As the possibility of war between Northern and Southern states became effectively unavoidable, U.S. Army officers from the South faced a difficult choice: To remain loyal to the nation and the Army in which they served or support their home states in their act of rebellion. Officers from West Point, in particular, felt this tension would lead to fighting against former classmates and friends.
Visitors to the Preserving the Nation sub-gallery which explores the events of the Civil War will first be invited to ponder this difficult decision facing Soldiers throughout the country in the “Outbreak of War” exhibit. Large U.S. and Confederate national flags will hang high above visitors’ heads. The stars on the flags represent the state of the country in 1861. Still including the rebellious states as part of the country, the U.S. flag will display thirty-four stars, while the Confederate flag will display seven to represent the number of states that formed the Confederate States of America in February 1861. Black and white photographs will fill the space, offering a stark contrast to the bold red, white and blue of the flags.
Below the flags, visitors will learn of the immense strain among former West Point classmates on the eve of the Civil War. Here, a grid of oval portraits will be displayed, each with an officer’s name, class, home state, pre-war rank, position, and allegiance during the war. Many of these officers had fought side-by-side during the Mexican War and would now be faced with the possibility of fighting against one another. Among those pictured will be West Point Class of 1857 classmates Charles E. Farrand of New York and Samuel W. Ferguson of South Carolina.
The exhibit will also include a map of the United States with a delineation of which states supported the Confederacy, marked in gray, and the Union, marked in blue. The map will also show how many Soldiers who had been serving on the western frontier chose to come back east to fight for the Union or Confederate Army.
The “Outbreak of War” exhibit exploring the many tensions emanating throughout the country as Americans were forced to choose where their true loyalties lay is bound to educate and intrigue visitors.