I mentioned yesterday that I went to Albany this past Saturday to see the New York State Museum’s mammoth exhibit, An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War. There have been many excellent exhibits throughout the sesquicentennial, and I must say that this makes the short list of the very best. Here are some highlights.
This daguerreotype of Frederick Douglass is believed to be the first visual image taken of the publisher/abolitionist. Note how young he looks. Upstate New York was a hotbed of abolitionism in the decades prior to the war. The region was also one of the key routes of the Underground Railroad. John Brown, of course, lived in the area.
The scale is difficult to make out because there is nothing beside it with which to compare, but this plaque was about 2 feet tall and three feet wide. It is from the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. The Erie Canal is something of a forgotten part of American history, but it was instrumental in tying the Atlantic Seaboard to the Midwest. I had never associated the two in my mind but, coincidentally or not, New York State abolished slavery two years after the canal’s opening.
Again the scale is tough to make out, but this campaign poster from 1860 measured about three by five feet. I loved the reference to Edwin Morgan, who won the New York gubernatorial race and was hugely influential in raising men and materiel for the Union cause.
The photograph did not come out well but this object was so moving that I had to include anyway. Currier and Ives sold such certificates to the loved ones of those killed in the war. I imagine these were common, being an inexpensive way to commemorate the loss of a son, husband, or brother. If the soldier was buried far away, as many of course were, a lithograph of a headstone hanging in the parlor would have to do.
This was a pro-Lincoln broadside from the 1864 election versus McClellan.
Sculptor John Rogers created many works with an abolitionist and Civil War motif before, during, and after the conflict. (See here from the New-York Historical Society.) The swords into plowshares reference is easy to intuit. Like the Currier & Ives certificates, these would have been low-cost ways for people to remember the war. Returned Volunteer remained in the Rogers’s catalog until 1889, a quarter century after it was first produced.
There was so much in the museum I had to step out and recharge my batteries. The people at the museum said it was unusually slow because the weather was so nice. Having left the house at 6:00 am to get the train from Penn Station to Albany, I was quite hungry. So, taking the advice of the museum folks, I headed to Lark Street for lunch. You have to pack it in on these day trips.
Another difficult one to make out, but this handbill commemorated Elmer Ellsworth’s one hundredth birthday in 1937. I found this interesting because it shows that the Civil War was not that long ago in the grand scheme of things. I mean, it’s from the FDR-era for heaven’s sake.
. . . and the pièce de résistance: the chair from Grant’s Cottage in which he raced against the clock to finish his memoirs before he died.
All-in-all it wasn’t a bad Saturday. You can catch An Irrepressible Conflict at the New York State Museum in Albany through September 22. It is a long train trip from the city, but then again there is only one Civil War sesquicentennial.