Saving Colonel Cross: How Money Determines Which Histories Are Preserved

By Savannah Rose ’17

This summer, I spent my weekends volunteering at the Lancaster Historical Society near my hometown in northern New Hampshire. I went to elementary school in Lancaster and suffered through lessons on local history, but it wasn’t until I arrived at college that I discovered an interesting piece of Lancaster’s heritage. I learned that the commander of the “Fighting Fifth” NH, Colonel Edward E. Cross, was born and buried in Lancaster, an astonishing and exciting discovery that brought the Civil War back to my hometown.

After discovering this, I anxiously waited to go home to see what belongings of Cross Lancaster had in its possession, only to be incredibly disappointed by what I found. The grave of Colonel Cross is currently locked away from the public, rarely open for viewers to enter the cemetery. I was understanding of this as it was a private cemetery, but nothing could prepare me for what I found at the historical society. The historical society, operating out of a house in town, was closed the first summer I came home forcing me to wait a year to see the artifacts relating to Cross. Last summer was the first time I saw the artifacts of Colonel Cross, all together in a pantry-sized case.

CWI Cross
Colonel Edward E. Cross’s artifacts reside in this small closet within the Lancaster Historical Society. Stacked on top of each other, the artifacts have to endure the temperatures of a New Hampshire winter. Photo courtesy of the author.

The society has Cross’s pistol, rifle, leathers, papers, and more all in the case unprotected from the light and the temperature, which can easily drop below zero during the winter. Cross’s saddle, which he is was often described sitting elegantly in, lies on a block of wood, dried out and free to touch by the public.

Saddened by what I saw when I first arrived home I offered to volunteer my time, hoping to gain an opportunity to improve to present condition of the artifacts. After a few weekends of volunteering I asked about fixing the Cross exhibit but was told that funds were non-existent as the society did not receive money from the town and had a difficult time raising enough funds, thus sealing the fate of the artifacts.

CWI Cross 2
Colonel Edward E. Cross’s saddle sits on a block of wood, open to the public to touch. The dried-out saddle shows many signs of wear and desperately needs to be restored. Photo courtesy of the author.

I learned that while passion plays a large role in public history, there is another aspect to the field that makes it a reality. Without the economy to back up public history, many artifacts suffer the consequences of poor preservation. Does money control public history? This problem affects many historical societies and museums nationwide that are unable to fund their preservation efforts, leading to the destruction and loss of the objects they can’t maintain. Many artifacts are poorly preserved and can easily be lost to the public, erasing them from history. Many historical societies receive funding from the local community, and many of the smaller towns in America struggle to give their societies a decent cut of their budget. This means that the material culture of these small towns is more likely to deteriorate than those of a larger city that can provide more funding.

Money determines how history is remembered. National history is easier preserved, often receiving funding from larger agencies and programs. Local histories often lack funding for preservation, limiting their ability to survive and be remembered by future generations. Money and passion are required to work together in public history in order to make historical preservation a reality. The present situation in America has proved that the preservation of histories involving large figures or large events in history is better funded. Local histories are often lost due to poor preservation. The level of funding determines the quality of preservation, and small museums and historical societies are feeling the consequences of small budgets.

17 thoughts on “Saving Colonel Cross: How Money Determines Which Histories Are Preserved”

  1. Savannah, do you have any idea how many dollars would have to be raised (dollars dedicated to the Cross artifacts only, of course) to do the sort of preservation/curatorial work you thought of doing?

    1. Hi Mr. LeDuc,

      I do not have an answer currently about how much money is required to save the Cross artifacts, but I am working on creating a formal estimate of the cost of effective preservation. Thank you so much for your inquiry and I will update the comment when I have an answer. Thank you for reading!

  2. Is there anyway The Lancaster Historical Society would consider donating or lending the Col.Cross artifacts to a National Battlefield like Gettysburg ? This way preserving them and allowing more to see ? just wondering

    1. Hi Dan,

      The Historical Society has no current plans on removing the artifacts from Lancaster, and they plan on keeping the artifacts there. It would benefit the artifacts, but beginning with effective preservation is our first step. Thanks for reading!

  3. Hello Savannah. Nice post! Great that you are bringing this to light. Hope you’ve found My Brave Boys, the book Mark Travis and I wrote about Col. Cross and the 5th. We had one of our first events at the Lancaster library. It was amazing. The late Faith Kent was the keeper of Cross’s legacy at the LHS. Through me, she gave the letters Cross wrote to her grandfather, Henry O, Kent, also of Lancaster, to the New Hampshire Historical Society. We used some of them in the book, but you should go down and read them sometime. More on Cross on my website, our-war.com

    1. Hi Mr. Pride,

      Let me begin with saying that I love your book, and I have read it numerous times. I wish I could have met Faith Kent, everyone in Lancaster says she was the nicest person. I will definitely look at the site you gave me. Thank you for your kind words and thank you for reading!

  4. Savannah, I write to congratulate you on the piece you wrote about the role funding plays in the way history is preserved. I’d be interested to learn how much funding is needed to preserve the Cross items, particularly his papers. If the estimate does not seem out of reach, let’s start a campaign to generate the finds. I’d be happy to do the PR work.
    Lee Elder

    1. Hi Mr. Elder,

      I am in the works of creating a campaign to raise money for the preservation of the artifacts. I do not have an estimate on how much money it will cost, but I am working on figuring that out currently. Thank you so much for offering your PR services and if needed, I will definitely let you know. Thank you for reading!

      1. Savannah, if you get a fund started to preserve the artifacts, let me know. Even if you don’t need the PR work, I’d like to send a donation.
        And call me Lee!! Mr. Elder is my Dad.

        Lee Elder

  5. Not sure the Lancaster Historical Society would be willing to let the personal effects go, although they are certainly museum-worthy. Cross’s letters and journals are at UNH. His wonderful prewar letters from the West to Henry O. Kent are at the New Hampshire Historical Society. Those represent the bulk of his correspondence, although there are a few letters floating around elsewhere (here’s one: http://ourwarmikepride.blogspot.com/2013/02/edward-e-cross-in-his-own-words.html.

    1. Hi Mr. Pride,

      I agree with you in that the Lancaster Historical Society does not wish to see the artifacts leave Lancaster. A lot of Cross’s papers are located at UNH, but they do not want to send the artifacts there. I have suggested creating an exhibit in the town library, which is much better suited for housing the artifacts. Thanks for your comment!

      1. Savannah, your idea of an exhibit at the Library sounds like a great idea and perhaps a way the Historical Society and the University could contribute to a most interesting piece of New Hampshire Civil War History. Great job and I appreciate your efforts. Good Luck !

  6. Savannah, thank you for this bit on Col. Cross. The Civil War Roundtable of New Hampshire http://www.cwrt-nh.org would be interested in how this goes. We are a small “club” for lack of a better, word that meets to discuss the Civil War. Col. Cross was sort of an unofficial mascot in the 1990s.

    Although we are a small group with limited funds, I’m sure we would help where we could.

    I would add that donating the items to Gettysburg would not be advisable. When they moved to their new visitor center in 2008, they reduced the amount of artifacts viewable to the public in exchange for more interactive exhibits and more on slavery and less on the battle of Gettysburg. Col. Cross would likely, if they accepted, be relegated to the basement storage areas there.

    Bill Hallett
    past president
    cwrtnh

    1. Hi Mr, Hallett,

      I am actually just beginning a project to create a new exhibit for the artifacts in Lancaster’s library. When more details are ironed out, I will send them your way. Additionally, I agree that the artifacts should not go to Gettysburg as their opportunity for display decreases. If they remain in Lancaster, they will be displayed for the public, where they belong. Thank you so much for your comments.

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