National Archives Opens Groundbreaking Civil War Exhibition in April 2010
Press Release · Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Discovering the Civil War" Launches Nation’s Sesquicentennial Commemoration

Washington, DC…Beginning on April 30, 2010, the National Archives will peel back 150 years of accumulated analysis, interpretation, and opinion to reveal a Civil War that is little-known and even more rarely displayed in a new exhibition in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. The Discovering the Civil War exhibition will present the most extensive display ever assembled from the incomparable Civil War holdings of the National Archives, and will take a fresh look at the Civil War through little-known stories, seldom-seen documents, and unusual perspectives. The exhibition is presented by the Center for the National Archives Experience and the Foundation for the National Archives.

Discovering the Civil War offers visitors the chance to join researchers in unlocking secrets, solving mysteries, and uncovering unexpected events in Civil War records of the National Archives. The exhibition features letters, diaries, photos, maps, petitions, receipts, patents, amendments, and proclamations.

This exhibition is unconventional in every way. It combines these great treasures with engaging touch-screen interactives incorporating social media tools in a physical environment inspired by 21st Century research rooms. Rather than trying to recreate 1860, these interactives let visitors see the war through the lens of 2010 technology. Passing over the traditional chronological approach, the exhibition is arranged by such themes as, “Spies and Conspiracies,” “Prisoners and Casualties,” “Emancipation,” “Global War,” and “Raising Armies.”

Discovering the Civil War marks the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. The exhibition, which is free and open to the public, will be shown in two parts in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. The first part of the exhibition opens April 30, 2010 and runs through September 6, 2010. The second part opens in November 2010 and runs to April 2011.

Related free public programs will feature a Civil War film series, author lectures, family days, and expert panel discussions. The Spring 2010 issue of Prologue Magazine, the quarterly magazine of the National Archives, will focus on the Civil War and will feature an article from America’s preeminent Civil War historian James McPherson. A special exhibition catalogue will be published in Fall 2010.

The original Emancipation Proclamation, which is rarely shown, will be showcased in a special three-day display during Part II of the exhibition.

In Part I, visitors will discover:

  • The original Virginia ordinance of secession;
  • The “substitute book” listing names and information on men who were paid $300 to replace draftees;
  • Abraham Lincoln’s “substitute” in the Union Army;
  • How Lincoln stopped the execution of a Confederate major;
  • Messages from southern governors rejecting Lincoln’s call for troops;
  • The Chinese connection to the Civil War;
  • Similarities of the Constitution of the Confederacy and the U.S. Constitution;
  • Original pension records from a woman who served in the Union Army as Frank Thompson.

In Part II, visitors will discover:

  • How social media networking will connect visitors to realtime live chats with “virtual docents” across the country, or allow them to share information on the Civil War with friends;
  • That two 13th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were proposed by Congress;
  • How a congressional investigation into war profiteering transformed the meaning of the word “shoddy;”
  • Firsthand accounts of the Battle of Gettysburg at the veteran’s 75th reunion filmed by the Army Signal Corps;
  • Original Freedmen’s Bureau records documenting murders and outrages committed against African Americans;
  • Innovative wartime patents including a multipurpose device that could serve as a tent, knapsack or blanket.

The National Archives is located on the National Mall on Constitution Avenue at 9th Street, NW. Winter Exhibit Hall hours are 10 A.M. – 5:30 P.M. daily, except Thanksgiving and December 25 (through March 14). Spring hours are 10 A.M. – 7 PM (March 15-Labor Day).

After premiering in the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery in Washington, DC, Discovering the Civil War will embark upon a major, multi-city national tour beginning in 2011.

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For more information about Discovering the Civil War or to obtain images of items included in the exhibition, call the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.

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