Featured Primary Sources


Nothing can enrich and enliven our understanding of the nation’s past, or dispel apathy about it, more powerfully than primary sources. The primary sources below open up a variety of viewpoints and have been chosen by master teachers specifically for use in the classroom. Affiliate School members can print a packet that includes an image of the document, photograph, or other resource, a transcript where applicable, text to place the document in historical context, and document-based questions. In addition, you may want to search the Gilder Lehrman Collection itself for other resources to enrich your lessons.

Letter from John S. Mosby to Sam Chapman, June 4, 1907. (GLC03921.21p1)

A former Confederate officer on slavery and the Civil War, 1907

Creator: John S. Mosby Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Ku Klux Klan to Davie Jeems, ca. 1868 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

A Ku Klux Klan threat, 1868

Creator: Ku Klux Klan Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Charles Sumner, ca. 1861–1865 (GLC05111.02.0999)

Charles Sumner on Reconstruction and the South, 1866

Creator: Charles Sumner Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Mary Todd Lincoln, ca. 1863 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

Mary Todd Lincoln on life after the White House, 1870

Creator: Mary Todd Lincoln Curriculum Subjects: Economics Grade Levels:
The Hon. Blanche Kelso Bruce of Mississippi, ca. 1870 (Library of Congress)

Nominating an African American for vice president, 1880

Creator: James Milton Turner Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels:
Frederick Douglass to Thomas B. Pugh, November 17, 1870 (GLC01954)

Racism in the North: Frederick Douglass on “a vulgar and senseless prejudice,” 1870

Creator: Frederick Douglass Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:
Freedmen’s contract between Isham G. Bailey and freedmen Cooper Hughs and Charl

Sharecropper contract, 1867

Creator: Isham G. Bailey Curriculum Subjects: Economics, Government and Civics Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+

Primary Sources from Other Sub-Eras

P. G. T. Beauregard, General Orders 44, May 19, 1862. (GLC00666)

Confederate reaction to “Beast” Butler’s orders, 1862

Creator: P. G. T. Beauregard Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:
William T. Sherman to James H. Wilson, January 21, 1865. (GLC02947)

General Sherman on the “March to the Sea,” 1865

Creator: William T. Sherman Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:
George A. Custer, ca. 1865 (GLC04007.02)

Indian Wars: The Battle of Washita, 1868

Creator: George Custer Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Iowa joint resolution ratifying the 13th Amendment, March 30, 1866. (GLC02631)

Ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment, 1866

Creator: the Iowa General Assembly Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels:
Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant, April 9, 1865. (GLC07967)

The surrender of Robert E. Lee, 1865

Creator: Robert E. Lee Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: