The American Civil War: Treasures from the Vault


This major exhibition explored, from a variety of perspectives and categories, the causes, reactions, and responses to the great nineteenth-century conflict that divided the fledgling nation of the Unites States of America. This was accomplished with a broad selection of original manuscript pieces: letters, journals, maps, official documents and publications, all selected from collections held in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. Among the collections involved, the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts and the First Corps of Cadets presented a close view of the part Massachusetts played in the conflict.

Categories explored in the exhibition included slavery, emancipation, Abraham Lincoln, his Cabinet, and his assassination, the armies of both sides, the Union navy, and the difficulties faced post-war. There were also investigations into slave narratives, the relatively new art of photography, poetry and popular music of the day, to name a few.

Some of the rare items on display include a Richmond, Virginia ledger recording the capture and return of runaway slaves, dated April 1854 - July 1856, shown along with a handwritten bill of sale for a young boy. There are letters from Lincoln and his various Cabinet members: Secretary of War Simon Cameron, Secretary of the Interior Caleb B. Smith, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, and Secretary of State William Seward. Also shown was an extremely rare wanted poster, issued by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, with tipped-on photographs of conspirators John Surratt and David Herold, as well as the assassin himself, John Wilkes Booth.

This exhibition is no longer on view.

Alan Cumming
The American Civil War