Civil War Artwork, Romance, and First-Person Accounts
The current release of imprints from the American Antiquarian Society’s The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922, includes many fine examples of illustrated Civil War envelopes, a scathing indictment of the pension system for veterans and their widows, and an old soldier’s reminiscences of his Union Army service.
The Loyalty States, Union. Illinois (1861)
This single example of the genre Civil War envelopes is from the state of Illinois. To be fully appreciated, it is helpful to view this scarce printed item in context with all of the Civil War envelopes found in the American Antiquarian Society’s extraordinary holdings, many of which are available in this online collection, as seen in the examples below.
According to the American Antiquarian Society (AAS),
Publication of Civil War envelopes began as early as the mid-1850’s, when north-south divisions began to take shape, but ended prior to the war’s conclusion because most believed that it was too indulgent and expensive to continue production in time of war.
All of the envelopes were decorated with illustrations, many of them in color. The AAS further explains:
These Civil War envelopes, some of which have been called early versions of pictorial postcards, were very popular with collectors of patriotic propaganda. The subjects illustrated on these envelopes varied from the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy, to caricatures of important war heroes…The decorations…are done in every way imaginable: hand-colored, printed, engraved, embossed, etc. Sometimes, the illustration was small and in one corner on the front…other times covered both sides and included a poem or stanzas from a song.
The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922, currently includes nearly 50 of these envelopes, while American Broadsides and Ephemera contains more than 2,500.
A True Romance of the Rebellion (1886)
By Cyrus S. Haldeman
Written by former Union Army officer Haldeman more than 20 years after the end of the Civil War, this “romance” offers a complicated tale from Philadelphia in 1862 of a mysterious sailing vessel, its contents and manifests, and the actions taken by Union Major-General Cadwalader in regard to the oddly named ship, the A-1. It is clear that at the time there were concerns about enemy infiltration, the recent rebel capture of the steamer Chesapeake and the illegal provision of the materiel of war to the Confederacy.
Cadwalader subsequently found himself hung out to dry by the War Department when an aggrieved owner of the A1 sued for “damages to his person and property” as a result of the decision to hold the bark and prevent it sailing. Consequently, Cadwalader was deprived of service benefits for lack of proof that the event actually occurred.
Haldeman became involved in support of Cadwalader, and his description of the quest to track down the documented proof of the events in 1862 was an archivist’s nightmare. In a warehouse in Washington where most of the records from Philadelphia Military District were stored, he found that “tons upon tons of them were piled upon each other in long rows.” After arduous effort Haldeman was able to locate the documents he needed to exonerate Cadwalader.
But here we learn the broader purpose of telling this story. The author concludes by excoriating the treatment being received by so many veterans of the Union Army and their widows and orphans 20 years after the end of hostilities. He attributes the horrible frustration and suffering of these victims of war in not being able to prove their eligibility for government benefits to the impossibility of searching the hastily assembled and shambolic condition of the war records. His conclusion: Congress must pass a “service-pension act, providing for a monthly payment of a small sum of money…to every man who can produce sufficient evidence of honorable military service…no matter how offensive such an act would be to the prosperous and strong, to the selfish, to the ostentatious, or to the sentimental ex-soldiers.”
Autobiography of a Soldier of the Civil War (1915)
By Edmund P. Snyder
The American Civil War Collection contains many first-person accounts of those who fought in the war or were affected by it. Because the collection encompasses not only the war years but more than 50 subsequent years, it provides a rich archive of the effects of the conflict long after the surrender.
Mr. Snyder’s story can stand as an everyman’s tale. He describes his childhood in the wilds of Ohio, his schooling, his status as a twin and the hard work and hard knocks of frontier life. Further, he takes us to war with him through illness, battle, capture, imprisonment at the notorious Andersonville, and release.
From the wisdom gained by surviving and living to an old age, this veteran is able to conclude:
Civil wars engender the most bitter hatreds, and the most intense and lasting animosities, and ours was no exception. It has been over a half century. Time heals all sorrows…And as Americans we may well be proud today that the Blue and Gray now unite in rejoicing at the glories of a common country and vie with each other in enthusiastic admiration of the old flag.