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Rhode Island Civil War Ephemera
This exhibit was developed by Robin Alario, University of Rhode Island MLIS.
The Caleb Fiske Harris Collection on the Civil War and Slavery
The Providence Public Library purchased a collection of 8000 items relating to the Civil War and slavery from the estate of Caleb Fiske Harris, a Providence book collector, in 1884. The collection was purchased with money given to the Library by the Portsmouth Grove Hospital.
Since that time, many gifts were added to the collection and it remains the Library’s largest special collection. It consists of more than 10,000 books and pamphlets, editions and translations of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, letters written home by Rhode Island soldiers who served in the Civil War, newspaper clippings, magazine illustrations, political items, prints, posters and more.
Biographical note on Caleb Fiske Harris
Caleb Fiske Harris was born in 1918 to Dr. Stephen and Eliza Harris. He attended school in Kingston and at Brown University. He left school to pursue business ventures in New York in 1837. In New York he was a partner in a commission business and finally headed his own company before returning to Rhode Island in 1856. He settled in Providence and set up his business there until the Civil War. He married Emily Stevenson Davis, of Philadelphia in 1866.
Harris became an avid collector of literature of England, American poetry and plays, and the literature of slavery and the Rebellion (the Civil War). His collection the Civil War and slavery was purchased from his estate by the Providence Public Library in 1884. At that time it numbered over 8,000 items.
About the Ephemera Collection
The collection includes news clippings on race, slavery, political issues and the war. The collection also contains advertisements for anti-slavery conventions, posters and advertisements for stage productions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, anti-slavery materials, and items relating to African-Americans in the military.
There are numerous printed items relating to political issues of the antebellum and Civil War eras including several political tracts disdaining the Copperhead or Peace Democrat movement, a group of Democrats who opposed the war and wished for an immediate peace.
The Harris ephemera collection also contains prints depicting camps of Rhode Island and Massachusetts regiments, lithographic maps depicting Bird’s Eye Views of key places in the war, illustrations by the noted magazine illustrator Frank Leslie (1821-1880), a fragment of a flag said to have been taken from Fort Pulaski. There are also some items that were created after the war, relating to the service of Civil War soldiers such as certificates affirming the patriotism of war veterans, and posters advertising excursions for Rhode Island war veterans.
Additionally, the Harris ephemera collection contains printed portraits of Abraham Lincoln and a series of engravings of officers of the Civil War done by William Edgar Marshall (1837 - 1906) a New York painter and engraver known for his portraits of heroes such as Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and George Washington.
There are also prints of military scenes from paintings by Thure de Thulstrup, a Swedish-born illustrator and printed by the American Lithopgraphic Co. Other prints of military scenes published by Kurz & Allison between 1886-1888 are unique aquarelle facsimile prints, a new printing process at the time. These prints, based on watercolor paintings by Louis Prang were intended to accurately portray the scenes of battle.
Also of note are a series of etchings by Edwin Forbes, the leading artist for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Forbes traveled with the Army of the Potomac sketching scenes of battlefields and vignettes of camp life. His series of 40 retrospective copperplate engravings received a medal of excellence at the Centennial Exposition in 1876.
Other noteworthy items include Confederate money, prints of U.S. Military Hospitals by Charles Magnus (1826-1900) a New York based print publisher, map dealer, bookseller and stationer.
This collection will help researchers to better understand the many facets of the war both on the field of battle and on the homefront.
- Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System. National Park Service. http://www.civilwar.nps.gov/cwss/
- Dyer’s Compendium. http://www.civil-war.net/searchstates.asp?searchstates=Rhode%20Island
- “Camp Casey.” Library of Congress. Prints & Photographs Division (online).
- “Living Contraband - Former Slaves in the Nation's Capital During the Civil War.” National Park Service.
- “Colonel Robert Hale Ives Goddard.” Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. 2009. http://www.riheritagehalloffame.org/inductees_detail.cfm?iid=618
- Lowe, William C. “Battle of Port Royal.” America’s Civil War (Jan. 2001).
Available online at http://civilwarguide.info/landmark.php?id=146
- Welbaum, Bob. “The Use of Hot Air Balloons during the Civil War.” Helium.com. Web. 25 April 2009.
- Kagan, Neil and Stephen G. Hyslop. Eyewitness to the Civil War: The Complete History from Secession to Reconstruction. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2006.
- Marvel, William. Burnside. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
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