About Government Information

Created by Congress in June 1860, the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) began operation on March 4, 1861- the same day a Lincoln’s inauguration. With the creation of this office there was more consistency in government publications, and distribution of materials to libraries for public access. In this guide you will find a sampling of some of the materials available- either GPO publications or collections from other agencies. The Libraries have a strong collection of War Department materials including field manuals such as the Manual of bayonet exercise (1852), The medical and surgical history of the war of the rebellion  (1870-1888), and the extensive- and somewhat flawed The War of the Rebellion : a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. When Possible links to digitized versions are provided.

The guide below is a sample of the materials available. Some of these materials are in our Special Collection at the archives. If you are looking for more specific content please contact the Government Information Librarian.

Top databases

HineOnline has special compilations of government publications and legal documents. Three important sources are the Congressional Globe, Congressional Hearings, and the Congressional Serial Set.  There are also curated collections on wars and Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law.

HathiTrust has many government publications and other documents in the public domain. These include publications of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.

Library of Congress
The Library of Congress has a large collection of manuscripts, letters, pamphlets, art, and other documents on slavery, the Civil War, and reconstruction. Some are already in easily accessible sub-collections. Below are a few examples:

U.S. History Primary Source Timeline Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877
The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship

Chronicling America: A collection of historic newspapers from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Library of Congress.

Pre-war 1840-1860

Use HineOnline or HathiTrust to search for the Congressional Globe and other documents.

Congressional Globe 1833-1973
The Congressional Globe (later named the Congressional Record) contains the debates of Congress.

Congressional reports
1844, John Quincy Adams has the votes to resend the 25th rule (gag rule) prohibiting petitions on the abolition of slavery or the slave trade. - 28th Congress, 2nd session, page 7. After this date there are many discussions on the issue.

1856- Journal of the committee of investigation into the conduct of Hon. Preston S. Brooks… June 2, Congressional Globe, pg 1352

Investigation of the Assault on Senator Charles Sumner, 1856. Includes testimony of witnesses.


Civil War, 1861-1895

In addition to the different Congressional publications there are these materials:

Annual report of the Secretary of War. 1863-1948

Manual of bayonet exercise (1852)

The War of the Rebellion : a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. (also available online)
Official records produced by the armies of the United States and the Confederacy, and the executive branches of their respective governments, concerning the military operations of the Civil War, and prisoners of war or prisoners of state. Also annual reports of military departments, calls for troops, correspondence between national and state governments, correspondence between Union and Confederate officials.

Military Operations of the Civil War: A Guide-Index to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies
Not only does the Guide-Index enable the scholar to find documentation on specific actions and operations, it also corrects and clarifies numerous erroneous listings for minor combats, some of which never occurred.  For example, a skirmish at Magruder's Ferry, Virginia, on September 16, 1861, is revealed through Dr.Irvine's sleuthing to be based on an incident in which the injuries came from a team of horses in Maryland rather than from any action of the Confederates.”

Atlas of the war of the Rebellion
Atlas of the war of the Rebellion giving Union and Confederate armies by actual surveys by the Union and Confederate engineers, and approved by the officers in command, of all the maps herein published.

Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion.
This smaller series is also available online.

The medical and surgical history of the war of the rebellion  (1870-1888)

The National Park Service also has an online Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database. You can search for a soldier by name and state.


Hearings and Congressional testimony are great sources of first-person descriptions. The documents on reconstruction are notable for the testimony of former slaves.

The Joint Committee on Reconstruction, 1865-1867
This committee was established on December 13, 1865 and had subcommittees to hear testimony and gather evidence on the conditions in southern states. These include new state constitutions, elections, and testimony from 144 individuals. The committee drafted the 14th amendment and issued two general documents: which outlines the “views and motives” regarding the 14th amendment, and "Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction" (1866). The later report includes testimony on the progress of reconstruction in Part I: Tennessee,  Part II: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina.

House Select Committee on Reconstruction 1867-1871
The House of Representatives created the Select Committee on Reconstruction on July 3, 1867. The first four states this committee investigated were Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia and Texas (see examples below.)

Evidence taken before Committee on Reconstruction on condition of affairs in Mississippi [H. Misc. Doc. 40-53], 1869
Condition of affairs in Georgia, pt. 1; evidence taken before Committee on Reconstruction [H. Misc. Doc. 40-52, 1869

Report of the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States, 1872.
This is a 13-volume collection of reports and testimonies from a Congressional committee that investigated the Ku Klux Klan and other insurrectionary movements in the former Confederacy after the close of the Civil War. The committee made their report in 1872. The report proper is in the first volume; the other volumes contain testimonies and miscellaneous documents.


Freedmen Bureau

The United States Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, commonly known as the Freedmen's Bureau, was created by Congress in 1865 to assist in the political and social reconstruction of post-war Southern states and to help formerly enslaved people make the transition from slavery to freedom and citizenship. In the process, the Bureau created millions of records that contain the names of hundreds of thousands of formerly enslaved individuals and Southern white refugees.

Secondary sources

U.S. Army Center of Military History: The U.S. Army Campaigns of the Civil War Commemorative Brochures and Sesquicentennial website

National Park Battlefields
Battlefield websites may include collections of artifacts, biographies, and virtual tours of the sites.

Cultural Landscape reports
“The Park Cultural Landscapes Program serves to develop, implement, and oversee a nationwide program of cultural landscape documentation and preservation in national park units.” These reports can be extensive.