Military history

The Civil War in 50 Objects

The Civil War in 50 Objects

The American companion to A History of the World in 100 Objects, a fresh, visual perspective on the Civil War

From a soldier’s diary with the pencil still attached to John Brown’s pike, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the leaves from Abraham Lincoln’s bier, here is a unique and surprisingly intimate look at the Civil War.

Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer sheds new light on the war by examining fifty objects from the New-York Historical Society’s acclaimed collection. A daguerreotype of an elderly, dignified ex-slave; a soldier’s footlocker still packed with its contents; Grant’s handwritten terms of surrender at Appomattox—the stories these objects tell are rich, poignant, sometimes painful, and always fascinating. They illuminate the conflict from all perspectives—Union and Confederate, military and civilian, black and white, male and female—and give readers a deeply human sense of the war.


Chapter 1. Chains That Bind - Slave Shackles Intended for a Child, ca. 1800

Chapter 2. The Human Face of Slavery - Daguerreotype of Caesar: A Slave, ca. 1850

Chapter 3. Old Kentucky Home - Negro Life at the South, Painting by Eastman Johnson, 1859

Chapter 4. For Sale to the Highest Bidder - The Slave Auction, Sculpture by John Rogers, 1859

Chapter 5. Weapon of Last Resort - “John Brown” Pike, ca. 1857–1859

Chapter 6. John Brown’s Body - John Brown’s Blessing, Painting by Thomas Satterwhite Noble, 1867

Chapter 7. The Animal Himself - Right Hand of Abraham Lincoln, Cast by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 1886, from 1860 Original by Leonard Wells Volk

Chapter 8. Secession, New York Style - To the People of Louisiana, their Executive and Representatives Greeting, Broadside, January 29, 1861

Chapter 9. Where the Civil War Began - South-Western Angle of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, S.C., April 15, 1861, Photographic Print by Alma A. Pelot

Chapter 11. The Palmetto and the Snake - Confederate Palmetto Flag, 1861

Chapter 12. To Arms! - A Great Rush to Join the 36th Regiment, New York Volunteers, Woodcut, ca. 1862

Chapter 13. Uniform Courage - Zouave Uniform, ca. 1861–1863

Chapter 14. Divided Loyalties - Letter from Howard Cushing Wright to His Mother, 1861

Chapter 15. Blarney from Bull Run? - Return of the 69th (Irish) Regiment, N.Y.S.M. from the Seat of War, Painting by Louis Lang, 1862–1863

Chapter 16. “Reuniting” a Shattered Family - The Lincoln Family in 1861, Painting by Francis Bicknell Carpenter, ca. 1865

Chapter 17. Distant Drums - Snare Drum, ca. 1860–1865

Chapter 18. Thoughts of the Future—but Where? - Thoughts of the Future, Painting by Edwin White, 1861

Chapter 19. There’s Something in It - Half Model of the USS Monitor, 1862

Chapter 20. Key to Confederate Victory? - Cipher Key, ca. 1861

Chapter 21. Hidden Glory - An Episode of the War—the Cavalry Charge of Lt. Henry B. Hidden, Painting by Victor Nehlig, 1862

Chapter 22. A Diarist in Action - Diary of William Rothert, 1861–1862

Chapter 23. Tailor-Made Souvenirs of Battle - Military Buttons Mounted on Card, 1860–1864

Chapter 24. An Early Call to Recruit Black Troops - Petition to Abraham Lincoln for Recruitment of Black Troops, 1862

Chapter 25. If My Name Ever Goes into History, It Will Be for This Act - By the President of the United States of America. A Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln, 1863

Chapter 26. A Dentist Drills Lincoln - Writing the Emancipation Proclamation, Etching by Adalbert Johann Volck, 1863

Chapter 27. Frederick Douglass’s Call to Arms - Men of Color, to Arms! Broadside by Frederick Douglass, 1863

Chapter 28. Suffered Severely and Behaved Well - Emily J. Semmes to Paul Jones Semmes, Letter, June 1, 1863

Chapter 29. Emancipated by War - Arrival at Chickasaw Bayou of Jefferson Davis’ Negroes from His Plantation on the Mississippi Below Vicksburg, Mississippi, Drawing by Frederick B. Schell, ca. 1863

Chapter 30. Wallpaper News for Cave Dwellers - The Daily Citizen, Newsprint on Wallpaper, 1863

Chapter 31. Wheel of Misfortune - Draft Wheel, ca. 1863

Chapter 32. Charred Survivor of an Urban Riot - Bible Used at Colored Orphan Asylum, ca. 1863

Chapter 33. Traveling Light - Footlocker with Belongings, 1860–1890

Chapter 34. Learning to Read, Dixie Style - The First Dixie Reader, 1864

Chapter 35. An Ovation—and a Banner—for Black Troops - Presentation Address of the Ladies of the City of New York to the Officers and Men of the Twentieth United States Colored Troops, 1864

Chapter 36. A Modern Major General - Ulysses Simpson Grant (1822–1885), Painting by James Reid Lambdin, 1868

Chapter 37. All’s Fair - Entry Ticket for the New York Metropolitan Fair, 1864

Chapter 38. The Faces of War - Photograph Album Presented to Major M. S. Euen by Co. C, P.P., 1860–1869

Chapter 39. Strong Opinions - Entries from the Diary of George Templeton Strong, 1864

Chapter 40. Prison Art - Point Lookout Sketches, Watercolor Drawings, 1864

Chapter 41. Tribute from a Bad Man? - Colored Troops Before Richmond, Engraved Silver, 1864–1865

Chapter 42. Political Dirty Tricks - The Miscegenation Ball, Lithograph, 1864

Chapter 43. Lincoln’s Worst Mistake? - Campaign Flag, 1864

Chapter 44. Counting Votes, Lincoln’s Way - Projection of November 1864 Election, Abraham Lincoln, 1864

Chapter 45. Publish or Perish? - Prison Times, Newspaper, 1865

Chapter 46. The Draft That Really Ended the War - Terms of Surrender, April 9, 1865, Ulysses S. Grant

Chapter 47. Bloody Good Friday - Letter from Clara Harris to Mary, April 25, 1865

Chapter 48. A Sprig from Lincoln’s Bier - Framed Leaves from Abraham Lincoln’s Bier, 1865

Chapter 49. A Helping Hand for the Wounded Veteran - Autograph Letter from Joe W. Mersereau to William Oland Bourne, 1865

Chapter 50. It Winds the Whole Thing Up - The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Manuscript, 1865


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