Preserving Documents From The Civil War

Preserving Documents From The Civil War

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War's first major battle -- which took place in Manassas, Virginia. Several events in Commonwealth are commemorating the anniversary. But Archivists from the Library of Virginia are working on a project to preserve Civil War artifacts for many years to come.

They're scanning and digitizing thousands of documents -- letters, diaries and photos. 150-year-old documents -- especially the ones that might have traveled for miles in the pocket of a Civil War soldier -- can be kind of tough to read.

"Okay, this was written may 19, 1865, from headquarters, army of the... Shenandoah maybe?," says Chuck Westrater. The military order that holds in his hands is yellow, faded but pressed, delicate cursive scrawled across the thin paper. "Three horses to Martinsburg, Va and return on business for the department, and it's signed by the commander of, and his name which I can't read."

This document once belonged to Chuck Westrater's great-grandfather, William Westrater. He was born in Rotterdam, Holland but immigrated to America as a child. He lived with his family in Michigan until the Civil War broke out. The 22-year-old enlisted in the Union Calvary and went off to war.

"He did not return. Married a lady here in Virginia and spent the rest of his life there as a railroad conductor," says Westrater.

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