Exhibitions

What They Wrote, What They Saved

The Personal Civil War
What They Wrote, What They Saved: The Personal Civil War

What They Wrote, What They Saved: The Personal Civil War opens on October 15, 2014, and runs through March 20, 2015. 

The exhibition will be on view on the first floor of the Schlesinger Library during regular library hours: Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


This exhibition features diaries, letters, and firsthand accounts from four years of civil war that offer intimate glimpses into the lives of men and women affected by the strife. The words were written in parlors, hospitals, and schoolrooms; around campfires and on tossing ships; to and from mothers, brothers, and sweethearts, teachers, soldiers, and sailors.

A famous mother worries about her vulnerable son. Abolitionist families send their sons and daughters south to fight and teach. Unfamiliar seeds are sent north for planting in the garden.

Tied up in ribbons, labeled in spidery hands, tucked into trunks, and saved by generations of kin, these 19th-century documents, photographs, artifacts, and books from the library's collections speak of love, courage, ambition, humor, insecurities, and dreams. They profoundly demonstrate the unexpected reservoirs of strength and the uncommon commitment of the men who fought in battles and women who aided the war effort—and of those at home who loved them.

Resolve and romance touched both Union and Confederate families. Shared experiences were many: women and men worried and worked to support the war effort in both North and South. The items exhibited reflect the Schlesinger Library's holdings, most of which focus on the Northern, white, middle-class families whose stories are told by what they wrote and what they saved.