First Hand: Civil War Era Drawings
September 5 - December 13, 2009
As Boston prepares to mark the war's sesquicentennial, the Civil War drawings in the Becker Collection cast a new light on the dramatic events that divided and defined a nation. As is expected, the drawings record significant battles and leaders but also offer a new window onto the social customs, cultural landscape, and built environment that existed in and around the war. Given the atrocities that were committed on both sides and the terrible human cost of a conflict that left more than six hundred twenty thousand Americans dead, it is easy to overlook the activities that defined the living. Many of the works of art in this exhibition tell the hidden histories of life during the war: the pacifist stance of the all but forgotten Dunkards, the wartime service of contrabands, horseracing in the snow at an army camp, and the celebration of Thanksgiving. Images of the chaos and bloodshed at Shiloh and burying of the dead at Petersburg are shown next to works illustrating African Americans at a worship service and Fourth of July ceremonies. The Becker Collection not only documents how the war was waged but also reminds us why it was fought.