Tuesday, October 15, 2013

New And Noteworthhy---Inside Your Museum; The Smithsonian's Civil War Collection

Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection, Neil Kagan and Stephen G. Hyslop, editors, Hugh Talman, photographer, Smithsonian Books, 368 pp., profusely illustrated, object list, index, $40.00.

In 150 slim chapters, beginning with the Smithsonian before the Civil War to the creation of the Lincoln penny, some very remarkable objects and their stories are revealed in Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection. The Institution was a creature of antebellum politics. Slave holding Congressmen resisted the passage of the 1846 Congressional bill to establish the Smithsonian Institution. Yet the future president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, was the regent of the Smithsonian from 1847 to 1851; his circa 1855 photographic portrait graces an early page of the book. During the war years the Smithsonian Secretary was Joseph Henry who was a vocal advocate of slavery; he and his family lived the the building that included a museum, a library and other facilities. Henry refused to fly the U.S. flag over the building. He believed that the flag was an invitation for Confederates to fire on the building and its neighborhood.

Generally, the chapters consist of one page of  narrative and one to three pages of photographs of objects.  For example Chapter 10, John Brown, has one page of narrative divided into two columns; between the columns is a photo of one 950 pikes "that Brown acquired to arm slaves incited to rebel by his rat on Harper's Ferry." The second page is a photographic image of Brown [not bearded] taken in the mid-1850s by Augustus Washington, and African American. The third and fourth pages includes a small photographic image of Brown [bearded] taken in 1858, photos of weapons used by Brown in Kansas [44. caliber Sharps rifle, 52 caliber Sharps carbine, .31 caliber six -shot revolver] and August 10 1857 personal letter from John Brown to George Stearns regarding funds that bought the arms used in Kansas.

The150 chapter capture hundreds of unique items in the Smithsonian's collection. Chapters such as The Fire-Eaters' War, the Wartime Patent Office, the Telegraph at War, and Appomattox Paroles offer unique documents, devices and and military accouterments.  Indeed, there is something for everyone in Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection.  Currency and postage stamp printing plates, children toys, a soldier's photographic image in a hardtack frame, a variety of telegraph keys, two intact Minie balls that collided in flight, printing presses that accompanied armies, and a small wooden drum that held slips of paper which identified Union men eligible for the military draft  are just a few of the hundreds of objects that tell a stories in Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection. Some are amazingly unique. Federal soldier Solomon Conn of Company B, 87th Indiana purchase on May 1, 1863 in Nashville a violin to share with others because he never in his life learned to play the instrument but, its back he inscribed all the battles in he carried the fiddle. The entire back is full. in 1988 his heirs gave the instrument to the Smithsonian Institution. 

Readers of all ages will find delights, new information and unique images between the covers of  Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection.

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