Class Preserves Civil War Letters

The Adventures in Digital History class digitized the personal letters and papers of Sgt. Jerome Peirce of the 36th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.

Thanks to a digital history class, the first-person story of an infantryman killed in the Fredericksburg area more than 150 years ago is finding new life. The Adventures in Digital History class, taught last spring by Professor of History Jeffrey McClurken ’94, digitized the personal letters and papers of Sgt. Jerome Peirce of the 36th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Now the archives are available not only to the public, but also to future researchers at peirceletters.umwhistory.org.

Peirce died on the battlefield in Spotsylvania Courthouse in May 1864 when a Confederate bullet entered his heart. His letters and papers illustrate how in 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln put out the call for volunteers, Peirce left his wife and 2-year-old daughter to enlist – along with 14 friends – in Orange, Massachusetts. He was among 107 men from the 36th Massachusetts who were killed. Peirce was first buried on the battlefield and later interred at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

Students Erin Andrewlevich ’20, Hunter Dykhuis ’21, Dennis Gill ’20, and Anna White ’22 made preservation-quality scans of the letters and created the website under the guidance of Professor McClurken, Digital Resource Librarian Angie White Kemp ’11, and Head of Special Collections and University Archives Carolyn Sydnor Parsons ’83. It includes transcriptions of the letters, as well as an interactive story map and timeline. On the website, the creators thanked National Park Service Museum Curator Luisa Dispenzirie ’12 for providing the collection and Josef Rokus of the Lake of the Woods Civil War Study Group for providing transcripts and other resources.

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