Images and documents shown in display at HSU

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published September 15, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 13, 2013 at 4:54 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

A Civil War battle scene is depicted on one of the panels in the Civil War display that is currently at Henderson State University.

Students and residents in Arkadelphia can view a traveling exhibit at Henderson State University that chronicles major events and historical documents from 150 years ago when the state was torn by the Civil War.

“I think the exhibit shows some great photos and great documents from the war years,” said David Sesser, assistant librarian in charge of special collections at the Huie Library on the Henderson State campus. “This is the only chance we have to see them up close without taking a research trip to Little Rock.”

Some of the documents in the exhibit include military orders, advertising to enlist troops and hurried minutes of meetings of a Confederate government on the run at the end of the war.

“The attention to detail is fabulous,” Sesser said. “Each document is readable.”

Fought in Earnest: Civil War in Arkansas will be on display in the library lobby through Saturday. The 15 free-standing panels that showcase the images were created by the Arkansas History Commission, and the display is built from the commission’s holdings.

“For 107 years, the State Archives has actively collected materials from this crucial era of our nation and our state,” said Lisa Speer, Arkansas state historian and director of the history commission. “Diaries written by soldiers and citizens; letters to mothers, fathers, wives, sweethearts, brothers and sisters, newspaper accounts, photographs and event/party invitations recount the day-to-day lives of people caught up in the most significant event of 19th-century America.”

Sesser said he had wanted the exhibit at the university’s library since the touring display was made available.

“I ordered it well over a year ago for this time,” he said. “I wanted to have it here while there were students coming to the library every day. Anyone who wants to come see it is invited.”

The exhibit was easy to display, Sesser said.

“The free-standing panels are printed on some kind of reinforced paper rolled up to be seen like you would pull a window shade,” he said. “When the exhibit is over, the panels just roll back into the base. I put this together in just a few minutes, but the quality is outstanding.”

The exhibit was produced by a grant from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council, which is funded by the Arkansas Real Estate Transfer Tax.

“I’m very pleased that the Huie Library at Henderson State University is sharing this intimate glimpse into Arkansas’ role in the Civil War with the community,” Speer said.

Sesser said he is already working on a new display that will open early next year.

“We are putting together a project to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1914 fire that burned down the original university building,” he said.

On Feb. 3, 1914, the building known as Old Main, located at what was then Henderson-Brown College, burned.

What started as a kitchen fire was discovered in the early-morning hours by the building and grounds supervisor, James Garrett. Sesser said the fire — the cause is still unknown — was small enough that it could have been controlled if Garrett had been able to get water to the scene, but the flames grew, destroying the building.

“It was slow enough that the girls living in the third-floor dormitory were evacuated,” he said.

The story goes that the boys from the college then started going into the building to save the possessions of the female students, along with the school’s small library and the school’s pianos.

“The fire and its aftermath is where Henderson gets the motto “The Reddie Spirit,” Sesser said. “With the building gone, students could have just gone home or to another school, but they stayed while the college was rebuilt and even helped with the building.”

The following morning, the students gathered to have morning chapel, and the college president announced the school would be rebuilt. The students cheered and sang school songs.

“Some professors met under the trees on campus, and churches opened their doors for classes,” Sesser said, “while residents invited in the girls so they could continue their studies.”

The site where the building burned is now the location of the Huie Library, and Sesser said the library is the right place for the commemoration display.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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