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Circulating Treasures: Civil War Poetry

Members of the Boston Athenæum know how much fun it can be to browse through the stacks. There are so many treasures just waiting to be unearthed. Many of you know that Drum 1 Up is filled with poetry; of particular interest this month is the variety of poetry published during the Civil War.

The volumes featured in this collection often feature verses directly addressing wartime issues, and many are fine examples of America's greatest poets in their prime. Look below for the titles shown in the slide show, or find even more in our catalog, Athena. An advanced search for the Cutter call number VEP, publication dates 1861-1865 will find all our Civil War-era poetry -- but feel free to ask a librarian for assistance.

 

(Can't view the slide show above? Go directly to our Flickr page).

 

Forest scenes
By William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Fitz-Greene Halleck, Alfred B. Street, illustrated by John A. Hows
New York, Hurd and Houghton; Cambridge, The Riverside press [c1864]
Cutter Classification VEP .98F76 b

Not all volumes of poetry published during the Civil War were about the Civil War, of course. Forest Scenes is a highly illustrated example of a volume that might have distracted its reader from current events.

 

The warning of war : a poem delivered before the United Societies of Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H., at the annual commencement, July 30, 1862
By Charles T. Congdon New-York : F. Hart & Co., 1862
Cutter Classification VEP .C761

Charles Taber Congdon was primarily a journalist for the New York Tribune, but also published in a variety of other publications, including the Boston Courier as "Paul Potter." "The Warning of War" is his best-known work of poetry.

 

The Poems of Oliver Wendell Holmes
Boston, Ticknor and Fields, 1862
Cutter Classification VEP .H734 1862

This volume includes "For the Meeting of the National Sanitary Association," dated 1860. To learn more about the Sanitary Association and their work during the Civil War, one might read the History of the United States Sanitary Commission, being the general report of its work during the war of the rebellion by Charles J. Stillé, which is also in the Boston Athenæum's circulating collections.

 

The sleeping sentinel
By Francis De Haes Janvier
Philadelphia, T. B. Peterson & brothers, 1863
Cutter Classification VEP .J26

"The incidents here woven into verse relate to William Scott, a young soldier from the state of Vermont, who, while on duty as a sentinel at night, fell asleep, and having been condemned to die, was pardoned by the President." The story was quite popular, and inspired a number of artistic expressions. In addition to the published poem, the Boston Athenæum also owns the lithograph, The Sleeping Sentinel.

 

The poetical works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
London : Routledge, Warne, & Routledge, 1860.
"Illustrated with upwards of one hundred designs, drawn by John Gilbert, engraved by the Brothers Dalziel."
Cutter Classification VEP .L86 1860

This collection of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow includes a selection of "Poems on slavery."

 

The poetical works of James Russell Lowell
Boston : James R. Osgood, 1873
Cutter Classification VEP .L95 .1873

This volume is one of many collections of James Russell Lowell's works that includes "The Present Crisis," a poem written in the years leading up to the Civil War and eventually had an impact on the modern U.S. civil rights movement.

 

Last poems of James Russell Lowell
Boston : Houghton, Mifflin, 1895
Cutter Classification VEP .L95 .l

This particular volume includes the poem "On a Bust of General Grant," thought to be the last poem written by the author. The binding was designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904) a pioneer of book design.

 

Secession; or, Prose in rhyme; and East Tennessee, a poem
By an East Tennesseean
Philadelphia, Printed for the author, 1864
Cutter Classification VEP .Se2

This slim volume features two poems, "Secession" and "East Tennessee," both followed by with notes from the author. While not attributed in the book, the author is believed to be Thomas Amos Rogers Nelson.

 

Lays of the South: verses relative to the war between the two sections of the American states
Printed for the Liverpool bazaar, in aid of the Southern prisoners' relief fund, 1864
Cutter Classification VEP .99So .l

Lays of the South was printed for the Liverpool bazaar, in aid of the Southern prisoners' relief fund. The preface notes, "Among the most coveted materials for the construction of history are the songs and ballads of times long past. Those collected here cannot be without their future value, considered in this point of view."