By Tilden Bowditch

Rockbridge County residents are being asked to dig into the dusty trunks in their attics, the battered boxes in their basements and the piles of junk in their garages to find nuggets of information that might fill in the gaps about what’s known about the Civil War.

“We used to write all history from the top down … now we’re trying to write it from the bottom up,” said Holt Merchant, a history professor at Washington and Lee University.

The Virginia General Assembly created the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the war.

The sesquicentennial commission and the Library of Virginia have partnered to create the Civil War 150 Legacy Project in an effort to gather letters, journals, diaries, military discharge papers, maps and other documents that could provide perspectives on the war from African Americans, low-level soldiers and residents of other countries.

Project workers plan to scan the materials to make digital copies that will be included in an online library that would be accessible to the public.

“Letters people might think are trivial or letters that reveal things people might not want revealed, these are the very things we need,” said Merchant, who is a member of the planning committee for the local branch of the sesquicentennial commission.

“Every little bit helps,” he said. “You never know what gaps this little piece of information might fill in.”

County residents can take documents to the Virginia Horse Center between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday and from 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

Documents will be returned immediately to residents after they’re scanned, Merchant said.

The Lexington and Rockbridge area tourism committee is working with the sesquicentennial commission to host the event.

The project might draw more local residents than tourists, but there are plenty of Civil War enthusiasts in the area, said Mayumi Smitka, director of marketing for Lexington and Rockbridge Area Tourism.

“Our hope is to find some undiscovered Civil War documents that can be preserved and added to the Library of Virginia online collection,” Smitka said.

The project’s digital archives will be accessible through the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission website and the Library of Virginia website.

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