Civil War Research Guide

Content Warning: Materials in the Library of Virginia's collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation.

Battle of WilliamsburgThe 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.
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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.
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Introduction

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.

To locate materials in the Library's collections, start with the following resources:

  1. LVA Catalog
    The catalog serves as the main access point for the Library's published and archival collections, including books, newspapers, state government records, military records, personal papers, family Bible records, and local records. The catalog also searches many of the Library's digital collections.

  2. Virginia Newspaper Project
    This index lists American and Virginia newspapers cataloged and inventoried by the Virginia Newspaper Project.

  3. Digital Collections and Indexes
  4. Research Guides


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