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U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction: a Research Guide

Find books, journal articles, primary documents, and Web sites about the U.S. Civil War

Find Primary & Secondary Sources

There is no better way to study the past than through consultation of original, primary source documents produced during the time period or event being studied. Scholars and historians agree that the study of primary sources is the core of any serious historical research.

What are primary and secondary sources? 

A primary source is original material, such as a first-hand account of an event by a participant or an eyewitness.  Official government records and publications are also primary sources.  Secondary sources analyze, evaluate, or interpret primary source material.  Some examples of primary and secondary sources are:

Primary Source

Secondary Source

Autobiography, memoirs, diaries, letters, etc., written by an individual                  

Book about an individual (biography)

Transcript of a Presidential speech                                         

Newspaper commentary on a Presidential speech

Text of a court decision                                  

Book that analyzes or explains court decisions on a particular topic

Congressional Record                                    

Journal article summarizing recent events in Congress

Description of the 9/11 terrorist attack by someone who witnessed or survived it

Book on national security since the 9/11 attack

Primary Source: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion

The largest compilations of primary source government documents relating to the U.S Civil War in the library are located in the following publications:


Many U.S. history primary sources can be located in OneSearch

Some examples are: diaries, letters, personal papers and journals, personal narratives, and autobiographies. 

Include these terms in your search, along with keywords in your topic. Another approach to finding primary sources is to type the word sources in addition to your topic keywords. 

Government Documents Collection

Other important primary sources will be found in the library’s Government Documents Collection. Many of the Federal documents are listed in OneSearch.

Secondary Sources

Books about the U.S. Civil War that are secondary sources can be found in the library catalog by searching the subject:

United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865

Call numbers - E History of America 

   E 456-655  Civil War period, 1861–1865

E 456-459..........Lincoln's administrations, 1861–April 15, 1865
E 461-655..........The Civil War, 1861–1865

E 482-489..........Confederate States of America
E 491-586..........Armies. Troops
E 591-600..........Naval history

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