Civil War Research Guide
The year 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, and no state was more affected by that war than Virginia. On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston (S.C.) harbor. President Abraham Lincoln then called for 75,000 men to suppress the rebellion. The Virginia Convention, meeting in Richmond since 13 February, had defeated a motion to recommend secession to voters by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. But with Lincoln’s call for troops, the Convention reversed itself and voted to secede. Voters ratified the decision on May 23, and the largest Southern state in population and in industrial capacity joined the Confederacy, which moved its capital from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond. With the capitals of the Confederacy and the Union only 100 miles apart, Virginia became the major battleground of the Civil War.
Four years of war ravaged the Virginia landscape, displaced families, ended the institution of slavery, and cost thousands—soldiers and civilians—their lives. Forty-eight northwestern Unionist counties seceded from Virginia to create a new state—West Virginia—which became effective on June 20, 1863. Union troops occupied large sections of eastern and northern Virginia. When Richmond fell early in April 1865, retreating Confederate troops set fire to supplies left behind. The fire soon burned out of control, destroying property as well as state records and county records sent to Richmond for safekeeping. The transformation and damage caused by the Civil War in Virginia reverberated throughout the decades and still resonates today. The Library of Virginia contains many valuable primary and secondary resources that will aid anyone interested in learning more about this critical time in Virginia and American history. The Library of Virginia houses a large collection of manuscripts, published materials, photographs, broadsides, newspapers, maps, and prints pertaining to the Civil War. The manuscript collections range from single items to much-larger collections containing thousands of items. The collections represent both Confederate and Union sides and include topics relating to secession, specific battles and regiments, camp life, Reconstruction, the Restored government in Virginia counties under Union control, slavery, and veteran organizations.
Below is a list of additional Civil War-related subjects for more in-depth research:
Armament & Supplies
John Brown’s Raid
Politics & Government
Soldiers & Camp Life
Units & Unit Histories
Veterans & Memorials
The Library of Virginia houses a large collection of manuscripts, published materials, photographs, broadsides, newspapers, maps, and prints pertaining to the Civil War. The manuscript collections range from single items to much-larger collections of thousands of items. The collections represent both Confederate and Union sides and include topics relating to secession, specific battles and regiments, camp life, Reconstruction and the Restored government, slavery, and veteran organizations. In order to find materials on specific topics it is necessary to conduct a combination of searches to find the materials you seek. Library of Virginia reference staff members suggest that you search the following catalogs:
- LVA Books and Journals Catalog –this catalog serves as the main access point for printed materials; books; journals; magazines; newspapers; federal, state, and local government publications; microfilm and microfiche; sheet music; and selected maps related to the Civil War. A "Words Anywhere" search allows to you search names, geographic locations, and topics. To narrow your search for specific materials, we suggest that you use Library of Congress subject headings.
- LVA Archives and Manuscripts Catalog –this catalog serves as the main access point for state government records, military records, personal papers, family Bible records, genealogical notes and charts, church and cemetery records, business records, maps, local records, and other archival and manuscript material. A "Words Anywhere" search allows you to search author, title, subject and notes field. To narrow your search for specific materials, we suggest that you use Library of Congress subject headings.
- View a guide to the Civil War Records in the Archives
- Virginia in Newspapers Database – this database contains a bibliography of American and Virginia Newspapers cataloged and inventoried by the Virginia Newspaper Project.
- Images and Indexes – this catalog serves as the main access point for online indexes and scanned images from selected Civil War records.