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Posts Tagged ‘Civil War 1861-1865’

On December 20, 1860 South Carolina seceded from the Union after it became clear that Abraham Lincoln would become President of the United States of America.  South Carolina was the first of the southern states to secede, but it was followed by six others during the secession winter before Lincoln took office.  Together with Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, South Carolina founded the Confederate States of America.  In April 1861, the American Civil War began when Confederates attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

"Epitaph on the United States of America" presumably issued during the secession crisis of 1860-1861. Image courtesy of the University of South Carolina.

"The Secession Movement - Entrance Hall to an Hotel at Charleston, South Carolina" as depicted in The Illustrated London News. Image courtesy of the University of South Carolina.

The University of South Carolina has digitized 14 collections relating to the Civil War, including South Carolina and the Civil War, The Citadel and the American Civil War, and Reminiscences of the Sixties to name a few.  For a national perspective, visit the Opening History aggregation, which contains rich historical collections from across the country.

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Happy Lefthanders Day. Perhaps this isn’t quite in the spirit of the holiday, but a historical curiosity related to left-handedness…there was once an exhibition — with more than 1,000 mid-19th-c. dollars in prizes — of lefthanded penmanship by vets who lost right arms in the Civil War. For more info, see the Library of Congress’ American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera collection.

Opening History features other curious historical resources on left-handedness, including the photo below (see more info) from the Jack L. Demmons / Bonner School Photographs collection of the Archives & Special Collections, Mansfield Library, at the University of Montana-Missoula.

Three students and two superintendents look on as a fourth student, Dick Johnson, writes left-handed at a desk with jar of ink by him.

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On July 26, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed General George McClellan commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, which by August included the Army of the Potomac. McClellan had previously gained national attention as commander of the Department of the Ohio, particularly through his victories while occupying Unionist regions of western Virginia that would later form part of West Virginia. As the leader of the Army of the Potomac, however, McClellan took a cautious approach that led to tensions with President Lincoln and others who wished to see greater aggression toward the Confederate Army.

Though McClellan had success in organizing the army and maintained great popularity among his troops, Lincoln ultimately removed the general from his post in November 1862. After an unsuccessful run against Lincoln in the 1864 presidential election and the conclusion of the Civil War, McClellan left for Europe, though he eventually returned and served one term as governor of New Jersey.

A photograph by well-known Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner shows President Abraham Lincoln and General George McClellan after the Battle of Antietam in 1862. Lincoln would remove McClellan from his post only a few weeks after this meeting. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

In Opening History, see the Library of Congress Civil War Photographs collection for thousands of images taken throughout the war, including portraits of McClellan.

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On June 20, 1863, West Virginia was officially admitted to the Union. Statehood came about primarily through long-standing regional tensions between eastern and western Virginia that erupted with the issue of whether or not to secede from the United States. While at the beginning of the Civil War West Virginia remained part of Virginia, counties in the northwestern part of the state were generally against secession. As it became apparent that Virginia would choose to secede, Union supporters from this area held two conventions in Wheeling, followed by a popular vote in 39 counties that led to the formation of a new state that would remain loyal to the Union. Results of this election were likely skewed, as Union troops stationed in many counties stopped secessionists from voting. Unionists from the northern part of the future state were also heavily overrepresented during the November 1861 Constitutional Convention, which ultimately ratified a state constitution with an amendment calling for the gradual abolition of slavery in the state. In 1871, the U.S. Supreme Court case Virginia v. West Virginia called into question the constitutionality of West Virginia’s legitimacy as a separate state, but the court reaffirmed its legality.

Train cars in front of an African-American elementary school near the West Virginia coal fields. Image courtesy of the University of Virginia Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library

Opening History has several important collections related to the history of West Virginia. The Cyrus F. Jenkins Civil War Diary offers an important look at the presence of Confederate troops in the southern part of what would become West Virginia. The Jackson Davis Collection of African American Educational Photographs from the University of Virginia also includes a rich selection of images featuring African-American schools in West Virginia.

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In addition to images, Opening History also includes collections of textual materials, such as the collection of materials from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s Documenting the American South.   The following excerpt documents  Mary Jeffreys Bethell’s hopes and concerns for the new year of 1861, on the eve of the Civil War:

January 1st 1861

Ground white with snow. This is new years day, the old year is gone forever with all its sorrows and joys. When I look back to the events of last year, I am led to say that the Lord has been good to me. I had more of joy last year than sorrow, my family were blessed with health, and I had no serious trouble (except when my husband went to Memphis, and Emeline and Dick died last year, and Cinda’s twin babies).

I went to Raleigh in the month of March with my Step Mother. I stayed ten days, and had quite a pleasant time in visiting our relations. I would like to go again.

The 3rd Sunday in August there was a camp meeting at Carmel, I had a tent, we had a delightful time, ’twas a Heaven here on Earth. After my daughter gave birth to her child and came through safe, and done well, I felt so thankful and happy. The goodness of God is enough to lead us to repentance. I will now renew my covenant with my Heavenly Father, that if he will bless me and my family, that I will give myself to him, soul and body, time and talents, and live for his glory, who loved me and died for me. I pray that he will lead me and direct me in every thing that concerns my souls salvation.

I am entering upon another new year, I am determined and resolved to live nearer to God, to deny myself, take up my cross and follow the Saviour. I hope that I may be built up this year in the most holy faith that I may advance in the divine life.

We have some fears that this Union will be dissolved. South Carolina has seceded, the states are making every preparation for War Next Friday is the day set apart for prayer and fasting by the President Buchanan, that God would save us from Civil War and blood guiltiness.

© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.

The remainder of Mary’s diaary tells of the struggles that she and her family faced as the Civil War raged around them, including the departure of her sons for service in the Confederate army.

Mary’s diary is also a good example of some of the experiments we’re conducting to connect this kind of content to other sources.   While there are no images of Mary or her family in the other collections available at Opening History, we’ve included a link to Google Books that provides access to numerous books and journals that have used Mary’s diary as a primary resource.

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