Civil War in Virginia Published & Primary Sources

This page is intended as a guide to some of the basic published sources that can help researchers identify subjects of interest and possibly open avenues to deeper study.

War came to Virginia shortly after its leaders voted to secede from the United States on April 17, 1861. For the next four years the Old Dominion was the major battleground of the Civil War. Its geographical location, being so near Washington, D.C., and the fact that Virginia's capital city of Richmond also served as the southern capital, guaranteed that Union armies would try to end the war quickly by capturing the seat of the Confederate government. By the end of the war in April 1865, Virginia had hosted more than 2,000 military engagements, including twenty-six major battles. The presence of so many soldiers marching and fighting across the state also devastated the economy of the Old Dominion. Farms and towns suffered under the weight of occupying armies. The war also ended slavery forever. Thus Virginia, home to the largest population of slaves in the country, experienced a difficult transition.

Anyone conducting research on the Civil War in Virginia is faced with a daunting task. Thousands of books have been written about America's bloodiest war, and many of those focus entirely, or at least in part, on the war in Virginia. Almost every aspect of the state's wartime experience has been written about. Studies on the economic, military, social, and political effects of the Civil War fill the shelves of bookstores and libraries across the country. Biographies of major military and political leaders also account for a large portion of the Civil War library.

Primary Sources

For those interested in primary source materials, the VMHC has published the following guide to Civil War documents in its manuscripts collection:

  • Dozier, Graham T., comp., Virginia's Civil War: A Guide to Manuscripts at the Virginia Historical Society (1998)
    Browse the guide online

Other basic primary sources for research on military aspects of the war are listed below. These volumes include official correspondence, battle reports, orders, and memoranda written by those who took part in the events described. Also included are sources containing postwar writings by veterans of the conflict:

  • The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (128 volumes; 1880–1901)
    Available online (Making of America at Cornell University)

  • Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (31 volumes, 1894–1922)
    Available online (Making of America at Cornell University)

  • Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (100 volumes, 1994–2001)
    Correspondence, reports, and other materials that did not appear in the Army Official Records cited above.

  • R. U. Johnson and C. C. Buel, eds., Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (4 volumes, 1884–88)
    Though it does not contain official materials, this series of articles offers interesting eyewitness accounts of the war.

  • Confederate Veteran (40 volumes, 1893–1932)
    This collection of bound magazines contains a wealth of biographical and historical information, written from the Confederate perspective.

  • Southern Historical Society Papers (52 volumes, 1876–1959)
    The SHSP is a treasure trove of information on military events and individuals, written by former Confederates.

Reference Books

The following books represent a good place to start for those seeking general summaries of events during the war throughout the country and in Virginia specifically:

  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (1988)

  • Roland, Charles P., An American Iliad: The Story of the Civil War (1991)

  • Paul D. Escott, et al., Encyclopedia of the Confederacy (4 volumes; 1993)

  • Boatner, Mark M., III, The Civil War Dictionary (Revised edition, 1988)

  • Robertson, James I., Jr., Civil War Virginia: Battleground for a Nation (1991)

  • Salmon, John S., The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide (2001)


These sources provide basic summaries of the lives of Civil War military and political leaders:

  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders (1964)

  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders (1959)

  • Warner, Ezra J., Biographical Register of the Confederate Congress (1975)

  • Allardice, Bruce S., More Generals in Gray (1995)

  • Garraty, John A., and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography (24 volumes; 1999)

  • Sifakis, Stewart, Who Was Who in the Civil War (1988)

  • Wakelyn, Jon L., Biographical Dictionary of the Confederacy (1977)

  • Krick, Robert K., Lee's Colonels: A Biographical Register of the Field Officers of the Army of Northern Virginia (4th edition; 1992)

  • Krick, Robert E. L., Staff Officers in Gray: A Biographical Register of Staff Officers in the Army of Northern Virginia (2003)

Military Topics

For those conducting research on specific military topics in Virginia, there are a number of basic sources available. Also listed below are printed materials that will help locate names of individual soldiers and the military units in which they served:

  • Long, E. B., The Civil War Day By Day (1971)

  • Bowman, John Stewart, The Civil War Almanac (1983)

  • Hewett, Janet B., ed., The Roster of Confederate Soldiers, 1861–1865 (16 volumes; 1996)

  • Wallace, Lee A., Jr., A Guide to Virginia Military Organizations 1861–1865 (2nd ed., 1986)

  • Sifakis, Stewart, Compendium of the Confederate Armies: Virginia (1992)

  • The Virginia Regimental Histories Series (ongoing series of regimental histories published by H. E. Howard, Inc., Lynchburg, Va. Each volume includes a detailed roster of soldiers who served in that particular unit)

  • The Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders Series (ongoing series published by H. E. Howard, Inc., Lynchburg, Va., that centers on the battles, leaders, cities, and significant events associated with the history of the Civil War in Virginia)

  • Kennedy, Frances H., ed. The Civil War Battlefield Guide ([1990; 2nd ed., 1998] a good brief history of the many campaigns and battles of the Civil War; the significantly expanded 2nd edition includes descriptions of 384 battles of the war)

Homefront Studies

This brief list consists of selected studies that focus on the lives and experiences of men and women who inhabited the homefront in Virginia during the Civil War:

  • Gallagher, Gary W., The Confederate War (1997)

  • Sutherland, Daniel E., Seasons of War: The Ordeal of a Confederate Community, 1861–1865 (1995)

  • Greene, A. Wilson, Civil War Petersburg: Confederate City in the Crucible of War (2006)

  • Ayers, Edward, In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859–1863 (2003)

  • Faust, Drew Gilpin, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (1996)