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The National Archives Civil War
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Sensational Sources

Finding an original source

The National Archives

This website is full of original sources. Most of them come from the National Archives. The National Archives has almost 1000 years of documents stored on almost 100 miles of shelving. A guide who takes groups around the National Archives says that when you are in there you can smell the history on the shelves!

How do you get a source about the Civil War?

Many Civil War sources come from the National Archives’ collection of State Papers. When you want to look at the State Papers, the best place to start is the Calendar (or guide) of State Papers. These books list, in date order, the documents that are in the collection and give a summary of each.

A page from the Calendar of State Papers

Here is a page from the Calendar (guide). We’ve added some labels to show the kinds of information that historians can find here.

Calendar of State Papers, p. 395, September 29th, 1642

Another page from the Calendar of State Papers

Add your own labels to this page from the Calendar. Think about how historians might be able to make use of these sources.

Calendar of State Papers, p. 371, August 15th, 1642

A real State Paper

Page 371 of the Calendar (the guide which you just looked at above) listed a document dated August 15. When we went to look at the original in the State Papers, this is what we saw.

SP16.491.117; real state paper, August 15th, 1642

This document got damp and so has been damaged. Remember, it is over 350 years old. There is a hole so we can’t read the words in the middle of the document.