Michael L. Renshawe
Published papers are collections of original documents that have been edited, reprinted, and published in an orderly sequence. Civil War papers are collections of documents issued during the war by prominent military and political leaders. The documents range from military dispatches and battle reports with maps attached, to personal correspondence written by important figures to family and friends. Great modern events--and the Civil War was the first war to be so thoroughly documented--spawn millions of papers.
Editing and publishing papers is time-consuming and expensive. First, the originals have to be located. Often this means tracking them down in hundreds of scattered locations in government archives and libraries or in privately owned collections. The originals are copied, and the copies analyzed, categorized, and prepared for publication. Many require transposing from nineteenth-century handwritten script into modern text. The final step is to index and publish. The entire process can take years to complete. Not all papers are important. It is the editor's responsibility to determine which are historically worth publishing and which are not. Publication, however, is well worth the effort because it not only makes the papers easily accessible to the public but also protects the originals from wear and tear and from the inevitable self-destruction that is inherent in nineteenth-century acidic paper.
Published papers are the paper trail foundation on which history is written and are considered by historians and other scholars to be primary sources, not yet colored by analysis or interpretation or distorted by the vagueness of memory.
Unlike history books that describe and analyze historical events, papers are