Durham News

June 20, 2014

UNC website unfolds ‘Civil War Day by Day’

An online, unfolding diary of the Civil War as seen by those who lived through it has won a national award for a team at UNC Libraries.

If you had happened to visit bit.ly/1vU9ZWv last Wednesday, here is what you would have found:

“It is noticeable that during the present campaigns few battles take place on Sundays.”

That’s the first sentence in an editorial from the Wilmington Daily Journal of June 18, 1864, and it was the daily entry for “The Civil War Day By Day” – a UNC-Chapel Hill library website recently honored by an organization of research libraries for the public access it provides to primary-source material.

Check the site today, you’ll find something new – from June 22, 1864.

Wilson Special Collections Library started “The Civil War Day by Day” on April 12, 2011, the 150th anniversary of South Carolina Confederates’ firing on federal Fort Sumter in Charleston that opened hostilities.

Intentions are to continue it, with a new entry each day to the day, through April 26, 2015 – the 150th anniversary of the Confederate surrender at Bennett Place in Durham, the second and largest surrender of the war.

As described in the award statement from the Center for Research Libraries, the site is “a virtual connection between experiences then and now“ through “letters, pamphlets, books, photographs, telegrams, diaries, and sheet music, displayed on the same day 150 years later.”

The idea, according to UNC librarian Biff Hollingsworth, is to illustrate “how the war was experienced by people living through it, who didn’t know how it would end, or what might happen to them and their loved ones.”

For instance, the entry for June 18, 1863, was a Union soldier’s diary note that his company had disbanded: “Now, each one is to take up his life, on his own individuality, and fight out his own fight for better or for worse,” wrote John Jasper Wyeth of the 44th Massachusetts Infantry.

Or, for last Sunday: “The great and impending battle so long expected is being fought” – Mississippi minister Samuel Andrew Agnew’s diary record of reports from the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.

The award statement singled Hollingsworth out, but he works on the site with eight other library staff members who cull each day’s posting from university collections.

Readers can take part, too, by posting comments on the site’s Facebook page, on.fb.me/1oHSed6, or Twitter feed, bit.ly/1lWO0vd.

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