Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A Visit to the VA Historical Society

I took a trip to the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond on Saturday afternoon. It was a short trip, but one I'd put off for months for one reason or another. I'd learned that the manuscripts of Philip St George Cooke were housed in the reference library there, and hoped to find some good information for an upcoming Fiddler's Green entry.

I had no problems finding the place, as the directions listed on the website (and on Mapquest) were very clear and specific. A minor ($5) fee permits access to those who aren't VHS members. Within minutes of entering the library, I was briefed on the rules of the library and was seated at a table while one of the research librarians retrieved the manuscripts. The rules of the library are reasonable, and firmly oriented around preventing theft or damage to library materials. I found the staff extremely patient and helpful, particularly since they have to make all photocopies of manuscripts.

One tip for researchers: look through the library's excellent online catalog before your visit so that you know what you're looking for. I had printed off the call numbers and brief descriptions of the selections that I was looking for, which made things much easier for the staff and I. Consequently, the vast majority of my time was spent with the material instead of waiting for it. It is a closed circulation library, so no materials may be checked out.

The manuscripts were all that I'd hoped for and more. Much of the information will be featured here in future posts. I was surprised to learn that Cooke and Sherman exchanged several letters after the war, and that Cooke had closely followed Merritt's post-war career. It was particularly special as a former member of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment to see and touch the commission appointing Cooke Colonel of the 2nd Regiment of Dragoons, signed by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis and President James Buchanan. I was surprised to note that the presidential signatures on all of the commissions looked as though they were signed in pencil.

With my usual luck, last night as I was paging through my notes I found a notation on another set of manuscripts held in the same library that will be potentially be far more valuable to my research. Fortunately, there's still time for another visit later in the week. Given this last experience, I'm looking forward to it.

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