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John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection

Identifier: MSS 16459

Scope and Contents

The John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection (1806-1988, bulk 1861-1865; 133 cubic feet) contains Civil War-era correspondence, service records, pension records, artifacts, photographs, military records (including orders, requisitions, and correspondence), currency, newspapers, and other print materials.

The collection primarily contains the correspondence, records, and photographs of white soldiers and officers who fought in the Civil War, including white officers serving in the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Additionally, the collection includes some correspondence and portraits of white women as well as a small number of portraits of Black soldiers (including PT0322, a family portrait, and a young Ben Brown, PC0836.0001) and Native American soldiers (including Frederick L. Rainbow, PT0424.0001).


  • Creation: 1806-1988
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1861 - 1865

Language of Materials

The John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection is predominantly in English. A small number of materials are in Spanish, French, Swedish, and German, and this is indicated at the file level.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.


133 Cubic Feet (255 boxes; 9 framed items)


The John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection (1806-1988; bulk 1861-1865; 133 cubic feet) has been arranged into five series, Series 1: Materials Related to the Civil War Experiences of Soldiers, Officers, and Civilians (1806-1988; approx. 83 cubic feet); Series 2: Photographs and Prints (circa 1848-1939; approx. 34 cubic feet); Series 3: Government Military Records (1855-1913; approx. 9 cubic feet); Series 4: Currency (1839-1875; approx. 1.5 cubic feet); and Series 5: Newspapers and Print Materials (1846-1913; approx. 5.25 cubic feet).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection was acquired and donated by John L. Nau III. It was accessioned by the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library on September 3, 2019 (2019-0149) and in an additional accession in October 2019 (2019-0231).

Condition Description


Content Warning

The John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection contains offensive or harmful language and imagery. This includes—but is not limited to—correspondence and diary entries that express racist views; photographs of enslaved people forced into inhumane conditions by enslavers; descriptions of violence and battle experiences; photographs of deceased soldiers; and correspondence containing explicit descriptions of sex. The purpose of this note is to give users the opportunity to decide whether they need or want to view these materials, or at least, to mentally or emotionally prepare themselves to view the materials.

Alphanumeric Designations

The donor’s accession numbering system has been preserved to maintain access to collection metadata or descriptive information. Each file title in this finding aid includes the donor accession number at the end of the title and each corresponding physical folder or item is also labeled with the donor accession number.

Donor accession numbers are comprised of letters denoting document or photograph format followed by a four-digit number that denotes the number of the accession. The following examples can be found in the collection: DA0001 (meaning document - autograph), DC0001.001 (document - currency), DL0001 (document - letter), DN0003 (document - newspaper), DOR0001 (document - order), DOT0001 (document - other), DR0002 (document - requisition), PA0184 (photograph - ambrotype), PC0200 (photograph - carte de visite), PD0007 (photograph - daguerreotype), POT0012 (photograph - other), and PT0003 (photograph - tintype).

These donor accession numbers can be used to search the donation listing spreadsheet for corresponding metadata. This spreadsheet is available to download directly from the finding aid below, under External Documents.

Important Information about External Documents

About External Document MSS 16459 John L. Nau II Civil War History Collection - Donation Listing (View and Download Below)

Upon accession of the John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection, the donor provided a spreadsheet donation listing containing metadata and sellers’ descriptions associated with collection materials. The spreadsheet can be downloaded below, under the External Documents heading.

Please note that many descriptions contained in this spreadsheet are drawn from sellers’ language used by dealers and auction houses and contain biased and qualitative descriptions. In addition, many descriptions contain offensive, racist, and archaic language, some quoted directly from collection materials (also see the above Content Warning).

Please also note there may be some materials listed in the donor spreadsheet that are not present in the collection. The Small Library’s finding aid is the definitive listing of materials available to researchers.

Suggestions for Using the Donation Listing Spreadsheet

Materials found in the finding aid can be identified in the spreadsheet using the keyboard shortcut Control + F. If searching for materials discovered in the finding aid, it is recommended to search using donor accession numbers. (For more on this, see the above note on Alphanumeric Designations).

Please note that the spreadsheet does not contain additional descriptive information for all materials listed in the finding aid.

Researchers can use the spreadsheet to explore the collection in many ways, including the following:

- To conduct subject-based searches (e.g., regiments, battles, and military functions, and experiences such as sickness).

- To identify photographs of women, Black soldiers, and Native American soldiers.

- To identify correspondence in Series 1 authored by women and contained within personal papers attributed to men. Series 1 contains a significant amount of correspondence written by women to male relatives and friends. An example includes the many letters written by Mary Stanton to her husband Courtland Stanton, which are found with the Courtland Stanton (DL0011) papers. Another example are the letters of Lucy Britton and Martha Britton found with the Britton Family (DL0100) papers.

- To distinguish between duplicate titles and donor accession numbers in Series 1. Secondary collections such as the papers of Amos Garrison (DL0068) and Albert R. Whitney (DL0269) contain duplicate file titles, and descriptions in the spreadsheet may allow researchers to learn more about the exact nature of the materials they contain.

- To distinguish between portraits of unknown subjects in Series 2. Searching for a particular portrait of an unknown subject using the donor accession number may provide researchers with a description of the portrait, including details such as uniform and rank of the subject.

About External Documents MSS 16459 John L. Nau II Civil War History Collection - Transcripts (View and Download Below)

Transcript files are titled by donor accession number. (See above note titled Alphanumeric Designations).

Please be aware that these transcripts may contain mistakes. They are not intended to be a replacement for the original materials or their digital surrogates.

Processing Information

The Nau Collection was processed from October 2021 to March 2023. Because it is an artificial collection with no original order, it was arranged into series to emphasize the provenance of collection materials and to restore materials attributed to or associated with the same individual. Provenance was determined by the archival materials themselves as well as by donor metadata. Additional resources consulted during processing included The National Park Service’s online Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database (; Grover C. Criswell and Clarence L. Criswell’s Confederate and Southern State Currency, vol. 1, (Pass-A-Grille, Florida: Criswell’s Publications, 1957); John H. Eicher and David J. Eicher’s Civil War High Commands (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2001); and the Library of Congress’s online newspapers database (

Efforts were made to restore materials to record creators and keep these materials together. However, there are some exceptions, particularly in relation to high-profile historical figures. For example, materials relating to Robert E. Lee and William Tecumseh Sherman can be found in Series 1, 2, and 3.

File titles have been devised by the archivist and each contains a donor accession number (see note titled Alphanumeric Designations). Wherever possible or applicable, titles attributed to materials by record creators are included.

John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection
Elizabeth Nosari
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Edition statement
A preliminary finding aid was created by Stacey Lavender in 2020 using donor-provided descriptive language to provide immediate access. This was replaced with a new finding aid in April 2023 by Elizabeth Nosari following processing.

Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States