Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Books for Soldiers and Sailors in the Civil War

The sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War is being celebrated this year. The work of the American Library Association to provide books and magazines for soldiers and sailors during World War I was not the first effort to provide reading matter to our troops during wartime.  David Kaser in his book Books and Libraries in Camp and Battle: The Civil War Experience (Greenwood Press, 1984) makes that clear. By 1861 literacy and reading matter to feed that literacy were widespread in the United States. During the Civil War a variety of efforts were made to provide reading materials to those fighting in the war.  One of the more comprehensive of these occurred late in the war and was carried out by the United States Christian Commission. The Christian Commission provided 285 small libraries in wooden cases (see illustration above), totaling 32,125 volumes, that were distributed throughout the Union forces in hospitals, regiments, forts, and ships. An organized system for loaning the books in the libraries was developed. The Loan Library System of the Christian Commission is described in the Annals of the United States Christian Commission by Lemuel Moss, 1868, pages 717-724. I have a previous post about the Soldiers Free Library that was another effort to provide reading matter to Civil War soldiers.

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