Oliver Otis Howard Papers

Oliver Otis Howard Papers Source Report                                                  Jack Dingess


The Howard papers are a large collection of letters, speeches, diary entries, telegraphs, official and unofficial records and pictures of one of Bowdoin’s most famous graduates, General Oliver Otis Howard. The vast majority of the collection is unbound, and exists inside folders that are arranged chronologically.


There is some discrepancy as to when the collection of Howard’s papers first began at Bowdoin College. Those in charge of the collection, however, agree that the first papers were given to the Bowdoin College Special Collections and Archives department in 1929. The bulk of the material appears to have been donated soon after by Howard’s son, for the purpose of preserving the important work and ideas of a very influential figure in the American Civil War and Reconstruction era.


The collection contains many letters to and from notable figures who communicated with Howard during his lifetime. These include Generals Grant, Sherman and Sickles, Andrew Carnegie, Frederick Douglas, Theodore Roosevelt, and William H. Taft, to name a few. The majority of the letters, however, are to and from people in charge of the Universities he helped to found (Lincoln Memorial University and Howard University) and his colleagues within the Freedmen’s Bureau. There is also a collection of correspondence from his two brothers, Charles H. Howard and Rowland B. Howard.


The collection is organized both chronologically and by subject. Each section has its own group of boxes, inside which there are many folders, mostly arranged by date, containing any correspondence during a specific time period or relating to a certain subject. Here is the breakdown of the sections:


Early Life: 1833 - May1861

Civil War: June 1861 – April 1865

Freedmen’s Bureau Period: May 1865- Spring 1874

Western Command Period: May 1874- Nov. 1888

Eastern Command Period: Dec. 18888- Nov. 1888

Retirement: Dec. 1894-1908

Correspondence: 1866- 1905

Collection Indices

Religious, Educational Work: 1857-1902

Financial records: 1855-1908

Personal records: 1840-1908

Diaries: 1847-1893

Images: 1900, 1904


To utilize this collection, you must go to the George C. Mitchell Special Collections and Archives Department on the third floor of Hawthorn and Longfellow Library, which is open Monday- Friday from 9am to 5pm. Once at the office, you can use the computers there to go on to the archives page of the Bowdoin College Library website, and find the Howard Papers. This will provide an overview of the papers, a call number for the collection (M91) and a break down of the box numbers within each section. After filling out the required paperwork to view documents within the Special Collection, an assistant will allow you to enter the reading room and bring out the requested box (note: only one box at a time). Researchers can NOT bring any bags into the reading room, and must only take notes with a pencil.


Howard’s right arm was severely wounded and amputated in 1863. He therefore had to learn to write with his left hand for the rest of his life. This made a few of his letters post-1863 very difficult to read in some places, but for the most part, they are intelligible.


The Howard Papers provide a wealth of primary documents relating to Civil War battlefields and the Freedmen’s Bureau. Howard played a key role at the battle of Gettysburg, during Sherman’s March to the Sea, and as a major figure in the Freedmen’s Bureau. He also wrote about his unique religious and racial views. The Papers can therefore be used to gain valuable insight into the mind of one of the most important figures in America’s Civil War.