Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2013, 1:57 pm

Traveling exhibit helps nation in Discovering the Civil War

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By Marlene Gantt

Americans have been discussing, debating and disagreeing about the Civil War for over 150 years.

Time and myth have obscured the perspective on the war, according to the government's National Archives exhibit Discovering the Civil War. The traveling exhibit opened on Feb. 12, Lincoln's birthday, at the Tennessee State Museum, Nashville, Tenn. It will be there through Sept. 2. The museum will feature a rare display of the Emancipation Proclamation document that rarely leaves the National Archives in Washington D.C.

To portray the Civil War, the National Archives has pieced together a fresh interactive exploration using original letters, diaries, photos, maps, petitions, receipts, patents, amendments and proclamations. The multimedia experience features 12 themed sections including Spies and Conspiracies, Prisoners and Casualties, Emancipation and Global War.

For example, Raising Armies uses text to describe the situation in 1861 backed up by original documents. In 1861 the U.S. Army consisted of about 14,000 men. The Navy was even smaller and scattered. The Confederacy had to create an army and navy from scratch.

In late 1864 the Confederacy needed more men for its army. A group of women from Harrisonburg, Va., wrote to Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon suggesting he allow women to serve.

The war department replied it was not quite ready to call the ladies to help men in the field. In addition to raising and training huge armies, both President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis had to find capable officers who could command hundreds of thousands of men.
Several important documents will be on display including the unratified 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the ratified 13th Amendment. The 1861 13th Amendment signed by President James Buchanan on March 2, 1861 was never ratified by the states. It would have prevented the federal government from ever interfering with slavery. The later 1865 ratified 13th Amendment forever freed four million slaves.

Another interesting document included is a bill granting Sarah Emma Edmonds Seelye a military pension of $12 per month She served under the alias of Pvt. Frank Thompson in Co. F, Second Regiment of Michigan Infantry Volunteers.

Other documents include Seddon's letter to the Virginia women, Robert E. Lee's letter of resignation, wanted posters, the Constitution of the Confederate States of America adopted on Mar. 11, 1861, maps of naval courses, proclamations, U.S. Army surgeon Maj. Albert J Myer's cipher disk to protect Union Army communications, congressional records and Union Capt. A.B. Long's circular outlining the government's position regarding the Emancipation Proclamation as it affected New Iberia, La.

Long's circular illustrates the path to emancipation was a gradual and uneven one. It outlined the government's position as he saw it regarding how the proclamation would affect New Iberia. "The generally perceived impression that the slaves of this Parish, are free, by force of the presence of the Union Army, is erroneous," said the circular, in part.

He believed that parish was excepted by the Emancipation Proclamation. Long did say, however, if masters used force to abduct runaway slaves, the masters would be punished, or if they whip their slaves, they would be arrested.

Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, formally proclaiming the freedom of all slaves held in areas still in revolt.
The fragile manuscript signed by Lincoln can only be exposed to light for 72 hours while in Tennessee. The document will be displayed at intervals during a to-be-determined six-day period in 2013 marking the 150th anniversary of it signing. ( It appears it will end Feb. 18.)

During the time when the document isn't on display, it is covered in black. After the 72 hours, a replica will be on display until Sept. 1. The Emancipation Proclamation was kept for many years at the State Department with other presidential proclamations before being transferred in 1936 to the National Archives.

The Discovering the Civil War exhibit, however, will continue beyond the proclamation's six- day viewing. Many items on display have never been publicly exhibited including the original copy of the 13th Amendment and South Carolina's 1860 declaration of secession.

The exhibit is appropriate for Tennessee as that state had more Civil War battles than any other state except Virginia.

Discovering the Civil War was created by the National Archives and Records Administration and the Foundation for the National Archives.

The highlights of the exhibit can be found on the Tennessee State Museum website or type in Discovering the Civil War.
Marlene Gantt of Port Byron is a former Rock Island school teacher.