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When Duty Whispers: Concord and the Civil War

Concord Museum, Through September 18, 2011

The Concord Museum in Concord, Mass., is well stocked with artifacts that tell of the town’s founding, its Revolutionary heritage and the legacy of local Transcendentalists and authors such as Louisa May Alcott.

The museum’s current “When Duty Whispers” exhibit reflects the community’s pride of its ardent support to the Union cause. Two galleries showcase uniforms, weapons and personal effects that mostly belonged to Concord soldiers, as well as Southern items brought home as souvenirs.

Audio recordings of a young girl’s account of how the war changed her life and a Gettysburg veteran’s grueling tale of battle bring modern technology to the exhibit in a complimentary manner.

Some of the most fascinating items relate Concord’s antebellum abolitionist fever. John Brown visited the town before his 1859 Harpers Ferry raid and got a number of Concord residents to sign a pledge sheet for his cause, which is part of the exhibit. Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example, pledged $50.

Brown’s donors knew of his murderous Kansas exploits and plot to bring a violent end to slavery. In our era of “report unusual activity,” Emerson and his co-pledges would likely be charged with domestic terrorism. But Concordians believed the means justified the end, according to museum curator David Wood, and Brown’s fiscal supporters had nothing to fear from their neighbors in this abolitionist hot spot.

When Duty Whispers reminds us that Yankees too were willing to sacrifice a great deal and shed blood to realize their vision of America. No wonder it was such a bloody war.

Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.