Americas and Oceania Collections blog

36 posts categorized "Civil War"

27 July 2012

The Siege of Atlanta


Public Domain Mark 
This work (Map illustrating the Siege of Atlanta, by the U.S. Forces under command of Maj. Gen. W. T. Sherman) [Maps 72580.(4)], identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

A slightly tenuous link for this week's Civil War map, which is a plan of the Siege of Atlanta in 1864.  It's a few days after the 148th anniversary of the start of the campaign, the eventual success of which proved to be a great morale boost for the north, and helped to seal Lincoln's 1864 electoral success.  We wouldn't like to suggest that London is under seige (indeed, your correspondent is doing his best to welcome the world to the UK during the opening ceremony this evening), but simply note that Atlanta, like London, is an Olympic city.

Maps 72580.(4) (detail).  Gone with the Wind comments welcome...

And on the Olympic theme, don't miss the British Library's official (and free) Olympex: Collecting the Olympic Games exhibition or the brilliant Writing Britain exhibition, which is part of the simultaneous Cultural Olympiad, if you are in town during the next few weeks.  And if you are in front of a TV this evening, keep an eye out for a curator rather out of his comfort zone after the Parade of the Athletes.


19 July 2012

Know Your (Union) Generals


Public Domain Mark 
This work (The Field of Battle and Prominent Union Generals, Creator: Ensign & Bridgman, New York; Producer: The British Library), identified by The British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

I promised some more maps from the U.S. Civil War project, so here's another one, The Field of Battle and Prominent Union Generals [1864?].  And Mr Sherman, it's time for your close-up:



11 July 2012

US Civil War Project: What time is this place?


Public Domain Mark 
This work (History of the Civil War in the United States, 1860-1865, Toronto, 1897 [Shelmark Maps.71492(39)], by Comparative Synoptical Chart Co., Limited), identified by The British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

I mentioned the maps in my last Civil War post.  Most of them are as one would expect: campaign maps or overviews of the territory produced for an eager public in Britain and the States.  Some, however, are a little different, such as Prang's bird's eye-view maps.  And some are very different, such as the one above.  You can see a little more of what is going on in this enlargement:

Maps 71492 (39) [detail]

In this large-scale map, the history of the war in the major states is charted, and mapped against contributing factors, such as the stength of the army, the relationship between gold and paper money, and national and international events, such as the Trent Affair. It was published by the Comparative Synoptical Chart Co., and is a particularly fine example of the nineteenth-century vogue for representing historical events visually: an early educational example of the infographic.  (The Co. also drummed up interest in its products through newspaper quizzes, offering Century bicycles as prizes).   There's more on this sort of thing in Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton, Cartographies of Time (New York, 2010) and also on Stephen Boyd Davis's blog,  Those flumuxed by the chart above could also resort to an Index with 'Introductory Notes'; today, you can also read it online.

A larger, downloadable version of the chart is currently available via the Library of Congress.


09 July 2012

Civil War Project: Abraham Lincoln in Black and White


The end is in sight for the US Civil War project.  Most of the materials have been digitally photographed or scanned.  These have been renamed to try and reflect the pagination or foliation of the items, and then converted into 'zoomable' images before they are added to (and, if they are printed materials, added to the catalogue driving the system that we are piggybacking on).  I've just received a wonderful batch of maps, which I hope to share shortly, and was able to put online the Library's copy of Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War, vols. 1 and 2 (let me know your thoughts on the lack of blank recto pages in the viewer).  The online gallery 'feature' on Britain and the U.S. Civil War is also almost ready to go once there is a critical mass of digitized materials online.

This said, like any campaign, there are the occasional setbacks.  We recently acquired a collection of a printer's proofs of Civil War song sheets [RB.23.b.7019].  I was particularly looking forward to seeing the images of these, as they are often colourful, as well as capture something of the everyday life of the war from all sides of the conflict.  They are individually catalogued on, so the collection also raised a few issues about how to catalogue them for, a process that promised to be a useful experiment for the system. 

I've just collected the images from the studio, but it looks as though I've collected greyscale jpegs, rather than getting colour tiffs as is usual (even the proofs weren't originally coloured, there is something about the quality of the paper and print that only colour images record).  A small hiccup, which will easily be remedied.  Meanwhile, here's one of the jpegs (top) lamenting the loss of Abraham Lincoln (which, in any case, isn't coloured).  As I said, more to follow.


11 April 2012

There will never be anything more interesting than that American civil war


There has been much in the press over the last week or so concerning revised estimates of the death toll during the American Civil War so we've dusted off and updated an earlier blog on the subject.

A couple of years ago I started to follow Professor David Blight's Yale course on the American Civil War on the wonderful Academic Earth (we can all have a Yale education now!). The right statistics can really help to focus the mind - I had known that around 620,000 Americans had died during the Civil War, but when I heard Professor Blight say that if you applied the same death rate per capita to the Vietnam war, some 4 million American soldiers would have died in Vietnam (as opposed to the actual –and still staggering figure of c.58,000), that really helped to bring home to me the enormity of the conflict. And now we learn that those figures may have been underestimated by as much as 20% and that the real figure is likely to be between 650,000 and 850,000. The revising of the estimate is due to the work of J. David Hacker, an historian at Binghamton University, who has been examining newly digitised census data for the Nineteenth Century. For more information on this important work, see an article in the New York Times and a piece on the BBC News website. You can also read Hacker's full article A Census-based Count of the Civil War Dead in Civil War History (Vol. LVII No.4, 2011).

These days we are all too used to seeing images of war in the papers or on our TV screens but photography was still relatively new at the time of the Civil War.  Roger Fenton’s photographs from the Crimea in 1855 represent one of the earliest attempts to document war, but although he recorded the landscape and the military personnel etc, there are no battle scenes. Not really surprising since the cumbersome equipment and laborious wet-plate photographic process made it much too difficult and dangerous to photograph actual fighting. But Fenton also deliberately chose not to record the bloody aftermath of battle.

Alexander Gardner, a Scot who worked for Matthew Brady, went to photograph the Civil War in 1861 and, unlike Fenton, he did record the resulting carnage. This included the aftermath of one of the bloodiest days in American history at Antietam, Maryland, in September 1862, when McClellan’s Army of the Potomac faced Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. And here’s another statistic from Professor Blight- each year 23,000 candle lamps are placed on the battlefield at a ceremony held to commemorate the number of casualties that fell there over the course of the almost day long battle.

Gardner’s photographs of the dead at Antietam were exhibited at Brady’s New York gallery and understandably caused a sensation. But he was soon to part company with Brady (who often took the credit for the photos of others) and set up his own studio. More of Brady’s photographers joined him and together they continued to document the encampments, soldiers and battle fields. Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War appeared in 2 editions -one in 1865 and one in 1866, both consisting of 2 volumes, each volume containing 50 albumen print photographs, and each photograph accompanied by a descriptive caption. Of course, much has been written on Gardner's 'staging' of some of the scenes and bodies, not to mention the veracity of some of the descriptions (for some examples see our Points of View webpages and also the Library of Congress), but the Sketch Book still represents one of the earliest visual evocations of the horrors of war.

Another statistic that I learnt from Professor Blight, equally staggering but in a different way, was that over 65,000 books have been written on the Civil War, which would tend to give credence to Gertrude Stein’s comment (at the top of the blog) on its enduring interest. And no doubt that figure also now needs to be revised upwards. I certainly don’t think that the Library can claim to have all of the books on the subject, although our holdings are strong. And Matthew is still beavering away on a feature on the Civil War for the Library's online gallery. Quite a bit of material has already been digitised (we're focussing on our rare and unique items) and Matthew has been blogging about his activities and discoveries over the last year. You can find his updates on the project by clicking on Civil War in the categories section which appears on the left-hand side of the blog. We're keeping our fingers tightly crossed that the feature will see the light of day in the next couple of months.


27 February 2012

Civil War Manuscripts: Foliation Slip

Foliation slip

Soon after starting at the Library (in the former Department of Manuscripts) during the early days of the junior Bush presidency, I was given my first task. This was to number the pages (that is, the folios) of the Bowood House Papers, a large collection of the paper of the Marquesses of Lansdowne which had been purchased a few years before.  Since historical archives in those days were intended to be bound into volumes for reasons of ease of delivery to the reading room and for security, they had to be divided into volumes of roughly 200 folios.  Too many, and the volume could barely open; too few, and the volume was too thin.  A double-century was the Goldilocks point of manuscript foliation.  But, of course, series of correspondence never quite ran to that exact amount, so the art was to find a natural break in the run of papers and find a harmonious organisation to effect this, in an attempt to give a volume some sort of natural unity.  The Bowood House papers, like many archives, already came with their pre-existing arrangement, and a history of citation, and reorganisation.  Students of manuscripts will be familiar with the series of numbers usually pencilled at the top right hand side of folios, sometimes erased, sometimes crossed out; a palimpsest speaking of the attempt to apply order to the historical record.

I was never much good at it.  The volumes were checked after you had foliated them, and someone always kindly pointed out that 127 came after 126, and not 125, or whatever blunder of numeration I had committed.  It is possible that my mind had wandered during the process.  Once this had all been sorted out, a slip was countersigned added to the back of the volume, and the number of folios settled on for future generations to refer to: 'Add. MS. 70200, f.211', and so on.  There are also a whole set of complications; is a blank leaf foliated?  What about folds of paper? Is a stamp on an envelope another folio?  And what about notebooks in which the author has started at the front, but has another series of notes starting at the back? The rules of cricket and LBW pale in comparison.

I mention all this, as some of the sharper-eyed readers of this blog and visiters to the site may have noticed a discrepancy in the recent volume of Layard Papers (which are full of material on the British view of the Civil War, since Layard was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs).  All is fine until you reach folio 48; thereafter, all hell breaks out in terms of foliation. 

I receive digital images of the manuscripts (in Tiff format) from the library's imaging studio.  These are numbered from 001.tif to 800.tif (for example), but foliation reflects rectos and versos of manuscripts, so these have to be renamed 001r.tif to 400v.tif before they are tuned into zoomable images and added to  The image number also has to match the folio number in the drop down box on the right of the viewer, and, in so doing, matching the way that that the manuscript has always been cited.

There are two ways of doing this; manually renaming the files, which opens the door to a number of potential errors; and venturing into the world of batch renaming, which still leaves the door ajar, but in my book is a bit safer, and certainly faster.  Bindings, flyleaves and other idiosyncratic parts of the volume are renamed by hand (waiting for the  Tiffs to open, then using F2 to rename the file), then I separate out all the odd numbered files, and use a piece of software called AntRenamer to renumber and rename them: 001.tif to 001r.tif and 003.tif to 002r.tif and so on. The evens are renumbered and renamed 001v.tif, 002v.tif etc.  Once I've done this, checked every ten or so, I recombine them into one folder, check them again, and send them on their way to be turned into zoomable images (.dzi at the moment, but perhaps Jpeg2000s in the future), and thence to be linked to the Manuscript Catalogue record and viewable on

So far, the process has been fine, if somewhat time consuming. But last night, I noticed the foliation errors in Add. MS 38988.  Three hours later, and they've been refoliated, in a digital fashion, and should be filtering their way onto the site.  Clearly, I need to figure out a modern-day equivalent of the countersigned slip to be found in the back of the volume.


24 February 2012

Civil War Project: Maps - Birds Eye View of the Seat of War (Prang, 1861)

Maps 71495 (69) Birds Eye View of the Seat of War, arranged after the latest surveys (Prang: Boston & London, 1861)

Some more US Civil War materials have been added to the website today, including one of the print and map publisher, Louis Prang's more interesting efforts.  To access the maps, visit and enter [maps] in the Manuscripts search box.  The system was designed to be used to display Greek Manuscripts, which accounts for some of the current design and UX choices.



23 February 2012

Civil War Project: The Great Seal of the Republic Redux

Dips seal
(The Great Seal of the Republic, shown on the British Library digitised manuscripts website)

You may recall an earlier post about the Confederate Seal of the Republic, which was supplied to the Southern States by a British firm ("That symbol - the Great Seal of the infant Confederacy - sent to it by its nurse, England").  Well, we've now added it to the Library's digital items site: Digitised Manuscripts, which lets you explore the seal's case, provenance and zoom in on the seal itself.  More to follow.



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