Carlton Birch created an extensive account of his day-to-day life serving as a soldier in the Civil War through the letters, notes, and small drawings he sent to his family. A Michigan native, Birch originally enlisted in the First Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment, then transferred to a Pennsylvania unit. Although little is known about Birch’s history, this transfer may have occurred because Birch’s wife spent the war at her family’s home in Philadelphia, the destination of many of Birch’s letters.
Record in War, a collection of 31 manuscripts, consists of these letters, notes, and drawings, as well as four albumen photographs (one a carte-de-viste portrait of Birch, another a portrait of sculptor J.A. Baille) and an ivory miniature portrait. With hinges along just one side so that the backs may be viewed, the manuscripts and photographs are mounted to support pages, which are bound into a scrapbook.
Since the time they were written, the manuscripts had discolored due to contact with the acidic scrapbook pages. Many letters were creased, and several had losses and tears, some of which someone once repaired with paper tapes. The brown ink Birch occasionally used had faded. Overall, the letters were moderately soiled and stained. Fortunately, through a Save America’s Treasures grant, the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia was able to conserve Record in War at the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) in Philadelphia, PA.
CCAHA conservators surface cleaned the manuscripts and photographs with white vinyl erasers to reduce dirt and grime. They sprayed the manuscripts with ethanol to protect the inks during treatment before washing the manuscripts in several baths of calcium-enriched deionized water to reduce discoloration and remove water-soluble degradation products. Tears were mended, losses bridged, and weak areas reinforced with various toned mulberry papers and wheat starch paste. Then the manuscripts were humidified and pressed into plane.
View before-and after-treatment images (as well as examples of Birch’s drawings) in the slideshow above.