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Civil War Diaries and Letters

The collection that started it all. In 2009, the UI Libraries began digitizing the letters and diaries of Civil War families and made those documents available for transcription in DIY History in 2011 as part of the sesquicentennial. From that moment on, DIY History became a hub for transcription.

Here you’ll find stories of soldiers and their families told across thousands of handwritten letters and diaries. In these documents, the intimacy and immediacy of daily life are juxtaposed with the realities of war – by turns mundane or horrifying.

Lieutenant Andrew F. Davis’ Christmas note to his daughters Orrilla, age 8, and Nan, age 5, for instance, mixes holiday greetings:

“I hope Santa Claus in his rambles last night did not miss the stockings of my two little girls,”

with observations on camp fare:

“country people sell [meals] cheap enough if they were only cooked good but they are poor people who bring them and they have to cook them by the fire in skillets as they have no cook stoves,”

scenery:

“there is several hundred tents in camp and all with lights in them which makes them look like big lanterns scattered all over the country”,

and reactions to news from home:

“Tell your ma I am glad she has got her hogs killed but I am afraid she will work so hard that she will be sick again.” Elsewhere in the collection, the political and social strife appear alongside grim details of battle.