Legacy of Letters

Beeghly librarians are preserving the Civil War letters, digitizing them for online and classroom study.

Tom and Paula Harvey

The year is 1863. In a handwritten letter to his best friend’s sister during the Civil War, Tom Armstrong tells of his capture by the Confederate Army. Writing from Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia, Armstrong details the grim and desperate conditions.

The letter is among some 240 written between 1859 and 1866 by Armstrong—Tom’s great grandfather—his friend George Porter, as well as Armstrong’s brother and friends. The young men left their Zanesville homes in 1861 to fight for the Union Army.

The couple discovered the letters in a wooden box in Tom’s parents’ house in 1994 soon after helping them move to a retirement community in Cleveland. At the time, the box remained unopened, and Tom’s parents had no idea what was in it.

The Harveys recently donated what is now called The Paula B. and Thomas W. Harvey Collection to the OWU Historical Collection at Beeghly Library, where librarians are busy preserving the correspondence and digitizing each piece for online access and classroom study.

“We’re excited about the way in which the letters are being presented and preserved,” says Tom, president and CEO of The Center for Ethics in Financial Education and a Woltemade Center Board member.

“They are beautifully written,” says Paula, who attended Ohio Wesleyan as a French major from 1959 through 1960.

The Harveys say “it made sense” to make this an Ohio Wesleyan gift, as the University has long been central to both of their families.

Tom is working on a historical novel based on the letters. “It’s a great retirement project,” he says.

Return to the Fall 2016 OWU Magazine