Writing from a field near Pittsburgh, Lt. Samuel Hildreth Putnam explains to his father, Douglas Putnam Sr., that he is worried that a letter embargo might prevent him from sending money and signed checks to another family member.
The letter is dated May 1, 1862, and was written in the Field of Shiloh at Pittsburgh Landing.
With a handful of strokes on a keyboard, you can now read letters written by soldiers to their loved ones during the Civil War.
Recently, Marietta College completed a digitization project that was funded through a grant from the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, which was awarded by the State Library of Ohio. Dr. Douglas Anderson, Director of Legacy Library, says the project involves the William Rufus Putnam, Jr. Collection, the Samuel Hildreth Putnam Collection, the 53rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry regiment photograph album and the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry regiment photograph album.
“These collections are available through the OhioLink site,” Anderson says.
This summer, a contractor began the daunting task of scanning in thousands of items. “About 3,000 images (were) scanned in about three months,” Anderson says. “A high-resolution scanner was purchased specifically for this project so the images will be very good.”
A second contractor was also hired to index every item in the collection in order to make the artifacts searchable online.
“Marietta College’s digitization of several American Civil War collections provides an invaluable resource to scholars, including our own Marietta College students,” says Dr. Kathryn McDaniel, McCoy Associate Professor of History. “This year’s senior research seminar is studying the period 1850-1870, and this kind of access to primary source documents will be quite useful to them in completing original research projects. Because archival hours, during the normal business day, do not necessarily match the times students typically study, the ability of students to access these sources anywhere and at any time gives them the convenience to fully explore these rich and evocative documents on their own schedules.”
She adds that the indexes will allow students to easily search for these artifacts and increase her classes’ ability to use them as primary resources.
“The local connection to such major events in our nation’s history literally brings home to students the impact of these events on everyday people,” McDaniel says. “Students can hear the voices of the past more clearly because of their ready access to letters and personal accounts of local notables. This collection conveniently puts the primary-source records of past individuals within easy reach of both students and faculty.”
Anderson says the Col. William Rufus Putnam Collection—made up of more than 1,300 papers—contains two series of documents that pertain to the American Civil War, particularly the involvement from southeast Ohio. The Samuel Hildreth Putnam Collection consists of letters that depict Putnam’s life before, during and after the war. This collection will be of interest to historians whose focus is on American life during the 19th century, the American Civil War and southeast Ohio’s role in the war. Additionally, the project put two photograph collections depicting soldiers from the 53rd and the 91st OVI regiments online. The photographs, which are called cartes de visite images, are about the size of a baseball card and depict members from the military units, though some of soldiers are in civilian clothing.
“The result of this digitization project has opened up invaluable new research materials for Civil War scholars and researches like myself,” says Scott Britton, Past Commander of the Gen. B.D. Fearing Camp, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. “(Marietta College’s) new digitized photographs are a great cross-section of Union soldiers, from unknown privates to famous generals. This project allows you to zoom in on the photos to see the most minute detail, showing wonderful details of their uniforms, equipment and uniform decorations of various kinds.”