The recent announcement of the newly discovered John Bell Hood papers is one of the largest and most significant findings of primary resource material tied to a major historical figure from the American Civil War in years. I asked several historians the same question: what are some other examples of newly discovered material about an important Civil War personality?
Jack Davis: I can’t think of anything similar in recent years. A lot of RE Lee private letters were revealed to be in family hands a few years ago, but they have not been released to the general public, only made available to Elizabeth Pryor for her book. There is no typical route by which such things become available to the general public. Sometimes they are published, sometimes sold at private auction, sometimes bought by a public archive, and sometimes donated to an archive.
Wiley Sword: Much to my amazement, there has been a lot of new information recently discovered. For example, I’m currently working on transcribing an archive of more than 100 Brig. Gen. Bradley Johnson letters. While most are ante-bellum, there is much new material with insightful perspectives on Johnson’s entire life. Also, this week, I’ve just run across various original unpublished and unknown Alexander Stephens – the Confederacy’s vice president – letters. Even Franklin seems to be involved. I’ve obtained a marvelous postwar letter and six very detailed battlefield drawings of an early prominent student of the battle, William D. Thompson (ex. lieut. 97th O.V.I.), which gives new information on the Carters and clarifys positions of Union troops. I have not yet released this material. Further, there have been recent new discoveries of other important material, much of which I’ve published in Blue & Gray Magazine, including the Longstreet-Jenkins-Law feud, Abraham Lincoln’s brush with death at the scene of a rocket test in 1862 (the rocket exploded); Hooker’s attempts to get ammunition to the front at Chancellorsville, etc. In all, there seems to be new material and new insights forthcoming. Let’s hope it continues.
Steven Woodworth: Bud Robertson finding Stonewall Jackson’s little black book of aphorisms, etc., when he was researching his Jackson biography.
Chris Losson: In 1999 a biography of Union general Orlando Willcox was published. The biography was based on papers that were discovered in a Washington, D.C. attic. Historian Robert Garth Scott used those papers, including a journal kept by Willcox, to create the biography. Certainly Hood was higher on the Civil War “food chain” than Willcox and if this is a sizeable collection it is the most important find in years. Because of the success of the film Glory, it was significant when a collection of Robert Gould Shaw’s letters were made widely available in an edited work. Yet scholars had known of the existence of Shaw’s letters, which had been published in a small print run by the Shaw family after the war. But it is hard to conceive of any collection that has surfaced recently that will challenge the discovery of Hood’s papers.