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US library shows diaries, letters from Civil War

WASHINGTON -- Letters and diaries from those who lived through the American Civil War offer a new glimpse 150 years later at the arguments that split the nation then and some of the festering debates that survive today.

The Library of Congress, which holds the largest collection of Civil War documents, pulled 200 items from its holdings to reveal both private and public thoughts from dozens of famous and ordinary citizens who lived in the North and the South. Many are being shown for the first time.

Robert E. Lee, for one, was grappling with divided federal and state allegiances. He believed his greater allegiance was to his native Virginia, as he wrote to a friend about resigning his U.S. Army commission to take command of the main army for the secessionist, pro-slavery southern states.

“Sympathizing with you in the troubles that are pressing so heavily upon our beloved country & entirely agreeing with you in your notions of allegiance, I have been unable to make up my mind to raise my hand against my native state, my relatives, my children & my home,” he wrote in 1861. “I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army.”

Lee's handwritten letter is among dozens of writings from individuals who experienced the war. They are featured in the new exhibit “The Civil War in America” at the library in Washington until June 2013. Their voices also are being heard again in a new blog created for the exhibition.

For a limited time in 2013, the extensive display will feature the original draft of President Abraham Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and rarely shown copies of the Gettysburg Address.

Beyond the generals and famous battles, though, curators set out to tell a broader story about what Lincoln called “a people's contest.”

“This is a war that trickled down into almost every home,” said Civil War manuscript specialist Michelle Krowl. “Even people who may seem very far removed from the war are going to be impacted on some level. So it's a very human story.”

Curators laid out a chronological journey from before the first shots were fired to the deep scars soldiers brought home in the end.

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This undated handout image provided by the Library of Congress shows a letter written by Mary Todd Lincoln to Julia Ann Sprigg, May 29, 1862. The letter is part of an exhibit of letters and diaries saved for 150 years from those who lived through the Civil War that offer a new glimpse at the arguments that split the nation.(AP)

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