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Press Kit - The Civil War at The Huntington

September 06, 2012

MAJOR CIVIL WAR PHOTOGRAPHS EXHIBITION OPENS OCT. 13

 

“A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War” (Oct. 13, 2012–Jan. 14, 2013) is supplemented by the manuscripts exhibition, “A Just Cause: Voices of the American Civil War” (Sept. 22, 2012–Jan. 7, 2013)

 

Press Preview Friday, Oct. 12, 10 a.m.–noon

 

The Civil War at The Huntington

PRESS RELEASE  •   SUGGESTED READING  •   PROGRAMS  •   IMAGES

CIVIL WAR WEBSITE  •   LIBRARY COLLECTIONS  •   STEVE RODEN'S completely silenced

 

SAN MARINO, Calif.—Some of the deepest, most wrenching complexities of the American Civil War are examined in a pair of exhibitions that bring to light rare photographs and manuscripts at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. The exhibition of photographs—“A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War” runs from Oct. 13, 2012, through Jan. 14, 2013, in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery. It is complemented by a companion exhibition, “A Just Cause: Voices of the American Civil War,” on view Sept. 22, 2012, through Jan. 7, 2013, in the West Hall of the Library.

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (ca. 1840-1882), photographer; printed by Alexander Gardner, A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, July 4, 1863; Albumen print; 7 x 9 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“When we began thinking about how The Huntington might weigh in on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we knew that an exhibition of photographs was indisputably the way to go,” said David Zeidberg, Avery Director of the Library. “This is the first time The Huntington has mounted an exhibition centered solely on its Civil War imagery, some of which is very rare and little known. At the same time, we knew that also bringing out some of our manuscript material could provide important narrative context. What was this war about that took the lives of three quarters of a million people? We think of it as a given; in fact it is a question that has been fiercely argued about over time.” 

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (ca. 1840-1882), photographer; printed by Alexander Gardner, A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, July 4, 1863; Albumen print; 7 x 9 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.  

 

 

“A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War”


The Huntington’s Civil War archives—begun when Henry E. Huntington purchased two of the “Big Five” collections of Abraham Lincoln materials early in the 20th century—supply more than 200 works by famed war photographers Mathew Brady, Timothy O’Sullivan, George Barnard, Alexander Gardner, and Andrew J. Russell, among others, for “A Strange and Fearful Interest.”

 

“I have looked at these photographs for years, but I am still struck by how extraordinary this collection is, how absolutely compelling and haunting,” said Jennifer Watts, curator of photographs at The Huntington and curator of “A Strange and Fearful Interest.” “I knew it was finally time we put together an exhibition based solely on the collection.”

 

“The anniversary of the war,” she said, “provided the perfect opportunity to think about the war’s visual record and how it might be presented to the visiting public. The result has been an exhibition that explores how photographic images explained, reflected, and shaped the nation’s coming to terms with the unprecedented death toll of the Civil War, focusing on key episodes to highlight larger cultural issues.”

 

Exhibition focal points include the battlefront, particularly the Battle of Antietam—the bloodiest and costliest single day of combat in American history; the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the nationwide mourning that ensued, and the subsequent execution of the conspirators; and the establishment of Gettysburg National Monument as a site of reconciliation and remembrance.

 

The exhibition takes its title from a statement made by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1863 responding to the imagery of Antietam—“The field of photography is extending itself to embrace subjects of strange and sometimes of fearful interest.” The war coincided with the rise of photographic and printing technologies that enabled the wide dissemination of imagery to a rapt audience, said Watts.

 

Recent estimates put the number of Civil War dead at as many as 750,000 Americans, more than all other major conflicts from the Revolutionary War through the present. Said Watts: “It was after I read historian Drew Gilpin Faust’s powerful book, This Republic of Suffering, that I realized the profound impact of the carnage.”

 

Faust writes, “Soldiers tried to make sense of what they had wrought. As they surveyed the scene at battle’s end, they became different men.” The same could be said for the nation at large as it grappled with death on such a monumental scale, said Watts. “The exhibition examines how the nation ‘became different’ as a result of this conflagration and how it attempted to make sense of it all.”

Visitor Experience
In “A Strange and Fearful Interest,” visitors encounter original works in a contemporary installation designed to provoke serious looking and reflection. Organized around three primary themes—Battlefront, Assassination, and Commemoration—items are displayed to privilege aesthetic and intellectual connections over strict chronological ones. Two computer kiosks offer visitors the opportunity to view 50 works at a level of detail impossible to perceive with the naked eye.

 

The gallery dedicated to the imagery of battlefield dead that proliferated during and after the war is envisioned as a minimal, contemplative space. It contains Alexander Gardner’s famous Antietam series of battlefield carnage, scrapbook pages recording death by a famous Civil War illustrator, and several original stereographic cards installed in vintage viewers.

 

The space also contains contemporary artist Steve Roden’s response to this particular genre of imagery through a sound work using battlefield photographs as a point of departure.

Exhibition Highlights
Key objects in “A Strange and Fearful Interest” include Alexander Gardner’s views of battlefield dead at Antietam; rare photographs from Andrew J. Russell’s U.S. Military Railroad Album, including haunting scenes of battlefield devastation and newly established military cemeteries; George Barnard’s incomparable album Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign (1866); a rare “Wanted” Poster from the Lincoln assassination; mementos of grief such as a Lincoln mourning ribbon and keepsakes; lithographs of Lincoln deathbed scenes as well as photographs of the large public displays of mourning associated with the funeral; a set of photographs by Alexander Gardner depicting the execution of the Lincoln conspirators; John P. Nicholson albums and images related to the establishment of Gettysburg National Monument; and the scrapbooks of Civil War veteran and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News illustrator James E. Taylor, which include exceptionally rare battlefield, contraband, and convalescent images.

Online Component
To supplement “A Strange and Fearful Interest,” The Huntington produced an interactive web component containing 50 images drawn from the exhibition accompanied by written and audio commentary designed to elicit deep engagement with the objects.

 

Available beginning Oct. 13, 2012, via The Huntington’s main website at huntington.org, the website is organized around the exhibition’s themes, presenting key photographs, prints, and other works with an emphasis on details. The website also features expert commentary by top scholars and artists who were asked to respond in both intellectual and personal ways to images in the exhibition. A video depicting 19th-century photographic techniques and a rare audio recording of a witness’ account of the Lincoln assassination are other highlights of the special website.

“A Just Cause: Voices of the American Civil War”


In a prelude to “A Strange and Fearful Interest,” The Huntington presents an exhibition that examines the ways Northerners and Southerners viewed the rationale for the war. “A Just Cause: Voices of the American Civil War” (on view Sept. 22, 2012–Jan. 7, 2013, in the West Hall of the Library building) takes its title from the letter of April 30, 1864, in which Lincoln bids farewell to Ulysses S. Grant as the general embarked on what turned out to be the bloodiest campaign yet: “And now with a brave army, and a just cause, may God sustain you.”

 

“But what was this cause?” asked Olga Tsapina, Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts at The Huntington and curator of the exhibition. “And what cause could justify the carnage that would claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans?”

 

The debate over the cause has been raging since the ink dried on the articles of the Confederate surrender, she said. “The many names we’ve given it—the War of Southern Independence, the War for the Union, the War of the Rebellion, the War of Northern Aggression, the Freedom War, and even the Second American Revolution—epitomize this great and still very much ongoing dispute.”

 

For those who lived through it, there was no single answer either. “Northerners rushed to arms to preserve the Union and kill slavery; Southerners, to win independence and defend their constitutional rights, which included the right to own slaves,” said Tsapina. “As the war raged on, all pressed on, moved by the sense of honor, loyalty to the fallen, hatred of the enemy, and ultimately, survival.”

 

The exhibition, drawn entirely from The Huntington’s collections of manuscripts and printed materials, explores this great soul-searching, which made the Civil War, in the words of one war veteran, “a battle of ideas interrupted by artillery.”

 

On display are some 80 letters, diaries, and other writings by Northerners and Southerners, including Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, George B. McClellan, as well as by those less famous Union and Confederate soldiers and their families, clergymen, physicians, charity workers, lawyers, and academics. Some of the highlights include the letter Robert E. Lee wrote on the eve of the war predicting a “fiery ordeal” that the country had to “pass through for its sins”; an unusual early design for the Confederate flag that represented “the white and colored races of the South”; a note by Frederick Douglass calling for enlistment of black troops; and a rare copy of the 13th Amendment signed by Abraham Lincoln.

 

“Northerners and Southerners alike believed that God and the Founding Fathers were on their side,” said Tsapina. “They all believed that their own cause was just, and the enemy was fighting to uphold tyranny and injustice.” This faith, however, gave rise to passionate and divisive debates. “Can a just war be cruel? Can a good cause unleash so much evil in the world? What would victory look like? There were no clearly defined war doctrines, contingency plans, or exit strategies. The only thing the leadership on both sides could do was react to pressing political and military problems.”

 

As the war raged on, its mission was redefined and continually questioned. Even the nature of the conflict remained undefined. The Southerners viewed it as a revolution, a counter-revolution, or a war of independence, said Tsapina. The North struggled to determine whether it was a domestic insurrection or a full-blown war. The latter would presume that the Confederacy was indeed a separate nation, something that many, including Lincoln, refused to acknowledge.

 

“The debate inevitably returned to slavery,” Tsapina said. “Some valued slavery as a divinely ordained social order, a peculiar blessing to the American people sanctioned by the Bible and protected by the Constitution. Others deplored it as a cancer eating at the heart of the nation, a powerful special interest rooted in the most fundamental affront to human dignity and justice.”

 


Curator Suggestions for Further Reading*


David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2002)
Jim Downs, Sick from Freedom (2012)
Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (2008)
Gary Gallagher, The Confederate War (1997)
Gary Gallagher, Union War (2011)
Stephanie McCurry, The Confederate Reckoning (2012)  
James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (1988)  
James M. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (1997)
George Rable, The Confederate Republic: A Revolution Against Politics (1994)
Harry S. Stout, Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War (2006)
Joan S. Waugh, U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth (2009)
Jennifer Weber, The Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of the War’s Opponents in the North (2006)

*Suggested by Jennifer Watts, curator of photographs at The Huntington and curator of “A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War” (on view Oct. 13, 2012–Jan. 14, 2013); and Olga Tsapina, Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts at The Huntington and curator of “A Just Cause: Voices of the American Civil War” (on view Sept. 22, 2012–Jan. 7, 2013). All titles available at The Huntington Bookstore & More.



 

Related Programs*


Book Series: Civil War
Facilitator Judith Palarz presents a monthly book discussion series focusing on topics related to the Civil War. The series includes a curator-led private tour of the exhibition “A Strange and Fearful Interest.” This series is being offered twice; Series 1 begins Sept. 12; Series 2 begins Sept. 19. Members: $85. Non-Members: $95. Registration: 626-405-2128.

Curator Tour: “A Just Cause: Voices of the American Civil War”
Wed., Oct. 10, 4:30 p.m.–5:30 p.m.
Curator Olga Tsapina gives a private tour of the exhibition “A Just Cause: Voices of the American Civil War” to gain insights into the war-time debate on the causes of and purpose behind the war. Members: $15. Non-Members: $20. Registration: 626-405-2128.

Public Program: Civil War Living History Day
Sat., Oct. 27, 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
Guests are invited to gather on the Library and Brown Garden lawns at The Huntington to enjoy the music of the Civil War era presented by the Band of the California Battalion, re-creating music of the times with period instruments. In addition, the New Buffalo Soldiers, a reenactment group, will present demonstrations about Civil War life. The Buffalo Soldiers refers to the African American men who served as members of the U.S. Calvary during the Civil War. Free with admission.

Lecture: Drew Gilpin Faust and Ric Burns on “Death and the Civil War”
Wed., Oct. 31, 7:30 p.m.
Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, best-selling author of This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, talks with filmmaker Ric Burns about his new film, “Death and the Civil War,” based on Faust’s book. The documentary examines how the unprecedented death toll and carnage of the war challenged American cultural attitudes about death and fundamentally transformed federal government policies toward soldiers. Friends’ Hall. Free, but advance tickets required.

Curator Tour: “A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War”
Wed., Dec. 5, 4:30–5:30 p.m.
Curator Jennifer Watts gives a private tour of the exhibition “A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War.” Members: $15. Non-Members: $20. Registration: 626-405-2128.

 

*Check online calendar for updated information on all events.

 


Contacts

Thea M. Page, 626-405-2260, tpage@huntington.org

Susan Turner-Lowe, 626-405-2147, sturner@huntington.org  

 

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: High-resolution digital images available on request for publicity use.]

About The Huntington
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars and the general public. More information about The Huntington can be found online at huntington.org.

Visitor information
The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, Calif., 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles. It is open to the public Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from noon to 4:30 p.m.; and Saturday, Sunday, and Monday holidays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Summer hours (Memorial Day through Labor Day) are 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed Tuesdays and major holidays. Admission on weekdays: $20 adults, $15 seniors (65+), $12 students (ages 12–18 or with full-time student I.D.), $8 youth (ages 5–11), free for children under 5. Group rate, $11 per person for groups of 15 or more. Members are admitted free. Admission on weekends: $23 adults, $18 seniors, $13 students, $8 youth, free for children under 5. Group rate, $14 per person for groups of 15 or more. Members are admitted free. Admission is free to all visitors on the first Thursday of each month with advance tickets. Information: 626-405-2100 or huntington.org.


Press Images

 

“A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War”

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882), Hanging of the Lincoln Conspirators at the Old Arsenal, Washington, DC, July 7, 1865. Page from the James E. Taylor Scrapbook; albumen prints; ea. 6 ½ x 9 in.

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882), Hanging of the Lincoln Conspirators at the Old Arsenal, Washington, DC, July 7, 1865. Page from the James E. Taylor Scrapbook; albumen prints; ea. 6 ½ x 9 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882), Lewis Payne, a Lincoln Conspirator, under arrest aboard the U.S.S. Montauk, April 27, 1865, from the James E. Taylor scrapbook. Albumen print. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Alexander Gardner (1821-1882), Lewis Payne, a Lincoln Conspirator, under arrest aboard the U.S.S. Montauk, April 27, 1865, from the James E. Taylor scrapbook. Albumen print. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

Andrew J. Russell (1829-1902), Scene after the Battle of Fredericksburg, May 3, 1863. Albumen print; 9 ¼ x 12 ⅞ in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Andrew J. Russell (1829-1902), Scene after the Battle of Fredericksburg, May 3, 1863. Albumen print; 9 ¼ x 12 ⅞ in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

Andrew J. Russell (1829–1902), Soldiers Burying Ground, Alexandria, Va., May 1863. Albumen print; 9 ⅝ x 12 ¾ in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Andrew J. Russell (1829–1902), Soldiers Burying Ground, Alexandria, Va., May 1863. Albumen print; 9 ⅝ x 12 ¾ in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

 

 

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Andrew J. Russell (1829-1902), Camp Convalescence, Alexandria, Va., January 1864. Albumen print; 9 ½ x 12-3/4 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Andrew J. Russell (1829-1902), Camp Convalescence, Alexandria, Va., January 1864. Albumen print; 9 ½ x 12-3/4 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

Attributed to Egbert G. Fowx (born ca. 1821) for Mathew B. Brady, Wheatfield in Which General Reynolds Was Shot; [View of Mathew Brady at the Gettysburg battlefield], July 1863. Albumen print; 6 x 8 ⅜ in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Attributed to Egbert G. Fowx (born ca. 1821) for Mathew B. Brady, Wheatfield in Which General Reynolds Was Shot; [View of Mathew Brady at the Gettysburg battlefield], July 1863. Albumen print; 6 x 8 ⅜ in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

Broadbent & Co., Corporals of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, 1861. Signed on verso: Robert Morris Jr., M. Edward Rogers, Charles C. Lennig, Robert. E. Randall. Albumen print; print: 8 ¼ x 6 in.; mount: 11 ½ x 9 ⅝ in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Broadbent & Co., Corporals of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, 1861. Signed on verso: Robert Morris Jr., M. Edward Rogers, Charles C. Lennig, Robert. E. Randall. Albumen print; print: 8 ¼ x 6 in.; mount: 11 ½ x 9 ⅝ in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

Isaac Bonsall (1833-1909), Group of Union Military and Civilian Men near Chattanooga, Tenn., ca. 1863-1864.  Albumen print; 12-1/4 x 10-5/16 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Isaac Bonsall (1833-1909), Group of Union Military and Civilian Men near Chattanooga, Tenn., ca. 1863-1864.  Albumen print; 12-1/4 x 10-5/16 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

J. A. Pugh (1833-1887), General C. D. Anderson, C.S.A, (no date).  Albumen print; 4-1/8 x 2 ½ in.  Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

J. A. Pugh (1833-1887), General C. D. Anderson, C.S.A, (no date).  Albumen print; 4-1/8 x 2 ½ in.  Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

John Reekie (active 1860s), photographer; printed by Alexander Gardner, A Burial Party, Cold Harbor, Virginia, April 1865. Albumen print; 6-13/16 x 8-15/16 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

John Reekie (active 1860s), photographer; printed by Alexander Gardner, A Burial Party, Cold Harbor, Virginia, April 1865. Albumen print; 6-13/16 x 8-15/16 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

Lee Gallery (active 1870s), Col. John S. Mosby and some of his men, ca. 1863-65. Albumen print; 4-1/8 x 2 ½ in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Lee Gallery (active 1870s), Col. John S. Mosby and some of his men, ca. 1863-65. Albumen print; 4-1/8 x 2 ½ in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (ca. 1840-1882), photographer; printed by Alexander Gardner, A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, July 4, 1863; Albumen print; 7 x 9 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Mourning ribbon commemorating the death of Abraham Lincoln, 1865. Gem tintype on black silk ribbon, 4 x 3 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

“A Just Cause: Voices of the American Civil War”

Abraham Lincoln, letter to Ulysses S. Grant, Apr. 30, 1864. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Abraham Lincoln, letter to Ulysses S. Grant, Apr. 30, 1864. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

Confederate pictorial envelope, Charleston, S.C., ca. 1861. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Confederate pictorial envelope, Charleston, S.C., ca. 1861. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

Winslow Homer, In the Trenches. Lithograph from the series “Life in Camp,” 1864. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Winslow Homer, In the Trenches. Lithograph from the series “Life in Camp,” 1864. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

Recruitment handbill, chromolithograph, 1863. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Recruitment handbill, chromolithograph, 1863. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

 

 

Frederick Douglass, autograph sentiment, Dec. 11, 1861. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Frederick Douglass, autograph sentiment, Dec. 11, 1861. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

About The Huntington

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution established in 1919 by Henry E. and Arabella Huntington. Henry Huntington, a key figure in the...

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