Torn in Two: 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. An exhibition organized by the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center from the Special Collections of the Boston Public Library, May 15-December 31, 2011.
By: Ronald E. Grim and Debra Block.
Torn in Two: 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, the fourth gallery exhibition of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, commemorates one of the major events in America's history.
In many ways, the Civil War represents a watershed in the history of the United States. As a result of the conflict, the Federal government solidified its dominance over the states. The North won and it was its version of America that would prevail. Industrial production in factories using a free labor force would grow rapidly in the nation’s cities. Despite an expanding diversity in these bursting urban areas, increasingly dominated by the seemingly endless streams of immigrants from Asia and Europe, the rise of mass media created common reference points that masked these differences.
Yet what transpired was not a departure from what came before but an acceleration of trends in transportation, communication, and manufacturing. These factors led to the creation of and eventual predominance of an urban middle class lifestyle. These changes were neither pervasive nor monolithic yet the veneer persisted that our national motto, E Pluribus Unum, One out of Many, had come to pass. And it would be this middle class that would set the standard for a public culture.
The cities of the republic also had a growing working class that demanded its own leisure pursuits. All of these forces combined to create strong demand for and the ability to supply a wide variety of printed materials. By mid-19th century photographs, lithographs and other visual media were quickly and easily produced and transmitted to a growing and eager audience.
The war greatly increased the desire for these images. Maps in particular became crucial to tell the story of the conflict. Those on the home front were desperate for news of military campaigns, both to locate loved ones and to learn about hitherto unknown battle sites. Crucial to the successful execution of military campaigns, the absence of reliable cartographic information led to high casualties. The institution of after battle mapping by the Federal government was both a form of historical documentation as well as the assertion of a central authority that increasingly insisted on uniform standards.
The essays that accompany this exhibition catalog enhance our ability to tell the story of an important chapter in our nation’s history. All emphasize maps as a lens with which to understand the past. Two articles focus on the antebellum period. Susan Schulten explores the political landscape that led to disunion in Mapping the Sectional Crisis as she notes the problems related to extending slavery into newly acquired territories during the 19th century. Debra Newman Ham traces the quest for emancipation along the eastern seaboard in “Thenceforward and Forever Free”: The Quest for Emancipation in the United States.
During the war, David Bosse identifies the role that maps played in the media in bringing the story to the home front in The Parlor War: Civil War Maps in the Popular Media. Richard Miller details the importance of maps to a single battle and questions the results had better cartographic information been available to Northern troops in The Battle of Balls Bluff: Would Terrain Maps Have Made a Difference?
Finally, Ronald Grim presents the creation of after battle maps of Gettysburg in Remember the War through Maps: Creating the Gettysburg Post-Battle Maps, and explores the role these maps played in the ways in which the war has been memorialized. Together these essays reveal that this was a war that was documented unlike any previous war, and that the issues that dominated the headlines then continue to engage us today.