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Civil War Artifacts Go on Display to Mark 150th Anniversary

By Emily Frost | April 4, 2014 11:02am
 The exhibit opens April 4th and features 130 objects from the time period.
Civil War Textiles Exhibit Sheds Light on History
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A new exhibit at the New-York Historical Society sheds light on the history of the Civil War through textiles and artifacts — including a Union officer's coat and a noose used to hang an abolitionist.

"Homefront and Battlefield: Quilts and Context in the Civil War" opens Friday, April 4 and runs through Aug. 24, featuring 130 objects from that era, including quilts, handkerchiefs, banners, flags, clothing and other items. Many of the objects came from the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Mass., where the show was first organized in 2012. Others are drawn from the society's own collection. 

The textiles tell personal stories, but also share insights into the broader political and social context of the war. 

The exhibit explains history through art by "telling the story of the Civil War era through abolitionists’ slogans on silk handkerchiefs, plantation owners’ deals with Rhode Island mills for rough wool to clothe slaves, and needlework stitched by patriotic women on both sides in support of the war effort,” society president and CEO Louis Mirrer said.

Civil War buffs can look up close at a Union officer's wool jacket, worn during 10 months of imprisonment and escapes in Georgia and South Carolina. They can also examine flags and banners from each side. 

To help visitors understand the ideological views held at the time of the war, the curators have amassed period handkerchiefs and fabrics full of slogans and imagery. One cotton textile from 1850 shows images of George Washington, an example of how rhetoric and imagery from the American Revolution were used by both sides. 

NYHS curator Margi Hofer doesn't shy away from presenting startling and upsetting objects, like a hemp rope noose used to hang an abolitionist and a Ku Klux Klan hood from a Vermont KKK march for women in the 1920s

There's also a quilt made by a Union soldier named Stephen Lewis in 1865, who stitched it together from Union and Confederate uniforms while at a Union hospital in Louisville. 

Still, the show is not all downbeat.

One of the exhibit's highlights is an 1867 "Reconciliation Quilt" made by a Brooklynite who showed a happy return to normalcy on her farm and freedom for slaves, organizers said.

The exhibit is included in the price of admission: adults, $18; seniors, educators, active military, $14; students $12; kids 5-13 $6; kids under 4, free. The museum is closed Mondays.