On April 12, 1861, the first shots rang from Fort Sumter, sparking what would become the most devastating conflict ever fought in North America. The American Civil War (1861-1865) played out in over 10,000 settings across the American landscape, taking the lives of more than 600,000 soldiers. The war was a watershed moment in the nation’s history, ushering in a new economic, social and political order, leaving behind slavery and a planter aristocracy in the South, and ensuring that American democracy and free labor would survive both in the East and in the new states of the West.
The Louisiana State University Libraries’ Division of Special Collections, housed in Hill Memorial Library, offers researchers a rich collection of materials relating to the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods. The majority of these sources are part of the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections (LLMVC), which boast extensive holdings of books, periodicals, maps, manuscripts, state documents, and microfilm that support scholarly research in many areas, including religion, plantation management, slavery, French Creole identity and relations, and Southern nationalism.
In conjunction with the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL)-sponsored collaborative digital project, "Civil War in the American South" marking the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, LSU’s Special Collections staff has digitized 150 items from the LLMVC and Rare Book Collections. The materials chosen were included as illustrations of the ideological, political, and cultural origins of the Civil War. With historical themes ranging from Southern culture and a developing sectional identity, race relations, and gender to plantation life and politics in the years 1850-1865, the digital collection provides context for secession and the war itself.
Both published and unpublished materials were selected.
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Unpublished manuscript items relate to education in the South, particularly the early history of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning (present day Louisiana State University) immediately before and during the early years of the Civil War; racial attitudes, slavery, plantation management, and the transition from slavery to free labor; family, social life and customs; literature and reading, especially the need for southern-produced works; developing southern nationalism; religion in daily life; and men and women’s attitudes toward secession, politics, and the war. Additional materials include the diary kept by C.S.A. soldier John E. Ellis while a prisoner of war, selected letters of Eugène Dumez regarding Confederate diplomacy in France, and a series of letters from publisher and promoter of Southern commerce J.D.B. De Bow to Louisiana author and politician Charles Gayarré that focus on party politics, the Confederacy, and slavery.
These sources are strong in topics relating to education, science and the arts in antebellum Louisiana. The diverse group of materials also includes rare sheet music relating to the Civil War and Louisiana. French-language poetry reflecting the state’s French and Creole roots is also available.