Digital-Lee Archived: An Interview with Colin Woodward

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2019 CWI Conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Colin Woodward, historian and editor of the Lee Family Digital Archive at Stratford Hall. He holds a Ph.D. in History and is the author of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army During the Civil War, which was published by the University of Virginia Press in 2014. He also maintains an active history and pop culture podcast entitled “Amerikan Rambler,” which is available at and on iTunes. Dr. Woodward is presently working a book called Country Boy: The Roots of Johnny Cash.

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Dr. Colin Woodward (image courtesy Stratford Hall)
CWI: Can you explain, in a nutshell, the editorial process involved in a project such as the Robert E. Lee paper project? Who are the various individuals involved in this project, and what are their (and your) specific responsibilities? What are the long term goals for the project?

WOODWARD: The editorial process involves the transcription, editing, and annotating of letters, newspaper clippings, legal papers, and other documents for upload onto our website, In three years, I have added more than 1,400 items to the website, which is free and open to the public. For most of that time, I have done all this work by myself, though in the summer I have help from interns from Gettysburg College, Simmons College, and elsewhere. The project was conceived with a broad scope, hoping to add letters and papers from all generations of the Lee family. To help manage the project, I have focused on the Civil War era, which means mostly concentrating on Robert E. Lee, his wife, and their children—three of whom fought in the Confederate army.

CWI: What challenges and opportunities has this editing project presented to you?

WOODWARD: One of the biggest challenges is the sheer volume of the project. The Lees left behind tens of thousands of documents. I could spend the rest of my life transcribing and editing all the papers of certain persons, whether it be Richard Henry Lee, Light Horse Harry Lee, or Robert E. Lee. The fact that the Lee papers are scattered is also a challenge. It seems that everybody wanted a piece of Robert E. Lee after the war. His papers live at various repositories across Virginia and the country. One of the daily challenges is reading handwriting from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I try not to miss a single word of any document, which can be difficult to do. Most of all, I worry about mistakes slipping through, whether because I couldn’t determine what a word or phrase is, or because I made an error between the transcription and uploading phase.

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Documents from the Lee Family Digital Archive at Stratford Hall (image courtesy Stratford Hall)
CWI: How has this editing project broadened or complicated your understanding of Robert E. Lee and his family? How might this project benefit or be put to use, not only by Stratford Hall, but also by other public history sites to help interpret Lee and his legacy in a richer light?

WOODWARD: My work on the LFDA certainly has complicated my understanding of the Lees. I knew quite a bit about Robert E. Lee before starting the project. A little bit about his father Light Horse Harry, too. None of Lee’s three sons died in battle. But Robert E. Lee lost a daughter to disease. His sister, who remained loyal to the Union, also died. The Lees, in many ways, lost everything. The Union seized Arlington, and the Lees never returned there. The Lees are an important and celebrated family, but also a tragic story and a cautionary tale. With this in mind, I hope people from various disciplines can find the LFDA useful. I’ve tried to include the voices of underrepresented groups, such as women. I wanted to feature documents that provide insight into military events as well as the home front, where people faced challenges with running their daily lives, mourning the dead, and coping with wartime shortages. It’s not just about battles and leaders!

The Yankee Plague: Lorien Foote Discusses Escaped Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Image courtesy of Texas A&M University.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. Lorien Foote.  Dr. Foote is a Professor of History at Texas A&M University, where she teaches classes in the Civil War and Reconstruction, war and society, and 19th-century American reform movements.  She is the author of The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Manhood, Honor, and Violence in the Union Army (NYU Press, 2010), which received honorable mention as finalist for the 2011 Lincoln Prize.  She is also the author of Seeking the One Great Remedy: Francis George Shaw and Nineteenth-Century Reform (Ohio University Press, 2003).  Dr. Foote is the creator and principal investigator of a project with the Center for Virtual History at the University of Georgia that is currently mapping the movement of 3000 Federal prisoners of war who escaped from the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Her most recent book, The Yankee Plague: Escaped Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy is forthcoming this October from UNC Press.

CWI:  Which instances of Union prisoner-of-war escapes will you be discussing in your talk?  Who was involved in these escape efforts, and what roles did they play?  What impact did these escapes have on southerners and the Confederate war effort?  What does a study of these escapes tell us about the soldier experience and/or the broader military, political, and cultural history of the war?

FOOTE: My talk will describe the mass escape of 2800 POWs from Confederate prisons in South Carolina between September 1864 and February 1865.  When Confederate officials tried to move prisoners to keep them out of the path of Sherman’s army, bureaucratic problems and chaos created conditions that allowed hundreds of prisoners to escape from trains and from the open fields where they were being held.  Once prisoners escaped, they sought the safety of Union lines on the South Carolina coast or in Knoxville, TN.  Some tried to find Sherman’s army.  These fugitives were aided by slaves and deserters, who provided them with food, guides, information, and shelter.  Slaves created organizations and military companies to help the escaped Yankees which accelerated the collapse of slavery in the state.  Confederate deserters often traveled to Knoxville with the escaped prisoners, and thousands of men traveled through the mountains in the winter. Loyal Confederates faced the threat of these vagrants on their own and refused to help defend their state against Sherman’s forces because they were trying to secure order in their farms and neighborhoods.  Before Sherman’s army invaded, South Carolina’s war effort had collapsed. Continue reading “The Yankee Plague: Lorien Foote Discusses Escaped Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy”

Preservation & Access in the Lee Family Digital Archive

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

By Caitlin Connelly ‘17

In her article “What Is the Meaning of Archives 2.0?,” Kate Theimer discusses the series of changes in beliefs about archival practices which she refers to collectively as “Archives 2.0.” The hallmarks of Archives 2.0 are increasing emphases on flexibility, openness, and collaboration that are meant to meet the needs of modern users, rather than those of users decades in the past. Theimer argues that technology – such as computers, specific software, and social media – has helped to facilitate these changes, but is not the cause of them. Modern archivists now tend to see more value in profession-wide standards of practice and in keeping records of their own work to aid other archivists, now or in the future, though they view their collections as no less unique than in the past. The shift from Archives 1.0 to Archives 2.0 can be characterized by the increasing use of technology to assist in archival work, such as recording and measuring, and in the effort to reach out to and work with users. Theimer describes Archives 1.0 like an opaque bubble where archivists worked isolated from each other and with the preservation of their collections as their sole concern, with a far lesser emphasis on researchers. Archives 2.0, on the other hand, is described as primarily user-centric, with archivists now more concerned with providing a service than just acting as guardians of the collections. The majority of the changes from Archives 1.0 to Archives 2.0 have come about because of this shift of focus. Continue reading “Preservation & Access in the Lee Family Digital Archive”

The Mysteries of History and the Digital Age

By Ryan Nadeau ’16

My time as a writer for the Gettysburg Compiler is at an end—as is my time at Gettysburg College itself. It’s during endings and moments of transitions such as this where people tend to reflect and ask themselves questions like “what did this all mean?” and “what was I trying to accomplish here?” I’m going to try and answer those questions. To do that, however, I need to start somewhere else.

Over a year ago, in one of my first blog posts, I wrote that I did not consider myself a “Civil Warrior,” or someone deeply passionate or involved in the study of Civil War history, a status which separated me from many other fellows at the institute then as it does now. That was not to say that I dislike the Civil War—quite the opposite, I do find it very interesting—but that my main historical interests lie elsewhere.

Now, at the end of my second year as a fellow and somewhere around twenty blog posts in, I would still make that claim, with the additional, somewhat prideful one that the work I have done here has been great work and good history. This reflection is not meant to inflate my own ego, however: I won’t be sitting back and discussing how wonderful I think my work is. Rather, I want to use my own lack of expertise to try and prove a point: that anyone can do good history.

Tyson Brothers. "Pennsylvania College (1862)." 1862. Special Collections/Musselman Library, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Confessing not to be a “Civil Warrior,” Ryan quickly set himself up as a historical sleuth, with the goal of exploring and understanding parts of history that interested him but were outside of his area of expertise. In the post referred to below, Ryan explored the “Mysteries of Penn Hall.”

Continue reading “The Mysteries of History and the Digital Age”

The Fragility of History: William H. Harris’ West Point 1861 Album

By Logan Tapscott ’14

Musselman Library’s Special Collections & College Archives  at Gettysburg College is a center for undergraduate student and faculty research and houses and maintains several types of primary source materials, including rare books, letters, diaries, maps, works of art, and photographs. Carolyn Sautter, the director of Special Collections, said, “one of the best ways of learning about historical eras is to actually see the images of the time period.” Special Collections provides researchers and visitors opportunities to visually engage with objects through either the exhibit cases in the Collection’s Reading Room or on the GettDigital website, a venue on which poeple can explore the Civil war by seeing peoples’ faces. Especially with fragile materials such as William H. Harris’ West Point 1861 Album, Special Collections’ online resource provides access to objects that would otherwise be inaccessable to students and faculty.

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Continue reading “The Fragility of History: William H. Harris’ West Point 1861 Album”