"Who shall tell the story?": Voices of Civil War Virginia exhibition preview

The Civil War had a dramatic impact on the culture, politics, and geography of Virginia. Battles ravaged the landscape, blockades and other political maneuvers transformed the economy, and profound regional tensions resulted in the creation of West Virginia.

This exhibition seeks to illuminate how Virginia was changed by the war, focusing on the voices of those who experienced it. The letters, diaries, scrapbooks, maps, newspapers, song sheets, photographs, and objects on display reveal the stories of these Virginians.
A manuscript of Walt Whitman’s inspired the exhibition’s title. Soon after witnessing a battle in Virginia, he wrote,

Who shall tell the story?…We talk I say of stories of this war—have histories of this war already; and shall have books of full detail, hundreds of them. In printed books, full histories of this war will come. O heavens! What book can give the history of this war?

The war stories featured in the exhibition include those of Confederate and Union soldiers, working women and war widows, black troops and southern Union sympathizers, freed and enslaved people and prisoners of war, schoolchildren and University of Virginia students, poets and musicians, nurses and wounded soldiers. Diverse and contradictory, these stories confirm the continuing relevance of Whitman’s question.


Exhibition opens October 21 in the main gallery of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library and the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture