DC at Night

DC at Night

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Library of Congress Looks at the Civil War

The Myriopticon, A Historical Panorama of the Rebellion. Springfield, Massachusetts: Milton Bradley Company, [before 1890]. Alfred Whital Stern Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress 
Some historians say that the outcome of the Civil War was never in serious doubt from the time the 1st shots were fired at Fort Sumter. The urban North was simply too powerful and populated for the agrarian South to win. It was a mathematical question of more men, more munitions, and more mechanization. You can even see the vast difference in capabilities of the 2 regions by perusing the school texts of young students. While the 80 different textbooks published in the Confederacy during the times of the conflict were simple black and white books on cheap paper, their counterparts in the North were replete with colorful illustrations and drawings.

The Northern texts were also much better at a not-so-subtle use of propaganda to promote patriotism and the Union cause. Take, for example, the words of these 2 pages from The Union ABCs.

Q is for Quarters, guarded with care
R is for Retreat, may you never be there
S is for Sailor who respected will be
T is for Traitor, that was hung on a tree.

Samples of the textbooks are just some of the more than 200 items now on display at the Library of Congress for its exhibition The Civil War in America.

A graphic timeline, adapted from the massive companion book to the exhibition, provides a chronological framework of wartime and postwar events.  Original documents that chart the course of the war are interwoven with personal pictures and eyewitness accounts and recollections that place the war in a human perspective.

Among some of the more interesting items displayed are:
  • the sheet music for "The Palmetto State," a song composed to celebrate the fact that South Carolina was the 1st state to secede from the Union
  • The Confederate States Medical and Surgical Journal which, since medicine was in short supply in the South, offers ways to use indigenous plants, herbs, and berries for treatments
  • the haversack that poet Walt Whitman carried as he visited the wounded Union soldiers in DC. Also on display is Whitman's notebook where he described "the heap of feet, legs, arms, human fragments, cut, bloody, black and blue, swelled and sickening" he found at a battle site
  • an 1863 broadside from the Workingmen's Democratic Republican Association headlined "To the Working Men of New York ... Stop and Think ... Stand by the Law" which was published to urge men to not riot and honor the draft for additional soldiers
  • playing cards with Union emblems provided to Northern soldiers to promote "liberty and loyalty"
  • a copy of Abraham Lincoln's famed Gettysburg Address
  • a minnie ball extracted from a wounded soldier
  • a copy of CSA (the Confederate States of America) 1865 Senate Bill which was "to provide for the Raising of Two Hundred Thousand Negro Troops"
  • the contents of Abraham Lincoln's pockets on the night he was assassinated which included a pocket knife, 2 pair of glasses, and a $5 Confederate bill
  • an April 20, 1865 poster from the War Department offering a $100,000 reward for the murderer of President Lincoln
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
You have plenty of time to visit the exhibition. It is scheduled to run until Jan. 4. However, if you won't be able to make it to DC or you want to get a preview of what you will see, you can do so by clicking here.

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