About this collection


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To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (2011-2015), the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) is sending teams of archivists and conservators across the state of Tennessee to document and preserve Civil War-era materials. Thus far, the team has digitized thousands of original items that have rarely been viewed by the public.

Digital copies of these documents and artifacts, representing the rich Civil War heritage of Tennessee families, have now become part of a virtual exhibit commemorating the 150th anniversary of the war in Tennessee. TSLA staff continues to make visits to counties across the state, so please check back regularly in order to view new items.

The Looking Back collection encompasses an extraordinary and diverse range of original items that were in use during the Civil War. Wartime letters, diaries, and photographs are well represented as are uniforms, quilts, rifles, pistols, and artillery shells. Tennesseans have brought in objects as unusual as carved minie balls, surgical kits, musical instruments, a horse blanket, and a half-boot made for a wounded soldier. The documents are equally interesting, and range from beautiful letters from soldiers home to their wives, diaries, and hand-drawn maps to eye-catching finds, such as a military pass signed by President Lincoln and a letter signed by Jefferson Davis.

Many of these materials brought in by patrons during a Looking Back event have never been documented or studied by historians, largely because they have been kept in private hands. These newly discovered primary sources will help fill in gaps in the historical record and will be available to future researchers and students of the Civil War in Tennessee.

Microfilm-only collections

Some donors bring in large collections to be digitized for the Looking Back project. In some cases, TSLA opts to microfilm these materials rather than digitize them on-site because of time constraints. For a list of the collections that TSLA has microfilmed during the Looking Back project, please click here. In order to view the microfilm, a visit to TSLA is required. For visitor information for all TSLA patrons, please click here.

Online collections

The images in the online Looking Back collection constitute the vast majority of the items contributed to the project. All images are stored on our servers and can be retrieved by a staff member. In addition to the information about each object that was recorded during a digitization event, some items may also have supporting materials that can be viewed upon request. While donor information is kept confidential, all other data compiled on the digitized materials is available for the public.

Please note: some items are compound objects. This means that there are multiple images for the same item. On our website, these items will open to a view of the first page of the item with thumbnails and associated page numbers for subsequent pages listed on the right. To view other pages, click on the selected thumbnail or page number as desired. Remember that you can zoom in on all pages of a compound object by using the zoom toolbar, located directly above each image.


++ For information on ordering copies of the images found in the Looking Back collection, click here.