Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2010 Issue

The Civil War to be Re-fought Online (courtesy of the Rosenbach)

Rosenbachcivilwar

The first shots in the Civil War 150 will be fired this month.


By Michael Stillman

On November 6, 1860, American voters went to the polls. Their choices assured the most important changes in American history would soon take place. They selected as their president a former one-term congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln over the long-time highly influential senator Stephen Douglas, who had defeated Lincoln in the Illinois senate election just two years earlier, John Breckenridge, the sitting vice-president, and John Bell, a former senator, Secretary of War, and Speaker of the House. The election results were divided north versus south, and soon the nation would be too. The South would not abide Lincoln being president.

One hundred and fifty years later, and light years in terms of technological advancement, the Civil War will be relived, though this time, thankfully, from the comfort of your home. The Rosenbach Museum and Library will be hosting an ever-changing online exhibition of that terrible conflict, just as it progressed, only 150 years later. No one will be killed or wounded this time, families will not be split, men will not be maimed, no one will be placed in ghastly prison camps again. However, you will have a chance to relive the tension, excitement, and horrors of that critical period in America's life as it evolved. Documents and other material from the Rosenbach's extensive collection of Civil War-era material will be posted to their site on the day they were created… plus 150 years.

What will emerge over the next five years are letters from leaders during the conflict, including Lincoln, Grant and Lee, along with letters from ordinary soldiers held in the Rosenbach collections. You will find other material pertaining to the debate that set off this uncivil conflict, slavery vs. abolition. There are newspapers that revealed events in the struggle as they unfolded, which will appear on the day of publication plus 150 years. Photographs and books will also be displayed, along with something new - new musical compositions created by jazz pianist Dave Burrell as a tribute to the times.

Through July of next year, the focus will be on the early days of the war, the events leading up to its beginning and the first days of the conflict. Among the items to be seen will be the papers of Elmer Elsworth, the first soldier killed in the war; Robert E. Lee's letter of resignation from the Union Army, sent to General Winfield Scott; and Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard's report on the first Battle of Manassas.

Civil War 150, the title of the exhibitions being prepared by the Rosenbach, will run until the war is "over," which in this case will be April of 2015. What will the Rosenbach offer after that date? We don't know. Perhaps a Reconstruction of their website.

The Rosenbach's online exhibition and blog can be found at the following link: http://rosenbach.org/civilwar.

Rare Book Monthly

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