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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Project gives Civil War items new life

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Jami Awalt, archivist for the Tennessee State Library and Archives, examines an original Civil War photograph brought in by a citizen to be preserved digitally for all to enjoy. State archivists will be coming to Bedford County in October to learn what items private collectors may have hidden away.
(T-G Photo by Brian Mosely) [Order this photo]
TULLAHOMA -- Every family has a history, and as Tennessee observes the 150th anniversary of the Civil War over the nest few years, state archivists want to take a peek at what you have.

A team of experts from the Tennessee State Library and Archives were busy at Tullahoma's city hall Thursday examining and digitizing rare artifacts that have been hidden away in the private collections of local residents.

The teams of professional archivists and conservators has been traveling across Tennessee to digitally copy rare Civil War era manuscripts, also giving the owner's tips on how to preserve their artifacts.

Archivists will visit Shelbyville the first week of October, though an exact date has yet to be announced.

Preserving past

Archivist Jami Awalt said the four-year project began last April, and will continue until 2015, and they hope to eventually reach every county in Tennessee in some way.

While museums preserve rare items from the past, the private possessions of citizens have produced long-lost hidden treasures, such as photos, documents, weapons, bullets, pieces of uniforms, quilts, "just about anything you can think of."

Many of the items the team are archiving are pieces of history that have been passed down through generations of local families, and the items are either photographed or scanned, while archivists gather information about the material, which will be presented online at their website at www.tn.gov/tsla/cwtn.

You can click on any thumbnail image on the site to get the full size of the item, whether it is a photograph or map, as well as whatever information is known about the artifact.

Awalt said while some will use the website for research, they are hoping it will be used in schools to teach children about the Civil War "and to have primary first documents for them to study."

Local help

One of the archivist helping to save this unknown history was Carol Roberts of Shelbyville, the director of preservation services for the state library.

"We come from all different sections (of Tennessee) to help with the project," Roberts said, explaining she has been helping at some of the stops with the scanning and photographic work, and also to help the owners of the items preserve what they have.

Roberts said she is "actually from Raus," considering Tullahoma as much as home as Shelbyville, and she's been enjoying getting to "come home," so to speak.


The project was just a pilot program when it began in April 2010 in Columbia, Awalt said, noting "we didn't know what we'd find."

"We knew that there were items out there, we knew there were different collections, but we didn't know how receptive the public would be," she explained. "We were overwhelmed."

This resulted in an increase in the archivist staff. They began with one scanner, but on Thursday, three people were managing workstations with large flatbed scanners.

"The response has been really, really tremendous," Awalt said. "We really stay busy."

All items pertaining to the Civil War are eligible for digitization, such as letters, diaries, swords and knifes, military passes and discharges, hand-drawn maps, sketches and uniforms.

All of the items must be original and owned by the person bringing them in for preservation.

The project is funded by the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, but is overall a project with the State Library and Archives.

Hidden history

On Thursday, one gentleman brought in documents and photos related to one Civil War veteran from Minnesota who was in command of African-American soldiers fighting for the Union in Mississippi.

"We have his special order papers from Grant, assigning him to a particular regiment, photographs of him and his wife, and other documents," Awalt said.

They also were scanning an original, full-sized muster roll for the volunteer black troops, while another man brought in a set of utensils that a solider would carry in the field, belt buckles, "just anything."

The Tullahoma stop was the archivist's 28th event and Awalt says that every visit reveals something new, "which makes it really exciting for us, and the museum curators, because it's things you wouldn't see outside a museum."

Another part of the project is to give back to the citizens who have preserved their little pieces of history, by providing assistance in conservation, preservation help and teach people how to properly care of the items, with tips on storage and display.


See submissions online at www.tn.gov/tsla.cwtn