My experiences working with the George B. Davis Civil War letters in the CSUB Walter Stiern Library have been very rewarding. The collection was donated to the Stiern Library in 1996 by George Bertram Davis and Fred Gifford of Bakersfield, California. The letters, twenty-three in all, provide a remarkable look into the life and Civil War experience of George B. Davis, and his relationship with his wife Catharine. Working for CSUB Librarian Curt Asher, I have had the benefit of researching these letters—now available on the library website—and writing a small biographical sketch on the military experiences of Davis.
Exciting is an understatement in describing the feeling that one gets when digging into history over a century old, and resurrecting the personality and experiences of a person otherwise long forgotten. After reading the letters and cross-referencing them with regimental histories and records, I discovered which battles Davis fought in, the officers that he served under, the men that he fought next to, and the hardships that he faced in being one of the millions of Americans who fought to save the Union.
For a recent independent study that I have taken, History 499 with Professor Alicia Rodriquez, I compiled an extensive annotated bibliography on possible research sources relating to George B. Davis. These include sources on Grenville M. Dodge, Samuel Ryan Curtis, Sterling Price, the Battle of Pea Ridge, the Vicksburg Campaign, the Battle of Chattanooga, and primary sources, including diaries written by men who also fought in the 4th Iowa infantry, Company F. Perhaps the most riveting aspect of George B. Davis’ military career, however, was that he was eventually incarcerated in the most vicious Confederate camp of the Civil War: Andersonville Prison. Although any correspondence that Davis might have written while in the prison camp has been lost, many works have been published on Andersonville, and one can only imagine the horrors that he witnessed during his time there.
The opportunity of working with this special collection has helped enrich my history student experience here at CSUB, and hopefully now that these resources are available on the Walter Stiern Library website, they will be viewed and used by many.