Thursday, September 24, 2009

Large group of Civil War letters now online

Archives of Michigan Offers Digitized Ewing Collection of Civil War Letters

The following announcement was written by the Archives of Michigan:

Lansing – The Archives of Michigan today helped put history into the hands and on the computer screens of Michigan and Civil War enthusiasts everywhere. Today marked the launch of the digitized collection of Mack and Nan Ewing Civil War Letters, available on the Seeking Michigan Web site, The collection – believed to be the largest set of Civil War letters ever given to a state archives – was donated by Grand Haven resident Dr. Wallace K. Ewing, the great-grandson of Mack and Nan Ewing.

“We have truly extended the walls of the Archives of Michigan with this project, allowing researchers from around the world keyword access to the text of the letters as well as full-color images of the letters and their accompanying envelopes,” said State Archivist Mark Harvey. “Dr. Ewing’s generosity cannot be overstated. He, along with the remarkable support of the Talbert and Leota Abrams Foundation and the staff of, has made this digitized collection a reality.” Harvey added that the digitization of the Ewing materials is “a huge step” toward the Archives of Michigan’s goal of being the first state archives to offer its entire Civil War collection online.

According to Dr. Ewing, the collection includes letters penned by his Ewing ancestors and their friends and covers a roughly nine-year period from 1856 to 1865, though the bulk of the letters were written in 1864 and 1865. The collection has been passed down through the generations for some 150 years and includes 291 well-preserved letters, nearly all of which have matching envelopes with canceled stamps.

The majority of the letters were written by Mack Ewing, who (in 1864-65) was serving with the Army of the Potomac in Virginia and recuperating from a bullet wound to the head, and Nan Ewing, who initially stayed on the home front in Michigan but later returned to her parents’ Ohio home. Dr. Ewing said that the letters “offer vivid and detailed descriptions of life in the trench and at home.”

Dr. Ewing thought carefully about the decision to donate the prized collection of his family’s history to the Archives of Michigan. After meeting with State Archivist Harvey and feeling convinced of the agency’s commitment to not only properly preserve but also freely share the historic letters with the public, Dr. Ewing took the last critical step. He met with Professor James McPherson of Princeton University – a Pulitzer-Prize-winning author and nationally renowned Civil War authority – who fervently agreed that this collection of letters were valuable archival material that ought to be safeguarded.

“The letters had been in the family for nearly 150 years, and it became increasingly important to permanently store them in a protected environment where they could be easily accessible to professional researchers and readers interested in understanding everyday details of life before and during the Civil War,” explained Dr. Ewing. “Most important, I – and anyone who has access to the Internet – can go to the Archives of Michigan Web site and view the letters as they were written several lifetimes ago.”

The Mack and Nan Ewing Civil War Letters are a huge boost to the already popular and evolving Web site. Originally introduced in March this year, was touted as a growing collection of unique historical information that – through digitized source documents, maps, films, images, oral histories and artifacts – creatively tells the stories of Michigan’s families, homes, businesses, communities and landscapes. With this comprehensive Civil War collection, has introduced a truly unique chapter.

Since its March 2009 launch, has had 213,008 visits from 98 countries/territories; 735,044 page views; and a site average of 3.45 pages per visit. In fact, interest in was so high the first day that by midnight the site saw an increase in traffic of 2,600 percent, overwhelming the capacity of its servers.

Seeking Michigan’s first major project was the digitization of roughly 1 million death records covering the years 1897 through 1920. These records – never before available electronically – are indexed for easy searching by name, death date, location and age, and hold tremendous research opportunities for genealogists, historians and students.

Whether they are interested in Civil War records, photographs, architecture, music, photography or family history, Michigan enthusiasts are sure to discover a brand new side to Michigan through this unique online resource, a longtime collaboration between the Archives of Michigan and the Library of Michigan. Site design and digitization of resources were funded through various grants.

With plans in place to add much more material, currently includes:

More than 100,000 pages of Civil War documents;
Approximately 10,000 photographs;
A variety of Michigan sheet music;
Roughly 1 million death records;
A rich section about Michigan’s 44 past governors;
Works Progress Administration data (circa 1936-1942) about land and buildings throughout rural Michigan; and
Oral histories with notable Michigan residents.
Seeking Michigan was made possible with generous funding from the Talbert and Leota Abrams Foundation, a Lansing-based nonprofit that primarily focuses on funding library and educational science programs. Since the mid-1980s, the Abrams Foundation has provided more than $2.5 million toward the development of the Library of Michigan’s and Archives of Michigan’s genealogy collections, including the digitization of the death records so crucial to family historians’ research efforts. The National Historic Publications and Records Commission provided additional funding.

The Archives of Michigan ( is part of the Michigan Historical Center, a state agency that is also supported by the Michigan History Foundation. The Michigan Historical Center and the Library of Michigan are agencies within the Department of History, Arts and Libraries (HAL). Dedicated to enriching quality of life and strengthening the economy by providing access to information, preserving and promoting Michigan’s heritage and fostering cultural creativity, HAL also includes the Mackinac Island State Park Commission and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. To learn more, visit

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