Library of Congress to exhibit 230 new items in “Civil War in America”

A special display of artifacts belonging to female Confederate spy, Antonia Ford, has been added to the collection. Photo: Great Hall of the Library of Congress

VIENNA, Va., June 5, 2013One of our favorite local repositories of goodies, the Library of Congress, is going to bring out a sparkling new batch of Civil War related items for a special showing from June 14 through Jan. 4, 2014. That may sound like a long time, but once crowds start coming in, it will be difficult to come and see them.

This fantastic exhibition opened on November 12, 2012 and will close for good on January 4, 2014.  Since it has been open, nearly 300,000 visitors have made the trek to 101 Independence Avenue S.E. in Washington, DC to view it.

New Display: Antonia Ford Artifacts

Antonia Ford Willard, Confederate spy

Some of the newly displayed holdings include a beautiful lace collar crocheted by Fairfax County Confederate spy, Antonia Ford, daughter of a prominent Virginia merchant, made while she was in Old Capitol Prison, as well as a lovely picture of her, an old albumen print. She ultimately married one of her captors, Maj. Joseph Willard.

The recently added items continue a look at the complexity of the war as seen through those who experienced it first-hand. Through diaries, letters, maps, photographs, song sheets and unusual artifacts, the exhibit chronicles the sacrifices and accomplishments of those from both North and South whose lives were lost or affected.

Medal of Honor for Bugler

Displayed is a Medal of Honor awarded for bravery at Gettysburg to Charles Wellington Reed, a person we have heard little about in the past. He was a gifted artist who captured the everyday life of a Union army camp and his drawings are superb. He was a Boston native, born in 1841, who enlisted in the 9th Massachusetts Light Artillery on August 2, 1862. His primary service was serving for much of the war as a bugler, but obviously he did some fighting too. In 1895, he was awarded this Medal of Honor for his actions in saving the life of Captain John Bigelow at the Battle of Gettysburg. Reed also fought at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg in 1864–1865.

There is also an illustrated guide for Confederate surgeons on the field of battle. Surgery on the battlefield was unknown to the scalpel wielders of that period, and while the author of this guide obviously never saw Gray’s Anatomy, it provided as much guidance and direction as was then known, especially to those providing an essential service to the wounded.

Charles Wellington Reed, Union bugler

Included in the exhibit are images of musicians during the War, including a delightful ambrotype picture of a young drummer from the Zouaves, complete with his drum. It is a shame that no picture of young Reed and his bugle was found.  There is also a Union map, showing the forts ringing the boundaries of Washington, D.C. during the war, many of which (at least the physical places) still exist, such as Fort Marcy and Fort Davis.

Special Hours For the Rotation

Getting ready for this new exposition of materials will necessitate closing the Civil War exhibit and the adjacent one, “Thomas Jefferson’s Library,” each day from 8:30 to 11:00 a.m. through June 14. Then the galleries will reopen to the public each day. Saturday hours are unaffected.

Strange as this may sound, rotation of exhibits is necessary to limit the light exposure to collection materials. The Library is committed to preserving items for coming generations, and light is probably the biggest enemy of preservation.

This particular exposition is made possible by the generous support of the James Madison Council, with additional funding by the Union Pacific Corporation, the Liljenquist family and AARP. No one interested in the period between 1861-1865 should let this display leave without seeing it. In summer’s 90-degree weather, the Library of Congress is a lovely air-conditioned setting to wander around, both viewing the beautiful Library and learning about the War.

Most readers know that this is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution as well as the largest library in the world, holding more than 155 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. It serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms at the Capitol and through its award-winning website at

Read more of Martha’s columns at The Civil War at the Communities at the Washington Times. Follow her on Face Book or LinkedIn at Martha Boltz, and by email 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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