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'Two such stainless captains': Highlights from the American Antiquarian Society’s Civil War Collection

Posted on 11/10/2017

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This month’s release of imprints from The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes two imprints reflecting on events in Richmond, Virginia, following the war. Both publications express sympathetic views of the Confederacy. On a lighter note we focus on a colorfully illustrated picture book for children from the Civil War era.

Robert Edward Lee: An Address Delivered at the Dedication of the Monument to General Robert Edward Lee at Richmond, Virginia, May 29, 1890, by Archer Anderson (1890)

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At a time when memorials to the Confederacy and her most prominent soldiers and politicians are under attack by demands to remove them, it may be timely to consider the impetus and emotion that fueled the erection of these memorials in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The end of Reconstruction ushered in the Jim Crow era. Many of the monuments constructed toward the end of the 19th century were as much a celebration of white supremacy as a permanent memory of the war.

Contemporary Americans are not so likely as Archer Anderson, the author of this address, to assert that:

It is the singular felicity of this Commonwealth of Virginia to have produced two such stainless captains. The fame of the one, consecrated by a century of universal reverence and the growth of a colossal empire, the result of his heroic labors, has been commemorated in this city by a monument, in whose majestic presence no man ever received the suggestion of a thought that did not exalt humanity. The fame of the other, not yet a generation old and won in a cause that was lost, is already established by that impartial judgment of foreign nations, which anticipates the verdict of the next age, upon an equal pinnacle, and millions of our countrymen, present here with us in their thoughts and echoing back from city and plain and mountain top the deep and reverent voice of this vast multitude, will this day confirm our solemn declaration that the monument to George Washington has found its only fitting complement and companion in a monument to Robert Lee.

Walks about Richmond: A Story for Boys, and a Guide to Persons Visiting the City, Desiring to See the Principal Points of Interest (1870)

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Twenty years before the dedication of Lee’s monument in Richmond, Carlton McCarthy published this personal guide to that city. McCarthy was a native of Richmond, had fought for the CSA in the war, and later became the elected mayor (1904-1908.) He has framed this tour in a series of walks around the city taken by the narrator, a fond uncle, and his young nephew. We have previously featured tourist brochures for Richmond and other Virginia sites aimed at the post-Civil War tourist trade. This imprint is different.  

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The loquacious and knowledgeable narrator combines protean city facts with acute memories of war and other disasters. He is matter of fact and does not appear to have anything of the lost cause zealotry that was common at the time. In the first item we identified the author as having been an executive, in his father’s footsteps, at the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond.

“What is all that noise, uncle? and where does all the smoke come from?”

“Why we are near the Tredegar Iron Works, where locomotives, railroad iron, and other things in that line are made. During the war this was a place of great importance. Here we made most of the heavy guns for fortifications, and war vessels. Here church bells, probably, and other things which are useful in peace, were melted to be made into field pieces.

“I sincerely hope, Frank, that there will be no more use for guns in this country. Peace is better than war; plenty is better than want; and the music of church bells sweeter than the booming of cannon.

He has other benevolent inclinations which may not have been fully informed.

“This is the almhouse [sic],” said Uncle Fred; “and a comfortable looking place it is.”

“Can any one who is poor get a home and food here, uncle?”

“Yes, if residents of the city, and unable to get work, by making application to the proper authorities they are given food and clothing and a bed. In olden times, before Christianity had enlightened the world, the poor were forced to beg from passers-by the food necessary to sustain life. Now, in all civilized lands, the poor are cared for, and provided with homes.”

Uncle Fred seems almost blasé about his wartime observations in the capital of the CSA.

So that is the Davis Mansion?” said Frank, as he stood on the brow of the hill.

“Yes. For several years Mr. Davis might be seen every morning walking quietly from this house to his office. His little boys, no doubt, have romped together on this hill many a day.

And in an interesting aside, the older man seems to describe gang warfare in antebellum Richmond.

“Is this valley a part of the city, uncle?

“Oh, yes, a very interesting part, too, to the boys. For probably thirty years, the boys of ‘Butchertown,’ as this place is called, and the ‘Hill Cats’ call the ‘Butcher Cats’ call the boys who live up here, have had a war on hand, and nearly every day a rock battle occurs, in which rocks fly thick and fast. Sometimes the Butcher Cats carry the hill, and sometimes the Hill Cats carry the war into Butchertown, and drive its defenders out. The police have tried in vain to stop these rock battles. At least once a week they must have a fight.

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In the year of this guide’s publication, Richmond experienced a great tragedy when the floor of a crowded chamber in a public building collapse killing 62 people, many of whom were prominent citizens.

Various were the speculations as to the final result, when, all at once, a panel piece of ceiling fell, and then the girder gave way with an awful crash, and precipitated the spectators who were in the gallery of the court-room to the main floor, and the additional weight in one single moment’s time crushing the court-room through. The mass of human beings who were in attendance were sent, mingled with the bricks, mortar, splinters, beams, iron bars, desks, and chairs, to the floor of the House of Delegates, and in a second more, fifty-seven souls were launched into eternity.

Magnus’ Universal Picture Books. Series No. 1-12 (1863)

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This rare book is essentially a collection of colored illustrations without text to provide context or identification. However, the illustrations are entertaining. The reader must provide the rationale for their inclusion.

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For more information about The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

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