Rare Civil War Book on Display at Metamora Courthouse

METAMORA – Jean Myers, Curator of the Historic Metamora Courthouse, has assembled a display of an important document from the civil War era. The exhibition presents a rare copy of The Pictorial History of the War of 1861 by Frank Leslie, a large-sized book of block prints and articles of the period. The display is free and open to the public. The Courthouse is open from noon to 4:00 PM Tuesday through Saturday and other times by appointment.

At the first Battle of Bull Run, Manassas, Virginia in July of 1861, many people were of the opinion that the war between the Southern States and the Northern States would be short-lived.  In fact, some civilians brought picnic baskets and sat thinking they might be witnesses to the first – and perhaps even last – land battle of the War of 1861.  It might not have been until the Confederates routed the Union troupes through the picnickers that this was going to be a far more violent and drawn out war than previously suspected.

Even before names such as ‘The War of Northern Aggression,’ ‘The War of the Rebellion,’ ‘The War between the States,’ and especially, ‘The Civil War,  the battle was referred to as ‘The War of 1861’ because it was thought in the early days to be a short war.

Frank Leslie was a highly regarded publisher and engraver at the time, and he had a reputation for hiring the best writers and printers for his several publications, which often were slanted toward the cause of the Union.

One of his most outstanding publications was a very large folio of newspaper articles and woodblock prints titled, The Pictorial History of the War of 1861.  A copy of this book was given to the Metamora Courthouse State Historic Site by the Peoria Public Library.  Although Mr. Leslie hired the best writers and illustrators for this book, a very low-grade type of newsprint was used resulting in the deterioration of the book’s pages.

Some of the pages are beyond repair.  But, many have retained the exquisite images first seen more than one-hundred, fifty years ago.  The best of these large woodcuts, double page prints, and even posters are on display on five tables in the main, handicapped accessible, display room at the Metamora Courthouse starting at noon, Friday, February 21st.  As these papers are extremely fragile, the Woodford County Historical Society has paid for large sheets of Plexi-glass to be placed over these pages for protection.  Borkholder Buildings & Supply LLC is appreciated for their generous contribution for this show as is the volunteer work of Charmaine Pearson.

To accent this display, many copies of Civil War carte de visite images of real soldiers are interspersed among the woodcut images. 

For more information, contact Mr. Jean Myers, Manager & Curator, at 309-367-4470 or at metcourt@mtco.com.  The Metamora Courthouse is owned and operated by the State of Illinois through the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.