Skip to main content
Humanities Libertexts

14.6: Primary Sources

  • Page ID
    9426
  • Alexander Stephens on Slavery and the Confederate Constitution, 1861

    Confederates had to quickly create not only a government, but also a nation, including all of the cultural values required to foster patriotism. In this speech Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, proclaims that slavery and white supremacy were not only the cause for secession, but also the “cornerstone” of the Confederate nation.

    General Benjamin F. Butler Reacts to Self-Emancipating Slaves, 1861

    Fugitive slaves posed a dilemma for the Union military. Soldiers were forbidden to interfere with slavery or assist runaways, but many soldiers disobeyed the policy. In May 1861, General Benjamin F. Butler went over his superiors’ heads and began accepting fugitive slaves who came to Fortress Monroe in Virginia. In order to avoid the issue of the slaves’ freedom, Butler reasoned that runaway slaves were “contraband of war,” and he had as much a right to seize them as he did to seize enemy horses or cannons. Later that summer Congress affirmed Butler’s policy in the First Confiscation Act.

    Poem about Civil War Nurses, 1866

    The massive casualty rates of the Civil War meant that nurses were always needed. Women, North and South, left the comforts of home to care for the wounded. Hospital conditions were often so bad that many volunteer nurses quit soon after beginning. After the war, Kate Cumming, a nurse who travelled with the Army of Tennessee, published an account of her experience. She included a poem, written by an unknown author about nursing in the war.

    Ambrose Bierce Recalls his Experience at the Battle of Shiloh, 1881

    Civil War soldiers described the experience of combat as both terrifying and confusing. The American writer, Ambrose Bierce, captures both the confusion and terror of the Battle of Shiloh in the below excerpt of his 1881 recollections of the battle.

    Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, 1865

    Abraham Lincoln offered a first draft of history in his second inaugural address, casting the Civil Was as a war for union that later became a spiritual process of national penance for two hundred and fifty years of slaveholding. Lincoln also looked to the future, envisioning a harmonious and speedy Reconstruction that would take place “with malice toward none” and “with charity for all.”

    Civil War Nurses Illustration, 1864

    The Civil War ultimately opened a variety of arenas for Union and Confederate women’s participation. In the North, the United States Sanitary Commission in particular centralized women’s opportunities to volunteer as nurses, donate supplies, and toraise funds at Sanitary fairs. This 1864 image from popular periodical Harper’s Weekly celebrates women’s contributions on the battlefield, in the hospital, in the parlor, and at the fair.

    Burying the Dead Photograph, 1865

    Death pervaded every aspect of life during the years of the Civil War. This gruesome photograph, taken after the battle of Cold Harbor, shows the hasty burial procedures used to reckon with unprecedented death. Dirty jobs like this were often left to black soldiers or freedpeople in Contraband Camps.

    • Was this article helpful?