“bright young eyes”

—Walt Whitman, Specimen days, 1882

Writings for Virginia's Youth


Nelia W., Letter to Bettie, 10 April 1864.
Gift of Mary Louise Dinwiddie (MSS 38-421)

For Virginia children, the theater of war encroached on their homes and schools. Nelia, a student at the Edgehill School for Girls in Albemarle County, Va., writing to her cousin Bettie, describes her reaction to a battle that had taken place two or three miles away: “I was not frightened much not half as much as I expected there happened to be an Artillery camp in this neighborhood who bravely defended us, we should be very grateful to them.”


William A. Campbell and William R. J. Dunn, The child’s first book. Richmond, Va.: Ayres & Wade, 1864.
Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History (A 1864 .C357)

Kensey Johns Stewart, A geography for beginners. Richmond, Va.: J. W. Randolph, 1864.
Elizabeth Cocke Coles Fund (G125 .S85 1864)

Following secession, the Confederacy needed new textbooks—schoolbooks could no longer be acquired from the North, and Southerners wanted to educate their children with texts written from a Southern viewpoint.

These two Confederate schoolbooks were published in Richmond in 1864. Apart from its initial illustration, The child’s first book contains no political overtones. Stewart’s Geography, however, includes 14 pages describing the history, agriculture, natural resources, flora, fauna, scenery, and manufactures of the Confederate States.


Charles Dickens, A tale of two cities, in The Magnolia Weekly, Richmond, Va., 12 March 1864.
(AP2 .M33)

By 1864, several literary newspapers and magazines had sprung up across the Confederacy as part of an active effort to produce a Southern literary culture. The Magnolia Weekly, published in Richmond, offered diversion from the war in the form of poetry, short stories, and serialized novels, including Dickens’s A tale of two cities, first published five years earlier. This epic novel of the French Revolution must have had particular resonance for Virginia readers, who had themselves been surrounded by war for more than three years when this serialization began.


University of Virginia: the next session of this Institution will commence on the 1st day of October …, Sept. 8th, 1864. [Charlottesville?, 1864]
(Broadside 1864 .V577)

In this broadside announcing the 1864-1865 academic session, University of Virginia faculty chairman Socrates Maupin outlines the state law granting free admission and housing to disabled and destitute Confederate veterans, who would also receive rations from the Confederate War Department. Textbooks, however, would be the students’ responsibility: “Students should come provided, as far as possible with the necessary text books. It will be difficult to procure some of them here. Many can doubtless, be procured from former students of the institution, resident, before the war in almost every county and town of the Confederacy.”