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“Discovering the Civil War”

Part One, “Beginnings” (through September 6)

Part Two, “Consequences” (Nov. 10, 2010–April 17, 2011)

National Archives Experience Constitution Avenue NW (between 7th and 9th Streets) Washington, D.C. (202) 357-5000

 Primary sources are paramount, as any good historian knows. So where better to go for a sesquicentennial retrospective of the Civil War than the National Archives, depository of America’s pivotal historical documents? The two-part “Discovering the Civil War” opened this spring with “Beginnings,” a look at the causes of the war, the breakup of the Union, the buildup of troops, key early leaders, life on the home front and the broader impact of the war. The thematic exhibition draws on the archives’ unparalleled collections, examining the war through period letters and journals, photos and maps, proclamations, patents and other primary sources. Running throughout the gallery is “the Current,” a touch-screen presentation of interactive features and archive holdings, providing visitors deeper context.

Among the documents on display are the Constitution (of the Confederate States of America), Colonel Robert E. Lee’s handwritten resignation from the U.S. Army, a proclamation by the governor of deeply divided Kentucky ordering the arrest of all Confederate sympathizers, and a proposed 13th Amendment that would have forbidden the federal government from interfering with slavery in states whose laws permitted it. The latter, also known as the Corwin Amendment, was a last-ditch effort (dated March 2, 1861) to keep the Southern states from seceding; the war broke out the following month.

Part Two, “Consequences,” will run through April 17, 2011, after which the exhibit will tour nationwide.


Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here