One hundred and fifty years ago this morning, April 12, 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter. A year ago Iowa State’s Special Collections Department and Digital Initiatives were excited to announce the launching of our Digital Collections library. A number of collections have been added since then, and in honor of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial commemoration this year, six of our Civil War diaries and reminiscences have been digitized and made available online. The diaries can now be searched by keyword through CONTENTdm, and eventually transcripts and metadata will be added.
The diaries reveal a variety of experiences of Iowans who participated in the Civil War: Cyrus Bussey, L. Stone Hall, Charles Chapman, James Robertson, John Chambers, and Celestia Barker. Cyrus Bussey details his experiences as an officer with the Iowa Cavalry, his involvement in the Battles of Pea Ridge and Vicksburg, and the occupation of Helena, Arkansas. Bussey’s reminiscence begins with a description of how the Civil War was brought very close to Iowans early on in the conflict: “In July 1861, the rebels under Martin Green and Harris were organizing in North East Missouri. Union men were driven out and much alarm felt by the citizens of the Southern border counties of Iowa.” L. Stone Hall, who served in the Iowa infantry, spent most of the Civil War in the far south, and was a Confederate prisoner at Shreveport, Louisiana. Charles Chapman’s diary contains brief notes concerning daily life as a private. His regiment took part in the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, and the siege of Vicksburg. James Robertson was taken prisoner at the Battle of Shiloh and hospitalized in Nashville, Tennessee’s University Hospital. John Chambers was stationed in Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi. Chambers also took part in the siege of Vicksburg.
In addition to the soldiers’ diaries described, we also have a diary from the Iowa home front. Celestia Barker’s husband served in the Civil War. Barker describes her work on her family’s farm, social activities, attendance at church meetings, and visits to family throughout central Iowa. Included throughout are reminders of the Civil War. For instance, Barker describes (page 10) a time when she was baking with a friend, and her friend was “in the bread up to her elbows. I had to laugh at a remark she made about killing chickens. She said she hated to kill them and then she would think of our soldiers being killed so unmerciful and then she would be more courageous because the rebels kill the soldiers she spits her spite on the chickens.” The diary primarily contains descriptions of daily life, but is interspersed with descriptions like this which show that that the Civil War was still on the minds of Iowans as they lived their life in Iowa far from the fighting.
These online diaries and reminiscences now allow more people to read perspectives of Iowans who fought in and lived during the Civil War. At the end of his reminiscence, Stone says “As you read please correct what errors you see. I have not patience to do it now, am tired of the thing.” Hopefully his efforts did not go in vain, and can be even more appreciated with the wider audience now made possible with the narrative’s digitization, along with the stories of other Iowans who lived during the Civil War. The Civil War diaries can be found from the Digital Collections homepage.
The digitized diaries and narratives are only a portion of Civil War related materials held in Special Collections. Check out our Civil War Subject Guide to find out about our other collections. In addition, if you would like to find out more about the digitized diaries and narratives described above, you can find links from this page of our online finding aids for the Civil War diaries.