There is a unique power to artifacts from the Civil War, which are historically majestic and also exert a present-tense pull on our minds: maps of Gettsyburg still carry a whiff of gunpowder; John Wilkes Booth still feels, on a visceral level, like a villain.
The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University is currently running an exhibition called The American Civil War: Treasures from the Vault, which features a wide range of original documents from the war. Among the items on display are three reproduced below: a drawing of Booth, with a tempting Satan over his shoulder; a map showing where Henry Ropes of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry died during the battle of Gettysburg (look for "H.R." in the lower-center of the image below); and a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, written on September 28, 1862, six days after Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. “It is six days old and while commendation in newspapers and by distinguished individuals, is all that a vain man could wish, the stocks have declined and troops come forward more slowly than ever," Lincoln writes, with a degree of worldly pessimism that is still clearly recognizable today. "This looked solely in the face is not very satisfactory... the north responds to the proclamation sufficiently in breath; but breath alone kills no rebels.”
The American Civil War: Treasures from the Vault is on display at the Mugar Memorial Library at BU from Monday-Friday, from 9:00am-4:30pm, through September 13.
Images courtesy of the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center.
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