Sunday, October 26, 2014

Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection

by Smithsonian Institution,
Edited by Neil Kagan,
and photography by Hugh Talman.

Established in 1846, The Smithsonian Institution has often been described as “the nation’s attic.”  Stored within its many museums and research facilities are 137 million items, the treasures of the United States.  Its facilities contain items from every era of American History, including the 1903 Wright Flier, and Archie Bunker’s chair from the television series “All in the Family.”

One Hundred Fifty years have passed since the end of the Civil War, and the Smithsonian’s collection of items related to the war began during the war and continues to grow today.  The very best of the Smithsonian’s collection has been gathered together in a lush “coffee table” book, “Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection.”

Issued to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, “Smithsonian Civil War,” contains 150 brief chapters, each dedicated to some aspect of the war, its participants, or items in the Smithsonian’s collections.  Its article by article narrative begins with the antebellum era, works its way through the war and ends with reconstruction.  It also spans the breadth of those who experienced the war, from Secessionist “Fire-Eaters,” abolitionists, The Union, the Confederacy and also African-Americans; men, women and children.

Contained within its covers are hundreds of photographs, sepia toned, black and white, and lush color photographs of the items within the institutions vast collections.  Among the items featured are a slave ship’s cargo manifest, flags of the Confederacy, soldier’s uniforms, weapons and accoutrements, camp equipage, period photographs of many of the war’s participants, letters, drawings and paintings, Major-General Phil Sheridan’s mounted horse “Winchester,” Mary Lincoln’s purple velvet dress and Varina Davis’ jewelery, Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch and stove-pipe hat, the chairs from Wilmer McClean’s parlor in which Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee sat and the table on which Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia was signed, the cuff from Laura Kean’s dress stained with Lincoln’s blood, the hoods that covered the faces of the men accused in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy, just to name but a few.

“Smithsonian Civil War” is a fantastic book, its contents will provide many hours of page turning pleasure for both the Civil War enthusiast, scholar and novice alike.

ISBN 978-1588343895, Smithsonian Books, © 2013, Hardcover, 368 pages, 9.7 x 1.1 x 11.3 inches, 4.4 pounds, Photographs & Illustrations, Object List & Index. $40.00.  To purchase a copy of this book click HERE.

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