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History: Civil War Reconstruction and Jim Crow: Finding Primary Sources

Finding Images

(General Ambrose Burnside and Staff.Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-B8184-3287])

Library of Congress.  American Memeory.  Selected Civil War Photographs.

National Archives. Pictures of the Civil War.

Primary Sources

Primary Sources are the records of events, eyewitness accounts, or other materials such as photographs, paintings, etc. produced at the time of the event or period being researched. Fortunately primary sources from the Civil War are fairly easy to find.  

There are some subject heading subdivisions that are particularly useful: Sources, Diaries, Personal narratives, and Pictorial works      


·         United States History Civil War, 1861- 1865 Pictorial works

·         United States History Civil War, 1861- 1865 Personal narratives, Confederate

·         Reconstruction U. S. History, 1865-1877 Sources 

To find primary source information written by a specific person:

·         Look up individuals as authors to find out what books they wrote.

·         Scan the list of titles looking for terms such as papers, addresses, letters, speeches, writings, debates, diaries, correspondence, complete works, autobiographies, etc.

Online Sources


The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War.  Virginia Center for Digital History, University of Virginia. 

“The Valley of the Shadow Project takes two communities, one Northern and one Southern, through the experience of the American Civil War. The project is a hypermedia archive of thousands of sources for the period before, during, and after the Civil War for Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Those sources include newspapers, letters, diaries, photographs, maps, church records, population census, agricultural census, and military records.” – description from Web Site.

The Crisis of the Union: an Electronic Archive about the Causes, Conduct, and Consequences of the US Civil War.  University of Pennsylvania Department of History.

“This collection is comprised of pamphlets, books, broadsides, cartoons, clippings, paintings, maps, and other print memorabilia about America from circa 1830-1880.  Items are drawn primarily from the collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.” – description from Web Site.

Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877  U.S. Library of Congress.

This site provides a compiled list of links to numerous and wide-ranging digitized items on the U.S. Civil War in the Library of Congress collections, such as the Journal of the Confederate Congress, Frederick Douglass Papers, Abraham Lincoln Papers, former slave narratives, and Civil War photographs and sheet music.

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875.
U.S. Library of Congress.  (one of the American Memory collections.)

A Century of Lawmaking provides access to digital images of pages from the Congressional Globe (now called the Congressional Record).  Debates and statements made on the floor of the U.S. Congress about the “rebellion” are easily located from the “Collections Search Page.”

Confederate State of America: Documents.  The Avalon Project at Yale Law School.

Includes Declarations of Secession from some of the Confederate states, and messages and papers of the Confederate government.

Civil War Senate.  United States Senate.

Links to documents, debates, and speeches in the U.S. Senate on war-related issues in the years leading up to and during the Civil War.

American Civil War Collections. Electronic Text Center University of Virginia

Cornell University Library. Making Of America. Civil War

National Archives and Record Administration. Research in Military Records: The Civil War

Valley of the Shadow. A collection of primary sources that document the lives of people in Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania, during Civil War