On February 2, 2018, seven first-year student volunteers traveled with CWI's Director, Peter Carmichael and Assistant Director, Ashley Whitehead Luskey to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. to conduct primary source research for CWI's new digital history project, "Killed at Gettysburg." Through focused research into individual soldiers’ experiences of war, "Killed at Gettysburg" addresses broader historical questions such as soldier motivation, Victorians’ evolving conceptions of death, 19th-century notions of manhood, bravery, and cowardice, familial relationships, and the shaping of historical memory through commemorative landscapes.
While at the Archives, the students read through the Compiled Military Service Records and Widow's Pensions of soldiers who fought and died at the Battle of Gettysburg, finding illuminating details about the soldiers' families, military careers, final footsteps at Gettysburg, and the reverberations felt on the home front from their deaths. The service records helped to provide the students with a more complete picture of their soldiers' wartime experiences, including their muster date and location, bouts with camp illnesses, military occupation, promotions and demotions, combat experience, prior woundings, and cause of death. These records also helped to humanize the soldiers with details about personal appearance, pre-war occupation, and age at muster date. Pension records provided additional details about the location and nature of each soldier's death in the words of comrades, officers, and/or surgeons; offered insights into the family of each soldier and both the emotional and financial struggles faced by widows, children, and parents following the death of their loved one; revealed the complexities and difficulties inherent in the pension process; and provided fascinating information about the soldiers' hometown communities and pre-war lives. During their visit, the students also learned about the history of the National Archives and Records Administration itself and received a basic tutorial in how to conduct original research in government records.
Students will combine their recent findings at the National Archives with previous primary source research into census records, newspapers, and letters, as well as contextual secondary reading, as they continue to craft the narrative profiles and StoryMaps for their soldiers. Their work will eventually be published on CWI's "Killed at Gettysburg" website. The website is now officially live, and currently features the profiles of twelve soldiers previously researched by Gettysburg College students from Carmichael's Civil War Era Studies class and the Civil War Institute's Student Fellows program.