Week long celebration of Liberation and Freedom / Nau Civil War History Collection

Through January, we’re publishing year-in-review highlights from FY2020. Download a full PDF of this year’s Annual Report to read more!

On March 3, 1865, Union troops arrived in Charlottesville and began a process that eventually liberated over 14,000 enslaved residents of the city and Albemarle County, ushering in the beginnings of emancipation for more than 50% of the area’s inhabitants. In September 2017, the Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously to designate March 3 as Liberation and Freedom Day and in 2019 declared it a city holiday.

In 2020, Liberation and Freedom Day was celebrated for the entire first week of March with panel discussions, a vigil, a street-renaming, concerts, art exhibits, and more, in multiple venues around Charlottesville. The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library and UVA’s John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History co-hosted “Black Liberation in Civil War Charlottesville,” a talk by Professor Ervin L. Jordan, Jr., Research Archivist for the Library. Jordan spoke about the Library’s collections relevant to the Union occupation of Charlottesville and the start of emancipation. In addition to items from the Small Special Collections Library, items from the new John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection were on display for the first time since the collection was donated by Mr. Nau in 2019. The Nau Collection includes more than 30,000 letters, 250 diaries, and 4,000 images relating to the Civil War.

The John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection

In September of 2019, the College Foundation and the Library hosted an event to celebrate John Nau and his gift of the John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection to the University, a gift combining Nau’s interest in history and the Civil War with his twin passions for preservation and the University of Virginia.

Nau (Col ‘68), a former BOV member and a founder of the College Foundation, is a longtime benefactor to the University. His many notable contributions include a gift for constructing Nau Hall, home of the history department, and a donation to fund the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History, housed in the same building as the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture and the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

One of the country’s most significant collections of material relating to the Civil War, the Nau Collection is remarkable for its breadth and depth, containing not only war correspondence, soldiers’ letters, and unpublished images in a number of formats (including the tintypes of unidentified Black Union cavalry soldiers shown on the previous spread), but weapons, uniforms, soldiers’ personal effects, and other artifacts. The collection, already notable for comprising a wide range of both Confederate and Union materials, was augmented when Nau surprised attendees of the event by announcing the addition to the gift of two significant items — a letter from Robert E. Lee to his brother, and a document (shown left) signed by Abraham Lincoln and his entire second cabinet.

Addition of this collection to the Library’s already-significant Civil War holdings enhances the University’s status as a locus for scholarly study of the Civil War as well as a destination for those wishing to engage with the personal stories of soldiers on both sides.

Autographs of the president, vice president, and cabinet, with ornate hand-drawn flags

“Souvenir document of Abraham Lincoln’s second cabinet,” April 1865. John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection

Black and white photograph of Black man in cloak, in military dress

Portrait of an Unidentified African-American Cavalryman, n.d. John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection

Photograph of seated Black man with bugle, in military dress

“Portrait of an Unidentified African-American Cavalry Bugler,” n.d. John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection

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