This could be the exhibit you won't want to missArea News
-- Aside from spotlighting a special book, for the next six weeks River Falls Reads 2013 spins off an array of activities, events and a continuous show. All have the American Civil War as a theme.
By: Phil Pfuehler , Pierce County Herald
Aside from spotlighting a special book, for the next six weeks River Falls Reads 2013 spins off an array of activities, events and a continuous show. All have the American Civil War as a theme.
The spotlighted book is the 1975 Pulitzer-Prizing winning historical novel, “Killer Angels,” about the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg between Union and Confederate armed forces.
The public library’s lower-level gallery has also opened a Civil War exhibit.
Local curators Katie Chaffee and Kirby Symes joke that they came out of retirement just to do the show. Chaffee calls it “our last hurrah!”
The exhibit took a ton of work to prepare and solicit for, then set up -- well over 100 working hours.
So why all the fuss about the Civil War?
“Because it was our own private war. With this one, we weren’t mixed up with other countries,” said Symes, who once taught history and social studies in Ellsworth and Prescott. “And the Civil War turned into a slaughter -- 600,000 dead from disease, getting shot or blown up. It was ghastly for both sides, for how it tore apart our nation.”
Symes and Chaffee said the war began with great pomp, passion and naivety.
“The glory of war wasn’t so glorious,” Chaffee said, while Symes pointed out that after the first waves of largely untrained volunteers came to fight, led by politically appointed unschooled officers, a military draft was needed.
Later there were anti-draft riots, including some in Wisconsin, that had to be put down.
Even the cause of the Civil War remains debatable -- defense of state’s rights? maintaining the Union (United States’ federal government)? or ending slavery?
Chaffee said it was likely parts of all three, but she said economics certainly fueled the North’s desire to keep the Union stitched together.
She added the division also had roots in a cultural clash between the more homebound, laidback family-oriented South and the go-getting, entrepreneurial, big-business driven North.
Chaffee said the Civil War Exhibit not only shows what people and families were like back then, 150 years ago, but that they weren’t all that different than people today -- minus all of the modern technological advancements.
She said some of this can be gleaned from “diaries and letters home” and by seeing the expressions and postures of those depicted in old pictures.
“There’s an immediacy to the exhibit that brings the past back to life,” she said. “It brings out our commonalities to that past.
The Civil War exhibit is all localized, Chaffee said, with contributors bringing in things from the River Falls area, including Roberts, Hudson and all the way to Inver Grove Heights and Cannon Falls, Minn.
Civil War artifacts on display, both real and reproductive, include: Uniforms, flags, rifles, carbines, pistols, bullets, gunpowder flasks, artillery shell fragments, saddles, swords, canteens, medical kits, bullets, field glasses, drum sticks, Tintype photography, newspapers, letters, postcards, military ball gown, artwork and more.
“This is going to be one of the best Civil War exhibits you are going to see anywhere around,” Symes declared.
Said Chaffee: “These artifacts on display give a visceral connection to our ancestors, the people who came before us at a crucial time in our country’s history. It’s like having a window where we can peer in and see a little of what it was like in the years 1861 to 1865. It gives us a sense of who we are and where we came from.”
Other notable facts from the Civil War: Submarine warfare and ironclad ships; espionage balloons; the deprivations of POWs; and swift advances in the medical science from treating the thousands of maimed and injured.
Calling attention to the hugely popular and just finished motorcycle exhibit, and many others, such as fur trading, quilts, wedding dresses, farming, World War II, and various individual and group art shows, plus now the ambitious Civil War Exhibit, Chaffee said, “That’s why we raised money and worked so hard to have a gallery built down here in the first place -- for shows like this.”
The gallery and lower-level community room were designed and furnished six years after completion of the main building project -- the ground-level public library -- which opened in 1997.
Besides the Civil War Exhibit, River Falls Reads has other interesting events coming up.
The first is this Thursday, Feb. 7, starting at 7 p.m., when UWRF Archives Director Kathie Otto will talk about Civil War-era letters and documents from area servicemen.
River Falls Reads brochures with a listing of events are available at the library and many local stores. Online, check at www.riverfallspubliclibrary.org.