The Civil War in America

October 15th, 2012

The Library of Congress is about to open up a major new exhibition, “The Civil War in America,” to commemorate the Civil War sesquicentennial. The exhibition, which will be on display from November 12, 2012, through June 1, 2013, at the Jefferson Building of the Library, will feature more than 200 unique items from the Library’s Civil War collection, including diaries, letters, drawings, maps, newspapers, and more.

In prepration for the exhibit, the Library is also featuring some of these documents on its website and blog–including this never-before-seen letter written in August of 1862 by a Union soldier serving in Tennessee. In the letter, John P. Jones, the soldier, describes to his wife his increasing sympathy for abolitionism after seeing first-hand slavery in the South. He writes:

I am getting to be more and more of an abolitionist. I believe that this accursed institution must go down. We can never have a permanent peace as long … as this curse stains our otherwise fair insignia. The ruler of nations can never prosper these United States until it blots slavery from existence. He can no longer wink at such atrocities. This must be the grand, the final issue. I hope the powers that be will soon see it and act accordingly. It may be that we have not suffered enough yet, that the bones of a few more thousands of soldiers must bleach in the dismal swamps of the south, that a few more homes must be desolated, that suffering and desolation be more widely sown throughout the land, but come it must, postpone it as we may.

Thank God a few bright spots are luring up in the distant horizon, small it is true. But they will expand and grow brighter. We are to guard rebel property no more, and fugitives are no longer to be returned when they come within our lines. Thank God the American Soldier is no longer to be used as a slave catcher, no longer to drive helpless women around at the point of the bayonet, and be obliged to obey orders that makes him almost ashamed of being an American Soldier. […]

Slavery is not only a curse to the nation but also a curse to the states, to the very plantations where it is in vogue, a curse to the owners themselves and some I have found candid enough to acknowledge it, were slavery abolished, free labor and Yankee enterprise encouraged, how soon would the south become more as the prosperous north.

Jones’s discussion that “it may be that we have not suffered enough yet” for the sin of slavery was echoed three years later by Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, delivered in March of 1865. In that address, the president declared: “Yet, if God wills that [the war] continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.'”

Read more about Lincoln’s address with Caitrin Nicol’s essay “A Very Peculiar God: Reading Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.” And be sure to check out the Library of Congress’s Civil War exhibit here.

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