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Civil War

Annie Hayden to Thomas W. Hyde, autograph letter signed, Bath, Maine, January 8, 1865 [Thomas W. Hyde Papers]. - Hyde (Class of 1861), eventually founder of Bath Iron Works, raised a company for the 7th Maine Infantry during the Civil War and received a Medal of Honor for service at Antietam. Annie Hayden was betrothed to Hyde when she wrote this letter, which alludes to Hyde’s racial prejudices and takes him to task for his bigotry. The couple was married in 1866.

Annie Hayden to Thomas W. Hyde, autograph letter signed, Bath, Maine, January 8, 1865 [Thomas W. Hyde Papers].

“Drum Corps of 8th Maine Vol. Infantry, Taken at Richmond, August 1865” [McArthur Family Papers]. - Albumen photoprint showing a single black drummer boy in the last row of those assembled.

“Drum Corps of 8th Maine Vol. Infantry, Taken at Richmond, August 1865” [McArthur Family Papers].

“Fleeing from the Land of Bondage,” ill. by F.O.C. Darley. In: Mary Livermore’s My Story of the War (Hartford, Conn., 1896).

“Fleeing from the Land of Bondage,” ill. by F.O.C. Darley.  In:  Mary Livermore’s My Story of the War (Hartford, Conn., 1896). 

With more than 25% of Bowdoin College students and alumni then alive serving in the Union army during the Civil War, mostly as commissioned officers, and with a handful serving with the Confederacy, the College could boast the highest percentage of wartime participation of any northern college. The personal and family papers of many of these alumni have found their way to Bowdoin College, where they serve as valued historical resources documenting the Civil War and the African American experience during those years [for further information about Civil War resources at Bowdoin, see the department's Civil War Resources].
Many of these collections provide primary source materials for the African American experience during that conflict. Among those with notable content are:

  • Fessenden Collection. The Fessenden family, including Samuel Fessenden and his son William Pitt Fessenden (Class of 1823), were politically influential abolitionist—William Pitt served as Lincoln’s Treasury secretary. Letters among family members make frequent mention of abolitionism; William Pitt’s son, James Deering Fessenden (Class of 1852), was involved in organizing the first Union regiment of African American soldiers
  • Oliver Otis Howard Papers. Howard (Class of 1850), a career officer in the U.S. Army and recipient of the Medal of Honor, was also commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau during Reconstruction. His papers represent an extremely rich source of information on nineteenth-century African Americans
  • Charles Henry Howard Collection. Brother of Oliver Otis, Charles (Class of 1859), held command of the United States Colored Troop training camp at Beaufort, S.C. Letters he wrote during the Civil War make frequent mention of experiences that include African Americans, especially in Virginia and Tennessee
  • Biographical files for: John Van Surlay de Grasse (Med. Sch. 1849), one of the U.S. Army's eight African American surgeons, who attended the Medical College of Maine (administered by Bowdoin College) and served with the 35th United States Colored Troops; and, Henry Goddard Thomas (Class of 1852), a U.S.C.T. officer
  • McArthur Family Papers. The archive of this Limington, Maine, family documents experiences of brothers who stood on opposite sides during the Civil War. William McArthur (Bowdoin Class of 1853) served with the 8th Maine and rose to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General; brother Arthur (Bowdoin Class of 1850) settled in Louisiana and was killed in battle fighting for the South. Scattered references to African Americans appear throughout these papers.
George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives · Staff · Hours
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