Civil War Exhibition on Display in Watkinson


Anne and Peter Knapp deliver a lecture to introduce the exhibit.

“Now Let Us Never From Duty Shrink” is the title of an exhibition on the Civil War currently on display in the Trumbull Room of the Watkinson Library. The title is taken from a line in a poem written by Jacob Cornelius, enclosed in a letter sent to his sister. The letter is dated April 6, 1864, and was sent from Coles Island, South Carolina, where Cornelius was participating in the Charleston Campaign. Curated by Special Collections Librarian and College Archivist Peter Knapp and his wife, Anne, a professor of political science at the University of Hartford, the exhibition includes several letters selected from approximately 80, through which Jacob and his brother, John, chronicled their involvement in the war as enlisted men serving in New York volunteer regiments.

The recipient of the letters, the brothers’ teenage sister, Mary Levinia Cornelius, was Peter Knapp’s great-grandmother on his mother’s side. The brothers’ experiences as recorded in the letters helped shape the exhibition. For Peter, the letters illuminate the Civil War from the enlisted man’s perspective quite separate from their importance as part of the family’s history. “The fact that the brothers survived the war was a miracle in itself,” he explains, “and on top of that is the miraculous survival of this rich collection of letters.” The brothers and their letters are the focus of a book the Knapps are working on.

Commemorating the 140th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, the exhibition features books, manuscripts, documents, newspapers, maps, prints, photographs, and other items dating from the 19th century that are drawn principally from the Watkinson’s extensive collections. Additional material is from the College Archives and the collection of the Knapp family.

  from the Civil War Exhibition on Display in Watkinson

Included in the exhibition is a copy of the Charleston [South Carolina] Mercury from April 14, 1861, detailing the fall of Fort Sumter, an authentic Civil War bayonet and scabbard, and a letter from John Cornelius, in the aftermath of the Battle of Chancellorsville, in which he writes that he was “Slightly Wounded in the last Battle But not Searous (sic)” and that “i (sic) was hit partly under the arm Near the Shoulder Blade By a Buck Shot …” According to Anne, “This is one example of how a letter gives voice to the men who buried the dead and bore the brunt of each conflict, and their views on politics, health, food, battle scenes, and surroundings, as the Cornelius letters clearly show, present a rarely glimpsed human side to the Civil War.”

Between them, Jacob and John Cornelius, who lived in the Long Island towns of Huntington and Hempstead, respectively, were present at the decisive battles of Atlanta, Chancellorsville, Chattanooga, Gettysburg, Savannah, and the siege of Charleston. According to the introduction to the checklist that accompanies the exhibition, the brothers “knew well the full spectrum of a Civil War soldier’s existence, ranging from the monotony of picket duty and the vicissitudes of camp life to the horror of combat, the dread of disease and injury, and the loss of comrades.”

The exhibition, “‘Now Let Us Never From Duty Shrink,’ The Civil War through the Eyes of the Brothers Cornelius, Union Soldiers,” runs through May 28, 2005. The Watkinson Library is located in the Rather Library and Information Technology Center.


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