Americas and Oceania Collections blog

Exploring the Library’s collections from the Americas and Oceania

36 posts categorized "Civil War"

19 June 2013

Civil War Project update – A journey through the Southern (and Northern) States

 Gardner War

Alexander Gardner, Studying the Art of War, Fairfax Court-House [Virginia], June 1863. British Library Shelfmark 1784.a.13.1

Public Domain Mark This work is free of known copyright restrictions.

Catherine Bateson, our King's College London MA intern updates us on some of her findings as part of the US Civil War Project:

150 years ago, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle of the Coldstream Guards was on a long train journey from Shelbyville, Tennessee, to Atlanta, Georgia. Fremantle was conducting an independent tour of the Confederate States at the height of the American Civil War. He witnessed life on the home-front, military and naval engagements and had met General Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. While on the train, which "was much crowded with wounded and sick soldiers", the British officer noticed "a goodish-looking woman". Fremantle reports that this lady had fought on the frontline and that "no notice had been taken of [her gender] so long as she conducted herself properly", though clearly something had happened because "she had been turned out a short time since for her bad and immoral conduct". He offers no further comment other than noting that "she wore a soldier’s hat and coat, but had resumed her petticoats". Information about female soldiers in the Civil War is often hard to come by, though the Library of Congress has recently drawn attention to this intriguing aspect of the war.

Fremantle’s observation is just one of many wartime snapshots Fremantle jotted down in a three-and-a-half month diary of his American adventures, imaginatively titled Three months in the Southern States, April-June, 1863 (General Reference Collection The diary is a fantastic Civil War primary source, made all the more interesting as it was written from a neutral British perspective. It also contains entries from July 1863, when Fremantle was at Gettysburg observing one of the Civil War’s most famous battles. His account of events of 1–3 July 1863, written as the fight raged around him, remains one of the best eyewitness reports of the battle. The Library holds several copies of Fremantle’s diary, including the 1863 first edition.

Followers of the blog will know that our Civil War project has been going on for a while, begun to commemorate the American Civil War Sesquicentennial – or the easier to say '150th anniversary' – in 2011. The project is finally nearing completion and the website will hopefully be going live in the next few weeks. I’ve been interning with Team Americas for the last month, adding finishing touches to the website, providing detail to the digitised items and highlighting numerous British connections to the American conflict. Fremantle himself gets a reference, alongside fabulous images of maps, photographs, diplomatic letters, wartime objects and my personal favourite, Union and Confederate songs, including several which praise the role of Irish soldiers in the conflict.

In the meantime, the image above is a taster of what will be on display. The photograph was taken 150 years ago this month by Scottish-born Alexander Gardner. Studying the Art of War features Union officers who would take part in the fighting at Gettysburg in 1863. It is tempting to think Fremantle saw similar scenes behind the Confederate line. As has been mentioned on the blog before, photos from Gardner’s two-volume book have already been digitised, and the website will contain more information on a selection of some of the best.

I like to think that if he were around today, Arthur Fremantle would have enjoyed our Civil War project, as like his diary jottings it covers numerous aspects of this tumultuous period of American history.



07 February 2013

Lincoln, Alexander Gardner and the Silent Indian

  Public Domain Mark This work (Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War, Washington, 1865) identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions. [BL Shelfmark: 1784.a.13]

One of the many joys of American Studies is that it’s very easy to argue that you’re watching a particular TV programme or going to a movie because, well, it’s work isn’t it? Just recently we’ve had a few films that we all felt compelled to see, and not least because they’ve provoked numerous debates on Twitter and in the press. Fortunately, we’ve enjoyed at least two of them – Django Unchained and, of course, Lincoln. A lot of words have already been generated about both so I’ve no intention of reviewing either, but I did want to just touch on a couple of things in Lincoln. 

In one scene Abe discovers his son looking at 2 glass plates of ‘slaves for sale’ and tells him that they should be returned to Mr Gardner. This of course is a reference to the photographer Alexander Gardner. And there were numerous points in the film when it was if Gardner’s (and his associated photographers) images had sprung to life, particularly when Lincoln and entourage are touring the battlefields late on in the film. Sadly our 2 volume set of Gardner’s Sketchbook of the War is not quite complete and is missing the iconic photograph of Lincoln in the field. But we do have the image at the top of the blog, taken by Timothy H. O’Sullivan. If you’ve seen the film, you will recognise it as the Appomattox Court House in Virginia ‘where the Capitulation was Signed between Generals Grant and Lee.’ I’ve already blogged about Gardner and the sketch book so I’m not going to say anything further, other than to flag up that both volumes have now been digitised as part of Matt’s Civil War project and you can peruse them here (vol. 1) and here (vol. 2).

But let’s go back to that scene at the Appomattox Court House. You might also have noticed that a tall Indian in Union uniform walks across the frame at one point. He had also appeared briefly earlier on when we first encountered General Grant. He has no lines at all but a close scrutiny of the credits confirmed my assumption that he was intended to represent Colonel Ely Parker (Tonawanda Seneca), adjutant and military secretary to Grant, drafter of the final terms of surrender, and who became, amongst many other things, the first Native American to be appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs. I can’t do justice to the extraordinary (and sometimes controversial) life – and many careers of the talented Ely Parker in a blog, but you can read about him in this piece from the American Indian Magazine. We also have a number of books on him in the Library, including Warrior in Two Camps: Ely S. Parker Union General and Seneca Chief, William H. Amstrong, 1978, BL shelfmark: X:950/31002.

Ely parker

Public Domain Mark This work (
The Life of General Ely S. Parker, by Arthur Caswell Parker. Buffalo Historical Society, 1919) identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions. [BL Shelfmark: AC.8367/3, vol.23]

It’s a shame that Parker doesn’t merit any dialogue in the film. There is a much repeated story that, at the surrender, General Lee first mistook Parker as a black man. Realising his mistake, he then shook his hand, saying 'I am glad to see one real American here.' Parker’s response was 'We are all Americans, sir’, which, you have to admit, is a pretty good line. I can't vouch for the authenticity of the story, but the lines do occur in the movie - but between Lee and, I think, Grant. And incidentally, Parker is played in the film by Asa-Luke Twocrow (Oglala Sioux), a member of the Lincoln rigging crew, who, much to his surprise, was asked to take on the part.




31 January 2013

Oil, Ambergris and the Grand Ball of the Whales

2013-01-07 14-55 vanity fair 1861 page #12
Public Domain Mark

This work (Grand Ball given by the Whales), identified by The British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

There was a certain amount of spluttering over the porridge this morning, as the Today programme's John Humphrys discussed reports of discovery of whale vomit on a Morecambe beach, and speculated briefly on the possibility of somehow farming sperm whales for this valuable commodity, more pleasantly also known as ambergris. Long-sought-after for its rarity and use as a base for perfumes, this lump of grey waxy emission is a reminder of the special status of whales and their relationship to human culture.

The early connection can be seen in this folio from the British Library Catalogue of Medieval Manuscripts:

Birthwort and Ambergris

Egerton 747, f. 7, 'Birthwort and Ambergris'. Guidance on use of this image.

But a more recent - and American - reminder can be found in the cartoon at the top of this post, taken from Vanity Fair in 1861, and which we hold at the Library.  'The Grand Ball given by the Whales' depicts a celebratory pod of whales, who are heartily cheered by the the striking of 'rock oil' at Drake's oil well in Pennsylvania.  No longer, the sperm whales believed, would their precious spermaceti oil be hunted for use in candles and lubrication of the delicate machines of the industrialised north. 

It tool a while for oil to become established as lighting and heating fuel and a propellant, but against the backdrop of the Civil War, a startling, and massive, infrastructure was put in place (extraction, refinement, distribution, sales...), and the American talent for marketing was put to work inventing and explaining how the new fuel could offer brilliant light for homes, offices and factories.  At one point, U.S. consuls were provided with details of newly-designed kerosene lamps and instructed to advertise them in the capitals of the world.  Oil tankers were invented, removing the need to rely on leaky oil barrels (which stripped the poor horses that pulled them in carts of their hair), naval engineers began to speculate on converting warships to petroleum, rather than relying on great coal stations, and vast new docks and sumps were constructed.  Legislation had to be passed in both countries after a series of fires at oil merchants and their warehouses (there was also a relatively well-founded scare about the inflammatory properties of oil lamps). 

And, unlike the potential olfactory use of ambergris, all of this smelled pretty bad.


09 January 2013

The Great Comet of 1861 and the Civil War

Stargazing was a great success on the telly and under the skies last night; and Lincoln did very well at the BAFTA award nominations.

As a doff of the cap to these two facts, here's an August 1861 political cartoon from Vanity Fair, 'The Great Comet of 1861'.  Playing on the comet that was visible with the naked eye over the US in 1861 as war broke out (the comet was first sighted in Australia in May, and designated C/1861 J1), it depicts General Winfield Scott, the union general who advocated war as the only means to bring the seceded states to heal.  (Note the bayonets in Scott's celestial tail.)



Public Domain Mark

This work (The Great Comet of 1861), identified by The British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

Scott's strategy, which aimed to constrict the southern states like a snake, gaven birth to its popular name, the Anaconda Plan, which in turn led to other cartoons:


Public Domain Mark
This work (Scott's Great Snake), identified by the Library of Congress, is free of known copyright restrictions.


07 January 2013

Our Great Iceberg Melting Away

Another in our occasional series on the polar regions: we can now reveal that Abraham Lincoln is to blame for global warming.  Or at least James Buchanan change.  (From Vanity Fair, 9 March 1861).

2013-01-07 14-55 vanity fair 1861 page #13

'Our Great Iceberg Melting Away', Vanity Fair, 9 March 1861,

Public Domain Mark
This work (Our Great Iceberg Melting Away, by Stephens), identified by The British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.


01 January 2013

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

At 14.00 EST today (19.00 GMT here in London) bells will ring out in churches, universities, and other organisations in Massachusetts to mark the moment when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year's Day, 1863. Sadly we don't have any bells to ring but we're providing a link to the Library's copy of the Leland-Boker Authorized Edition of the Emancipation Proclamation (1864), recently released as part of our US Civil War digitisation project.  The signatures at the foot are in the hands of Abraham Lincoln, John Nicolay (Private Secretary to the President) and William Seward (Secretary of State).

There's more about the Proclamation on our Americas Collections Highlights pages, and it's available on Images Online.  The original proclamation is in the National Archives in Washington. The Smithsonian also provides an introduction.

And a very Happy New Year to everyone!

27 November 2012

A Disputed Boundary: mapping the Gadsden Purchase Treaty


Map illustrating the disputed Boundary between the United States and Mexico (New York, 1853) Maps 71495.(25)

Public Domain Mark
This work (Map illustrating the disputed Boundary between the United States and Mexico, by creator: G. Schroeter; producer: British Library), identified by The British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

This map is being digitized as part of the US Civil War project.  It predates the war, of course, but is a record of the western expansion that helped to spark it.  It shows the disputed territory between New Mexico and Mexico following the Treaty of Gaudaloupe-Hidalgo, which ended the Mexico-American War of 1846-48.  The Mesilla Valley offered an important potential railroad route to the West via a Southern route (important to the slave states), but the treaty was based on an out-of-date map favoured by the United States.  New surveys demanded by the treaty revealed the error.

In 1847, a British bank had brought rights to the land, leading to fears of British influence in the American hemisphere (the fears of which Mexico used to good effect with its negotiations with the States), while the Gold Rush of 1848 gave the potential route even more importance. In 1853, the newly elected Pierce administration, which included the future Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, favoured a more bullish policy towards southern expansion and, taking advantage of economic and political turmoil within Mexico and the New Mexico governor's claim to the disputed territories, James Gadsden purchased six packages of lands for $15 million.  Mexico unsuccessfully attempted to persuade Britain to become involved in the negotiations, and the treaty was ratified in 1854.  The US Army took possession of the lands, and became responsible for suppressing the Apache tribes noted on the map (under the terms of the Guadalup-Hidalgo treaty, the US was responsible for protecting Mexican citizens from Apache raiding parties; for their part, the Apaches had been resisting Mexican intrusion into their lands for the best part of three centuries).

The Southern Pacific Railroad, which headed west from Los Angeles, was completed in December 1881.

(Detail of Maps.71495(25) above)

31 August 2012

The radical life of Moncure Daniel Conway

Eccles Centre Writer in Residence, Sheila Rowbotham, writes,

I really should have known more about the life of the American anti-slavery  campaigner and freethinker, Moncure Daniel Conway. I have  been going to meetings in Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London since the 1960s. I have the historian’s habit of wondering where the names of places and buildings come from, yet I failed to make the connection.

Because I am currently writing about two women who, in the 1880s, were members of Bristol Women’s Liberal Association , after all these years I started to investigate after finding a reference to him speaking in  the Victoria Rooms on ‘Women and Evolution’ on March 26th 1885.

The Bristol women were radical; they had links to the Garrisonian wing of  anti-slavery, inclined towards Irish Home Rule and were staunch supporters of women’s suffrage as well as being opposed to  the Contagious Diseases  Acts whereby women could be forcibly examined  for venereal diseases and confined in ‘lock’ hospitals. However as I read about Moncure Conway I wondered how much his audience knew of his extraordinary life.

From a wealthy Virginian slave-holding family, he began to ask questions after reading Emerson. In 1854, while he was studying at Harvard , a runaway slave was arrested in Boston and, after failing to obtain his release legally, abolitionists attacked the jail. A deputy sheriff was killed and with polite Boston reeling in shock, a defiant William Lloyd Garrison burned a copy of the U. S Constitution in protest. These startling events affected the young son of a slave-owner deeply. He turned against his father and brothers, siding with his mother and sisters who opposed slavery. In 1862, during the Civil War, he helped some of his father’s former slaves to escape to Ohio  where they  established the Conway Colony.

Breaking even with the broad and tolerant tenets of Unitarianism, he moved towards humanism and free thought. But Moncure Conway went  further.

When I read his Autobiography, Memories and Experiences in the British Library I was intrigued to find him embracing the dangerous French woman novelist George Sand who had supported the 1848 revolution and was associated with free love. Emerson had given him Sand’s Lelia to read when Moncure Conway went to lecture in Britain in 1863, but  it was not until several years later  that he met her, experiencing ‘awe’ at being in her presence..

His tribute is remarkable: ‘Margaret Fuller and Mrs Browning were both in this brain of George Sand; nay, all the aspiring and discontented women known to me in America – poets, orators, reformers – were all the offspring of George Sand, endeavouring to build in the New World a palace for Woman ..’

He admired the radical suffrage agitators Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ernestine Rose. In Britain he made contact with the Bright- Priestman  family nexus who were early campaigners for suffrage. Sandra Holton has written  with  scholarship and sensibility about their influence which was marked in Bristol.

An inveterate networker, friend of Oliver Wendell Holmes as well as Emerson in the U.S., Moncure Conway recounts how he collected European dissidents of every hue. He knew the most diverse radicals; the Cambridge Republican mathematician, W.K. Clifford and the utopian Scot, Thomas Davidson who inspired  the Fellowship of the  New Life from which the Fabians grew.

His autobiography enables us to glimpse how individuals transcend assumed  boundaries. After the defeat of the French Commune, the anarchist anthropologist, Elie Reclus, took him ‘to a room in Bloomsbury where the Communards were wont to gather – a poor place; but I was impressed by their intelligent and benevolent countenances’.

Conway Hall, of course, would not be accepting any spirits into its rationalist premises, but still I can imagine how those Communards might well waft discretely through the gallery from time to time, hob-nobbing with George Sand, Margaret Fuller, Tom Paine, the Bristol Women’s Liberal Association , and, the sociable Moncure Daniel Conway himself.


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