NIMITZ LIBRARY -- U. S. Naval Academy
Skip History Site Navigation Bar
History Tip Sheet:
Naval Document Assignment

The naval document assignment requires you to interpret an historical primary source document.  Many of you will pick a document from one of the collections listed here.  You need to know who it is to and from, the context in which it was written, what message it is conveying, and why it is important or what it means.  The document can be on a major incident in the war or can be on a more routine matter.


The documents to choose from are all in primary source collections reprinted in book form in the general collection and some have been digitized.  Most of these collections are big multi-volume sets. The call number "E" represents American history.  The print volumes are located on the second floor and you can check out any of them.  In most cases, you are required to photocopy the document you use.

Title Call Number
Naval Documents of the American Revolution  (11 vols., 1774-1778)


Naval Documents Related to the Quasi-War Between the United States and France  (7 vols., 1797-1801)

E323.U75  or online

Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers  (6 vols., 1785-1807)

E335.A35 or online

The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History (3 vols., 1812-1815)


Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion  (30 vols., plus index, 1861-1865)

E591.U58 or online

You might want to go to the shelves and look at these collections before searching online to get a sense of the type of documents they contain.  Since the documents are generally arranged chronologically, you can go directly to the appropriate volume if you have a specific date in mind, such as a particular battle or incident.  Each individual volume also has its own index, so you can check there for exact page numbers.  Some of the sets have master indexes in separate volumes at the end of the set.

Tip:  You might consider 2 or 3 documents at first until you do additional research and then select the one you are going to use. This just saves you from going back and starting over if a given document is not going to work for you.

If you are not required to select a document from the 5 collections listed above, and you prefer a different time period, here are the general call nuimber sections for other wars.  You can browse in these stack areas since there are some document collections there and many scholarly books contain some primary documents.  This is a starting point and there are books on these wars in other call numbers as well.

Mexican War, 1846-1848
Spanish-American War, 1898
World War I, 1914-1918
World War II, 1939-1945
Korean War, 1950-1953
Cold War
D839-D843 and E741-E814
Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Persian Gulf War, 1991
Iraq War, 2003
War on Terrorism



Since these documents are from well-known American wars, you should be able to find information about the war itself without too much trouble.  While you are in the stacks at the document collection, notice that the other books on this war should be nearby on the shelves.  There is material on every war in the general collection, although some are more written about than others.  You can check out the books you find.

When you are on the first floor of the Library, check the Reference collection for background books on the war or time period of your document.  Click here for a list of possible Reference books. This will provide a useful overview and context for your document and may identify names and places.  In some cases, you may want an atlas to find a map pertinent to your document.  You may want to check a dictionary of ships for more information about a Navy ship.

In addition, you can check our Library catalog for specific books or videos on the war or people or something pertaining to your document. 

All of this research will help you get a sense of what your document means.


In some cases, the person sending and/or the person receiving the document will be well known.  Often the documents are to or from senior officers, the Secretary of the Navy, or even the President.  If you check the Library catalog, there will likely be entire books on the more famous names.

However, many of you will not recognize the person listed or the signature will have only an initial and last name.  Click here to see a list of some biographical sources.  These sets are all in the Reference collection, but there is online access to some of them.

Occasionally, you may not be able to identify one of the names in your document.  You should check with your professor to see if you can still use this document, or you may want to choose another one.


Be sure to ask a Reference librarian for help, or contact the History Librarian.

Comments or suggestions?
Last updated: 28 July 2011