Exhibit: Visual history lesson

Museum hosts Civil War exhibit

Museum hosts Civil War exhibit

August 13, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

It was uncomfortable to think of a weapon as beautiful.

But that was the case for the Civil War-era firearm that Jennifer Smith, assistant curator at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, held gingerly in her gloved palm.

Smith gave The Herald-Mail a preview of a few items that will be part of the museum's Civil War-themed exhibit "The Unwritten War: A Visual Story of the Civil War," which opens Saturday, Aug. 15, and continues into March.

"The Unwritten War," commemorates the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, though it aims to offer a less romantic visual depiction of what war was like.


The paintings and artifacts present a visual story of the jarring intersection of beauty and death as told from the lens of the soldiers in the trenches and the families they left behind.

The pistol Smith held during The Herald-Mail's visit had elaborate carvings in its wooden handle. The etchings in the silver metal on the underside of the silver trigger looked more like a design you might see on modern jewelry, like a hoop earring. It was the same kind of weapon that killed Abraham Lincoln.

"We have these knives that have these ivory handles," Smith said. "... Then you realize they're amputating knives."

Smith said there are roughly 50 pieces in the exhibit, drawing from the museum's permanent collection and private collectors, including local historian Doug Bast, founder of the Boonsborough Museum of History. Clothing from the period was provided by Shippensburg (Pa.) University Fashion Archives and Museum.

The exhibit also will feature photographs by Mathew Brady (1822-1896), including photos of Burnside Bridge after the Battle of Antietam and President Lincoln at Antietam.

A portrait of Capt. George Luther Hager, a descendent of Hagers-town's founding family, will also be on view.

The title of the exhibit comes from Walt Whitman's book, "Specimen Days," about his experience as a nurse during the war.

"He writes that the true war will never get into the history books," Smith said, "that they could never truly capture what the real story was, the real life of the soldiers as well as the people who were left at home."

If you go ...

WHAT: Exhibit, "The Unwritten War: A Visual Story of the Civil War"

WHEN: Opens Saturday, Aug. 15. Continues through March 21.

WHERE: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, City Park, Hagerstown

COST: Museum admission is free.

MORE: Visit the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts online,, or call 301-739-5727.'

The Herald-Mail Articles