One visitor brought in a bugle that an ancestor was blowing when he was fatally shot at the Battle of Gettysburg.
"He wouldn't let anyone touch it," said John Seitter, project manager of the Pennsylvania Civil War project. "It shows you how deeply these artifacts connect people with the Civil War. There's some serious memorialization going on here."
The George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center at Penn State University is also amid a survey of all the public archives in the state to produce a searchable database.
The ambitious project aims to shed light on small, underfunded public historical societies where records are often "hidden from historians and scholars" and not used, Matt Isham of the "The People's Contest: A Civil War Era Digital Archiving Project" wrote in an email.
Some people are even donating items unsolicited.
In Maine, for instance, some residents have submitted letters from ancestors who served in the war, but the sesquicentennial also saw an unusual submission from James R. Hosmer.
Hosmer's mother, Mary Ruth Hosmer, died in 2005. He was going through her possessions in Kittery, Maine, when he made a discovery: dozens of carte de viste, small photographs carried by some Union troops, an early version of dog tags. They were stored in a suitcase in an attic.
"The state archives was quite thrilled with it," Hosmer said.
The Virginia archivists said they were especially pleased by a submission from the family of an escaped slave who wrote of his love for a woman named Julia at the same time he fled his master for an outpost on the Chesapeake Bay, where Union ships were known to pick up men seeking their freedom. David Harris found his freedom in 1861, serving as a cook for Union troops.
"I love to read the sweet letters that come from you, dear love," David Harris wrote to Julia. "I cannot eat for thought of you."
A valentine made of pink paper and shaped into a heart using an intricate basket weave was addressed by Confederate soldier Robert H. King to his wife Louiza. He was killed in 1862.
As for the diary tucked in a soldier's breast pocket that shielded him from death at Gettysburg, "He kept using the diary," Savits said. "He just wrote around it."
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