150 years ago, the nation was immersed in the Civil War. Many letters and documents from that era have been locked away, difficult for most people to reach. A project underway at Michigan State University is changing that.In the basement of the MSU archives building, files are being opened that may not have seen the light of day for decades. The university is in the process of posting online thousands of letters and diaries from the Civil War.
"You'll be able to see the original letter scanned in and next to it you'll be able to see a transcription side by side, which was a unique feature we were trying to implement," said Ed Busch, MSU electronic records archivist, of the university archives and historical collections.
The graduate student who is doing much of the work is from Yorkshire, England. He finds American history fascinating."You're learning about various individuals carrying on relationships, maybe with lots of different people. You're learning how hard it was on the front line for a lot of soldiers," said Ben Dettmar.
MSU got the Michigan-centered documents from a museum and has been preparing them for a website since spring 2010. Many of the letters are faded or torn. Reading them can be difficult.
"They used words that we don't commonly use anymore. So between that word being unfamiliar and the handwriting, sometimes it's hard to decipher," Busch said.
"It's not easy. It strains the eyes. It really does," Dettmar added.
Sometimes there's sadness. A series of letters from Sgt. Able Peck to his family in Michigan ends abruptly because he died at the Battle of Gettysburg."You get to know this person. You get to know his life, everything he wants to do after the war and all of the sudden there are no more letters to read and it's very interesting. And is very sad as well," Dettmar said.
The Civil War website officially goes on line Oct. 8.