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Wisconsin in the Civil War

About the Wisconsin in the Civil War collection

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Wisconsin Leaders from the Iron Brigade from 1861.

Wisconsin Leaders from the Iron Brigade, 1863

WHI 1993

The "Wisconsin in the Civil War" digital collection contains over 20,000 online pages from more than 100 books and manuscripts, and over 1,000 maps and images.

It provides ready access to dozens of diaries, regimental histories and book-length memoirs, thousands of soldiers' letters, hundreds of newspaper articles, and more than 1,000 photographs, maps and other images.

The collection goes beyond basic facts about Wisconsin military units. It offers personal, in-depth, and moving portraits of Wisconsin soldiers in war. The letters, memoirs and diaries are by the famous and the unknown, but all are from Wisconsin.

There is content for everyone from schoolchildren learning about the war to university faculty who have studied it all their lives. Specific features help local historians discover soldiers from their own town, genealogists find information about ancestors, and re-enactors see the precise details of daily life in Wisconsin regiments.

"Wisconsin in the Civil War" was launched in April 2011 to mark the Civil War's sesquicentennial (150th anniversary). New documents will be added every week throughout 2011.

How is it organized?

The "Wisconsin in the Civil War" online collection is organized into five sections: Stories, People, Places, Regiments and Battles. Each provides mediated content with capabilities for users to search or browse original documents via our CONTENTdm database.


More than 1,000 photographs and other images depicting Wisconsin's participation in the Civil War are used in the digital collection. Thousands of other Civil War images not specifically related to Wisconsin's participation are available through Wisconsin Historical Images.


More than 200 battle maps reproduced from Matthew Forney Steele's, "American Campaigns," vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: War Dept., 1909) are included in the online collection, along with many maps or diagrams of specific events from memoirs and regimental histories.

Magazine articles

Primary sources first appearing in the Wisconsin Magazine of History have been included in the online collection.

Newspaper clippings

From 1860-1940, Wisconsin Historical Society staff clipped noteworthy Civil War articles from local newspapers statewide, and then pasted them into scrapbooks. Articles from eight of those scrapbooks are reproduced in the online collection as well as selected articles from three others. They total more than 2,500 online pages. The clippings range from 1861 to the 1930s.

Regimental histories

Most regiments compiled semi-official histories of their experiences. Some were mere pamphlets and others ran hundreds of pages. We have included about 60 books and pamphlets and 44 chapter-length histories from E.B. Quiner's "Military History of Wisconsin" (Chicago, 1866).

Soldiers' diaries

In 1861, the Wisconsin Historical Society encouraged departing soldiers to keep diaries and then donate them after the war. The online collection includes about 40 of the best diaries (those with the most detailed entries or by well-known figures). They total nearly 2,000 handwritten pages. In general, there are no typescripts for these. Each page has been manually indexed. Many other diaries printed in magazines or newspapers, or published as books, are also included.

Soldiers' letters

Roughly 10,000 letters sent home from the front are included in the E.B. Quiner Scrapbooks. They originally appeared in hometown newspapers and are easy for non-specialists to read. In addition to the Quiner Scrapbooks, original manuscript letters and correspondence published in books and magazines are also included. For more information on Quiner, see Quiner's biography on the People page.

Veterans' memoirs

Veterans' eyewitness accounts began to appear during the Civil War and continued in an unbroken stream for six decades. The collection includes about 50 personal narratives of the war.

Research tools

Hundreds of Civil War terms have been added to the online Dictionary of Wisconsin History to explain the jargon used in original sources, nicknames of Wisconsin units, and similar terms.

Technical information

Capture and Conversion: Most documents were originally scanned as 300dpi color TIFF files. Some were scanned bitonal or gray scale, including thousands of pages digitized from microfilm. The master TIFFs were converted to JPG (JPG2000 for maps) and PDF formats using CONTENTdm, which also provides OCR in the background. The resulting electronic text has not been corrected. Traditional books and articles yielded quite accurate OCR; newspaper clippings such as the Quiner Scrapbooks converted at no more than 50 percent accuracy; handwritten diaries generally have no corresponding electronic text.

Indexing and Metadata: Every original document was examined by staff and tagged according to the fields shown on the Search page. Tags were only applied to passages at least a full paragraph in length. Every indexed passage was tagged with regiment, date, state, and place if possible. A controlled list of battles was employed that emphasized Wisconsin's participation in the war. A subject thesaurus of about 200 terms was compiled using modern secondary sources on the Civil War and indexes to histories of Wisconsin. Personal names were tagged using E.B. Quiner's manuscript index of 35,000 names in his 10 scrapbooks. This was expanded as necessary for other sources. Names generally correspond to the form found in the original source. Multiple forms for the same person were resolved using the "Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers."

Web Presentation: Nearly all the digital files are displayed in CONTENTdm. The user interface in front of CONTENTdm was designed with the varying needs and skills of several audiences in mind. The research behaviors of scholars, local historians, novice researchers, educators, genealogists, school children, and casual visitors were all carefully considered when designing the interface.

Work plan: Initial selection of materials began in August 2009 with the goal of finishing the collection in time for the Civil War Sesquicentennial beginning in April 2011. Evaluation of original sources was followed by more than a year of audience interviews, collection design, scanning, tagging, and experimentation. Creating "This Day in Wisconsin Civil War History" and the table linking Wisconsin towns to the regiments in which their residents served each took 10-12 weeks of half-time labor. Four months were required to research, write, and edit the biographies, battle summaries, stories, and regimental histories created for the user interface. A prototype site bringing all these elements together emerged in March 2011, after 18 months of work. Five WHS professional staff and 19 part-time students, interns, and volunteers worked on the project, August 2009-April 2011.

Comments and Suggestions

None of us is as smart as all of us. If you have suggestions, find errors or notice omissions, email us. We can usually reply the same day.

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