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The Unwritten War: A Visual Story of the Civil War Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War

August 15, 2009 - March 21, 2010


Wall text from the exhibition

Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal background of countless minor scenes and interiors, (not the official surface courteousness of the Generals, not the few great battles) of the Secession war; and it is best they should not -- the real war will never get in the books.
-Walt Whitman, Specimen Days

In 1892, Walt Whitman reflected on the American Civil War, writing in Specimen Days, that "[T]he real war will never get in the books." Whitman recognized that the history books would never truly capture the experiences of the men and women who lived through the war, as well as those who died in battle. This special exhibition will tell the story of the Civil War visually, using examples of trench art, made by the soldiers from items such as bullets, decorative arts made by women to support the war cause, as well as letters and other items that offer glimpses into the daily lives of the people who experienced this dark period in American history. Photographs by Mathew Brady, such as Burnside Bridge After the Battle of Antietam and President Lincoln at Antietam, from the Museum's Permanent Collection will highlight the significance of Washington County during the war. Also, part of the exhibition will be the Portrait of Captain George Luther Hager by Alexander Lawrie. Hager was a descendant of the family who founded Hagerstown and served in the 31st Indiana Infantry during the Civil War. As the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War approaches in 2011, this is a particularly important exhibit, which will bring together items from the Museum's Permanent Collection as well as pieces on loan from generous collectors.

In the presidential election of 1860, the Republican Party, led by Abraham Lincoln, had campaigned against the expansion of slavery beyond the states in which it already existed. The Republican victory in that election resulted in seven Southern states declaring their secession from the Union even before Lincoln took office on March4, 1861. Both the outgoing and incoming U.S. administrations rejected secession, considering it rebellion.

Hostilities began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces attacked a U.S. military installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Lincoln responded by calling for a voulnteer army from each state, leading to declarations of secession by four more Southern slave states.

Lasting from 1861 until 1865, the Civil War was a tumultuous time in American history. As the 150th Anniversary of the start of the war approaches, as well as the commemoration of John Brown's raid in 1859, the Museum presents a visual story of the lives of the soldiers, both Union and Confederate, as well as the lives of those left at home.


John Brown

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged but with blood.
-John Brown, Excerpt from his last letter, December 2, 1859

Born in 1800 in Torrington, Connecticut, John Brown was raised in a deeply religious family who was also opposed to slavery. Browns father, Owen Brown, was a strict Calvinist and ascribed to the views of Jonathan Edwards that slavery was a sin against an angry, unyielding God. Calvinists were asked to not only refuse to participate in slavery, but also to actively work towards ending the institution of slavery.

Brown moved often with his family, in each location assisting in the anti-slavery movement. In 1859, he moved to a farmhouse in Maryland a few miles from Harpers Ferry, Virginia (present day West Virginia) and finalized plans to attack the federal arsenal there. The plan was to attack the arsenal and confiscate the 100,000 muskets and rifles stored there. These were to be used by Brown and his "army" to create a liberation movement among slaves in Virginia, which he felt would spread south. Armed with pikes and .53 Sharp Rifles, #? is believed to have been used in the raid, Brown and his group of 21 men captured the arsenal on October 16, 1859. Initially the raid progressed as planned until an eastbound Baltimore & Ohio train approached. Hayward Shepherd, a free black man and baggage master on the train, was shot by Brown's group as he tried to warn passengers. The train was allowed to continue and eventually brought word of the raid to Baltimore and Washington. Around this time townspeople, farmers and the militia began firing on Brown and his men trapping them in the armory and eventually blocking their only escape route, the bridge.

By the morning of October 18 John Brown and his men were confined to the engine room of the arsenal and were surrounded by a company of Marines under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee. Army Lieutenant Jeb Stuart approached the arsenal and told Brown and his men that if they surrendered their lives would be spared. Brown refused and the militia stormed the engine room, capturing Brown and the surviving members of his group. In the end Brown and his men killed four people and wounded nine. Of Brown's men, nine were killed, including two of his sons.

Brown was charged with conspiring with slaves to rebel, treason against the state of Virginia and the murders of five men. On November 2, the jury found him guilty on all three counts and sentenced him to be hanged. At 11:15 a.m., December 2, 1859 John Brown was hanged.

It is said that John Brown was the spark that ignited the Civil War. His actions and death brought about the realization that a peaceful solution to the issue of slavery may not be possible.


Abraham Lincoln

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
- President Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address

Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809 on Sinking Spring Farm in Hardin County, Kentucky. His parents, Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, were uneducated farmers Lincoln only received about 18 months worth of schooling and was largely self-educated. He began his political career in 1832 when he ran for the Illinois General Assembly. Though he did not win this election, he continued an interest in politics and was elected to the Illinois State Legislature in 1834. Lincoln also became interested in law during this time and was admitted to the bar in 1837. He practiced law and continued to be active in politics on a state and national level until 1860 when he was elected the first Republican president of the United States. The demographic make up of Lincoln's voting base was reflective of the divisions in the country. He was not on the ballot in nine Southern states and only won 2 of the 996 counties in the South.

Lincoln was president during the strife of the American Civil War. Even before he was elected southern states began their move towards secession from the Union. As a strict follower of the Constitution, Lincoln would not act against the secessionist states unless the Union was attacked. This happened in April 1861 when Union forces at Fort Sumter, South Carolina were attacked by southern forces. Lincoln was president throughout the Civil War and won re-election in 1864. On April 9, 1865 Lee surrendered in Virginia effectively ending the war. Lincoln presided over the reconstruction efforts and sought to create unity while grappling with the issues of reintegrating southern states into the Union.

On April 14, 1865, Good Friday, Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd, attended a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. It was there that John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln in the head at point blank range with a Derringer pistol, similar to #6 top shelf. Lincoln succumbed to his wounds at 7:22 am, April 15, 1865. Booth also planned with co-conspirators to kill Secretary of State William Seward, pictured in #5 bottom shelf, and Vice President Andrew Johnson, but neither were killed


(above: Alexander Lawrie (American, 1828-1917), Portrait of Captain George Luther Hager, oil on canvas, gift of Mrs. George F. Burgess, Evanston, Illinois, 1962, A1182. The sitter of this portrait was a descendant of the Hager family who founded Hagerstown. During the Civil War he was a member of the 31st Indiana Infantry.)

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