The Downs papers include three sorts of materials: first, correspondence between Levi Downs and his sisters Louisa, Mary, Nancy, and Ann (Mrs. E.W. Frost); second, materials relating to claims for bounty money and pay in arrears, all handled by Downs as clerk to the Claims Agent for the local branch of the Freedmen's Bureau between December, 1868 and December, 1869; and finally, documents relating to Downs' military service, including commissions and returns. Downs' diary includes only very sporadic entries during 1864, and these very brief. They do include notes on both Drewry's Bluff and Cold Harbor-Petersburg.
Downs' letters to his sisters provide comparatively little information on the military side of the war, although there are some good letters written while he was serving with the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery describing the siege at Yorktown, and some descriptions of life on the Richmond front when with the 107th U.S.C.T. His post-war letters provide a case study of the attempts of a Union veteran to establish himself in tough economic times by taking advantage of business opportunities in the occupied south. His record, unfortunately, is one of very limited success. An excellent and very long letter from another officer in the 107th U.S.C.T., E.T. Lamberton (1882 August 17-25), suggests that Downs' economic hardships and inability to capitalize on the Reconstruction economy were not unique. Lamberton details his own efforts at making a living and relates news he has heard from of the hard times faced by several other of their fellow officers.
The series of bounty claims and claims for arrears in pay, dated between December, 1868 and December, 1869, includes letters written by and on behalf of veterans of "Colored" regiments, including the 14th Heavy Artillery, the 35th, 36th, 37th and 38th U.S.C.T. (all but the 38th raised in North Carolina), and the 1st and 2nd U.S. Colored Cavalry. The majority of these letters are routine inquiries written on behalf of former soldiers by pension agents, friends or surviving relatives, though several letters addressed to Oliver Otis Howard (and forwarded) appear to have been written by the veterans themselves. One letter, from Marcus Hamilton, a Private in Downs' Company during the war, is a request for support in an application for a pension for having been wounded at Fair Oaks in October, 1864. Downs complied.
An unusual assortment of materials is associated with the Downs papers. Included are a pair of Down's spectacles, his sword as an officer of the 107th U.S.C.T., a Civil War-era gutta percha ball, which may have been the core to an early baseball, his military belt buckle, a match case, a $20 Confederate bill and $2 bill from the Citizen's bank of Waterbury, and reunion ribbons for the 14th and 15th annual reunions of Companies I and B of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery (1884 and 1885). These have all been transferred to the Graphics Division for storage. There are two photographs of Downs, a small one on a calling card with the notation, 4th Conn. Vols., and an outstanding daguerreotype in an oval thermoplastic cameo case, taken while an officer in the 107th U.S.C.T. These have also been transferred to the Graphics Division.