American Civil War remembered at National Library
A request for the release of a Confederate prisoner of war signed by US President Abraham Lincoln is one of the highlights of a new display at the National Library of Scotland commemorating the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War.
The war, which ended in 1865, tore apart the nation, killed and maimed more than a million Americans and remains a topic of debate and argument today. The display ['Yankee cries and Rebel yells'] uses material from the Library's rich American collections to give insights into the conflict that led to the abolition of slavery in the United States.
More books have been written on the Civil War than on any other event in American history. From the South it was seen as the 'War of Northern Aggression' but from the North as the rebellion of Southern states. This is reflected in the display which uses rare letters, political pamphlets, newspapers and memoirs from the era to illustrate the days of slave plantations, political discord and violent conflict.
Scots fought on both sides, including the son of the famous explorer and missionary David Livingstone. Robert Livingstone lied about his age to enlist in the Union Army in 1863. The teenager died the following year in a Confederate prison after being wounded in battle.
The display includes a letter to David Livingstone from his sister-in-law Harriette about Robert's fate before it was known he had died. 'From all I can learn I conclude that Robert must be a prisoner — if so I pity him. The tender mercies of the Rebels are cruel — they are trained to the practice of cruelty from their cradles,' she writes.
The display also includes the remarkable claim that the Scots literary giant Sir Walter Scott was in part responsible for the war, even though he died 30 years before it began.
Sir Walter Scott's historical adventures such as Ivanhoe were very popular in America and have been seen by some as having a major influence of Southern values of birth, rank and honour. In his travelogue 'Life on the Mississippi', the writer Mark Twain declared: 'It was Sir Walter that made every gentleman in the South a Major or a Colonel, or a General or a Judge […] Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the war, that he is in great measure responsible for the war.'
Other key items that can be seen in the display include:
- The deed of sale of slave-woman Lettice and her child Whinny for $278 in North Carolina in 1829
- An advertisement for the sale of a sugar plantation and slaves in Louisiana in 1852
- The pocket diary of a Union soldier fighting in Confederate Virginia in 1862
- Letters from Charles Paine who rose from Union Captain to Brigadier General writing about the progress of the war.
The display also includes a rare signed first edition of the novel 'Gone with the wind' by Margaret Mitchell which has been credited with doing more to shape understanding of the war than historical studies. The book was published in 1936 and became one of the most popular novels in US history selling up to 50,000 copies in a day. More than 30 million copies have been sold overall and the book was made into a film which remains one of the most successful in box-office history.
'One hundred and fifty years after its close, the American Civil War still inspires fascination and debate,' said US and Commonwealth Curator Dora Petherbridge, who curated the display. 'Many people encounter the conflict through novels and Hollywood films. The cultural legacy of the war is immense. I hope the original documents in the display will offer visitors perspectives on the era that they may not have encountered before.'
'Yankee cries and Rebel yells: The American Civil War' runs until March 22 at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. Entry is free.
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22 January 2015