Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
George W. Barr Papers, 1855-1865

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, July 1995

Summary Information
Title: George W. Barr papers
Creator: Barr, Lavinia Ayer
Inclusive dates: 1855-1865
Bulk dates: 1861-1865
Extent: 150 items
The Barr papers consist of the Civil War letters of George W. Barr, who served as a surgeon in the 64th New York Infantry Regiment. Barr's letters describe his experience with the army as well as the aftermath of battles and his criticism of the ineptitude of generals and politicians.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1985. M-2237.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

George W. Barr Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.


The collection is arranged chronologically.


Barr, George W., b. 1832

Rank : Surgeon

Regiment : 64th New York Infantry Regiment (1861-1865)

Service :1861 November 13-1863 February 4

George W. Barr was born in 1832, probably in Gowanda, N.Y., where, until 1865, he owned property adjacent to his father's farm. Barr studied medicine at the Buffalo Medical College and was engaged in private practice in Gowanda in 1861, when, at the relatively youthful age of 29, he was appointed surgeon to the 64th New York Infantry Regiment. Prior to his Civil War service, Barr had sought a medical post with the Russian Army in the Crimea in 1855, but had been refused.

After receiving his commission, Barr had to scramble to organize his medical unit, fighting not only the usual government red tape, but also the corruption and lack of concern for troops exhibited by the regiment's colonel, Thomas J. Parker. Exasperated, Barr considered resigning but instead brought charges against Parker and his brother, Frederick, a quartermaster, which proved instrumental in relieving the embezzling colonel of his command. Barr performed with distinction through the Peninsular Campaign, at Antietam, and Fredericksburg, and served stints as acting brigade and divisional surgeon. Despite these accomplishments, he tried at least twice to resign his post, apparently due to illness, but each time was rejected. He became increasingly disenchanted with the army and the destructiveness of the war following his experiences on the Peninsula and at Antietam, and then, after appearing before the Army examining board, was suddenly dismissed from the service in February, 1863.

During the summer of 1863, Barr went to New York City to gain additional medical training. He then returned to Gowanda until 1865, when he, and later his wife and children, moved to Titusville, Pa., hoping for a more lucrative practice. Barr and his wife Lavinia (Vinnie) Ayer had a daughter, Iris, and a younger son born early in 1862.

Collection Scope and Content Note

George W. Barr wrote 144 letters to his wife during the years 1861-1865, distinguished by their openness and honesty. Early in his service, he spoke confidently of a quick Union victory on the Peninsula, but the horrible casualties and sickness that faced him had a huge psychological impact. Barr does little to spare his wife when describing the aftermath of a battle, and is honest in his criticism of the ineptitude of McClellan, Burnside, and other generals and politicians. Nevertheless, Barr remained a strong patriot throughout.

Military concerns aside, Barr's letters provide some interesting details regarding his medical practice, building a home in Titusville, his interest in the flora and fauna, and his illness which may have been symptoms of hypochondria. Finally, the collection includes a letter from Barr to his cousins and one to his parents, a fragmentary history of the 64th New York Infantry, and a letter to Iris Barr regarding the war-time correspondence.

Subject Terms

    • Antietam, Battle of, Md., 1862.
    • Fredericksburg, Battle of, Fredericksburg, Va., 1862.
    • United States. Army--Supplies and stores.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Destruction and pillage.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals.
    • United States--Politics and government-- 1861-1865.
    • War--Psychological aspects.
    • Barr, George W., b. 1832.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    George W. Barr papers,  1855-1865 [series]
    Box   32, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Box   33, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Partial Subject Index

    • African-American domestics.
    • African-Americans.
    • African-Americans--Contraband.
    • African-Americans--Intelligence levels.
    • Alexandria (Va.)
    • Allen's Farm, Battle of, 1862.
    • Antietam, Battle of, 1862.
    • Antietam Campaign, 1862.
    • Baltimore (Md.)
    • Beauregard, G. T. (Gustave Toutant), 1818-1893.
    • Bull Run, 2nd Battle of, Va., 1862.
    • Burnside, Ambrose Everett , 1824-1881.
    • Caldwell, John C. (John Curtis), 1833-1912.
    • Casey, Silas 1807-1882.
    • Catholic Church.
    • Civilians--Confederate States of America--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Confederate States of America.
    • Courts martial and courts of inquiry.
    • Crimean War, 1853-1856.
    • Dead.
    • Deserters, Military.
    • Dix, Dorothea Lynde, 1802-1887.
    • Draft.
    • Drill and minor tactics.
    • Finance, Personal.
    • Food.
    • Foraging.
    • Fortifications.
    • Frederick (Md.)
    • Fredericksburg, Battle of, 1862.
    • Freemasonry.
    • French, William Henry, 1815-1881.
    • Glory.
    • Harpers Ferry (W.Va.)
    • Hinks, Edward Ward, 1830-1894.
    • Homesickness.
    • Horses.
    • Howard, Oliver Otis, 1830-1909.
    • Irish-Americans.
    • Jackson, Stonewall 1824-1863.
    • Lincoln, Abraham 1809-1865.
    • Lincoln, Mary Todd, 1818-1882.
    • Liquors.
    • Machismo.
    • Maps.
    • Marches--Virginia.
    • Maryland--Description and travel.
    • Mason, J. M. (James Murray), 1798-1871.
    • McClellan, George Brinton, 1826-1885.
    • McDowell, Irwin 1815-1885.
    • Meagher, Thomas Francis, 1823-1867.
    • Medicine.
    • Military discharge.
    • Military ethics.
    • Military service, Voluntary.
    • Mines, Military.
    • Morale.
    • Patriotism.
    • Patriotism--Confederate States of America.
    • Peace.
    • Picket duty.
    • Porter, Fitz-John 1822-1901.
    • Resignation.
    • Richardson, Israel Bush, 1815-1862.
    • Richmond (Va.)--Capture, 1865.
    • Rosecrans, William Starke, 1819-1898.
    • Rumor.
    • Seven Days' Battles, 1862.
    • Sharpshooters.
    • Ships.
    • Skirmishes.
    • Soldiers--Confederate States of America.
    • Soldiers--Costume.
    • Soldiers--Religious life.
    • Souvenirs.
    • Strategy.
    • Sumner, Edwin Vose, 1797-1863.
    • Treason.
    • United States. Army--Leaves and furloughs.
    • United States. Army--Officers.
    • United States. Army--Pay, allowances etc.
    • United States. Army--Promotions.
    • United States. Army--Signal Corps.
    • United States. Army--Supplies and stores.
    • United States Sanitary Commission.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Casualties.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Destruction.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Health aspects.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
    • United States--Politics and government--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • War wounds.
    • War--Psychological aspects.
    • Washington (D.C.)
    • Wit and humor.
    • Women's Central Relief Association.
    • Yorktown (Va.)
    Related Materials

    The following item in the collection has been individually cataloged: