WASHINGTON (AP) — Letters and diaries from those who lived through the Civil War offer a new glimpse at the arguments that split the nation 150 years ago and some of the festering debates that survive today.
The Library of Congress, which holds the largest collection of Civil War documents, pulled 200 items from its holdings to reveal both private and public thoughts from dozens of famous and ordinary citizens who lived in the North and the South. Many are being shown for the first time.
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, for one, was grappling with divided federal and state allegiances. He believed his greater allegiance was to his native Virginia, as he wrote to a friend about resigning his U.S. Army commission.
“Sympathizing with you in the troubles that are pressing so heavily upon our beloved country & entirely agreeing with you in your notions of allegiance, I have been unable to make up my mind to raise my hand against my native state, my relatives, my children & my home,” he wrote in 1861. “I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army.”
Lee’s handwritten letter is among dozens of writings from individuals who experienced the war. They are featured in the new exhibit “The Civil War in America” at the library in Washington until June 2013. Their voices also are being heard again in a new blog created for the exhibition.
For a limited time in 2013, the extensive display will feature the original draft of President Abraham Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and rarely shown copies of the Gettysburg Address.
Beyond the generals and famous battles, though, curators set out to tell a broader story about what Lincoln called “a people’s contest.”
“This is a war that trickled down into almost every home,” said Civil War manuscript specialist Michelle Krowl. “Even people who may seem very far removed from the war are going to be impacted on some level. So it’s a very human story.”
Curators laid out a chronological journey from before the first shots were fired to the deep scars soldiers brought home in the end.
While some still debate the root causes of the war, for Benjamin Tucker Tanner in 1860, the cause was clear, as he wrote from South Carolina in his diary.
“The country seems to be bordering on a civil war all on account of slavery,” wrote the future minister. “I pray God to rule and overrule all to his own glory and the good of man.”
A personal letter from Mary Todd Lincoln in 1862 was recently acquired by the library and is being publicly displayed for the first time.
In the handwritten note on stationery with a black border, Mary Lincoln reveals her deep grief over the death of her son Willie months earlier. Krowl said Mary Lincoln’s grief is also evident in the new movie, “Lincoln.”
“When you read this letter ... you just get a palpable feeling of how in the depth that she’s been and she’s now finally coming out of her grief, at least to resume public affairs,” Krowl said.
All the documents in the exhibit are original. They include a massive map Gen. Stonewall Jackson commissioned of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to prepare for a major campaign.
The library also is displaying personal items from Lincoln, including the contents of his pockets on the night he was assassinated, and the pocket diary of Clara Barton who would constantly record details about soldiers she met and later founded the American Red Cross.
Some of the closing words come from soldiers who lost their right arms or hands in battle and had to learn to write left-handed. They joined a left-handed penmanship contest and shared their stories.
“I think this exhibition will have a lot of resonance for people,” said exhibit director Cheryl Regan. “Certainly soldiers returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are going to be incredibly moved by these stories.”
MAY 23 Here's a story in the Picayune about some statistics that must come as a blow to folks who believe that any private school can do a better job of educating kids than any public school: Danielle Dreilinger reports that only 30 percent of the voucher kids are passing. That's less than half of the state wide average, she says. It's an interesting statistic because most of the schools (if not all) taking voucher kids have never had their students' standardized test scores released to the public before.
MAY 23 Stephen Sabludowsky blogs on Bayou Buzz about auditor requests here. Recently the state GOP started crowing about a request from the Legislative Auditor, claiming they were being targeted because of their anti-tax stance. (Uh, your what?) Denial and hyperbole aside, the state Democratic party blew holes in that theory with an email announcing they'd received the same request, Sabludowsky writes here.
MAY 23 Jim Brown blogs about the senate race in this post. He says that, given Bobby Jindal's "lack of traction" on the national stage, it might make more sense for the governor to consider running against Mary Landrieu for the senate seat. Since Tim Teeple left the Cassidy team, it makes sense he might land on a Jindal for Senate team, Brown opines.
MAY 23 In this Louisiana Voice post, blogger Tom Aswell writes of rumors that his nemesis, state Superintendent of Education John White, may be soon departing Louisiana for a federal post. It's hard to believe, given his performance, Aswell says, but stranger things have happened. An anti-White BESE member says that, if true, White is quitting before he can be fired.
MAY 23 In this post on American Zombie, blogger Jason Berry writes about the Mother's Day shooting. Mayor Landrieu said that "this is not who we are," but the fact is, this is New Orleans, Berry writes. The violence infused in the city is the result of a culture created by "sins of omission or sins of commission," Berry writes. It's not a problem that can be solved by legislating, policing, praying or publicizing, he says: Someone's got to understand what's happening first.
MAY 23 This post in the Westside Journal tells us what Port Allen Mayor Deedy has been up to lately: vetoing ordinances, apparently. This story is most interesting, however, when it delves into a petition that has been circulating around the city lately. It accuses the former mayor of a lot of nasty things; the former mayor says it is full of lies and "broken syntax" which may be a larger offense in his eyes.
MAY 23 This editorial posted in The Advocate is a bit confusing. The writing is poor - definitely not up to the usual editorial writing standard there - and the point is hard to grasp. Apparently, the writer is saying that privatization of state efforts is OK, as long as there is oversight and transparency, but Jindal's not good at that, and the legislature shouldn't over-react. Okey Dokey. Can't they get one of them Pulitzer-winning people to write an editorial?
MAY 23 This post on The Lens gives you links to a new Google Earth tool that allows you to see any spot on earth transform over the past 30 years. Bob Marshall, who covers the coast for the paper, says that in the case of Louisiana's coastline, it's possibly something you don't want to see, because it's not a pretty picture. There are several clips here, showing critical areas erode away. For Marshall, it was vindication for all those times he was met with eye-rolling when he talked about erosion.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.