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A Civil War Find


Nothing warms the heart of an archivist more than seeing the materials he or she has acquired, processed, and cared for used in exciting ways to advance the study of some person, event, or place.  So, I was enthusiastic a month ago when I got a call from a member of the staff of the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources asking for background on the diary and scrapbooks of Robert Knox Sneden.

Sneden, a Union Army mapmaker taken prisoner of war in 1863, produced a monumental set of original drawings and maps, along with a lengthy personal narrative, concerning not only his own experiences during the Civil War, but also the larger events of that conflict in general.  When the Virginia Historical Society acquired the scrapbook in 1993 and the multi-volume diary fours years later, through some very generous private funding, staff knew that a unique and extraordinary resource for the study of America’s great internal struggle had come to hand.

A good portion of the images in these volumes related to Sneden’s own captivity, including time spent in the infamous Andersonville Prison, as well as a lesser-known location, Camp Lawton (or as Sneden called it, Millen Prison), near the town of Millen.  Hence, the call from Georgia.

Recent excavations by a research team from Georgia Southern University, under the sponsorship of the Georgia Department of Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, had uncovered the remains of the camp, which had been in operation only briefly during 1864 before Union forces passed through the area.  Sneden’s images of the compound provided important information about its layout and design—including the infamous “deadline,” beyond which no prisoner was to venture on pain of being shot and killed.  The VHS was happy to provide copies of these colorful yet sober drawings—perhaps the only images of the camp interior to survive—to call attention to this long-forgotten but historically significant Civil War site.

E. Lee Shepard is Vice President for Collections at the Virginia Historical Society

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 08/19/2010 8:38 pm

    This past Winter I stumbled across Sneeden’s book of watercolors at the public library. It was just wonderful! Of course I found out all about VHS’s part in the whole thing and then read his diaries . What a great gift and glad others are benefiting from it as well.


    • 08/23/2010 5:16 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Mr. Hunter. We feel very fortunate to be able to share the great resource that is Robert K. Sneden’s diary and scrapbooks. If you see Bill Rasmussen’s newest blog above, you can get even more of a sense of what a terrific collection it is.


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