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Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum

By Gerald D. Swick
3/26/2015 • Abraham Lincoln, Arts and Culture

The town of Harrogate in Claiborne County, Tennessee—where the Cumberland Gap unites Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia—is home one of the largest memorials to the life of Abraham Lincoln in the world. The memorial is, in fact, a functioning university that was founded and named to honor the 16th President and chartered by the State of Tennessee in 1897 as Lincoln Memorial University. Among its buildings is the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum.

This seems an odd place to find such a memorial. Although pro-Union sentiment was strong in East Tennessee, Lincoln had little connection to the Volunteer State other than it being home to his second vice president, Andrew Johnson. But thanks to the efforts of a former Union general and a group of people who wanted to honor the memory of the martyred president, Lincoln Memorial University was founded and eventually came to house one of the world’s largest collections of artifacts, books and manuscripts related to Lincoln and his presidency.

On March 26, 2015, the program director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum spoke with HistoryNet‘s editor, Gerald D. Swick, about the ALLM, its collections and special programs.

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HistoryNet: The former Union general O. O. Howard was instrumental in creating Lincoln Memorial University, but he also played a role in establishing the museum and library and the collections they contain, didn’t he?

Carol Campbell: General Oliver Otis Howard was instrumental in beginning the University and the start of the collection.  I believe General Howard was on his way to the Chattanooga, Tennessee, area to help choose sites for memorials for the battle deaths and also for those who starved before General Ulysses Grant could get food through to the besieged Union forces at Chattanooga.

Col. Harlan Sanders. Click to enlarge.
Col. Harlan Sanders. Click to enlarge.
Colonel Harlan Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame served on the University’s board in the 1970s.  He gave a nice donation with the expectation that other members of the board help raise funds for a building to house the growing collection of Lincoln and Civil War items.

HistoryNet: How extensive is the museum’s collection? It’s among the world’s largest collections of Lincolnia, isn’t it?

Carol Campbell: The Museum’s collection now numbers a bit over 100,000 items. There are three primary galleries basically divided into three segments of Lincoln’s life: the early years; the Civil War years; and the third gallery is devoted to telling the story of the assassination.  The Mezzanine gallery is normally devoted to short-term exhibits.

Two new exhibits: “Clouds and Darkness Surrounds us: the Life of Mary Todd Lincoln” features three costumes from the recent  Lincoln film worn by Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, and Gloria Reuben, who portrayed Elizabeth Keckley.

HistoryNet: What are some of the most impressive or unusual artifacts in each of those sections?

The cane Lincoln carried on the night of his assassination.
The cane Lincoln carried on the night of his assassination.
Carol Campbell: In Gallery 1, I’d say the Thomas Lincoln Corner Cabinet and the Lincoln China. (A cabinet built by Abraham Lincoln’s father, and a china set that belonged to Abraham and Mary Lincoln.)

Gallery 2 has the bed Lincoln slept in at the Burnett House in Cincinnati, Ohio, on the long trip toward Washington City for his inauguration, and it has the Seward Carriage (a Rockaway carriage that belonged to Lincoln’s secretary of state William H. Seward).

Gallery 3 is my favorite gallery, so it’s difficult for me to choose items there but would have to include the Harry Wood paintings, especially The Lincoln Cabinet of 2040—all cabinet members have variations of Lincoln’s face but are all nationalities. There’s also the cane Lincoln carried the night he was assassinated and the photographs of the men involved in the assassination.

HistoryNet: Let’s talk for a minute about the Lincoln Legacy section. Lincoln long ago went beyond being a historical figure and became an icon that has been used in diverse ways, including advertising. What are some of your thoughts on Lincoln’s continuing legacy and this particular section of the museum?

Carol Campbell: Our displays tells stories of Lincoln’s life and legacy throughout the various parts of the Museum.  New education outreach packets are in the process of being developed: Lincoln and Emancipation and Lincoln and the Law of War, relating especially to The Lieber Code. This will give the ALLM an opportunity to reach out to school children and help them learn more about President Lincoln’s life and legacy.  Personally, I appreciate Lincoln’s life for the example he set for all:  Lincoln came from a poor family and had to face the world with little education.  He set an example for others in that he worked hard to make his life better, to educate himself, and in doing so, provided a great example of what an individual can do to make—to not only their life better but to inspire others.

HistoryNet: How about the library portion? I used it myself while doing research several years ago, and its holdings were impressive then. Tell us a bit about that collection and who may access it.

Carol Campbell: The Museum’s library has expanded considerably and is now housed in two areas with close to 100,000 items including 20,000 books and pamphlets. The original Board room where you probably did research houses the Lincoln books and our new The Dr. Robert L. Kincaid Endowed Research Center on the Museum’s second floor houses volumes relating to the Civil War.  Rare books, of course, are housed in the Museum’s vault.  The Library collection remains available for individuals researching Lincoln and the Civil War years and often is used by the Museum’s staff, university professors, and students.

HistoryNet: The ALLM hosts special programs throughout the year doesn’t it?

Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum at Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, Tenn.
Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum at Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, Tenn.
Carol Campbell: Several programs are presented annually; Lincoln at Gettysburg is always held in November, in commemoration of the November 1863 Gettysburg Address.  Christmas with the Lincolns is an annual Christmas program—occasionally a play and often music of the season.

The Lincoln Symposium is always in April on an every-four-years schedule.  Guest speakers bring to our audience new and interesting information about President Lincoln’s life.

The Auditorium is used throughout the year by other departments of Lincoln Memorial University for various programs.

HistoryNet: Presently we’re approaching the end of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and, of course, the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination. What is the Library and Museum doing to observe those events?

Carol Campbell: The Museum plans several tours relating specifically to the Lincoln assassination, and the Museum will also be participating in events in Cleveland, Ohio, relating to the long Funeral train trip and stopover in that city.

The upcoming Civil war Symposium: War in the Mountains IV: “Religion, Death, and Martyrdom in the Civil War” is our commemoration of Lincoln’s death and that of the thousands of soldiers and civilians who died during the Civil War years.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
HistoryNet: Thank you for taking time to talk with us. Is there anything you’d like to add in closing?

Carol Campbell: We have an active educational outreach program. For instance, teachers can request a copy of our DVD, “The Civil War at Cumberland Gap.” It tells the story of three people whose lives were connected to this area: a Union solder from Eastern Kentucky; a Confederate soldier from Southwest Virginia; and a slave who had been leased to a gentleman in our county. The slave was killed because he went on armed raids against Confederates and Confederate sympathizers. He had been warned he would be killed if he took part in these raids, and he was.

We also have other packets related to the Civil War that schools can borrow. Our Civil War Loan Kit follows the story of a fictional soldier in a real unit throughout the war; we have both Union and Confederate soldiers in that kit. We also have the story of slave woman, Lucy, who escaped from the Higgs family near Memphis. Soldiers of the 23rd Indiana Volunteer Regiment from the New Albany, Indiana, area would not let her owner take her back. She stayed with unit throughout war; her only child died during the siege of Vicksburg and was buried “on a flower-covered hill” there. Lucy marched in the Grand Review of Union troops in Washington, D.C. at war’s end. She went back to Indiana with the soldiers after they mustered out and marched in parades with them over the years. She married an African American man there who had always been a free man. They had no children and he died long before she did, so when she got older and unable to support herself, 55 of the New Albany–area soldiers got their Congressman to get her a nurse’s pension through Congress. It’s a fascinating story.

As I mentioned earlier, we are presently researching and preparing two new packets about Lincoln and Emancipation and Lincoln and the Laws of War.

(Click here to learn more about ALLM’s teacher resources. For days and hours of operation, go to the ALLM website’s general index page.)

Gerald D. Swick, editor of HistoryNet.com, is part of the research partnership that found the letter solving the 70-year mystery of why the Lincolns’ eldest son, Robert, is not buried with the rest of the family. He has spoken on the topic of Lincoln’s in-laws to the Association of Lincoln Presenters, a Women in the Civil War conference and other groups.

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