August closing

The reading room will be closed August 1-5 for off-site storage processing.

Please contact the department with any questions.

Civil War Teaching Collection


Physical Materials

Eleanora Williams Diary, 1862 October 1-1869 November 9 (MS.2940)

Eleanora Williams lived in Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee, during the Civil War. She wrote this diary primarily between the ages of 18 and 23.

This collection consists of the Confederate diary of Eleanora Williams, of Dickson County, Tennessee, written between October 1, 1862 and November 9, 1869. The diary offers an account of civilian life in the area and of events concerning the Civil War as well as reflections on Williams’ personal feelings and emotions during the period. Williams refers to numerous military leaders, for example meeting General Nathan Bedford Forrest on January 20, 1863. She describes him as “tall and large (not very) and I think very fine looking.” This diary has been digitized through the American Civil War Digital Collection, and is available to be accessed here.

Topics and Themes – Civilian Life during the Civil War

E. H. Rennolds Diaries, 1863-1864 (MS.0170)

Edwin Hansford Rennolds was born in Locust Grove, Virginia to Robert (1805-1871) and Jane Hansford (1810-1881) Rennolds on October 30, 1839. He taught school from 1859 to 1861, at which time he left to take over his father’s farm. He joined the Confederate Army in 1861 and was assigned to the 5th Tennessee Infantry. After the war, he returned to his father’s farm and married Margaret C. Cox on January 11, 1866. They had seven children. Rennolds earned a Baptist preacher’s license in 1869 and continued to preach throughout his life. The family relocated to Florida in 1882, where Edwin Rennolds died on November 17, 1912.

E.H. Reynolds maintained these two diaries while he was serving with the 5th Tennessee Infantry (CSA) in 1863 and 1864. In them, he describes his service in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, including his participation in the battles of Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville. Both of these diaries have been digitized through the American Civil War Digital Collection; access the 1863 diary here, and the 1864 diary here.

Topics and Themes – life as a soldier during the Civil War, religious sentiments of Confederate soldiers

Letter, John Watkins in Knoxville, Tenn., to Sarah Probert in Pittsfield, Ohio, 1863 December 15 (part of MS.1161)

John Watkins was born to English emigrants George and Mary (Cook) Watkins in Cleveland, Ohio on January 24, 1840. He enlisted in the 19th Ohio Light Artillery on August 9, 1862 as a Private and was eventually promoted to Corporal. The unit participated in the Siege of Knoxville and the Atlanta Campaign before mustering out at Camp Cleveland, Ohio on June 27, 1865. After the war ended, Watkins married Sarah Victoria Probert (1841-1916) and the couple had five children.  John Watkins died of heart disease on November 23, 1924 in Pittsfield, Ohio and is buried in South Pittsfield Cemetery.

In this letter, dated December 15, 1863, from John Watkins in Knoxville, Tenn., to Sarah Probert in Pittsfield, Ohio, Watkins writes about general news from Knoxville and thanks Ms. Probert for her letters. He closes the letter with a description of the Battle of Fort Sanders, explaining that Burnside had named the fort after General Sanders, who had been killed in the fighting during the siege of Knoxville. This diary has been digitized through the American Civil War Digital Collection, and is available to be accessed here.

Topics and Themes – the Battle of Fort Sanders

Letter, Robert A. Ragan to Emeline Ragan, 1863 December 4 (part of MS.0743)

Ragan was born and raised in Greene County, TN near the North Carolina border.  Despite coming from a pro-Union part of the state, Ragan was kidnapped and forced into the Confederate army.  He eventually escaped his captors and made his way back behind Union lines where he raised 120 men to form Company K of the 8th Tennessee Infantry.

In this letter, Robert A. Ragan, a Union officer from East Tennessee, describes the fighting during the Siege of Knoxville in the winter of 1863.  He writes of the unsuccessful Confederate charges on Knoxville (“we killed 400 hundred and taken 500 prisoners”), the battering taken by the left wing of the Union army stationed in Knoxville (“the last fight they had they said the blood run in the entrenchments”), and his hopes and fears of when he might return home to his “beloved little family.”

Topics and Themes – the deeply divided political sentiments of Tennesseans during the Civil War


Digital Materials

American Civil War Digital Teaching Collection

The American Civil War Digital Teaching Collection provides a selection of online Special Collections materials for students to research remotely. All items in this digital teaching collection were selected from the American Civil Digital Collection or the Volunteer Voices Digital Collection.

American Civil War Collection

The American Civil War Digital Collection brings together a variety of documents including diaries and correspondence that chronicle the evolution of the American Civil War and Reconstruction, particularly across Tennessee. The materials in this collection provide unique insight into the military and regional culture of these eras by capturing the personal experiences of those affected by the war. A strength of this collection is the breadth of varying perspectives including Confederate and Union; civilians, soldiers, and prisoners of war; and men and women.

Volunteer Voices

Volunteer Voices provides access to digitized primary sources documenting the history and culture of Tennessee. Significant events, like the Trail of Tears, World War I, and the Civil Rights Movement, are presented in this collection from the perspective of Tennesseans.