Yankee cries and Rebel yells

The American Civil War

In this display, the American Civil War is refracted through the prism of the National Library of Scotland's collections. Runs from 21 January to 22 March.


Echoes of Union and Confederate voices resonate in a National Library of Scotland display commemorating the end of the American Civil War.

'Yankee cries and Rebel yells' presents items from the Library's collections that draw our attention to the conflict and its extraordinary legacy, which divides people even today.

And alongside American voices are those of Scots who were involved in both sides of the fight.

Bugler on horseback Map of America with Union-Confderate boundary shown
'The bugle call' and map showing Union-confederate boundary


Slaves, battle cries and cultural legacy

In 1861, the bitter four-year struggle began that split America and claimed the lives of an estimated 620,000 soldiers.

But the American Civil War also resulted in legislation that abolished slavery and emancipated four million people.

Material selected from thousands of items in the Library's collections illustrates the three main themes of the display:

  • 'Slaves, campaigners and influential Scots'
    — exhibits include accounts of slaves, an advertisement for the sale of slaves, and abolitionist propaganda
  • 'Battle cries'
    — exhibits include letters from a Union Colonel and the diary of a Union private
  • 'Culture and the conflict'
    — how the war has been remembered and interpreted.

Photo of a man with a scarred back Emancipation Proclamation
Scarred slave and Emancipation Proclamation


Highlights from the collections

The display includes correspondence, political pamphlets, newspapers and memoirs from the period.

All the items — whether voicing the 'battle cries' of civilians or soldiers, academics or film-makers — give insight into the Confederates' howling Rebel Yell and the Union cries of freedom heard 150 years ago.

Highlights on show include:

  • Deed of sale of slave-woman and child, Edgecombe County, NC, 1829:
    A document stating ownership of Lettice and her daughter, Whinny, by planter Theophilus Parker.
  • Advertisement for sale of sugar plantation and slaves, Bellechasse, LA, 1852: Attorney Judah P Benjamin sold Bellechasse Plantation in Louisiana and became a Senator. Plantation ownership played a key role in the state's politics and economy. An illustration of the St Louis Hotel Rotunda shows a slave auction in progress.
  • Union soldier's pocket diary, May-September 1862:
    The author of this diary, whose name is unknown, was a Union private fighting in Confederate Virginia near the James River, probably in the Peninsula campaign and its culmination – the Seven Days Battles. In brief daily entries, the soldier records his march toward Richmond and retreat to Yorktown as 'Rebels' drove Union regiments south. On picket duty, breaking up a railroad, or engaged in 'hard fiting'(sic), the soldier notes the weather, sending letters and pay home, when whisky is issued, and, when there is 'One tear in [my] nice quilt'.
  • Request for discharge, 17 December 1864, endorsed by Abraham Lincoln:
    Signed by President Lincoln, this note allows Confederate soldier Tom Price to be discharged from Union prison Camp Douglas on taking the Oath of Allegiance. Price's release was requested by fellow Kentuckian Charles Eginton, who occasionally wrote to Lincoln asking for the release of young captives from his community. Eginton was a Southern Unionist and believed the men were misguided in fighting for the Confederacy and would reform.
  • Two letters of Col Charles J Paine to Francis G Richards, 1863 and 1864:
    During his service, Charles Paine, aged about 30, rose from Union Captain to Brigadier General. From his post in Louisiana, Paine often wrote to a close friend, Frank. His letters are characterised by a desire for news from home and forceful opinion on the war's progress.
  • 'Gone with the wind', signed first edition, Margaret Mitchell, 1936:
    Academics suggest Mitchell's story shapes understanding of the war far more than historical studies. The novel as a romance of the South, and its treatment of race, gender and class, may account for its enduring popularity. The story relays the downfall of the South through the struggles of planter's daughter Scarlett O'Hara. In the opening pages Scarlett proclaims: ' … the Yankees are too scared of us to fight. There won't be any war, and I'm tired of hearing about it.' One of her admirers replies: 'Why, honey, of course there's going to be a war'.


Find out more


Opening hours

The display in our George IV Bridge Building is open daily:

Monday to Friday: 10.00-20.00
Saturday: 10.00-17.00
Sunday: 14.00-17.00

Admission free.



The treasures display in our George IV Bridge Building is a small sample of the millions of items in our collections. We change the display several times a year.

Past treasures displays



Exhibitions main page


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