In Lowell and Beyond: Artifacts, Stories, Memorabilia, Ephemera Help Tell the Civil War Story

This “Matthew Brady Studio” portrait was probably made in the spring of 1864, around the time U.S. Grant put General Benjamin F. Butler in command of the Army of the James River.
The Sesquicentennial commemoration of the American Civil War began in earnest last month. Locally, the story has been playing out through a series of lectures, panels, exhibits, tours and a movie series, that sets the stage for the Civil War in the “big picture” by telling the story of “Lowell in the Civil War.” What are these stories? The “first in the War” deaths of Lowell mill-workers Luther Ladd and Addison Whitney in the Baltimore Riots of 1861.. the exploits of the 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry – the Lowell-mustered regiment… the history-making role of General Benjamin F. Butler of Lowell doing his duty in the Civil War… the heroism of Lowell men in the bloody battles of the War… the work on the home-front of such groups as the sanitary commission. Then by displaying the coat worn by Ladd with the bullet hole; discussing letters written by a Civil War soldier to a local lady; highlighting the reseach of a citizen historian in his quest to locate the burial site of Lowell Civil War soldiers; searching out the contemporary newpaper stories about abolitionist activities in Lowell; sharing the illustrations, cartoons, images and artwork of those CW days – all that and more helps fill-out the big story of the Civil War using our local connections.

The television version of these commemoratives with the iconic Ken Burns mini-series “The Civil War” created back in the 1990s as the standard and formula for pattern and quality has also tapped into those local connections. The New York Times article “Old-Time Stuff Is Not Forgotten” in today’s edition tells us of the History Channel approach to recounting the Civil War though the well-known programs – “History Detectives,” “American Pickers” and “Pawn Stars.” Regular watchers know that the personal items, stories, artifacts and traditions of an individual, a family and collectors become the grist for the experts on these programs – researching, exploring the past, looking for the real story, for historic valuation and validation. Using such things as a child’s doll, an aging tintype, a faded letter – these 19th-century artifacts tell viewers what the war was really about and how the Civil War aftermath remains with us today. As one of these “regulars” I recommend this programming appoach as another way to learn about and commemorate this most important part of American history.

Read the entire NYT’s article here: