Primary Sources of Freeman Colby Vol. 2

Vol. 3 Sources >>

Text & visual sources used in the drawing of The Civil War Diary of Freeman Colby, Vol. 2

ABOUT THE BOOK: This historical graphic novel details the continuing adventures of a young school teacher from NH who enlists in the Union Army during the Civil War.  The events of the story are all based on actual letters Freeman Colby wrote home about his experiences, plus several other period primary sources documenting the experiences of the 39th Massachusetts Volunteers.

Primary Sources & More:

Freeman Colby Vol. 2 combines several period source texts to reconstruct a sense of Freeman Colby’s Civil War adventures.  Colby’s original diary fragment ends in April 1863 (see Volume 1), so I’m basing this account on his wartime letters and various documented firsthand accounts of his comrades in the 39th Massachusetts Volunteers, the people they met, and other people who witnessed similar situations & conditions. 

That means I’ve included everything Colby felt was important enough to record in writing at the time. PLUS, I can go beyond Colby’s account, to depict additional topics & issues involving Union forces & civilians in D.C. & Virginia at the height of the Civil War.

For a more complete discussion of my Vol. 2 process, see the cover article of Historical New Hampshire Magazine (Vol. 71 #1).


Here are some of the primary sources at the heart of this project:

Civil War letters of Freeman Eri Colby & family

Archived by Henniker Historical Society, and in some cases provided by the family.  (There are even a couple texts by Jonas Bacon and Newton Colby in the collection, and one rare valuable letter from the home front, written by Colby’s Mom!)

The 39th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers (Roe, 1914)

This official regimental history features hundreds of pages of stories collected by a memorial committee, including several sections of diaries, journals, and other primary source texts.

Other resources for the 39th MA Volunteers:
Resource page for Co. K @

Civil War Letters of Sarah Low

Sarah Low (of Dover, NH) wrote numerous letters describing her experiences working as a nurse at Washington, DC hospitals.  Her papers, ephemera, notebooks, & photographic collection are all archived by the NH Historical Society

Some letters have also been transcribed & posted by Dover Public Library.

VIDEO: How to Draw Nurse Sarah Low

Starting from primary visual sources, then letting the cartoon “breathe” & grow…


These primary source accounts provide key perspectives & details on topics often omitted from my main sources.

Memoranda During the War (Walt Whitman, 1875-6)

Poet Walt Whitman’s accounts of serving in Washington hospitals in 1863, at the same time as soldiers from the 39th Mass.

Hardtack and Coffee (Billings, 1887)

An invaluable source of information and memories by a veteran campaigner.

The Civil War letters of Wilbur Fisk

Like Colby, Wilbur Fisk was a rural New England schoolteacher who volunteered in a local regiment — in Fisk’s case, the 2nd Vermont.  Throughout the war, he wrote eloquent & extensive reports to the Green Mountain Freeman, sharing valuable ground-level details & reflections on the evolving conflict.  I use Fisk’s letters in several places to fill in gaps in the accounts of Colby & Bacon.  (Collected & edited by Emil & Rosenblatt.)

VIDEO: Freeman Colby Vol. 2: Drawing the First Page…

I pulled text for this page from the letters of Wilbur Fisk.

Three years in the Sixth corps. A concise narrative of events in the Army of the Potomac, from 1861 to the close of the rebellion, April 1865 (George T. Stevens, 1866)

Stevens’ account contains invaluable details about African Americans escaping from Southern slavery with the help of Union forces; see “Refugees” (p.273-275)

Battleground adventures, the stories of dwellers on the scenes of conflict in some of the most notable battles of the civil war (Clifton Johnson, 1915)

Detailed observations & accounts from enslaved people & freedmen along the Rappahannock.  Andrew Ward has tracked down the names of some of Johnson’s storytellers in his book, The Slaves’ War.

See especially the narratives of:

 Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison (Bell Boyd, 1865)

A young woman’s autobiographical account of spying for the Confederacy, including stints in Washington, DC prisons in 1862 [p.195+] and again in summer 1863 [p.263+], at a time when soldiers from Colby’s regiment were posted as prison guards…

Hospital Sketches (Alcott, 1863)

Louisa May Alcott’s fictionalized stories based on her letters home from hospital duty at Georgetown, DC (1862-3). [wikipedia >>]


Throughout the project, I make extensive use of primary visual sources — drawings, prints, paintings, photographs, &c. made by eyewitnesses, participants, & reporters:

HARPER’S WEEKLY Vol. 7 (1863)

Week-by-week accounts in words & pictures from all fronts of the war, plus news from around the world!

[1863 Article text digitized @: >>]

Thirty Years After : an artist’s story of the great war : told, and illustrated with nearly 300 relief-etchings after sketches in the field… VOLUME 1 | VOLUME 2 (Edwin Forbes) 

Essays on various subjects, accompanied by wartime drawings and later artwork based on Forbes’ experiences alongside the Union Army.


Alfred Waud: “Drawing the War: Alfred Waud”

Articles & collections from the US Library of Congress:


Pension application depositions of Hester Tuckson & al. (Fall Hill, Spotsylvania County, VA) [full text

These documents give us the voice of one African American soldier’s widow, and, perhaps surprisingly, corroborating testimony from a former slaveholder.

The CAMBRIDGE CHRONICLE online archives >>
(An astoundingly complete collection of newspapers, 1846-2015!  The Civil War era papers contain lots of letters, reports, & news of the 39th Mass, both at the front and at home in New England.)


(More Civil War era primary sources >>)

THANKS to all my patrons & kickstarter backers who made FREEMAN COLBY VOL. 2 possible!

We’re hard at work now on the next volumes ~ Join the Patreon for updates!

This work is PATRON-POWERED!


The previous volume in this series, The Civil War Diary of Freeman Colby (Comics Workshop, 2016), was selected as a 2017 “Great Graphic Novel for Teens” by YALSA.

Published by Marek

Cartoonist, musician, teacher.

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