Columbia University Archives: Columbia and the Civil War

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Barnard College
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Columbia and the Civil War

How to find information about Columbia and the Civil War

Columbia and the Civil War

The following is a guide to the materials related to Columbia University (then Columbia College) and the Civil War available at the University Archives. There are official University documents, letters, articles, histories, recollections, etc. Some of these materials are available online but many are only available for in-person consultation at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. If you have any questions, please reach out to

University documents
  • To understand the University’s (then Columbia College) policies and positions, the best place to start is to consult the Minutes of the Board of Trustees. The Trustees were actively involved in all of the College’s day-to-day operations (In-person)
    • You can consult the minutes by looking at the volumes by date: for example, look for President Barnard’s resolutions on the death of President Abraham Lincoln, April 17, 1865 (two days after the assassination).
    • You can consult the indices to the minutes. The first set of cards covers the minutes from 1755 to 1890. For example, under “Lincoln, Abraham,” you will find that the Trustees voted to award the President an honorary degree (LLD) on May, 20, 1861. Or that the subject of “Civil War - Students, going to the army” can be found in Volume V, 427.
  • In addition to the Minutes, the University Archives also has the documents submitted for the trustee meetings and the administrative correspondence with the Trustee and other members of the administration. You can search the Columbia College papers for these documents by looking for individual names. (In-person)
    • The items in this collection are identified by letter writer, addressee and date, which means most of the contents and subject matter remain unidentified. For example, Professor Richard S. McCulloh, who occupied the Chair of Physics, went South to fight for the Confederacy. He notified the Trustees of his resignation via letter. You can find his resignation letter in this collection listed as “McCulloh, Richard Sears to the Trustees, Richmond, Va. 1863 September 25” in Box 32 (see image below) with no mention of the resignation or how he claimed to be “born and reared a Southerner.” (For more documents created during this timeframe and organized in the same manner, see the Columbia University manuscript collection.)
  • Hamilton Fish CC 1827 served as Chair of the Board of Trustees from 1859 to 1893. The Hamilton Fish letters serve as companion to the official College records. In these letters, Fish and his fellow correspondents (fellow trustees, College presidents, faculty members, etc.) speak candidly about current events and the college matters. If the Trustee minutes are the official record, the Hamilton Fish letters provide the side-conversations and unfiltered commentary. (In-person)
  • Before there were yearbook, Columbia College students would collect photocards of their classmates and professors and put together  a Class Album: the photos (in order of the commencement procession) are the same, but the albums vary in size and shape. You can find albums from the Civil War era classes in the Class Photograph Albums Collection, 1856-1902. The Class of 1862 album includes photos of John Fulton Berian Mitchell in his uniform. The Class of 1862 album in Box 4 includes Civil War photographs in the last few pages of the book. (In-person)
  • In 1898, as the students were again being called to serve in the Spanish-American War, the College published a pamphlet, War Records, listing the graduates and students of Columbia who served in the army and navy during the Civil War. The volume contains 395 names, starting from the Class of 1824 to 1880. (Online).
  • In addition to the students and graduates, many Columbia faculty members also served in the war such as John W. Burgess, Francis Lieber, John Strong Newberry and Francis Laurens Vinton. To find information about the faculty members who served, start with the Historical Biographical Files. (In-person)
  • In 1917, the Columbia Alumni News invited alumni prior to 1870 to send in for publication any information about Columbia in the (Eighteen) Sixties.  The collected letters were published as part of Columbia in the Civil War: Reminiscences and Historical Details Recalled, Columbia Alumni News, 9 November 1917, Volume IX, pages 155-160. (Online).
Contemporary accounts
University histories
  • A history of Columbia University, 1754-1904 was published in commemoration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of King's College (New York: The Columbia University Press, The Macmillan Company, agents; London, Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1904.) and includes this section on the Civil War. (Online)
  • Former Columbiana curator Robert Arrowsmith wrote Columbia of yesterday 1754-1897 in 1926 with this section on the Civil War. (Online)
  • For the 200th anniversary (1954), history professor Dwight Miner was working on a history of the University, which was never completed. His unpublished drafts and research files can be found in the Dwight D. Miner papers on the history of Columbia University, 1938-1978. Box 31 contains a draft of the Chapter 7: The Civil War. His sources and notes for this chapter, including references to the Trustee minutes, the Strong diaries and the Columbia College papers, can be found in Box 10 of this collection and his note cards on "Columbia and the outbreak of the Civil War" can be found in Box 39. (In-person)
Additional materials
  • Student course work and lecture notes can offer insight into the College’s curriculum, both during the Civil War years but also later as the events were re-considered by the next generation. For example, John Purroy Mitchel, Class of 1899, took careful notes on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and its influence during his English classes. To find other students’ notes and papers, see the Recollections and Class Works tabs in the Student Life research guide.
  • General Charles King was the grandson of former Columbia College President Charles King (1849-1864) and briefly a student at the College. In 1904, he published a novel A Knight of Columbia: A Story of the War, which tells the adventures of a member of the Class of 1861 in the War of the Rebellion. He also wrote “Columbia at the Outbreak of the Civil War” for the Columbia University Quarterly, March 1908.
  • Gouverneur Templeton Fish’s “The College and the Civil War” (Columbia College Today, Fall 1961, 22-25) offers a careful look at the life of the College in 1861 and discusses the College’s reaction to the war, from the initial enthusiasm to the later distance.
  • The Roll of Honor website, launched in 2008, lists Columbians who died while serving their country. There is a list of alumni who perished during the Civil War, with their names, school, class year and their dates of death. Additional information about the alumni, including photographs, can be found in the individual pages.

About the image

Former Hamilton Hall in the 49th Street Columbia College campus. (Scan #0138). Historical Photograph CollectionUniversity Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.