Civil War Archive, ca. 1863
A photo of Fernando Robbins in his uniform as a member of the 8th New York Heavy Artillery Regiment.
Small "Bible flags" such as this hand-painted one were often carried by soldiers during the Civil War.
During the American Civil War, Fernando Robbins, a member of the 8th New York Heavy Artillery, was captured by Confederate soldiers and confined in three Confederate prisons. Robbins kept a diary during his imprisonment; he wrote about the conditions he faced, as well as about men he knew who had deserted their units and joined the Confederate army.
Robbins collected numerous other artifactsAn object made by a human being, typically an item of historical or cultural interest. during his time in the South. These include a small Confederate flag, which he brought home to New York as a souvenir; a stencil of his name; a "housewife" (or small case for storing needles and thread); and several small pieces that he carved while in prison. These items were passed down through the Robbins family, along with a photograph that shows Robbins in his uniform. The appraiserAn expert who assesses the value, quality, and authenticity of works of art or other objects. describes this collection as a "unique archiveA place where public records or other materials are organized and stored." that illuminates the experiences of a Union soldier who served time as a prisoner of war.
A Closer Look
- What items are contained in this historical collection? Consider each item alone. If this were the only item that existed, what would we know about Fernando Robbins? How does the collection as a whole enhance our understanding of this man and of this period in history? Why is it significant that all the items were owned by one person instead of by a group of people?
- Apart from his abilities as a soldier, what can you conclude about the skills that Robbins possessed based on the objects in this collection? Do you have any of these skills? Are we as a society losing some of these skills? Explain your answer.
- What is a prisoner of war? What do the artifacts reveal about Robbins's daily life as a prisoner of war?
- What is a deserter? What might lead a soldier to become a deserter?
- Tell the story of the hand-painted flag. What does it look like? How did Robbins most likely acquire it? What is a Bible flag? What did Robbins use his flag for? Why do you think a Union soldier would have wanted a Confederate flag?
Activities and Investigations
- Imagine that you are Fernando Robbins. Write a one- to two-page diary entry in which you describe a typical day as a prisoner of war, using as much information from the artifacts and the video as possible.
- What constitutes a civil war? (A war between different people in the same country.) Name a country that is involved in civil war today, and find out more about the basis of the conflict. How does a civil war differ from a war over ethnic differences? Consider Iraq, Somalia, Lebanon, and/or Darfur.
- Choose five to seven items that belong to you or to a family member and use them to create a current-day "time capsule," modeled on Fernando Robbins' collection of Civil War artifacts. Describe each item and its significance in detail. What does each object reveal about the values and beliefs of its owner? What does it reveal about the historical period from which it comes?
For Further Exploration
Civil War Preservation Trust
America's largest non-profit organization devoted to the preservation of endangered Civil War battlefields; includes an extensive section for educators and students.
Ask the Civil War Collector
An expert on Civil War memorabiliaObjects that are valued for their connections with historical or cultural events, such as political campaigns, concerts, sporting events, etc. responds to readers' queries about collectiblesCollectibles come in three forms: Artistic and historic objects that are less than 100 years old; popular items that are mass-produced but that may not have any individual artistic merit; and objects that gain value because of their associations..
The Civil War
This companion Web site to Ken Burns's acclaimed documentary series presents video clips, images, maps, biographies, historical documents, a bibliography, related links, and a section for educators.
Prisoner of War
Describes different prisoner-of-war situations, including those involving the Civil War.
Andersonville Prisoner of War Camp
Includes lessons and information about the Andersonville prisoner of war camp and the life of Civil War prisoners of war.
Civil War! America Becomes One Nation
by James I. Robertson Jr. (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992)
Provides an overview of the war and includes photographs and maps.
A Separate Battle: Women and the Civil War
by Ina Chang (Lodestar Books, 1991)
Looks at female roles during the Civil War.
Gods and Generals
by Jeff Shaara (Ballantine Books, 1996)
Presents a fictional story of the war up to Gettysburg.
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