Thousands of visitors are expected at Gettysburg this weekend, to commemorate the 148th anniversary of the three-day battle. Re-enactors will recreate two battles, a historic village (complete with shopping area where visitors can browse for period clothing), a military encampment, even demonstrate live mortar fire.
Although the national commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (2011-2015) has brought more attention to activities like those kicking off at Gettysburg right now, Americans have been visiting this battlefield almost from the moment fighting stopped--to search for battlefield relics, to stand where their predecessors made such great sacrifices, to remember how central that spot was in creating a new union.
Recently, Herb Kaufman, a collector of Civil War memorabilia and NCC volunteer, shared with us one particularly unique battlefield "relic" from Gettysburg--a handmade scrapbook of pressed flowers, made by an anonymous child in 1891. Pressed on to carefully scalloped paper bound with ribbon, the flowers are labeled not by species but where on the battlefield they were picked. 120 years later, the colors of the flowers are still strong.
Although we know nothing about the child who made this little book, the book is a powerful reminder that Americans have long been seeking both personal and collective ways in which to remember the Civil War, finding meaning in everything from flowers grown from fields once soaked in blood to opportunities to go shopping in a recreated 19th-century shopping district. In 2013, the National Constitution Center will open an exhibit exploring the ways in which Americans have remembered the Civil War, understood its legacy, and struggled to enact the new ideals about justice, liberty, and equality that emerged in the war's wake.
Larger versions of these images are on flickr.
Many thanks to Herb Kaufman for sharing these items from his collection with us, and thanks to Amy Hussey for her work as hand model and page turner.