A new exhibit in the West Virginia and Regional History Collection (WVRHC) at West Virginia University offers visitors an engaging glimpse of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War era in which he lived.
The exhibit,Abraham Lincoln and West Virginia: Selections from the West Virginia and Regional History Collection,will be open for the next several months at WVU Libraries, according to John Cuthbert, WVRHC curator. The exhibit is located in the James Horner Davis Family Gallery (No. 1) on the sixth floor of the Wise Library on the Downtown Campus. It is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday (open until 9 p.m. Tuesdays).
The display is part of events that have taken place this year on campus connected with Americas 16th president, including the opening of Lincoln Hall at WVU , as well as the 2007 Festival of Ideas series, which focused on Lincoln as man, myth, martyr and American hero. The exhibit will also be on display at the Wise Library in conjunction with the 2007 U.S. Senator Rush D. Holt History Conference April 12-14, sponsored by WVU s Department of History in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, and the Civil War Symposium, hosted by the Mason Dixon Civil War Roundtable of Morgantown, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at WVU s Erickson Alumni Center.
This is our way of participating in Lincoln-related events that have been taking place around campus,Cuthbert said.We have an absolutely amazing collection, the foremost of its kind for West Virginia. Thanks to the endowed galleries at WVU Libraries, we are now able to regularly display treasures like these.
Visitors to the exhibit will discover little known, yet important, historical facts. For example, the United States almost never had a President Lincoln, according to The Virginia Weekly Star, Morgantowns local newspaper in the day. On display is its front page, which contains reports on the 1860 presidential election. Cuthbert noted that coverage focused mostly on Stephen Douglas and John Breckinridge and dismissed Lincoln.
Many people at the time said �€~a vote for Breckinridge is a vote for Lincoln,Cuthbert said.
Lincoln won the election with only 39.8 percent of the popular vote, soon finding himself in the midst of a Civil War and with a growing list of enemies. Dr. Achilles Dew sent a letter (also on display) to Lincoln warning the leader about possible assassination attempts.
Neither eat nor drink with pretended friends,Dew advised.
Francis Pierpont, governor of loyal Virginia (much of which became the state of West Virginia in 1863) gained a favorable view about Lincoln from their encounters.
One of Pierponts letters, which is on display, praises howLincolns frank, open manner put everyone at ease in his presence.
Gov. Pierpont was the recipient of several communications between generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee on the day the Confederate Army surrendered.
Cuthbert said the U.S Secretary of War was privy to these messages, and he forwarded them to Pierpont. The original telegrams on display are Lee and Grants own words talking about the surrender terms. Visitors can see, through the telegrams, the official end of the Civil War.
William McPeck, whose portrait is part of the exhibit, represents a direct Morgantown connection to Lincoln. A veteran of the 3rd West Virginia Infantry, McPeck stood guard outside Fords Theater on April 14, 1865, the night Lincoln was killed. McPeck ran inside when he heard a shot and was one of the people who carried Lincoln to a private residence across the street.
One display case pays tribute to Gen. Thomas M. Harris, who served as a Lincoln assassination conspiracy trial commissioner. He practiced medicine in Gilmer County until the Civil War erupted, after which he served as colonel for the 10th West Virginia Infantry Regiment. On display is his portrait, his commission, remnants of the flag from the 10th and the epaulets and sash from Harriss uniform.
A nearby case contains artifacts including a writing box and pen that belonged to Harriss confederate archrival, Gen. T. J.StonewallJackson who was born in Clarksburg.
Also represented in the exhibit is the work of David Hunter Strother (1816-1888), who wrote articles for Harpers Monthly and illustrated them with his own drawings. Harpers was the mostly widely-read publication in the United States at the time. As a reporter, Strother covered John Browns raid at Harpers Ferry which occurred on the eve of the Civil War. On display are Strothers original drawings showing events surrounding Browns trial, including his hanging on Dec. 2, 1859.
You could go to museums in Washington, D.C., or any major city and not see original drawings like these,Cuthbert noted.These are among the finest examples of historical documents from John Browns raid at Harpers Ferry in existence.
Additional exhibit items include Union and Confederate recruiting posters, an oil painting of Waitman T. Willey (after whom Willey Street in Morgantown is named) by famous Pittsburgh artist David Gilmour Blythe and papers from Pierponts government.
Special Collections will continue to be a significant mark of distinction for university libraries in the future,Cuthbert said.The West Virginia and Regional History Collection at WVU Libraries places us in the top echelon of state land-grant universities. We have an outstanding rare book collection, as well as original manuscripts that are prized by researchers.
For more information about the Lincoln exhibit, contact Cuthbert at 304-293-3536.