Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Hugh M. Comer Civil War Library Exhibit at the Mildred Huie Museum

Curating the Hugh M. Comer Civil War Library permanent collection at the Mildred Huie Museum has been a rewarding experience that only the community's enjoyment can measure.  I would like use this blog to detail my experience in curating the collection's permanent space and the upcoming November 17, 2012 exhibit which will welcome the Golden Isles community to peruse its spines.

Initially, I was approached last year by a colleague who knew of a local woman looking to donate her late grandfather's collection of Civil War books.  Mr. Hugh M. Comer, of Macon, Georgia, was a railroad photographer and historian who also took interest in researching the War Between the States from a Southern perspective. His compilation of Georgia railroad photographs and manuscript, "Railroad Abandonments in Georgia," (1985), is part of the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History Archives and Library.  It is in this compilation that Comer's two passions united to form a richly documented amalgamation of the histories of the U.S. Railroad Era and the country's bloodiest war. 

A 2005 Calendar dedicated to the memory of Hugh M. Comer by the Atlanta Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.
Comer's Civil War library was amassed mostly in the mid-sixties.  He signed his name and dated the inside cover of each book upon its addition to his shelves.  Comer's granddaughter, Catharine Johnson, can remember her grandfather's fascination with the Civil War and seeing his collection grow across the entire wall of his library in his Macon home. 
Mildred Huie Museum Director, Millie Wilcox, Curator, Dayna Caldwell, and Hugh Comer's granddaughter, Catharine Johnson.
When Comer passed in 2001, his Civil War library became the property of Johnson.  She determined that dissembling her grandfather's carefully acquisioned library was out of the question and began searching for an institution to which it could be donated.  Through our mutual contact, Ms. Johnson and I were introduced, and I immediately recognized that there is a place for this library at the Mildred Huie Museum.  The museum which houses a permanent collection of historical paintings by the late artist and historian Mildred Huie, also boasts a collection of rare books on the history of the Golden Isles and an archive of historical figures who have left footprints on the area. 

Thus, it is so that the Mildred Huie Museum now houses the Hugh M. Comer Civil War Library with 170 books.  Realizing what a treasure trove this collection is, I developed a lending program such that visitors may remove certain books from the premises to enjoy at their leisure.  Two local organizations who might find the availability of this library an asset are the Sons of Confederate Veterans and The Civil War Round Table of Coastal Georgia.  I am in the process organizing future programs in which these groups can speak and meet at the museum for special presentations. 

Currently, however, I am focusing on the November 17th exhibit The Hugh M. Comer Civil War Library: In Remembrance of Sherman's March to the Sea.  Two days prior to the opening of the exhibit, November 15, 1864  is remembered as the day General W.T. Sherman began his devastating march from Atlanta, Georgia, destroying the civilian landscape until he reached Savannah on December 21, 1864.  I decided to showcase the Hugh M. Comer Civil War Library beginning on that day, not to commemorate this atrocity but remember the significance of this military action with regard to the changes occurring in the narrative of the modernizing United States. 

The exhibit will highlight three books which I think to be important in tying together the historical aspects of the library (i.e. Mr. Comer's provenance and the date of Sherman's March to the Sea) to the Mildred Huie Museum permanent collection and institution objectives.  This is the element I most enjoy about curating; determining connections between objects and ideas and presenting them to the public in an interesting, relateable and easily understood manner. 

The first book that I have selected is a first edition penned by Sherman himself.  The citation is as follows:
      Sherman, General William T. Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman Written
            by Himself: Volume I. D. Appleton and Company: New York, 1875.

Covered with a blue cloth binding, Volume I is comprised of 405 pages which do not possess much foxing on them aside from the occasional spot.  Twenty-five thousand sets were sold at $7 per set in 1875, and Sherman was paid $25,000.  In his notes at the beginning of Volume I, Sherman writes that it was his purpose to include maps throughout the text, however, the cost of engraving was too much.  He goes on to say that the narrative can be followed by each reader using standard maps found in every library.  The book is comprised of fourteen chapters listed as follows:

I.     Early Recollections of California--1846-1848
II.    Early Recollections of California (Continued)--1849-1850
III.   Missouri, Louisiana, and California--1850-1855
IV.   California--1855-1857
V.    California, New York, and Kansas--1857-1859
VI.   Louisiana--1859-1861
VII.  Missouri--April and May, 1861
VIII. From the battle of Bull Run to Paducah--Kentucky and Missouri--1861-1862
IX.   Battle of Shiloh--March and April, 1862
X.    Shiloh to Memphis--April to July, 1862
XI.   Memphis to Arkansas Post--July, 1862, to January, 1863
XII.  Vicksburg--January to July, 1863
XIII. Chattanooga and Knoxville--July to December, 1863
XIV. Meridian Campaign--January and February, 1864

The contents of  Volume II are listed next.  It is unfortunate that the Hugh M. Comer collection does not possess this second volume as Chapter 20 is entitled "The March to the Sea--From Atlanta to Savannah--November and December, 1864," and would have been an exceptional book to highlight throughout the exhibit.

Sherman is known for his role in modernizing warfare, yet his barbaristic and destructive tactics have classified him not only as a hero but also a demon.  Thus, this text was very controversial when it was published in May of 1875.  It was considered the first authentic contribution from a Southern military source and recounted a subjective version of events not approved by all readers.  After receiving dozens of letters demanding a revision, Sherman refused to reprint the text, though he did acquiesce by stating his intention of adding an appendix of letters in the Second Edition which would be comprised of letters whereby others would have the opportunity to recount their own versions of events.   The Library of America describes the Second Edition below:
      "Sherman collected material for the "second edition" but did not work on
       it until after his retirement from the army in 1884. To the 1875 printing he
       added a second preface, two new chapters, one at the beginning and the
       other at the end, an appendix to volume I, two appendixes to volume II,
       and an index. Sherman corrected further factual errors and made a few
       revisions. Portraits were also added, as well as maps that had been unavailable
       at the time of the 1875 printing."

This rare volume in excellent condition lends to an understanding of this complicated man and his legacy on the foundation forming of the United States as it is known today.  We at the Mildred Huie Museum are delighted to share this text and many others from the Hugh M. Comer Civil War Library with the public. 

In my next post, I will discuss the two other texts to be featured at the upcoming exhibition along with other interesting items and happenings to take place in relation to this exhibit.

1 comment:

  1. is this an active site at this time, 29 July, 2017? I would like to contact the authoress if possible. ( a tour guide in savannah )