Civil War collection displayed at UNH library

On March 5, 2012

Taking a step back in time is the intent behind the exhibit Confronting the South, a collection of letters and artifacts from the Civil War era on display in the special collections section of Dimond Library at the University of New Hampshire.

In an era untouched by modern technology and social networking or the luxury of instant communication, these stories are told through carefully chosen words, black and white photographs and handwritten thoughts put to paper, revealing the sacrifices and love shared by New Hampshire residents and soldiers during the Civil War.

Seven different collections are combined to tell the story of what life was like for those going off to fight in the South as well as what days were like for their loved ones who remained at home.

These are all people who had never been to the South before,» Dale Valena, curator of special collections, said. They're very interesting.

She said she especially noticed the care taken by soldiers when writing home.

They're trying to keep up their best not to worry people at home, she said.

One soldier articulated that he was writing from within the prettiest village he had seen in the Southern states, surrounded by «splendid farms with handsome, neat looking buildings.

The letters were transcribed and many digitally reprinted, all hanging amid trinkets from the war. Medals and pocket knives lined the shelves of a glass case in the hallway. A wallet is placed next to Confederate money and old photographs, while in the next room a glass display houses actual handwritten letters and envelopes crafted in the nineteenth century.

Bill Ross, head of special collections, said the display is in part to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and, most importantly, to understand the human component of the events that took place.

The people who really kind of struggled with a huge change in their lives, he said were the people this exhibit is meant to focus on – the millworkers or farmers who were sent to fight in the South and the families left behind.

The inspiration for putting this display together came after a large donation by the Parson's family in Rye of more than 200 letters.

Senior history and political science major Kyle Murphy worked for months with Ross on researching and transcribing the letters to obtain a view at what life was like for New Hampshire soldiers and families connected to the war. Murphy said he's always been a history buff, but never truly knew what New Hampshire's involvement in the Civil War was like.

It was definitely an opportunity I just kind of jumped at, he said, stating he worked extensively with the Parson's collection, which had letters from 1829 to the early 1900s.

The exhibit is divided into three categories he and Ross came up with: Confronting the South, Life at Home, and Seeing the Elephant. Each touches on a different aspect of the war including New Hampshire's role in it, daily life and struggles of loved ones at home, and seeing combat for the first time.

It really put a human touch on the war, he said of discovering what the thoughts were of those young soldiers and families from the Granite State as they corresponded. He said the most interesting thing he came across was the way a soldier would write home after battles, describing the bullets flying by, the carnage and the explosions around them.

Part of the Parsons collection contained letters from George Gove to his sister, Julia Parsons. Gove served in the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers Regiment, which Murphy said lost more men than any other regiment in the war.

Gove survived the war, which is amazing, he said.

Ross said the collection included some really vivid correspondence from Gove, which provides a lot of insight into the experience a soldier had. Some offered an idea of the time frame a man served in war.

In a letter to his wife, Emily, Leander Harris wrote: I suppose you are all busy preparing for Thanksgiving next Thursday. I wish I could be with you then. I would give a dollar for one mouthful of mother›s mince pie. Tell her to eat a big piece for me. This will be the third time that I have been away on Thanksgiving, but I intend to be there next year, and make up for all.

"We don't ever really think about what the common soldier was going through and experiencing," Murphy said. "This exhibit provides that view."

Milne Special Collections and Archives is located on level one of the Dimond Library. This exhibit will be on display until summer. For more information, call 862-0346.

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