Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Confederacy


Peter Mills


History 336

September 25, 2008


Primary Source Reports


Richardson, James D. comp. Messages and Papers of the Confederacy.  Nashville: United States Publishing Company, 1904.


1) What is it? Describe its form and contents.


The compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Confederacy is a two volume work that contains the messages and papers created by the Confederate government during the Civil War.  The first volume, containing 643 pages, is broken up into ten sections, including the index.  Volume One details the documents, messages, and papers of the Confederate Provisional Congress, the Confederate First Congress, and the Confederate Second Congress.  The book breaks down each Congress into its numerous sessions, and includes the messages, proclamations, acts, and other government documents for the respective session.  Many of the documents in the first volume are the official papers of Jefferson Davis, but also included are descriptions of battles, opinions of politicians, and problems faced by the Confederate government.  Additionally, the first volume contains biographical sketches of Jefferson Davis (pg. 17), Alexander Stephens (pg. 173), and Robert E. Lee (pg. 437).

Volume Two totals 740 pages and breaks into nine chapters, including the index.  The second volume consists of the diplomatic correspondence the Confederacy engaged in from 1861-1865.  These correspondences are mostly between Confederate politicians in Europe and the acting Secretary of State.  The politicians in Europe describe their efforts to persuade European countries to aid the Confederacy in the correspondences, while the Secretary of State usually gives instructions or updates on battles and tactics of the war.  This volume also contains biographical sketches of Robert Toombs (pg. 141), Robert M.T. Hunter (pg. 381), and Judah P. Benjamin (pg. 607), who were the three Confederate Secretaries of State.    


2) When was it made? By whom? Why?


This book was made by James D. Richardson in 1905 after he received permission from Congress to compile the Confederate documents.  Some of the documents, such as the diplomatic correspondence, had never been read by the public, and Richardson hoped that, by bringing these documents to light, the Confederacy would not only be remembered, but people would be able to understand more about the Confederate government and the challenges, successes, and decisions it experienced during its brief existence. 


3) Who appears in it?


Numerous politicians, soldiers and civilians are mentioned in these two works.  Individuals from both the North and the South are mentioned; however, Southern politicians provide most of the documents for each work.  In the first volume, Jefferson Davis provides the bulk of the letters and official papers.  Other politicians, such as Alexander Stephens, and soldiers, such as Robert E. Lee, appear in the first volume. 

            The second volume consists of biographical sketches of the three Secretaries of State, Robert Toombs (pg. 141), Robert M.T. Hunter (pg. 381) and Judah P. Benjamin (pg. 607).  Additionally, this work involves the interaction between these Secretaries of State and Southern politicians and gentlemen overseas.  The work contains letters from  Dudley Mann, who worked in Brussels, and former United States Senators James M. Mason and John Slidell who spent time in London and Paris, respectively.  Appearing in this work are some of the letters to Southern diplomats from foreign diplomats such as Lord Russell from Great Britain.


4) How is it organized?


This work is organized into two volumes.  The first volume traces the Confederate Congress as well as the lives of Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens and Robert E. Lee.  The table of contents shows an entire section devoted to each Congress starting with the Provisional Congress, then proceeding to the First Congress and ending with the Second Congress.  The table of contents then divides each congress into the sessions it met and the specific topics covered during each session.  The biographical sketches break up the sections on the meetings of Congress.

The second volume has nine sections including an index.  Three more biographical sketches of Robert Toombs, Robert M.T. Hunter and Judah P. Benjamin exist in the second volume.  The following five sections are for the diplomatic correspondence that took place between the years of 1861-1865.  An entire section is devoted to one year of diplomatic correspondence.


5) How do you use it?  Does it have finding aids or supplemental material?


            These books are best used by their table of contents or index.  The table of contents is easy to follow and the index not only provides page numbers for specific terms and people, but offers a description of battles and surrenders.


6) How do you get access to it? Where is it physically located, and what strictures (if any) are put on it?


The two volumes are found on the second floor of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library at Bowdoin College.  Its call number is E487.C746 1904.  These books can be checked out of the library.


7) What kinds of questions can it answer?


This book is extremely valuable for anyone who is studying the Confederate government or the more prominent politicians such as Jefferson Davis, Robert Toombs, Robert M.T. Hunter and Judah P. Benjamin.  This source can help answer questions about the decisions, challenges, successes, opinions, sentiments, and issues faced by the Confederate government and how it dealt with these various topics.  The source can answer questions about how the Confederate Congress changed over the course of the Civil War and relationship between the army and the Congress.  Additionally, this source can provide some insight into the relationship between Northern and Southern politicians, particularly Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln.

            The second volume is especially helpful to any student researching the South and their attempts to receive aid from other countries.  The letters back and forth between southern gentlemen abroad and the Secretaries of State are rich with information on international relations and the perspectives, opinions and hopes that a European country would help the Confederacy.