Saturday, March 12, 2016

Two recent Civil War discoveries at the National Archives

The National Archives in Washington holds unknown and uncountable little treasures, and it's always a thrill to hear of some new tidbit coming to light. Archivists and researchers spend long hours, weeks and years, combing through, organizing, and cataloging items in the nation's miscellanea without catching a glint of a shiny nugget in the pan, or without understanding the significance of particular documents. But sometimes they hit paydirt, and know it at a glance. Interesting discoveries are regularly reported, and two Civil War-related items caught my attention this week. 

A true golden nugget surfaced recently in the form of a letter written by Walt Whitman on behalf of a dying soldier. According to (quoting The Washington Post), "Catherine Cusack Wilson was doing volunteer work for a digitization project on Civil War widows’ pension files when she ran across the letter. Ruane writes that she saw the postscript 'Written by Walt Whitman, a friend' on the correspondence, and realized that the letter, dictated by an illiterate soldier at Washington’s Harewood Hospital, was penned by the poet."


Another neat find was an 1864 letter that makes passing reference to the Free State of Jones, uncovered by historian Adam Domby. That's a particularly timely item given the upcoming May release of a movie on that subject, based on Victoria Bynum's book. Victoria discusses Domby's find on her blog, Renegade South. I conducted an online interview with Victoria about her book way back in 2001, when Matthew McConaughey was still a harmless Wedding Planner. I'm looking forward to the release of the new film. 

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