Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865)

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For information about collections related to this topic, see the guide for Civil War Resources available in the SCRC.

Images of Williamsburg During the Civil War

For images of Williamsburg during the Civil War, check Civil War era publications such as Harper's Weekly. The database HarpWeek is not freely available, but larger libraries may be able to offer access.

The book Images from the storm : 300 Civil War images by the author of Eye of the storm written and illustrated by Robert Knox Sneden and edited by Charles F. Bryan, Jr., James C. Kelly, and Nelson D. Lankford (New York : Free Press, c2001.) may be of interest. The originals are available from the Virginia Historical Society. The book Eye of the storm : a Civil War odyssey also written and illustrated by Robert Knox Sneden and edited by Charles F. Bryan, Jr., and Nelson D. Lankford (New York : Free Press, c2000) may also be of use.

There is a pen and ink drawing of Fort Magruder and the College of William and Mary during the Battle of Williamsburg (Archives Acc. 1992.6) and a color engraving of the Wren Building in use as a hospital (in the University Archives Subject File Collection folder "Buildings and Grounds--Wren Building").

The Becker Collection of Drawings of the American Civil War Era includes a drawing of the Wren Building in August 1862.

The College of William and Mary During the Civil War

The College was closed May 1861 through the Fall of 1865 because of the Civil War. The Battle of Williamsburg was May 5, 1862. The Union Army occupied the city for the remainder of the Civil War and the Wren Building was used as a hospital during the Union occupation of the area.

The outbreak of the Civil War found Williamsburg with a population of 1600 citizens. Some sixty young men attended the College of William and Mary. Benjamin S. Ewell, president of the College, and a West Point graduate, was elected captain of the College militia when war fever swept the campus in January 1861. But Ewell, a Unionist, forbade the students from flying a Confederate flag over the Wren Building. After Virginia seceded, Ewell offered his services on 23 April to the Commonwealth and Robert E. Lee appointed him major of volunteers.

Many students left school to enlist at home so the faculty voted to close the College on 10 May 1861. The town soon became crowded with Confederate troops defending the Peninsula who used college buildings as hospitals. The Battle of Williamsburg was a rear guard action fought in rain and mud on 5 May 1862. The fight was a tactical draw, and the Confederates continued their retreat toward Richmond. Williamsburg was occupied by Federal troops for the remainder of the war.

A transcript of the diary of Henry Alexander Scandrett, a member ofthe 70th New York Infantry, includes the following about his confinement at William and Mary in the winter of 1862. This transcript was provided to SCRC staff via email by a descendant of Henry Alexander Scandrett in October 2007.

"Thursday 9 With fifteen others I was taken prisoner and am now in William & Mary College.

Friday January 10, 1862 Colonel Dwight was wounded in three places and taken prisoner.

Saturday 11 Have learned that our regiment behaved nobly through-out the battle. Our company has been very much cut up indeed."

On 9 September 1862, the Wren Building was almost totally consumed by a fire set by members of the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment. Some other buildings and enclosures belonging to the College also were destroyed and those not so destroyed were held by the Union Army from May 1862 until September 1865. In 1893, $64,000 was appropriated by Congress to the College for "the destruction of its buildings and other property without authority by soldiers of the United States during the late war."

Archaeologists working as part of the 2012 Brafferton renewal uncovered camps and fortifications that provide evidence of both Confederate and Union activities on campus during the war.

Plaque Honoring William & Mary Alumni

A plaque honoring William and Mary alumni and faculty who served on the Confederate side was installed in the Wren Building in 1914. The plaque was removed to the University Archives in the Special Collections Research Center at William and Mary in 2015.

Material in the Special Collections Research Center

Sources Related to Williamsburg

Sources Related to the College of William and Mary

  • Cows on Campus by Parke Rouse
  • The old college goes to war: the Civil War experiences of William and Mary students, faculty, and alumni by Sean M. Heuvel, Archives Book Collection LD6051 .W52 H48 2006.
  • The College of William and Mary in the Civil War, (available electronically to William & Mary users; also available in Swem Library stacks, Swem Library Virginia Reference Section, and Swem's Special Collections; call number: E586 .C65 H48 2013) Sean M. Heuvel & Lisa Heuvel (2013).
  • The College of William and Mary : a history, Godson, Susan H., et. al., Williamsburg, Va. : King and Queen Press, Society of the Alumni, College of William and Mary in Virginia, 1993.
  • Southern war claims : speeches of Hon. Thomas B. Reed, of Maine, and Hon. Martin I. Townsend, of New York, on bill to pay William and Mary College, of Virginia, the sum of $65,000 for injuries received during the Rebellion : delivered in the House of Representatives April 12, 1878, Thomas Brackett Reed, Archives Book Collection LD6051 .W52 R4
  • Speech of Hon. George F. Hoar, of Massachusetts, in the House of Representatives, February 9, 1872, George Frisbie Hoar, Archives Book Collection LD6051 .W52 H6 1872
  • Benjamin Stoddert Ewell : a biography, Anne W. Chapman (1984).

External Links

Need help?

To search for further material, visit the Special Collections Research Center's Search Tool List for an overview of the Special Collections Database, W&M Digital Archive, Flat Hat-William & Mary News-Alumni Gazette index, card catalogs, and other tools available to help you find material of interest in the Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center.

Questions? Contact the Special Collections Research Center at spcoll@wm.edu or 757-221-3090, or visit the Special Collections Research Center in the Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary.

A Note About The Contents Of This Wiki
The information available in this wiki is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of the College of William and Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information available here is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Information in this wiki is not complete as new information continues to be uncovered in the Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center and elsewhere. Researchers are strongly encouraged to use the Special Collections search tools for their research as the information contained in this wiki is by no means comprehensive.