Correspondence (1863-1897) in the collection consists mostly of letters from Archer Vaughan and his father Z. C. Vaughan to their sister and daughter Jennie Vaughan. The main item in the collection is the diary of Archer Woodson Vaughan, which was kept sporadically from November 1860 until May 1871. Several years of the diary are missing, notably September 1862 to July 1865 and September 1865 to July 1868. A typescript of the diary is also included in the collection. Certain pages of the typescript are missing (62, 76-83, 110, and entries from January 15 - May 30, 1871); however, it does contain passages missing from the original (March 19, 1869, and entries for late December 1869).
A major topic of this collection is the Civil War and Reconstruction. One letter (May 10, 1863) describes the Battle of Chancellorsville (Va.) with notes on the number of wounded and killed in a regiment. The contents of a Union soldier's supper also is mentioned. A later letter (June 27, 1864) mentions Federal raids on the South SideRailroad and the Danville Railroad and the disruption of mail services. Early entries (1861-1862) in the Vaughan diary describe Union activities in Virginia and recount newspaper articles on major Civil War battles (Fort Donelson, Tenn.; Big Bethel, Va.; Island No. 10 in Mississippi River). The creation and training of a regiment and Vaughan's creation of a "Young Guards" group are detailed in May and June 1861 diary entries, while in March 1862 the organization of the Buckingham Troops and dissatisfaction with the election of a lieutenant are discussed. The activities of an aid society for the benefit of wounded soldiers, including speeches, donations, and subscriptions to make uniforms, are discussed in August 1861.
As the war progressed, Archer Vaughan, as well as his father, reflected on the meaning and possible outcome of the war, including the economic subjugation of Virginia, the desertion of slaves, and higher taxes (see especially diary entries for May 5, 1861; April 19, 1862; and May 1, 1862). Reports of hogs and bacon stolen and the search of slave quarters for the thieves are given in April 1862 diary entries. The retelling of a Confederate neighbor's near capture by Federal forces is related in September 1861. In August 1862, the Vaughans care for two sick and wounded soldiers, one of whom is at the point of death. The diary abruptly ends here and picks up later in July 1865.
Conditions in Virginia after the Civil War also make up a large portion of information in the collection. Economic conditions and politics provide the core of the topic of Reconstruction. A letter of May 1867 details Z. C. and Archer Vaughan's plans of moving to Venezuela, "an asylum for all disappointed, discomfitted, and ruined Southerners." Various diary entries between 1865 and 1871 detail the scarcity of food and money for Virginians (July 22-29, 1865; Sept. 13, 1868; Aug. 30, 1869; and Nov. 14, 1869). Efforts toward internal improvement are shown in diary entries for August 1868 concerning the building of a railroad from Farmville to Scottsville, Virginia. Various entries after the war reflect Vaughan's desire to attract French settlers to Buckingham County as well as comment on various neighbors leaving the area (Dec. 13, 1868; Aug. 30, 1869; Nov. 14, 1869; and Jan. 3, 1870).
Comments on political speeches, conventions, and elections are found in the diary, especially in 1868-1869. A Republican rally in Farmville, Va., and views on Negroes in politics are detailed in November 1868, as are the results of a nomination convention at Petersburg, Va., in March 1869, at which a Negro was nominated for lieutenant governor.
In January 1869 diary entries, Vaughan comments on the refusal of freedmen to make contracts and how this should help introduce white labor as a means of competition. In August 1869, Vaughan comments on the prospects of blacks leaving the area to find jobs in the cotton belt and the hope that this will prevent bread riots caused by a drought-induced food shortage.
Education and schools represent a third major topic of this collection. Post Civil War letters discuss school courses. The diary, too, covers the subject of education, describing personality problems between a Northern school teacher and his Southern neighbors on the eve of the Civil War (Jan. 1861), and commenting that the creation of day and Sunday schools for Negroes after the war caused tuition and board rates at classical schools to escalate to keep the Negroes out (July 26, 1868). The description of a commencement exercise at Hampden-Sidney College in Virginia is noted on June 11, 1869. Entries for 1871 include Vaughan's duties as clerk for the local school board and notes on the progress of schools in Francisco Township, Buckingham County, Virginia. An undated speech discusses the importance of pictures on the walls of schoolrooms.
Vaughan's plans to become a lawyer are detailed throughout 1868-1870. Included in the diary are descriptions of self-study (Nov. 11, 1869), comments on reading interests, and mention of his reading law under Col. H. T. Parrish (Mar. 7, 1870) and his subsequent examinations by county court judges (July 6, 1870). Once admitted to the bar, Vaughan discusses his travels to various courthouses in Virginia and comments on cases.
Religion represents another issues discussed by Vaughan. He comments on sermons, the building of a new Methodist church at Buckingham Court House, Va. (Oct. 1861), and prayer services for troops (Oct. 1861). The minutes for Smyrna Sunday School (1857) comprise the early parts of the Vaughan diary. Later diary entries discuss the economic hardships of the people preventing the hiring of a preacher (Feb. 14, 1870). A speech (undated), apparently presented by Vaughan, supports the establishment of Sunday schools and discusses religious apathy as a cause of the failure of churches. A letter (1886) comments on Sunday preaching services and Wednesday prayer meetings.
The diary also notes natural disasters and agricultural activities. The Buckingham Co., Va., courthouse fire with the loss of all records and the burning of a home (Mar. 1869) are described. Entries for the summer of 1869 discuss the effects of a long drought on the area's crops, while an entry for October 1870 discusses the effects of a devastating flood. Throughout the diary, mention is made of the condition of crops and the actions of farmers. For instance, on August 19, 1869, Vaughan compares farming techniques of eastern Virginia with those of the Shenandoah Valley.
Also of interest in the diary is a recipe and instructions for a diptheria remedy (Jan. 22, 1861). Other items in the collection include an essay on the life of Archer Vaughan and a speech (
ca. 1930) detailing the life of Harper D. Sheppard, benefactor of the Sheppard Memorial Library in Greenville, N.C. A visit to the 1876 Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia, Pa., is the subject of an essay. Descriptions include details of Egyptian, Chinese, and Japanese artifacts. Another essay is a comical sketch about Army life during World War I. Genealogical information can be found on the related family of Major John Nagel Schmidt of Charlotte County, Virginia.