This is a great teaching article on using primary sources and uses the Grant paper as an object lesson. Here is the authors insight on using the papers on the Vicksburg campaign:
It would be impossible to discuss every document which exists in the enormous Grant Collection, but it would be instructive to discuss, as an example, that part of the material which relates to Grant’s famous Civil War Vicksburg campaign of 1863. How might a historian use the Grant Collection to evaluate Grant’s role in this pivotal campaign?
The first place to go is the Mississippi State University Libraries online catalog. Here, materials in the Vicksburg Campaign are listed: Edwin Bearss’ three volume The Campaign for Vicksburg; Terry Winschel’s Triumph and Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign; Michael B. Ballard’s Vicksburg: The Campaign that Opened the Mississippi and Pemberton: The General Who Lost Vicksburg; and the personal memoirs of Confederate General John C. Pemberton. The Grant Collection contains more than 1,100 titles of American Civil War books and journals that provide researchers a list of secondary sources (that is, published books and articles on various Grant topics).
If one was interested in Grant’s communications with General Pemberton during the siege, for example, the Grant Association’s online edition of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant provides a wealth of information, specifically in Volume 7 and Volume 8. These two volumes contain numerous accounts of Pemberton’s whereabouts during the Vicksburg campaign, references to his correspondence which the Union Army seized, and his personal correspondence with Grant.
Searching through the Grant Collection website, a researcher will also find subject files devoted to the Vicksburg campaign. These files contain notes on the battle, articles written about the siege, comparisons between Vicksburg and Gettysburg, as well as the research notes of noted historians.
In Series III, Unpublished Files, a historian will find all of the documents in the collection which were not published in The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant. Here are found dispatches, special orders, and pieces of correspondence from the Vicksburg campaign, including incoming and outgoing records from Grant’s headquarters. In addition, there is correspondence between John C. Pemberton and Grant’s headquarters immediately following the surrender of the city.
In Series X, the researcher will find additional information on the Vicksburg campaign in the papers of another participant. Orville Babcock, an engineer, would later become one of Grant’s aides. In the small diary he kept in 1863, Babcock chronicles his days in Ohio and Kentucky in early 1863 before joining the Union attempts to break the stronghold of Vicksburg through the siege, beginning in June of 1863. He describes the work done on fortifications, the skirmishes around the city, and the eventual surrender of the Confederates. He also discusses the burning of the city of Jackson and the conduct of the soldiers as the capital fell. This Union officer, who would go on to become one of President Grant’s most trusted presidential advisors (and greatest liabilities), offers a unique perspective on the American Civil War in Mississippi.
Grant’s The Personal Memoirs were first published in 1885 and have since been republished many times. The Grant Collection contains multiple editions of the Memoirs, including first editions. The collection also contains, on microfilm, copies of Grant’s handwritten drafts of his memoirs. Researchers can thus read the story of the siege of Vicksburg in the general’s own hand.
For the first time in the history of the Grant Collection, it is available for research. Noted historians are using it for future books, and students are writing term papers from it. Thus, the work of historians, professional and neophyte, continues.