Virginia Tech's first president and a Union soldier both used the same diary to chronicle the Civil War
October 10, 2011
A diary in which the ravages of the Civil War were recorded by both sides is the only surviving document tied to the first president of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, which later became Virginia Tech. Charles Landon Carter Minor kept the journal while he was a confederate captain during the fight between the North and the South.
Visitors to the Special Collections at Newman Library during the Nov. 12 University Open House have the opportunity to see the diary.
Minor was president of the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College from 1872-79. He used the diary as both a journal and an account book from November 1860 to May 1864. In the diary, he recorded numerous cavalry expenses, such as a sword belt, gun sling, and horseshoes, and some personal information, such as a detailed list of his wife’s wedding silver.
Minor packed his diary in a trunk, which was loaded onto a train that Union forces subsequently captured. The diary fell into the hands of Union soldier and musician Edward P. Harmon, who used it as his own. In it he wrote, “Taken from the trunk of a Rebell [sic] Captain at Hewlett’s Station on the Virginia Central Railroad May 25th 1864.” Then Harmon recorded his experiences at the Battle of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania; North Anna River; and Cold Harbor. He even stitched extra pages into the diary when he ran out of space to write.
Money donated to University Libraries by the George R. Wallace Foundation helped make it possible for Virginia Tech to acquire the diary in 2008 at an auction.
Records from Minor’s presidency at Virginia Tech were destroyed in a fire, so this diary serves not only as a remarkable specimen of Civil War history from both Confederate and Union perspectives, but also as an important tie to the university’s first leader.
Minor’s diary is just one of the treasures that will be on display at Special Collections in Newman Library Nov. 12. Other items related to university history, the Civil War, culinary history, architecture, and science and technology also will be available to explore. In addition, visitors to the library can enjoy tours, other exhibits, and the library’s new café will be open for lunch and snacks.