The Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University is home to a famous collection of over 250 confederate broadsides, popular poetry from the American Civil War era, nearly all of which were digitized in 1995. The legacy metadata for these materials has now been carefully revised so that the collection is easier to explore than ever before. It was fitting that we revisited this collection in 2015 which marks the sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, of the end of the American Civil War. Also it is the 20th anniversary of one our earliest digital collections.
A Brief History
Much of our popular literature about the Civil War are screenplays and novels published several decades after the war’s end, like Margaret Mitchell’s bestseller Gone With the Wind. The Confederate Broadsides collection at the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University opens a larger literary window for the study of the Confederate States of America with original popular poetry straight from the Civil War period.
Broadsides were often satirical works told in rhyme, song, and verses, sometimes printed with all kinds of symbolic imagery. The broadsides in this collection were written by and for Confederate sympathizers and a Southern audience. Southern war victories and heroes are celebrated. Abraham Lincoln (The Devil’s Visit to Old Abe) members of and his administration, their policies and Union generals like George B. McClellan (The Bold Engineer) are objects of ridicule. Jefferson Davis (Hurrah for Jeff. Davis) and other Confederate leaders and their battles are celebrated. A few are critical of Lincoln’s policies on slavery, and there is even one broadside which features a woodcut image similar to those used on runaway slave advertisements.
Some of the titles are funny when read aloud like I am sick don’t draft me: I have got a doctor’s certificate. Others are unintentionally funny when meanings of words are lost or have changed, like Them Saucy Masked Batteries (a battery can be a fortified emplacement for guns). The broadsides are sometimes deeply religious as God is mentioned in a number of titles (God be our trust) and many of the broadsides are complete prayers (Prayer for the Southern Cause). There are also several about the state of Maryland as they were the publishing center of this literature. Many are set to long forgotten song tunes. The only tunes I recognized while working with this collection are “Dixie’s Land”, “Yankee Doodle” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” Melodies like “Bobbin’ Around” and “The Campbells Are Coming” sound like fun, but they may be lost to time.
Making This Resource Available
The Confederate Broadside collection came to Wake Forest University in two lots purchased in 1967 and 1976. For a time it was not widely known that ours was one of the largest in the country, for even a 1971 text claimed that Wake Forest possessed only seven broadsides. The definitive resource for this collection, Confederate Broadside Poems: A Descriptive Bibliography was written by Dr. William Moss, professor of English here at Wake Forest University (view in our catalog). According to his preface, the primary aim of the bibliography was to “make the Wake Forest Collection available to students of history and literature.” Dr. Moss knew that access to the broadsides could only continue “through the joint efforts of collectors, librarians, and bibliographers.” Going into the 21st century, availability on the Web has given the confederate broadsides more exposure than ever before.
The Broadsides were digitized by ZSR Library in 1995. In 2011, in recognition of the sesquicentennial of the beginning of the Civil War, ZSR contributed the digital collection to the Civil War in the American South, a collaborative digitization project led by the Association of Southeast Research Libraries (ASERL). Over time, ZSR exported and imported the Confederate Broadsides collection into different digital asset management systems, and along the way summaries in the description fields were shuffled slot-machine style so that the almost none of the descriptions matched the actual broadside.
Beginning in the fall of 2014 ZSR made efforts to correct these errors. I painstakingly compared each item to its original bibliographic record and made sure that the correct descriptive information was associated with each item in the digital collection. Today the complete digital collection is also available on the Digital Public Library of America. Now the broadsides are accurately described and more accessible and beneficial to researchers than ever before.