Civil War Research at the Minnesota Historical Society
Many published sources that have long since gone out of print are to be found in our collections: official records, histories of specific battles and campaigns, and other materials. Notable strengths include regimental histories and personal narratives.
The Society has a good representation of 19th- and 20th-century publications. They are described in the library catalog.
Published primary sources:
Official records of federal and local governments; military and naval reports; letters, diaries, and personal narratives.
A three-volume work titled Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars is among the highlights. At the request of several veterans' organizations, the Minnesota Legislature in 1889 created a board of commissioners to oversee preparation and publication of "an official historical narrative of the services of each regiment, battalion, battery and independent company of Minnesota troops while in the service of the United States in the Civil War of 1861-1865, and in the Indian War of 1862."
The original two-volume work contained a narrative history of each unit, plus its muster roll (volume one), and official letters, telegrams, and reports relating to the various Minnesota units and the state's participation in the war (volume two). In the 1930s, an index to the muster rolls was produced as part of a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project.
All three volumes recently have been republished by Higginson Book Company, and Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars remains a vital primary source. Volume one contains the only narrative history of some units, particularly the smaller battalions and batteries, and volume two includes copies of orders and reports of unit actions as well as important communications between the War Department and state officials.
We have similar histories from other states, both Union and Confederate.
Campaign and battle histories:
Most are older works, and our holdings are far from complete. In recent years, we have sought out newer histories of battles in which Minnesota units took part, particularly if the author made use of our collections in researching the work. An example is This Terrible Sound (E475.81 .C78 1992), a study of the battle of Chicamauga by Peter Cozzens, who used our collections for information about the Second Minnesota Infantry.
Search the library catalog to find information on battle or campaign histories. Enter the name of the campaign or battle in the Keyword or Subject Term search fields (e.g. Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Shiloh).
Our collections encompass political and social history as well as military topics. Examples:
- Annie Heloise Abel's three-volume work on Indians in the Civil War (E540.I3 A2)
- Melting Pot Soldiers: The Union's Ethnic Regiments by William L. Burton (E540.F6 B87 1988)
- American Jewry and the Civil War by Bertram W. Korn (E540.J5K7).
The role of African American soldiers has been a particular focus of investigation in recent years. Among the Society's sources:
- Black Soldiers-Black Sailors-Black Ink: Research Guide on African-Americans in U.S. Military History, 1526-1900 by Thomas Truxtun Moebs (UB418.A47 M64 1994)
- Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers by Joseph T. Glatthaar (E540.N3 G53 1990)
- Tabular Analysis of the Records of U.S. Colored Troops and Their Predecessor Units in the National Archives by Joseph B. Ross (U.S. DOCS. GS 4.7:33).