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Jefferson County History Center displays new Civil War exhibit

October 4, 2012

Ken Burkett, the director of the Jefferson County History Center, stands with a wax model of Strong Vincent, a Pennsylvania Civil War veteran. The figure is one of four in the center’s new Pennsylvania-based Civil War exhibit. (Photo by Matthew Triponey/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

BROOKVILLE — The Jefferson County History Center in Brookville picked up a new exhibit last Saturday, Sept. 29: “The Civil War in Pennsylvania.”

It is a traveling exhibit that will be on display until Oct. 27.

While its overarching topic is the Civil War, its focus is a bit more narrow and pertinent to the local community, honing in on the perspective of war-era Western Pennsylvania.

“It portrays an interesting aspect of Western Pa.’s Civil War,” said Ken Burkett, the director of the History Center.

“The Civil War in Pennsylvania,” a 500-square-foot exhibit, was created by the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh for its Affiliate Program members.

It is presented by Peoples Natural Gas and is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

It was brought to the History Center at no cost to the establishment.

It focuses in on a wide array of topics related to the Civil War, including issues such as slavery, the efforts of civilians on the home front, the significance of the women and others off the battlefield,
the role of Pittsburgh as the “Arsenal of the Union” and the local and historical impact of the Battle of Gettysburg, widely viewed as the turning point of the war.

The exhibit is comprised of four museum figures representing Pennsylvania individuals who were important in the war effort, including the following:

• Strong Vincent, a young, Harvard-educated attorney from Erie, Pa., who volunteered with the Union in the early stages of the war.

He turned 26 on the march to Gettysburg, widely regarded as the turning point of the war, where, while in the defense of Little Round Top, he famously climbed atop a boulder and shouted, “Don’t give an inch!”

He died of injuries obtained during the battle and is memorialized by a statue on the 83rd Pennsylvania monument on Little Round Top.

• Martin Delany, a Pittsburgh abolitionist.

He went on to become one of the first African Americans to be admitted to Harvard Medical School.

He later became the highest-ranking black commissioned officer in the Civil War.

In addition to being an abolitionist, doctor and soldier, he was also a prolific writer and editor, coediting with Frederick Douglass the abolitionist newspaper North Star and authoring “Blake; or, The Huts of America,” a serial publication about a fugitive slave who organizes insurrection.

He was also a politician, serving as a judge in his later life and also making an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor of South Carolina.

• Kate McBride, a young worker from the Allegheny Arsenal.

In the exhibit, she represents the women and children who supported Union efforts on the home front.

The Allegheny Arsenal served as a supply and manufacturing center for the troops in the west.

It was the site of one of the war’s tragedies when it suffered an explosion on Sept. 17, 1862.

Seventy-eight workers, including McBride, were killed in the accident.

Today, the site is a ballfield, Arsenal Park.

The powder magazine remains nearby, serving as a maintenance shed for the park, adorned with a plaque memorializing the victims of the tragedy.

• Tillie Pierce, a 15-year-old Gettysburg native who, after Confederate troops overran her hometown, cared for the men on the battlefield by hauling buckets of water for thirsty soldiers, tearing cloth into bandages to aid physicians and comforting the wounded.

The exhibit also includes a companion, Dog Jack, a Pittsburgh dog that became the mascot of the 102nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment.

It was said that Jack would charge straight to the front lines during battle and, afterward, would search the battlefield for wounded and dead comrades.

It doesn’t end at the figures, however.

Artifacts, previously unseen photographs and large museum panels describing Pennsylvania’s contribution to the Civil War will also be on display, alongside the museum figures.

The artifacts outline the part the state of Pennsylvania played both on and off the battlefield and home front.

A Civil War-era cannon ball — cut in half to reveal its cross-section — and a Civil War-era Enfield rifle represent the history on the battlefield.

Paper cartridges and a collection of minie balls similar to those created at the Allegheny Arsenal signify the importance of the home front’s contribution.

The display also includes artifacts from Jefferson County veterans, demonstrating the specific role of the local area in fighting the Civil War. Some of the items belong to the History Center, while others are a part of the traveling exhibit.

Included among that number is a diary and carte de visite formerly belonging to Corporal Henry Weaver, a member of the 105th in the Civil War, which was formed in Jefferson County.

The exhibit also has the epaulets of another 105th veteran, Lieutenant Colonel Levi Byrd Duff, as well as an officer’s sword and several other artifacts.

Currently, the History Center has roughly 400-500 kids scheduled to see the exhibit, mainly through school groups, said History Center curator Carole Briggs.

She added that the state of Pennsylvania requires that students have some kind of learning related to the Civil War at least three times throughout their school career.

The new exhibit can serve as a tie-in to some of that class work, which is exactly what some area schools are doing — Briggs mentioned a fourth- grade class that was studying abolitionist Harriet Tubman and a ninth-grade class that was going over the causes of the war.

“This is a great trip to learn about the Civil War,” Briggs said. She added that for the school field trips, she would be arranging a scavenger hunt, centered around a mapping activity, throughout the exhibit to enhance the learning experience there.

“I’m a firm believer that field trips are more than just a day away from school,” she said.

A few tours have been conducted already. Burkett described the response so far as being “very positive.”

He said that the exhibit was unique because of its Western Pennsylvania and Jefferson County focus, in addition to it containing lifelike recreations of historical individuals alongside its collection of artifacts.

The exhibit is part of a process that has been ongoing at the History Center.

“We wanted to have a new Civil War exhibit about every six months,” Briggs said. “That way, when people say they’ve seen it, we say they need to come again in six months.”

The next exhibit in that process will be “Through Their Eyes,” a collection of original Civil War photographs representing the regiments from Jefferson County, presented by the Ronn Palm’s Museum of Military Images. It will open at the History Center on Dec. 1.

Those interested in seeing the exhibit are invited to drop by the History Center during its business hours from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets are $7 for a household, $5 for an individual and $1 for a student.

However, visitors are encouraged to become members of the society for free admittance any time.

Those interested in arranging a class field trip can call Carole Briggs at the History Center at (814) 849-0077 or email at cbriggs-jchc@windstream.net.

School trips are priced at $1 per student per hour.

In addition, the Brookville Area Chamber of Commerce is inviting the public to attend a chamber mixer at the History Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, which will include a light lunch and a viewing of “The Civil War in Pennsylvania.”

In addition to “Through Their Eyes,” other projects for the History Center in the near future include displays of the Bowdish Railroad from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20 and Nov. 3, from 5-8 p.m. on Nov. 23 and Dec. 22, and from 5-9 p.m. on Dec. 7.

The Historical Society’s annual dinner will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Pinecrest Country Club.

It will also begin Victorian Christmas house tours at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 (advance tickets only).

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