#OneBookWednesday: The Civil War on Display

By Kathy H. RSS Wed, January 20, 2016

This One Book, One Philadelphia season takes us back in time to the Civil War era, as we travel and travail alongside fictional southerners Inman and Ada in Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. Adult companion books Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup, and The Civil War, by Geoffrey Ward with Ric Burns and Ken Burns, provide nonfiction accounts to help us understand this time period. As the One Book kickoff approaches—Tuesday, February 2—and our Reading Period comes to an end, where better to continue building our understanding than in the historical holdings of the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia?

The Rosenbach's collections include hundreds of Civil War documents, ranging from newspaper accounts and letters from ordinary soldiers and civilians to the writings of Grant, Lee, Lincoln, Davis, and many others.

Here are a few highlights that span the Civil War years:

Charleston Mercury. Charleston, S.C., 13 April 1861. AN .C477
This Charleston Mercury broadside, published the day after the start of the bombardment of Fort Sumter, relays the breaking news of the surrender of the fort and proudly proclaims the independence of South Carolina.

Robert E. Lee, autograph letter signed to Winfield Scott. Arlington, Va., 20 April 1861. AMs 359/23
A West Point graduate who had served for nearly 32 years, Colonel Robert E. Lee felt strong ties to the United States and to the U.S. Army. But when Virginia voted for secession on April 17, 1861, Lee wrote this letter to his mentor General Winfield Scott, explaining his decision to resign from the army. After thanking Scott for his kindness and consideration, Lee concludes, “Save in the defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword.”

Alexander Biddle, autograph letter signed to Julia Biddle. Bivouac on the field near Gettysburg, 3 July 1863. Rush IV:30:33
Alexander Biddle was an officer in the 121st Pennsylvania regiment and fought at the battle of Gettysburg. On July 3, 1863, the third day of the battle, he had already signed off on a letter to his wife when dramatic events impelled him to add a postscript, describing what would become known as Pickett’s Charge:

After writing this, about 4 O'clock in the afternoon our position was violently shelled—Doubleday & Rowley both said they never heard more violent shelling. every minute they burst or solid shot ricocheted over us. After this they drove in our skirmishers and pushed up to the brow of a hill on our right, for a moment they took a battery but it was immediately retaken. the result is Longstreet wounded and a prisoner—Garrett wounded lying on the field. Gibbons division took 14 stand of Colors, on our front they were repulsed.

Abraham Lincoln, Baltimore address: autograph manuscript. [not after 18 April 1864] AMs 805/9
Lincoln’s Baltimore Address was given at a fundraising fair for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a quasi-governmental organization that provided aid to the troops. In the speech Lincoln wrestles with the concept of liberty, explaining that “We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.” At the end of the speech he also addresses the Confederate massacre of black soldiers at Fort Pillow, calling for equal protection for African American soldiers but resisting public calls for revenge killings of Confederate prisoners.

Adam Badeau, military notebook. 1864–1865. AMs 545/26
On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee was finally trapped near Appomattox Court House and forced to surrender. Lee arrived first to the surrender meeting, at 1:00 p.m. Grant arrived a half hour later, and the meeting lasted until 3:45. At 4:30, with the surrender completed, Grant needed to inform the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. He borrowed the notebook of an aide, and wrote out this telegram, informing Stanton of the afternoon’s events.

The Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia, 20 April 1864. AN .P5546. Gift of Steven and Susan Raab
Five days after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box at Ford’s Theater and shot Abraham Lincoln. This copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer provides extensive coverage of Lincoln’s funeral in Washington D.C. , the first of many funeral services that would be held as his body traveled on a special train back to Springfield, Illinois.

When you need a One Book reading break, you can check out more Civil War materials here! To experience them up close, feel free to make a research appointment at the Rosenbach or register for the Civil War Hands-On Tour on February 7, part of the One Book season of engaging and enlightening programs.

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