> Among the holdings of the Providence Public Library is a stunning collection of over 10,000 printed books, manuscripts, engravings, maps, scrapbooks, and printed music related to the Civil War and slavery. Housed in the special collections department, the Caleb Fiske Harris Collection of the Civil War and Slavery was purchased by the library in 1884 for $2,000, and has been relatively unknown ever since.
My job is to promote the collection, but I have to know what’s in it first, and as I sift through the material I am finding some wonderful items. A month ago I discovered a memorandum book of about 100 pages, which I discovered had been kept by the surgeon in charge of one of the five divisions of Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. Chimborazo operated from 1861-1865, and was the most well-known hospital in the Confederacy.
Comprising over 150 buildings on some 40 acres of land atop a plateau, the hospital employed over 200 staff, and was designed to handle a capacity of 3,000 patients (it treated almost 78,000 patients during the war). Each division served 600 men at capacity, and the memorandum book we have was kept by the surgeon in charge of division #3, Edwin Harvey Smith, between 1861 and 1864. The records of the hospital escaped the Richmond fire, set as the Confederate government evacuated the city in 1865. Fortunately, most of them (over 120 volumes) made it to the National Archives.
Somehow Harris got his hands on this one (he had agents in the south). There are handwritten notes detailing the name, rank, and condition of individual soldiers. After the book was used in this manner to record patient information, it served as a scrapbook to hold circular orders issued by the Surgeon General of the C.S.A., as well as other medical officials. Unfortunately, these circulars were glued on top of the pages, and it will cost over $6,000 to have a conservation lab lift them off. We are currently raising funds to do this, and will offer a digital copy of the book in its entirety to any institution or group which donates $1,000 or more to our effort.