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Jacob H. Bechtel papers, 1858-1862

20 items

The Jacob H. Bechtel papers contain 20 letters written by Jacob H. Bechtel to his brother George that reflect the thoughts and experiences of a moderate in Virginia during the Civil War.

The Jacob H. Bechtel papers contains 20 letters written by Jacob H. Bechtel to his brother, George, and represents a microcosm of the civilian Civil War experience in Virginia. Not only was the man's family divided, but the man himself was as well.

The collection provides a detailed and emotionally-charged account of social and political events from the time of John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859 to the outbreak of war in 1861. In the earliest letters in this collection, Bechtel freely recorded his opinions on the rhetorical extremes of both those whom he regarded as radical secessionists or fanatical unionists. While he seemed to sympathize more with the Southern cause, Bechtel did not readily swing to either extreme. Instead, he considered the tragedy unfolding in front of him both unnecessary and avoidable, with both sides being led to ruin by the actions of extremists. After the Union blockade of Southern ports and the possibility of leaving for "home" (the North) was eliminated, Bechtel was left with no choice but to side with the Southern cause. The series of correspondence ends with a brief, sanitized note written during a cease fire, probably early in 1862, informing George that he and his family are well.

Among other important events discussed in the Bechtel letters are the John Brown raid on Harper's Ferry, the secession conventions of the various southern states, the intimidation tactics used by Virginia secessionists to generate support (and quell dissent), the Crittenden Compromise, and the federal blockade of Richmond and its effects on the people and economy. Bechtel's letters provide a strongly worded, personally-felt record of the swings in public opinion in Richmond as perceived by a somewhat atypical resident.


Nathan B. Webb journals, 1862-1864

1,165 pages (5 volumes)

The diaries of Nathan Webb include vivid descriptions of life in one of the most active Union cavalry regiments, the 1st Maine, during the Civil War. Webb's thoughtfulness, candor, and his insight into the minds of soldiers and civilians make his diary a rich resource for the study of the social and military history of the Civil War.

The strengths of Webb's diaries are his ability as a writer and his willingness to describe important incidents at great length. His descriptions range widely in content, but are always thoughtful, and he has a flawless aptitude for an anecdote. He seems particularly to have been interested in the attitudes of his fellow soldiers and of local civilians, particularly the women, but he comments extensively on daily life in the camps, strategy, officers, drilling, ethics in the army, and his feelings, positive and negative, towards those who remained in Maine. Webb's careful and detailed descriptions of every battle and skirmish in which he was involved include everything from vignettes relating an individual soldier's reactions, to specific information on the tactics and strategy of cavalry. But it is the incidents he records about day to day life that provide the greatest insight into the soldiers' minds, and Webb is both uncommonly detailed for a Civil War diarist and allows his personal opinions and perspective to dominate his descriptions. His description of Belle Isle is extraordinary in the intensity of detail and emotional impact.

These five volumes are copies from the original diaries, and were made by Webb in the late spring and summer of 1865. He notes that, with the exception of some additions made from memory to his descriptions of Libby and Belle Isle Prisons, he has copied the diary exactly as it appears in the original. Offering an interesting balance to the original, he includes occasional footnotes offering retrospective commentary on his own writing. For example, while in 1862 he wrote that the men were upset at the dismissal of McClellan, a footnote indicates that in 1865, Webb came to feel that the men had been deluded by McClellan's self-aggrandizing play for their affection. His later comments on his own vacillation while deciding whether to reenlist, on the opinions of the media and non-combatants regarding the war, and on his opinions of Meade and other leaders also include some revealing reflections.

The first fifty pages of volume 3 are severely damp-stained and written in faint ink, and in parts are very difficult to read. Included with the diaries are an 1878 receipt for the payment of poll tax in Boston and one issue and two supplements of the First Maine Bugle (Campaign II, call 3, 5 and 9), dated January and July, 1891, and July, 1892. The Bugle was the publication of the veterans' organization for the 1st Maine Cavalry. A war-time photograph of Webb was included in Tobie's regimental history.


Sophia McCormick diary, 1811, 1818

1 volume

This 72-page diary is an account of the five-month trip Sophia Cumming McCormick took with her uncle, aunt, and cousin from Savannah, Georgia, to New York City and along the East Coast in 1811. A second, shorter portion of the diary consists of nine entries from 1818, in which McCormick reflected on her spiritual state.

This 72-page diary is an account of the five-month trip Sophia Cumming McCormick took with her uncle, aunt, and cousin from Savannah, Georgia, to New York City and along the East Coast in 1811. A second, shorter portion of the diary consists of nine entries from 1818, in which McCormick reflected on her spiritual state.

The first 65 pages of the diary (May 22, 1811-November 4, 1811) contain daily entries chronicling McCormick's travel experiences. She recorded details about the geographic, physical, and historical features of the cities and towns she and her family visited or passed through. Her accounts of New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Richmond are the most extensive, and include details about specific streets, buildings, and bridges. McCormick's descriptions of Charles Wilson Peale's natural history museum in Philadelphia (located in what is now the basement of Independence Hall) and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., are particularly colorful.

McCormick's entries from July to September 1811, written while she attended Miss Scribner's School in Morristown, New Jersey, are often brief, though she commented more extensively about Fourth of July celebrations and recorded her thoughts about leaving the school. She also mentioned a Morristown funeral custom, a solar eclipse seen from Trenton, a visit to Thomas Jefferson's birthplace, public water supplies, a Gaelic-language sermon near Fayetteville, North Carolina. Throughout her travels, McCormick recorded the names of churches she attended, along with the ministers' names and sermon topics.

The second part of the diary (7 pages) consists of 9 entries dated between July 11, 1818, and November 1 [1818?]. In these entries, McCormick primarily reflected on her spiritual well-being. She appears to have been traveling during this span of time as well, staying with cousins near Augusta, Georgia.