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Civil War’s 150th Anniversary Will Be Focus of UNC Library Exhibits, Programs, Website

Handbill (1863). North Carolina Collection.

What was happening in the South 150 years ago on any given date during the Civil War?

A website posting just that, every day for four years, is planned by the UNC University Library. The site will be among numerous Library activities commemorating the 150th anniversary of the conflict.

Activities will begin with the exhibit Home Front on the Hill: Chapel Hill and the University during the Civil War, on view in the Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibit Room of the Wilson Special Collections Library from Feb. 1 through May 8.

The exhibit, free to the public, will feature about 160 items from Library collections. Highlights will include:

  • Letters related to the firing in 1856 of a UNC professor for his opposition to extending slavery into new territories;
  • An 1860 letter from the professor’s mother-in-law describing a local secessionist rally;
  • Minutes from University Baptist Church in Chapel Hill documenting when, in 1865, African-Americans left to form their own church; and
  • Three eyewitness accounts of the April 1865 occupation of Chapel Hill by Union troops.

Eliza Pannill Bullock Carr (undated photograph). Southern Historical Collection.

On April 12–the 150th anniversary of the war’s first military engagement, at Fort Sumter, S.C., in 1861–the Library will launch the website “The Civil War Day by Day.”

The site will use Wilson Library’s rich collections of archival documents and published materials to present the war as it unfolded in the South. Diary entries, correspondence, news articles, maps, photographic portraits, and images of artifacts will be among the items posted daily until April 9, 2015, the 150th anniversary of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender.

“We want to provide a sense of how the war was experienced by people living through it, who didn’t know how it would end, or what might happen to them and their loved ones,” said Biff Hollingsworth, archivist in the Southern Historical Collection and one of the site’s creators.

The site will invite readers to share their own interpretations of and reactions to the documents.

Other Library anniversary activities, all free to the public in Wilson Library , will include:

Union General William T. Sherman accepting the surrender of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston at Bennett Place in Durham (1865 illustration). North Carolina Collection, Photographic Archives.

  • A lecture March 30 by LeeAnn Whites, a history professor at the University of Missouri. Her title will be “Battle for the Home Front: Revisiting the Role of Women in the Civil War.” Whites wrote Gender Matters: Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Making of the New South and was an editor of Occupied Women: Gender, Military Occupation, and the American Civil War. The talk will begin at 5:45 p.m. after a 5 p.m. reception and viewing of Home Front on the Hill.
  • Gallery talks for Home Front. On Feb. 16, Ernest Dollar, director of the Chapel Hill Preservation Society, will describe Chapel Hill at the end of the Civil War. On April 13, Frank Fee, associate professor in the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, will discuss ways that news was gathered and disseminated to Orange County residents during the war. Both talks will be at 3 p.m. in the Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibit Room on the third floor.
  • Additional Wilson Library exhibits. Two will explore the Civil War in the imagination (2013) and ways in which the war has been commemorated through time (2015). Lectures and programs will correspond to these exhibits.

“It’s almost impossible to do serious research about the Civil War, and especially the Confederacy, without consulting materials in Wilson Library,” said Tim West, curator of the Southern Historical Collection and chair of the Library’s Civil War 150th planning committee. “This anniversary encouraged us to find ways to make those materials more visible and accessible to the general public.”

For information about Wilson Library’s Civil War programming and to learn more about its historical holdings related to the war, contact the Library staff at (919) 962-3765 or

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