The mission of the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina is to document and preserve records detailing the State of North Carolina’s rich military history, from the state’s period as a British colony in the seventeenth century to the present day.
The Military Collection collects, arranges, describes, preserves, and makes accessible to the public historical materials that document the history and development of North Carolina’s military history for all military conflicts involving its citizens, residents, and enlisted military personnel (either from or who received training) in North Carolina. The Military Collection also documents the role and experiences of civilians on the home front during defined military periods, including women who worked for the USO or local wartime recreation committees.
As the largest special collection of records detailing North Carolina’s military heritage in the country, the State Archives’ Military Collection works to ensure the state’s citizens a professionally-curated research collection of military history; to support public and educational programming, scholarly and student research, and the public interest in relation to the mission of the State Archives of North Carolina.
The Military Collection’s primary focus is collecting original historical materials concerning the military history of the people and events occurring in or involving the state of North Carolina. Military materials presently maintained within the Military Collection include the following: official and personal wartime correspondence; photographs; military camp publications and unit newsletters; regimental and unit records; troop returns, rosters and descriptive rolls; muster and pay rolls; training manuals; reminiscences, memoirs, and diaries; select service records; unit records and histories; wartime propaganda and recruitment posters; military maps; official military publications; materials concerning war-related organizations and home-front activities; and many others.
There are also materials documenting North Carolina civilians’ interactions with the military, military installations, and home front organizations—such as the USO or American Red Cross—during defined military periods. The Military Collection’s original purpose during World War I was to document the effects of war on all North Carolinians from all angles of experience, as to value the average citizen’s sacrifices for their country in a state of war. We continue to strive to recognize these individuals and organizations who served at home for those in uniform.
Subject areas for which the Military Collection actively collects and provides archival storage for are: North Carolina military camps and bases for all branches of the U.S. military; North Carolina soldiers, sailors, Air Force members, and other enlisted men and women, as well as voluntary military forces (such as the state guard); experiences of servicemen and servicewomen from other states who were stationed extensively in North Carolina; African American service individuals and their experiences in North Carolina; North Carolina female service individuals and their experiences; North Carolina minorities service individuals; North Carolina prisoner-of-war (POW) camps; North Carolina naval ship yards and ports; North Carolina home front experience during all military conflicts; local and state military propaganda; North Carolina soldiers’ experiences; and North Carolina soldiers’ post-combat experiences and adjustment to society.
Materials and individual collections in the Military Collection are arranged according to the military conflict and miscellaneous military campaigns, starting with papers related to the coastal incursions of the "Spanish Invasion" period (1742 - 1748) through to recent conflicts. There is also a group of materials organized under the Miscellaneous Military Papers, which consists of collections that cover multiple war and time periods, and do not relate to a specific war or military period. Collections that came to the Military Collection prior to 2014 and have not been reorganized are in unnumbered collections or series within the various war periods. Collections that have come in since 2014, or have been reorganized since then, are ordered under numbered collections within the given war period - such as the Leland S. Harris Papers (WWI 94) in the WWI Papers of the Military Collection.
The collection's holdings are accessible through traditional finding aids in the Archives Search Room, or a select number are available as PDF documents on the Military Collections "Military Finding Aids" page. The majority of the Military Collections' holdings are now or will soon be available online in the State Archives' Discover Online Catalog (DOC), under the "Military Collections" grouping of materials. Collections can be searched by title, collection number, folder titles, or basic text searches in DOC. The Military Collection's Veterans Oral History Collection holdings are currently not available in DOC, but are in the process of being added. The interviews are described through an Excel database with the titles, interview numbers, and biographies of the service individuals, available online.
A large selection of materials from the U. S. Civil War, WWI, and WWII, have been digitized and available online through the various war periods' digital collections in the North Carolina Digital Collections (NCDC). Such materials include county American Red Cross chapter histories for WWI, and all of the Military Collection's North Carolina military camps' newsletters from WWII. You can also access a selection of veterans' interviews from the Military Collection's Veterans Oral History Collection online in the NCDC.
Since 2016, the Military Collection has been digitizing and making available a large number of its holdings of military photographs from the various periods online through the State Archives' Flickr page. The photographs are organized in albums, with the various war periods having their own collections of albums. There are photographs from WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, and Cold War currently available. More images will be added as new and existing collections are made more accessible by the Military Collection Archivist through improved collection description and digitization.
The Military Collection Archivist also published a series of blog posts on the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources' military history blog, NC Stories of Service, featuring stories and biographies of North Carolina service individuals and military installations. These posts feature scans of original materials from Military Collection archival holdings, and make the stories of those who have served from the state more accessible to the public.
Although the official records of North Carolina’s military role in the U.S. Civil War were removed to Washington, D.C., at the end of the war, the North Carolina Historical Commission—established in 1903—soon began collecting various Confederate military records and papers that had remained in private hands for the fiftieth anniversary of the war. These materials became the basis of the Military Collection’s Civil War Collection.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, a special history committee was appointed under the North Carolina Council of Defense, in coordination with the North Carolina Historical Commission’s war records collection project, to collect select war records of the state. Records of special wartime agencies, the North Carolina Council of Defense, the Food and Fuel Administrations, schools and colleges, nonprofit organizations such as the American Red Cross county chapters, and collections of individual soldiers’ materials were preserved. The Historical Commission hired WWI veteran Robert B. House to be their official Collector of World War Records in June 1919. A voluntary county war records collector was selected in numerous counties to gather as many original records that documented the local war effort as possible, and send their records to the Historical Commission. The Historical Commission continued this war records collection effort after the war ended.
During World War II, in February 1942, North Carolina governor J. Melville Broughton stressed the importance of preserving the records of the state’s part in World War II, and requested the Historical Commission to undertake the program. On October 1, 1942, Elmer D. Johnson was given the title of Collector of Records, and assigned to collect the records of the state and its citizens’ role in World War II, similar to the one for World War I. Other individuals took on the responsibilities of Collector of Records until 1947. The World War II Papers comprise the largest single collection in the Military Collection.
Between World War II and 1994, the State Archives of North Carolina collected archival materials documenting North Carolinians in all wars up through the Vietnam War. By the 1960s, the formal Military Collection had been formed, and all of the collections were organized with basic finding aids created. In 1994, the State Archives began the Military Collection Project, to document all living WWI and WWII veterans through oral history interviews and collecting records of individual soldiers. In 1996, the Military Collection’s Veterans Oral History Project began, to capture oral history interviews with North Carolina veterans, specifically WWI and WWII.
From 1996 to 2014, a formal Military Collection program was begun within the State Archives for the collecting and preserving of original archival materials, donated from individuals, to document North Carolina and its citizens’ role in all wars in which America was involved. Today, the Military Collection is seeking innovative ways to preserve, share, promote, and provide access to collections for the benefit of a wider audience for North Carolina military history, both within the state and across the country.
If you are a military veteran and would be interested in donating your military service materials, or if you have military materials belonging to a North Carolina veteran and are interested in donating the materials or knowing more about the process, you can contact:
State Archives of North Carolina
You can also contact the State Archives through a “Donate Military Collections” form in the navigation panel of this page. Please describe the materials you have and are interested in donating, who owns the materials, for what military service individual(s) the materials document, and in what military engagements or wars the individual(s) was involved in the “Comments” section of the form, if known.