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Civil War Resources in the Special Collections Research Center

The Special Collections Research Center has extensive holdings of manuscripts and rare books dealing with the American Civil War. This guide describes the bulk of those holdings, although it is not a comprehensive list.

Access Tools

Special Collections Research Center Access Tools: There are a variety of tools available to guide you in finding materials in the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC). Don't forget that you also may come into the SCRC in person and consult with the staff member on duty for guidance.

William & Mary during the Civil War

The College was closed May 1861 through the Fall of 1865 because of the Civil War. The Battle of Williamsburg was May 5, 1862. The Union Army occupied the city for the remainder of the Civil War and the Wren Building was used as a hospital during the Union occupation of the area.

The outbreak of the Civil War found Williamsburg with a population of 1600 citizens. Some sixty young men attended the College of William and Mary. Benjamin S. Ewell, president of the College, and a West Point graduate, was elected captain of the College militia when war fever swept the campus in January 1861. But Ewell, a Unionist, forbade the students from flying a Confederate flag over the Wren Building. After Virginia seceded, Ewell offered his services on 23 April to the Commonwealth and Robert E. Lee appointed him major of volunteers.

Many students left school to enlist at home so the faculty voted to close the College on 10 May 1861. The town soon became crowded with Confederate troops defending the Peninsula who used college buildings as hospitals. The Battle of Williamsburg was a rear guard action fought in rain and mud on 5 May 1862. The fight was a tactical draw, and the Confederates continued their retreat toward Richmond. Williamsburg was occupied by Federal troops for the remainder of the war.

See the Civil War page in the SCRC Wiki for updated information.

Published Sources

  • Godson, Susan H. et al. The College of William and Mary: a History. 2 vols. Williamsburg: King and Queen Press, 1993. Swem Stacks and Archives LD 6051 W52 C65 1993
  • Kale, Wilford. Hark Upon the Gale: an Illustrated History of the College of William and Mary. Norfolk: Donning Co., 1985, 2007. Swem Stacks and Archives LD 6051 W52 K35 1985
  • Chapman, Anne W. Benjamin Stoddert Ewell: A Biography. PhD Dissertation, College of William and Mary, 1984. Swem Stacks and Archives LD 6051 W5m Hist 1984 C33
  • Kettenburg, Carol Ann. The Battle of Williamsburg. M.A. Thesis, College of William and Mary, 1980. Swem Stacks and Archives LD 6051 W5m Hist 1980 K47
  • Heuvel, Sean Michael. The old college goes to war : the Civil War experiences of William and Mary students, faculty, and alumni. M.A. Thesis, University of Richmond, Swem Stacks and Archives LD6051 .W52 H48 2006
  • Appeal of the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Worcester: Printed by Tyler & Seagrave, [1875?] Archives LD 6501 W493 C575
  • College of William and Mary. A Memorial of the College of William and Mary to the Legislature of Virginia. . . . Richmond: Enquirer Steam Presses, 1870. Archives LD 6051 W493 C6
  • Ewell, Benjamin Stoddert. Remarks of Prof. Benjamin S. Ewell, . . . before the Committee of Education and Labor . . . January 24, 1872. . . for relief on account of destruction . . . during the rebellion. [Washington? 1872?] Archives LD 6051 W493E78
  • _____. Letter to Hon. L.W.Perce, M.D. [1872?] Archives LD 6051 W493E75
  • _____. Remarks . . . before Committee of Education and Labor. . . . [Washington? 1874] Archives LD 6051 W493E8
  • _____. Remarks . . . before Committee of Education and Labor . . . . [Washington? 1876?] Archives LD 6051 W493E82
  • Hawley, John Baldwin. Speech of Hon. John B. Hawley, of Illinois, in the House of Representatives, February 24, 1872. Washington: Congressional Globe Office, 1872. Archives LD 6051 W493H3
  • Loring, George Bailey. Speech of Hon. George B. Loring, of Massachusetts, in the House of Representatives, April 12, 1878. Washington: 1878. Archives LD 6051 W493L6
  • Stone, William Joel. College of William and Mary, Virginia: Report, Mr. Stone. [189?] Archives LD 6051 W493S8
  • History of the College in House Report #12, 45th Congress, 2nd Session, December 5, 1877. In the University Archives Subject File Collection, Special Collections Research Center under "History of the College--Reconstruction."

University Archives Collections


  • Benjamin Stoddert Ewell Papers, Archives Acc. 1980.130. Includes deposition of William Reynolds; telegram, 10 October 1862, inquiring whether Ewell can be allowed through Union lines to inspect the College as well as letters from U.S. Grant, George Meade, O.O. Howard, Ambrose Burnside, William T. Sherman and George B. McClellan supporting efforts to rebuild the College. See also Benjamin S. Ewell in the Manuscripts and Rare Books Department.
  • Faculty Minutes, especially 10 May 1861 and 5 July 1865. Ewell's report to the Board of Visitors on the conditions of the College was made 5 July 1865. It contains details of the various uses of college buildings by Union troops, subsequent damage, estimates of losses in property, the financial status of the College and the situation of the faculty.
  • Pen and ink drawing of Fort Magruder and the College during the Battle of Williamsburg. Archives Acc. 1992.6
  • Color engraving of Wren Building in use as a hospital in Subject File under Buildings and Grounds--Wren Building
  • Faculty/Alumni file of Alexander Tinsley includes orders and amnesty oath.
  • Faculty/Alumni File of Edmund Ruffin, alumnus and member of the Board of Visitors.
  • Faculty/Alumni File of Richard Alsop Wise contains letter, 9 January 1861, concerning the College on the eve of the war.
  • Faculty/Alumni File of Edward S. Joynes contains letter, 5 November 1863..
  • College Papers, Folder 283, item 3, is a list of stocks and bonds owned by the College during the Civil War.
  • Photographs of Thomas J. Stubbs (Photograph File P1980.75) and Dr. Alexander Tinsley (Photograph File P1979.769 and 769a). Tinsley's photograph was taken after Battle of Antietam.