (1866) and L.P. Brockett's Woman's Work in the Civil War: a record of heroism, patriotism and patience (1867).
  • The Gerritsen Collection, Women's History Online, 1543-1945
    Partial overlap with Sabin Americana, although a much smaller collection. Use the advanced search screen to limit to by subject. Includes primary sources written by women such as Emma Edmond's Nurse and spy in the Union army and Judith McGuire's Diary of a southern refugee as well as the Journal of the Woman's Relief Corps.

Primary Sources in Falvey's Digital Library

  • Digital Library
    Digitized documents are not assigned subjects and a search for "united states" and "civil war" will include a number of irrelevant results:
    "united states" and "civil war"
  • Sherman Thackara Collection
    This correspondence contains many letters from Eleanor to her father, General William Tecumseh Sherman, frequently refering to public events and personalities.
  • Pennsylvaniana
    This collection contains materials published in Pennsylvania dealing with Pennsylvania history, biography of notable Pennsylvanians, Pennsylvania organizations and geography; and personal paper sub-collections including correspondence and ephemera of Pennsylvanians involved in the development of shorthand, in the American Civil War, and in Philadelphia's Main Line history.

Selected Web Sites with Primary Sources

  • The Southern Homefront, 1861-1865
    Part of "Documenting the American South," a digital collection created by the University of North Carolina.
  • First Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920
    Part of the "American Memory" project of the Library of Congress.
  • The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War
    Letters, diaries, speeches, newspapers, census, and church records from Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania selected and digitized by the Virginia Center for Digital History.
  • The Crisis of the Union
    An Electronic Archive about the Causes, Conduct, and Consequences of the U.S. Civil War
    University of Pennsylvania
    *Featuring a wide variety of sources specifically selected by the University of Pennsylvania’s history faculty, this collection sheds light on the Civil War, its causes, and its aftermath in Pennsylvania and beyond. A keyword search for ‘Pennsylvania’ yields a variety of pamphlets, books, prints, and other materials that users can view as high-resolution images. The database is keyword searchable; results can be narrowed or limited by date, subject, or graphic element.
  • United States Civil War Collection
    State Library of Pennsylvania
    *This small database features a miscellaneous assortment of materials published by Pennsylvanians or related to the war in Pennsylvania. While many of the collection’s published speeches and legislative proceedings are available elsewhere, it also includes a few obscure polemical gems, like About the War: Plain Words to Plain People, an 1863 pamphlet by ‘A Plain Man.’
  • House Divided
    The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College
    *This collection of Civil War-related materials provides ample rewards for those willing to master its unintuitive interface. Packed with exciting features, the site’s largest trove of material can be found by clicking on ‘Documents’ in the left-hand menu bar. Here, users can explore more than 150 pages of digitized historical documents, many of which pertain to the experience of war in the Keystone State. Also interesting is Abraham Lincoln and Pennsylvania: A Virtual Field Trip via Google Earth. The database is keyword searchable, and can be sorted by date, publication type, and source.
  • Abraham Lincoln Collection
    State Library of Pennsylvania
    *This small database features material on Abraham Lincoln published in Pennsylvania or by Pennsylvanians. Much of the material will be familiar to those studied in Lincoln’s life and career, but the collection also features a few more obscure pieces, including A Workingman’s Reasons for the Re-election of Abraham Lincoln, and God Bless Abraham Lincoln! by a Philadelphia-area preacher.

Military History

  • The War of the Rebellion / Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies
    Making of America Collection / Cornell University
    *Originally published by the War Department, this compilation of official reports, military correspondence, and other material is an indispensible starting point for understanding the Civil War’s military history. Information on the Battle of Gettysburg can be found in Volume XXVII of the collection.
  • Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866
    Pennsylvania State Archives
    *This database provides a comprehensive index of the men who fought in Pennsylvania military units during the American Civil War. When available, the digitized index cards include vital statistics on Pennsylvania’s soldiers, such as service history, age, rank, residence, occupation, and physical description. The collection is searchable by last name and keyword.
  • The Pennsylvania Civil War Project / Pennsylvanians in the Civil War
    Penn State University
    *This impressive project lists the names and service information of men serving in Pennsylvania regiments who were wounded, killed, captured, or went missing at a number of major Civil War battles and engagements. The database also lists Pennsylvania casualties associated with major Confederate prisons, and allows users to search for soldiers’ muster and burial locations.
  • Pennsylvania Regimental Histories Collection
    State Library of Pennsylvania
    *This collection of more than thirty regimental histories sheds light on the service careers of some of the state’s best known military units. Like other Access PA databases, this collection uses a clumsy keyword search function.

Personal Papers

  • The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress
    *This database consists of the correspondence of President Abraham Lincoln. While Lincoln’s outgoing messages are largely absent from the collection, his incoming messages are scanned, organized by date, and in many cases, transcribed. The President’s correspondents include a number of important Pennsylvania political, military, and social figures, among them Governor Andrew G. Curtin, whose letters to Lincoln shed light on the governor’s career and the war in the Keystone State.
  • A Civil War Soldier in the Wild Cat Regiment
    Selections from the Tilton C. Reynolds Papers
    Library of Congress, American Memory
    *This small database features the papers of Civil War soldier and Pennsylvania native Captain Tilton C. Reynolds. The bulk of the papers consist of Reynolds’s written correspondence, although the collection also features several photographic images and a cartoon drawn by Tilton. The database can be browsed by type of media, topic, or proper name.



Maps, Music, Images & Ephemera

  • Civil War Treasures from The New-York Historical Society
    Library of Congress, American Memory
    *One of the Library of Congress’s two collections of Civil War-era images, this database offers a selection of broadsides, engravings, and photos second only to the American Broadsides and Ephemera collection. From wartime recruitment posters that lined city streets to hand-drawn cartoons depicting camp life, this database offer a variety of visual perspectives on life in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Of particular relevance is the collection’s extensive holdings pertaining to wartime Pennsylvania, which includes materials from the state’s smaller communities as well as its major cities. The database is keyword searchable, and can be browsed by subject and proper name.
  • Civil War Era Collection at Gettysburg College
    *Although this database also features pamphlets and letters, its greatest strength lies in its collection of images: lithographs, maps, paintings, and political cartoons. Collected from across the northern and southern United States throughout the mid-nineteenth century, these images shed light on everything from political and social life to the experience of warfare. One of the highlights of the database is its extensive collection of Adalbert John Volck’s Copperhead engravings, made in wartime Baltimore, although it also includes a variety of materials created in or pertaining to Pennsylvania. The database is keyword searchable. For the college’s collection of photographs of nineteenth-century notables, click here.
  • Civil War Maps
    Library of Congress, American Memory
    *This excellent and extensive collection includes maps from the nineteenth century, as well as latter-day maps of Civil War-related sites. Many, but not all, depict military units’ positions and movements at critical moments throughout the war. Of particular interest, the database includes 111 maps pertaining to the state of Pennsylvania. The database is searchable by place, subject, creator, and title.
  • American Song Sheets, Slip Ballads, and Poetical Broadsides Collection
    Library Company of Philadelphia
    *Collected from a host of localities and ethnic communities, this database contains more than 5,000 lyrics sheets, and 1,000 pieces of sheet music, featuring lyrics in languages as diverse as English and Japanese. Especially useful is the database’s collection of songs connected with the city of Philadelphia, including songs for the 195th Pennsylvania Infantry and the city’s journeymen cordwainers. The database’s keyword search function is of limited use, but the collection is carefully categorized and easy to browse.
  • Band Music from the Civil War Era
    Library of Congress, American Memory
    *This quirky collection of materials features over 700 musical compositions, as well as modern transcriptions and recordings of historical brass band music from the Civil War era. While the collection lacks paeans to Pennsylvania and its brave citizenry, the database’s music and lyrics offer a one-of-a-kind insight into mid-nineteenth-century popular culture. The collection is keyword searchable, and can be browsed by the subject and titles of songs and compositions.
  • Selected Civil War Photographs
    Library of Congress, American Memory
    *The second of the Library of Congress’s databases of historical images, this collection includes more than 1,000 Civil War-era photographs, many from the studio of Matthew Brady. While most of the images portray individual figures or military units – among them, more than a dozen images of Pennsylvania units – the collection also includes many scenes of camp life, wartime communities, and the aftermath of battle. The database is keyword searchable, and can be browsed by subject.
  • McAllister Collection of Civil War Era Printer Ephemera, Graphics and Manuscripts
    Library Company of Philadelphia
    *Although this database is difficult to navigate, its considerable contents reward persistent users. Including everything from lithographic depictions of major battles to political cartoons and recruitment posters, the collection offers both familiar materials, like well-known Currier and Ives lithographs, and more obscure sources that users are unlikely to find elsewhere on the web. The images of Philadelphia’s wartime refreshment saloons are well worth a visit to the collection. A keyword search function is available but of limited usefulness.
  • Lancaster County, City Directories Collection
    Spanning the years 1843 to 1900, this collection of digitized directories includes the names, addresses, and occupations of Lancaster’s residents before, during, and after the Civil War. A useful tool for social and local historians, as well as genealogical researchers, these documents shed light on the changing face of a unique and important Pennsylvania community. Like other Access PA databases, this collection has an unwieldy keyword search function.



More Online Guides to Digital Resources

In addition to the suggestions above, a number of other websites offer excellent guides to online resources related to Pennsylvania during the Civil War era.

  • Pennsylvania Civil War 150
    *The official website of the Keystone State’s Civil War sesquicentennial commemorations, PA Civil War 150 features a “Resources For …” section that provides excellent guides to online material for visitors, teachers, scholars, enthusiasts, and genealogists.
  • Access Pennsylvania
    *A digital repository of many of the state’s most valuable digital assets, Access Pennsylvania hosts several of the sites featured above, as well as the web collection of many of the state’s universities, museums, and research institutions. Although the repository’s navigation and search functions are primitive by present-day standards, the site features an almost endlessly valuable trove of material.
  • The Civil War Collection at Penn State University
    *This excellent guide spotlights many of Pennsylvania’s most important Civil War-era resources, with particular attention to those materials housed in the Penn State library system.
  • The People’s Contest: A Civil War Era Digital Archiving Project
    Penn State University and the Richards Civil War Era Center
    *The public face of an ongoing project, this website hosts an extensive catalog of primary sources available at county historical societies as well as larger archives throughout the state of Pennsylvania. In upcoming years, the site will host its own body of digitized materials, gleaned from the archives listed in the catalog.
  • Pennsylvania Digitized Newspaper Directory
    PA Department of Education
    *This website offers an incomplete but useful directory of digitized Pennsylvania newspapers and where to find them.

Secondary Journal Literature

  • America: History & Life
    This database indexes scholarly journals concerned with the history of the North America.
    JSTOR is a multi-disciplinary journal archive. It does not include all the history journals to which the library subscribes. Current content is not part of the archive.
    Simple keyword searches can result in a large number of hits. Take advantage of JSTOR's Advanced Search features: exclude book reviews, limit retrievals by disciplines such as history or feminist & women's studies, search for keywords in title or author fields.



Book Reviews

Background Information

  • American National Biography Online
    This is the standard biographical dictionary for American history. Entries often include images of the subjects. The bibliography of each entry lists memoirs, published letters, archival holdings of personal papers collections and other useful sources.
    Take advantage of the "Research Ideas" option at the top of the search screen. One of the themes on the Research Ideas page is Civil War. Here you will find lists with links to biographical entries of important political figures, military leaders, financiers, industrialists and "recorders of and witnesses to the war." The last list includes a link to the entry on Louisa May Alcott.
    Alternatively you can also do a simple keyword search for any person of interest or limit your search by "occupations and realms of renown." One of the options available is Civil War. Choose any of the suggested subject areas from the drop down menu.
  • Dictionary of American History
    Available online. The standard dictionary on American history.
  • Encyclopedia of the American Civil War
    5 volumes, available in print only. Shelved in the reference stacks on the first floor of the Library.
    Volume 5 includes numerous source documents such as proclamations by Lincoln and letters from soldiers.
  • Atlas of the Civil War
    Available online.
  • The Civil War: Primary Documents on Events from 1860 to 1865
    Available online.
  • Historical Dictionary of the Civil War
    Available online.

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