Top of page

Collection Charles Wellington Reed Papers, 1776 to 1926

About this Collection

The papers of Civil War soldier and artist Charles Wellington Reed (1841-1926) span the years 1776-1926, with the bulk of the material concentrated in the period 1862-1865, when he served with the Ninth Independent Battery, Massachusetts Light Artillery. The collection includes approximately seven hundred sketches previously bound in two volumes and correspondence relating primarily to the Civil War. Other items consist of articles, citations and military papers, clippings, a diary, maps, Reed's Medals of Honor, photographs, and printed matter. The material is arranged alphabetically by type of material.

The collection principally documents Reed's wartime experiences. Many letters, especially those written to his mother, Roxanna Reed, and sister, Helen Reed Tilton, describe in detail his activities while serving as a bugler in the Ninth Independent Battery. The letters are often prefaced by drawings which further illustrate not only the rigors of military life, but also the amusing and mundane aspects. The contents of the letters and corresponding sketches well document the ways in which soldiers adapted to seasonal changes in the weather, how they amused themselves, and the routines of camp life. Reed particularly illustrated his letters when stationed in or near Washington, D.C., in 1862, and when his unit was not actively campaigning.

The sketches include drawings of army life during the Civil War. Some sketches form the basis for illustrations Reed contributed to John Davis Billings's classic Hardtack & Coffee: The Unwritten Story of Army Life (1887), an account of the lives of ordinary Northern soldiers during the war, especially those who served in the Army of the Potomac. Other sketches are of landscapes, animals, and other studies. An avid bicyclist and longtime member of the Boston Bicycle Club, Reed's non-military themed sketches include several scenes of bicycling and depict the high wheeled penny-farthing bicycles in use in the late nineteenth century.

The Charles Wellington Reed Papers were donated to the Library of Congress in 1928 by Grace M. Schirmer (1856-1943) of New York City. Mrs. Schirmer, born Grace May Tilton in Boston, was the daughter of Charles Wellington Reed's sister Helen G. Tilton, a recipient of many of the letters in this collection. Reed refers to his niece "Gracie" in many of his letters.

Researchers interested further in Charles Wellington Reed and his wartime correspondence may wish to consult Eric A. Campbell's A Grand Terrible Dramma: From Gettysburg to Petersburg: The Civil War Letters of Charles Wellington Reed (2000), in which the editor provides annotated transcriptions of Reed's wartime letters held by the Library of Congress, Princeton University, and in private collections.