The Civil War: Library of Congress spotlights never-before-seen Civil War items

The exhibition shows the complexity of the Civil War through the thoughts and words of those who experienced it first-hand. Photo: Destruction of Atlanta Photo: Library of Congress

WASHINGTON, October 24, 2012 — A special exhibition from the Library of Congress will go on display on November 12, 2012, spotlighting over 200 items in its holdings that have never been made public before and will run through May 23, 2013.

The exhibition, entitled “The Civil War in America,” will be free and open to the public daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except Sundays in the Southwest Exhibition Gallery of the Thomas Jefferson Building, located at 10 First Street, S.E. Washington, D.C.

It is an attempt to show the complexity of the Civil War through the thoughts and words of those who experienced it first-hand. As bad and cruel as the War was, in many ways the conflict helped shape the American people and the nation as a whole.

Some of the holdings to be on display for the first time include an autographed letter from Mary Todd Lincoln to a Mrs. John C. Sprigg, dated May 29, 1862, shortly after young Willie Lincoln’s death from typhoid fever, in which Mary Lincoln expressed her sense of overwhelming loss.

A theoretical blog by more than 40 people will be given, allowing visitors to read the thoughts of persons such as Robert E. Lee, Clara Barton, William Tecumseh Sherman, etc.

Great Hall of Library of Congress

The Soldier’s Friend, a postwar veterans newspaper will also be displayed. It ran a “Left-Hand Penmanship” contest, designed for veterans who had lost their right hand or arm in the war. Veterans could compete for prizes using handwritten entries.

Other letters come from Union soldiers expressing their views on slavery as a result of their service in the war, and at least one from a Georgia teenager, Leroy Gresham. The young man had just turned 17 when Sherman’s infamous “March to the Sea” happened, leaving Atlanta devastated.

The boy’s letter reflected his Confederate sympathies, his fear for the loss of so many homes, and his thoughts on life on the home front. His last entry was on June 9, 1865, though no reason is given for his death nine days later.

The Library began a series of blogs ( back in September to complement the exhibition. Each Wednesday until the exhibit opens has spotlighted a never-before-seen interesting item, giving more insight into the Civil War era, both politically and militarily.

The Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest Federal cultural institution with the largest library in the world.  Many of its holdings can be accessed through its website at

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Martha M. Boltz

Martha Boltz is a frequent contributor  to the long running Civil War features in The Washington Times America At War feature in the print and online editions. She has been a regular contributor to the original Civil War Page and its successor page since 1994, and is a civil war buff, historian, and writer. "Someone said that if we don't learn about the past, we are condemned to repeat it," she said, "and there are lessons of all sorts inherent in this bloody four-year period of our country's history."  She is a member of several heritage and lineage groups, as well as the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table. Her standing invitation is, "come on down - check the blog - send me your comments and let's have fun with its history and maybe learn something at the same time."


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