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December Issue 2010

South Carolina State Museum in Columbia, SC, Offers Expansion of Permanent Civil War Exhibition

The South Carolina State Museum in Columbia, SC, has opened the exhibit, The Coming of the Civil War, a major expansion of the Museum's Civil War exhibition in observance of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

The exhibition looks at the origins of the disagreement between South Carolina and the federal government, beginning with the nullification crisis of 1832-33, said Chief Curator of History Fritz Hamer.

"It also will examine how this division grew. The slavery issue began to heighten the tension between North and South as rhetoric between Northern abolitionists and Southern planters heated up," Hamer said. "In addition, the exhibition will look at the states-rights movement and how its inability to make its case before Northern politicians edged the South toward the December 1860 secession convention and its aftermath. The ultimate result of these unresolved issues was, as we know, the firing on Fort Sumter."

The display is part of an expansion of the museum's permanent Civil War exhibits that will add, when complete, another 2,200 square feet of new space to the museum's history floor under the title The Civil War in South Carolina 1861-1865.

Artifacts that will help tell the story include a green palmetto tree flag, c. 1860, which unofficially symbolized sovereignty or independence; a silk scarf imprinted with President Andrew Jackson's proclamation to the people of South Carolina condemning the 1832 nullification ordinance; original lithographs from Harper's Weekly magazine, created at the time of the events leading up to the Fort Sumter firing; a lithograph copy of the Ordinance of Secession; and more.

"A big thing that few people today understand or remember is the great and growing fear by Southerners that they would lose their equal representation in Congress if the more populated North's economic and socio-political interests outweighed the South's," added the curator. "This would mean that the North would dictate the kind of economic system that would dominate the nation ­ one founded more on Northern manufacturing than on Southern agriculture. This scenario obviously would devastate the South's economy."

Another point worth noting, Hamer said, is that "in the North, the South's potential economic plight and states' rights pleas were not heeded. People's only concern was to keep the Union from dividing."

Original lithographs of the secession convention (begun in Columbia and moved to Charleston for fear of smallpox) and the Fort Sumter firing help re-create the atmosphere in which these high emotions were swirling.

Indeed, Hamer said it was important for museum guests to understand "the huge emotions that lay behind the decision to secede. We hope they also will gain a better sense of the major causes of the conflict and how the social and political leaders of both North and South grew more alienated from each other until war seemed the only way to resolve their differences."

The Coming of the Civil War will be augmented by five more single-topic exhibits through the sesquicentennial war years (2011-2015) until the expansion space is filled.

In addition, a new website devoted to the war's 150th anniversary will follow each succeeding exhibit to further explain the forces that led to the war and the events that took place during the conflict, and will include programs, events, links to other sites and more. The site can be accessed from the museum's regular website (www.southcarolinastatemuseum.org). A second site will feature 3-D photographs from South Carolina during the war.

"The war has shaped so much modern-day thinking in South Carolina, we needed more room to tell the story of this cataclysmic event," said Hamer. "And what better time to expand our exhibit than the 150th anniversary of the conflict?"

For further information check our SC Institutional Gallery listings, call the Museum at 803/898-4921 or visit (www.southcarolinastatemuseum.org).


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