“I long for the time to come when you will come home”: A Letter to a USCT Soldier from His Wife

By Laurel Wilson ‘19

This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead:  Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.

Lucinda Lawrence to Husband. Envelope. Lucinda wrote to her husband Canny on April 1, 1865. Conditions for their family and the families of other USCT were dire. Since their last exchange of letters, the commander of the camp where she drew rations had decided to cut back. The Army now only provided food for her child. Courtesy of Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College.

Just as the experiences of African American soldiers during the Civil War went under-recorded and underrepresented, so too did the hardships suffered by their wives and children behind the lines.

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Brother against Brother: John Wilkes and Edwin Booth

By Laurel Wilson ’19

When John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln, he became one of the most infamous figures in American history almost overnight. This rapid fall from grace took quite a toll on his family, especially his brother, Edwin. Edwin Booth was one of the most accomplished and successful actors of the Civil War era. He became famous for his portrayals of Shakespearian roles, especially Hamlet, which became his signature role. The Booths were an illustrious family of actors, though Edwin would become the most critically acclaimed and famous for his acting ability.

John, Edwin, and Junius Booth, Jr. 1864. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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A Gun With a Story: Waller Patton’s Civil War Pistol

By Laurel Wilson ’19

Musselman Library Special Collections is home to a wide variety of artifacts, including a rather impressive number of Civil War era items. One Civil War artifact, the Patton Pistol, stands out from the rest by virtue of the story attached to it. The 1861 Navy Colt revolver originally belonged to Waller Tazewell Patton, who was the great uncle of General George S. Patton Jr. of WWII fame.

Patton Pistol
The 1861 Colt Navy Revolver owned by Confederate Colonel Waller T. Patton and donated to Gettysburg College Special Collections by James D. Patton ’13. Courtesy of Gettysburg College Special Collections.

Waller T. Patton was a Colonel in the 7th Virginia Regiment of the Army of Northern Virginia. He was mortally wounded during Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd, 1863, when a piece of artillery shrapnel removed much of his jaw. He was brought to the Pennsylvania College Hospital (now known as Pennsylvania Hall at Gettysburg College), where he eventually died on July 21, 1863. Continue reading “A Gun With a Story: Waller Patton’s Civil War Pistol”

Cannons and Columns: The Phoenix Iron Company and the Civil War

By Laurel Wilson ’19

Anyone who has visited a Civil War battlefield is familiar with the sight of artillery pieces dotting the landscape, marking the places where artillery units were positioned on the field. Gettysburg National Military Park has one of the largest and most diverse collections of these now silent sentinels, ranging from bronze Napoleons to breech-loading Whitworth rifled guns. One of the most common types of cannon found at Gettysburg is the 3-inch Ordnance rifle. The Ordnance rifle is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which are its connections to Phoenix Iron Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.

ordnance
A 3-inch Ordnance rifle at Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Hal Jespersen via Wikimedia Commons.

John Griffen was superintendent of Safe Harbor Iron Works, which was a subsidiary of Phoenix Iron Company. He designed the first “Griffen Gun” in 1854, which would later evolve into the 3-inch Ordnance rifle. Girffen’s production method for creating wrought iron cannon tubes resulted in extremely strong and durable artillery pieces. His method, which was improved upon and perfected by Samuel Reeves of Phoenix Iron Company, was able to overcome the problems associated with the brittleness of iron, a feat that other manufacturers of iron cannon tubes at the time were unable to replicate. Continue reading “Cannons and Columns: The Phoenix Iron Company and the Civil War”

A Hike through History: Students Explore the Appalachian Trail

By Laurel Wilson ’19

Hiking is a great way to get outside, commune with nature, and  connect with the surrounding area. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hiking one of my favorite sections of the Appalachian Trail in a manner that was completely different than I had ever before experienced. Instead of dressing in my usual 21st century hiking attire, I, along with several others, opted to take things back about 154 years and dressed as a Union soldier would have in 1862.

Organized jointly by the Civil War Institute, GRAB, and members of the 26th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia Regiment, the hike’s purpose was to be a learning experience and a fun way to get outside. The hike provided the members of the 26th Pennsylvania College Guard, which is the Civil War re-enacting club on campus, the opportunity to experience what it actually felt like to march for many miles as soldiers did. The trip proved that there is no better way to gain an understanding of what it was like for men to march through such steep, rocky, and unforgiving terrain than to go out and hike through it yourself.  It was also a great opportunity for the 21st century folks who joined us to ask questions about the soldier experience during the war and the Civil War in general.

Photo credit: Kevin Lavery
Photo credit: Kevin Lavery

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Real History vs Reel History: The Never-Ending Debate

By Laurel Wilson ’19

Movies based on history have been popular since the rise of film in the entertainment industry. Transporting audiences to a different place and time period is something that film has always had the ability to do and often does very well. Though many films that are based on historical subject matter are carefully researched and try to be as historically accurate as possible, many historians take issue with their historical inaccuracies. There are countless opinions out in the world about the importance and role of historical accuracy in film. Most of these opinions fall into one of two camps: those that argue films should try to be more historically accurate if they are portraying a specific event or time period and those that argue that films should be allowed to take creative liberties with historical accuracy.

Historians will often argue, with good reason, that films that do not take historical accuracy seriously run the risk of giving audiences false impressions of historical events or even time periods as a whole. Films are often guilty of idealizing or romanticizing history at least to some degree, which can give the audience a false impression of the history behind the film. History is not black and white; there are often many different sides to a story and lots of gray areas, which can sometimes be difficult to convey in a film.

Photo credit: iceposters.com
Photo credit: iceposters.com

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Images of Power, Images of War: Schmucker Art Gallery’s New Exhibit

By Laurel Wilson ’19

Bodies in Conflict: From Gettysburg to Iraq is a brand new exhibit in Schmucker Art Gallery at Gettysburg College. Curated by Mellon Summer Scholar Laura Bergin ’17, it features eleven depictions of bodies engaged in various conflicts in U.S. history, ranging from the Civil War to the war in Iraq. In addition to curating the physical exhibit found in Schmucker Art Gallery, Bergin also created a virtual version, which can be accessed online through the Schmucker Gallery web page. Of particular interest to those interested in the Civil War are two of the oldest pieces in the collection, a lithograph depicting Pennsylvania Bucktails engaging with “Stonewall” Jackson’s men and stenograph images that depict the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Stereoscope portraying the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
This stereoscope portraying the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg is featured in Bergin’s exhibit. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Bergin’s self-designed major, Images of Conflict, was the basis for creating the exhibit, and her interdisciplinary focus shines in the exhibit’s curation. Bergin focuses on both the artistic and historical context of each image, bringing to the forefront the emotions each image is attempting to convey to the viewers. She worked closely with her faculty mentor, Shannon Egan, director of Schmucker Art Gallery, as well as Carolyn Sautter and Molly Reynolds of Musselman Library Special Collections in order to gather pieces from the college collections for the exhibit. Bergin also wrote up short essays for each piece featured in the collection that provide historical context as well as her own interpretations of each piece’s meaning, which are installed next to each piece and featured in the exhibit catalog. Continue reading “Images of Power, Images of War: Schmucker Art Gallery’s New Exhibit”