The Civil War in Primary Resources: An Exhibition by the Special Collections Library


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While the Civil War ended in 1865 with the surrender of Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, Americans continue to debate its legacy. Grappling with loss, white Southerners developed a nostalgic myth of Southern innocence they called “the Lost Cause.” This perspective was promoted by groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy in history textbooks, popular novels, films, and monuments across the country. At the same time, advertisers recognized that popular interest in the Civil War could sell a surprising array of products that capitalized on the civil war legacy. By the turn of the twentieth century, many Americans envisioned the Civil War through the framework of the Lost Cause, regardless of their political affiliation.

For the war’s centennial in 1965, Americans embraced commemorative posters, publications, monuments, and memorabilia. These attempts to remember the Civil War were as much a reflection of contemporary politics as they were an attempt to actually understand what happened in the 1860s. As Black Americans again fought for their civil rights, the role of slavery in the nation’s defining conflict took on a new political charge.


U.S. Civil War 1861-1865


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