UNT Libraries to place Texas documents from Civil War era online in Portal to Texas History

Friday, May 13, 2011

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Although few significant battles were fought in Texas during the Civil War, more than 70,000 Texans served in the Confederate Army, with about 2,000 Texans joining the Union Army. Waul's Texas Legion, which was formed near present-day Brenham by Thomas Neville Waul, played a key role in the defense of Vicksburg, Miss., for the Confederate Army before most of the companies in the legion were captured in July 1863.

A detailed account of the Texans' roles in the Battle of Vicksburg is being preserved online during this year's 150th observance of the start of the Civil War, thanks to the University of North Texas Libraries' Digital Projects Unit.

The UNT Libraries has received a $30,509 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the funding branch of the National Archives and Records Administration, to digitize and place eight archival collections on the Portal to Texas History, which offers more than 250,000 pages of material from archives, historical societies, small and large libraries, museums and private collections from all areas of Texas.

The portal emphasizes primary source historical materials, including diaries, personal accounts of events and daily life, illustrations and photos, original documents and maps. The collections that will be placed on the portal include the A.C. Lenert Memorandum Book from 1862-65, which contains a daily log of the shelling, artillery attacks and the intensity of fighting at the Battle of Vicksburg from a member of the Texas Legion. The other collections, most with a Texas connection, are:

  • The letters of a Confederate doctor who treated soldiers in Arkansas and Texas,
  • A diary from a Union sympathizer who fled Texas during the war to live in Illinois,
  • The military orders and diaries of a Union officer who led a company in the U.S. Colored  Cavalry -- the Buffalo soldiers -- during Reconstruction,
  • Memoirs from a woman who experienced the Civil War in Kansas when she was a child,
  • Papers documenting the activities of Texas sheriff and tax collector in Montague County, Texas, which illustrate the difficulty of collecting taxes and the increase in criminal activity after the Civil War,
  • Letters between a soldier serving in the Confederate Army in Galveston County and his father, and
  • Ledger books from Cooke County, Texas, including criminal docket records, convict labor records and the jail register.

Cathy Hartman, associate dean of UNT Libraries, points out that Cooke County is interesting to Civil War buffs because it was the site of a hanging of suspected Unionists in October 1862 after a vigilante court convicted them by a simple majority vote.

Cooke was one of only 18 counties in Texas -- most of which were located in the northern areas of Texas and in what is now the Hill Country -- to have its citizens vote against Texas' succession from the Union in a statewide referendum. State militia arrested more than 200 suspected Unionists from five northern Texas counties and brought them to Gainesville, and more than 40 were hanged and several others lynched in neighboring communities.

"The group of ledgers from the ‘Great Hanging' has never been microfilmed and currently exists only as the paper originals. They will now be microfilmed, then digitized for online access," Hartman said, noting that the records "represent the worst behavior in society during and after the Civil War."

Dreanna Belden, the UNT Libraries' assistant dean for external relations, said all eight of these collections were chosen to be placed on the Portal to Texas History specifically because they have key items related to the Civil War. Although the materials date from 1823 to 1919, most span the time of the Civil War and Reconstruction, she said.

"Easy access to these collections will enhance the research of scholars, educators, students and lifelong learners in putting together a more complete picture of the Civil War and its aftermath," she said. 

The new collections, which will be placed on the portal during the next year to be available by May 2012, will join another important document on the Civil War that is being placed in UNT's digital library collections -- the 130 volumes of The War of the Rebellion, eyewitness reports of Civil War battles written by commanding officers and the officers' correspondence with each other. The War of the Rebellion volumes were published in the 1880s and 1890s under the direction of the Secretary of War after an act by Congress. About 88 of volumes are already online, with the rest scheduled to be online by June.

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