The Civil War in America
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The Civil War in America

November 12, 2012 – June 1, 2013

The Civil War in America assembles more than 200 unique items, many of which have never been seen by the public, to commemorate the sesquicentennial of this nation’s greatest military and political upheaval. Drawing from hundreds of thousands of items from across many collections of the Library of Congress, the materials included in this exhibition attest to the valor, sacrifices, emotions, and accomplishments of those in both the North and South whose lives were affected by the bitter conflict of 1861–1865.

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After Abraham Lincoln became president-elect in November 1860, Southern states, economically dependent on slavery, worried that the balance of power in the Union would soon tip irrevocably in favor of the industrial North. To avoid suffering the consequences of such a political shift, Southern states, began to secede, with South Carolina leading the way on December 20, 1860. Read more about Prologue »

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April 1861–April 1862

Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, continued to fly the United States flag, even as Confederate forces surrounded it. Lincoln decided to send provisions but no additional troops or ordnance to the fort unless resistance was met. Unwilling to tolerate a U.S. garrison in Southern territory, Confederates began shelling the fort in the pre-dawn hours of April 12, 1861, and Union guns responded. The Civil War had begun. Read more about April 1861–April 1862 »

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April 1862–November 1862

In spring 1862, the Union Army of the Potomac took the offensive on the Virginia Peninsula, where its ultimate target was Richmond, the Confederate capital. Northern morale was high. Recent Union victories in the West prompted expectations of a similar outcome in the Peninsula Campaign that would lead to a swift and successful end to the war. Read more about April 1862–November 1862 »

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December 1862–October 1863

On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all slaves within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” Bitterly denounced in the South—and by many in the North—the Proclamation reduced the likelihood that the anti-slavery European powers would recognize the Confederacy as an independent nation and opened the way for large numbers of African Americans to join the U.S. armed forces. Read more about December 1862–October 1863 »

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November 1863–April 14, 1865

On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln offered “a few appropriate” remarks at the dedication of a cemetery to fallen Federal troops at Gettysburg. In his brief and eloquent “Gettysburg Address,” Lincoln articulated the purpose of the war and looked beyond it to a time when the nation would once again be made whole. Read more about November 1863–April 14, 1865 »

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By May 10, 1865, when U.S. President Andrew Johnson declared armed resistance at an end, vast areas of the South lay in ruins. Four years of brutal combat had taken the lives of an estimated 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers, shattered illusions, and fueled social reform movements. In the South, the war gave birth to the “Lost Cause” mythology that idealized Southern life and Confederate principles. Read more about Epilogue »

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