The Civil War, Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society

Currier & Ives lithograph of the capture of Atlanta, Georgia by Sherman's army

Currier & Ives lithograph of the capture of Atlanta, Georgia by Sherman's army

Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. Many institutions are planning exhibitions, activities, and publications around the events which tore the United States apart between 1861 and 1865. Some organizations have already contacted AAS regarding the possibility of borrowing or reproducing material from our collections. The uptick in such requests has caused me to think about the vast Civil War holdings that fall under the auspices of the Society’s Graphic Arts department.

As one might expect, the Society has outstanding holdings in this area. No, really, I know I say this all the time, but really – they are outstanding. Our broadsides collection includes roster listings, military announcements, and calls for the return of deserters. Our ephemera collections feature decorated Civil War envelopes,

Civil War envelop from New York depicting a battle scene

Civil War envelop from New York depicting a battle scene

menus from military events, and tickets to fund-raising events and Sanitary Fairs. Many of the broadsides and much of the ephemera can be searched in our online catalog and are included in the American Broadsides and Ephemera product. Portraits of military leaders, regimental groups, and depictions of battle actions and home life can be found in the Lithograph and Engravings collections and political cartoons skewering leaders of both the North and the South are part of the cartoon collection. There is even a separate collection of just Civil War cartoons cut out of a variety of newspapers and periodicals that has an online inventory. Maps of the Southern states showing troop placements and outlining military strategies are housed in the Society’s amazing geographic collections.

And then there are the photographs.

General Marsena Patrick and staff, c. 1865, photographed by Gardner, 7th & D Street, Washington, D.C.

General Marsena Patrick and staff, c. 1865, photographed by Gardner, 7th & D Street, Washington, D.C.

The Civil War was really the first war captured by the camera from start to finish. From Generals to privates, the photographers took pictures of everyone. Some, like Mathew Brady, followed the action and introduced the world to the idea of photojournalism with photographs of the aftermath of fighting. The Society’s carte-de-visite collection was recently sorted to place all regimental photographs together so all the men of the Massachusetts 15th (a Worcester County regiment) are now boxed together. Stereographs of battlefields and military groups, as well as tintypes and large albumen prints are scattered across various photographic holdings, some in geographic classifications, others in historical groups. Let’s not forget the sheet music printed in Richmond, the confederate currency, ballads about campaigns and camp life – the list goes on and on.

Yes, some of the Society’s wonderful Graphic Arts holdings will be loaned or reproduced over the next four to five years. As you attend exhibitions or commemorative events, keep an eye out for our standard credit line, “Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society,” on wall labels and in captions. If you yourself are hunting for a Civil War image, you can contact our Rights & Reproduction department. If it was created between 1861 and 1865, chances are pretty darn good that we have it!

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