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Library of Congress Manuscripts: An Illustrated Guide

Military Affairs

Gen. James Longstreet. Letter to Col. Edward P. Alexander and copies of Alexander's battlefield dispatches to Longstreet and Gen. George E. Pickett during the battle of Gettysburg. 3 July 1863. Edward P. Alexander Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.
During the first three days of July 1863, Union and Confederate forces met in battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, an encounter that many historians consider the turning point in the Civil War.

Military records are another important part of the Manuscript Division's holdings. Included are the papers of military heroes from George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental Army, to Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, commanding general of the Strategic Air Command and chief of staff of the United States Air Force after World War II. Interspersed between these two luminaries are the collected or personal papers of numerous career officers, volunteers, and noncommissioned officers and enlisted personnel, as well as war correspondents, military spouses, camp followers, and private citizens caught in the path of war.

Our military collections span the entire history of the United States. They are particularly rich for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and also include several important collections relating to the British colonial wars, such as the diaries of Maj. Christopher French, a British officer who served in North America and the West Indies throughout the French and Indian War. In addition, the division has managed to acquire a significant amount of material from World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, even though many twentieth-century military papers have been deposited with one of the established or newly created war colleges or libraries.

Since few collections in the Manuscript Division bear the name of a particular war or military action, most of our patrons research military history through the careers of individual commanders and participants. The War of 1812, for example, is best represented in the papers of such individuals as Jacob J. Brown, William Henry Harrison, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Macdonough, James Madison, Duncan McArthur, Winfield Scott, and William H. Winder. The strength of the division's holdings on the Civil War is evident from the fact that it is the principal repository for the papers of President Abraham Lincoln as well as those of generals Nathaniel P. Banks, Pierre G. Beauregard, Benjamin F. Butler, Jubal A. Early, Richard S. Ewell, Charles Ewing, William B. Franklin, James A. Garfield, Ulysses S. Grant, Samuel P. Heintzelman, Henry J. Hunt, Joseph W. Keifer, George B. McClellan, Montgomery C. Meigs, Carl Schurz, Philip H. Sheridan, and William T. Sherman. Admirals Andrew Hill Foote, Louis M. Goldsborough, and Samuel Phillips Lee are also represented, as are hundreds of noncommissioned officers and enlisted personnel. The famous Confederate States of America collection, the papers of war correspondents Sylvanus Cadwallader (New York Herald) and Whitelaw Reid (Cincinnati Gazette), and the papers of Burton N. Harrison, secretary to Jefferson Davis, are also among the more than one thousand collections in the division that relate to the Civil War.

Naval dispatch from the Commander in Chief Pacific (CINCPAC) announcing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 7 December 1941. John J. Ballentine Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.
A naval dispatch, received by the USS Ranger, reported the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.The aircraft carrier Ranger was returning to Norfolk, Virginia, from an ocean patrol when the attack occurred. The dispatch is one of five thousand items in the papers of John J. Ballentine, aviator and naval officer, deposited in the division by the Naval Historical Foundation.
Woodrow Wilson. Pencil draft of his announcement of the armistice ending World War I. 1 November 1918. Woodrow Wilson Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.
Of the presidents whose papers are housed in the Library of Congress, Woodrow Wilson is one of five who fulfilled the duties of commander in chief during a major American war. Shown here is Wilson's pencil draft of his announcement of the armistice ending World War I on 11 November 1918.

The papers of Gen. John Joseph (Black Jack) Pershing and Maj. Gen. John Archer Lejeune well document the role of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. For the World War II period, the division has the papers of generals Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, Ira C. Eaker, Curtis E. LeMay, and Carl A. Spaatz, who were instrumental in assuring Allied victory by establishing the United States as the world's greatest air power. The Edward L. Rowny Papers cover not only World War II but also the Korean and Vietnam wars and strategic arms negotiations on behalf of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

One of the chief sources of the division's naval collections has been the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF). The NHF collections contain in excess of 337,000 items under 254 separate titles and touch on naval affairs in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II. Represented are such notables as Washington Irving Chambers, William Frederick Halsey, Stanford C. Hooper, and the famous Rodgers family. The papers of Adm. William Sowden Sims cover his service as commander of United States naval forces in Europe during World War I, and the papers of Adm. Ernest J. King relate primarily to his activities as commander in chief of the United States Fleet and chief of naval operations during World War II. Naval operations during the Vietnam War are highlighted in the papers of Adm. Edwin Bickford Hooper, Commander Service Force, United States Pacific Fleet.

Nor should presidential, congressional, or judicial collections be overlooked as primary sources for military historians. Of the presidents whose papers are housed in the Library, George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield, and Theodore Roosevelt all had distinguished military careers before entering the political arena, and presidents James Madison, James K. Polk, Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, and Woodrow Wilson each fulfilled the duties of commander in chief during a major American war. Many members of Congress also served in the military or were vocal in hearings and committees concerning the waging and financing of wars. Similarly, legal issues surrounding the wartime powers of presidents and the conduct of American military operations are reflected in several of the division's judicial collections. Consequently, given the breadth of the division's holdings, a scholar would be well advised to cast a wide net when searching for manuscript sources documenting the nation's military history.