Thursday, November 21, 2013

Restoration of the Missing Soldiers Office

     I spent a day in Washington D.C. this week to see the completed restoration work on the Missing Soldiers Office building.  It looks much different than it did when I first saw it over a year ago.  The interior now appears much like it did when Clara Barton lived and worked there.  This is a big step toward being able to open the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum to the public.  Now we can focus more on the exhibits and the artifacts to be displayed in the building. 

     In the meantime, let’s take a look at the work that has been done.  You can see some of the “before” photos here.

The first floor of the building is the Welcome Center and gift shop.  Here you can see the new floor, and some of the items which will be for sale.  There will be some displays here as well.
The Missing Soldiers Office was located on the third floor of the building, so the majority of the exhibits will be there.  Visitors to the museum will be able to walk up the same staircase that Clara Barton used.

Several of the period wallpapers from the building were reproduced.  This is the back hallway of the building where the kitchen, dining room, and some boarding rooms were located.

Gas lights were reproduced for the rooms as well.  The lights in these fixtures even flicker like the real ones did!

Some sections of the old wallpaper were preserved.  You can see by the reflection of the window in the photo that the old wallpaper is protected by sheets of Plexiglas.
Here is the front hallway with more reproduction gas lights and a skylight.  The doors to the right were boarding rooms.  The rooms to the left made up the Missing Soldiers Office.  The room through the far doorway and to the left was Clara’s room.
Here is the door which was pictured being restored in my previous Clara Barton post (see the link above).  Room number 7 was part of the Missing Soldiers Office. 
Here’s a peek inside the Missing Soldiers Office.  The panel is a depiction of how the office probably looked while Clara Barton was there.  You can also see the data logger I left there in August in the bottom stovepipe hole.  I retrieved that on my visit and was able to download the environmental information from it.  This information will help to guide us in choosing the artifacts and display cases for the space.

Further down the hall is the door to Clara Barton’s room!
I don’t want to give away too much before the museum’s opening, but here’s a look inside Clara’s room.  The ladder you see is the same one which was used when the artifacts were discovered in the attic, so the ladder and the opening to the attic have been left here to help tell the story of the building. 

     My next update should be on the displays in the Missing Soldiers Office.  I am looking forward to sharing them with you!  In the meantime, you can see more photos and follow our progress on our website, here.

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Journey Home

     A faded and well-worn quilt is on display now at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum.  Though it belonged to the Pry family, it has only recently come back “home” to the house.  Let’s take a look at where it has been!

     After the Battle of Antietam in 1862, Philip & Elizabeth Pry's farm was stripped by the armies of most of its resources, including the family’s food, livestock, lumber, and even the crops in the fields.  The once prosperous farm was left in financial ruin.  Though Mr. Pry submitted a claim to the government for the items that had been taken or destroyed, he was never fully compensated.  In 1873, the family moved to farm on cheaper land in Tennessee.  Before the Prys left, many of the local women got together and made a memory quilt as a gift.

      Memory quilts were commonly made in the 19th century as going away presents.  These quilts provided a way to remember distant friends, family, and neighbors.  Often, the quilt blocks would be personalized with signatures, poems, or short notes.  One block on the quilt bears the inscription, "Remember me, when this you see, though many miles apart we be - your friend - Susie Hoffman."  Though the inscriptions could be embroidered, the ones on the Pry quilt are simply ink signatures. 

The quilt’s pattern is called Ohio Star.  The center square of each block is a solid, light color which allowed the quilters to write their signatures and messages for the Prys.

     The quilt was taken with the family to their new home in Tennessee.  After Elizabeth’s death, it was inherited by her daughter, Annie.  Annie was the sixth child of Philip and Elizabeth, and was just a year old at the time of the Battle of Antietam.  Annie eventually passed the quilt on to her daughter, Elizabeth Jones.  When Elizabeth died in 1969, the quilt went to relatives in New Jersey.  It was later purchased at a yard sale by Maggy Sluyter of Plainfield, NJ.  Maggy was intrigued by the signatures on the quilt and set out to find its origin.  Several of the blocks have “Keedysville, Md” written on them.  Maggy initially misread the writing as “Kennedysville” and so sent inquiries about the quilt to the Historical Society of Kent County, Maryland.  She was referred to Mr. Doug Bast at the Boonsborough Museum of History (near the Antietam Battlefield), who directed her to the Keedysville Historical Society.  The quilt was donated to the Historical Society in 1999, and so came back to the community where it was made.

This quilt block is signed, "Ellie M. Landis, Keedysville Md."
     More recently, the Pry quilt was loaned by the Keedysville Historical Society to the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, to be displayed in the house where the family once lived.  It is currently on display there, in its former home. 

The Pry quilt is now faded, worn, and has some holes – signs that it was well used by its former owners.  I suspect that the women who made it would be pleased that their creation was appreciated by the Pry family and by museum visitors now!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A General's Pistol

     Though most of the artifacts donated to my museum are clearly medical in nature, some may not seem so at first glance.  One such artifact in the museum’s collection is an 1862 Police Pocket pistol, which is said to have belonged to General Gustavus Sniper, 185th New York Infantry.  While General Sniper certainly had a role in the Civil War, he was not in the medical profession.  However, his pistol was accepted into our collection so that it can be displayed in an upcoming exhibit on Civil War weapons and the types of wounds they inflicted.

     The 1862 Police revolver was a small, light, five shot, .36 caliber revolver.  The barrel was made in various lengths of 3 ½” up to 6 ½”.  It had a fluted cylinder, a round barrel, and a creeping loading lever.  This model was designed because of civilian demand for a pocket pistol.  However, according to a 1978 Colt brochure, “The .36-caliber chambering of these medium size revolvers made them highly prized pocket sidearms. As also true with the 1849 Pocket, a number were carried by Civil War soldiers as backup to their single-shot muskets.” 
This pistol has a 6 ½” barrel, and a walnut grip with brass trim.  The registration numbers are clearly stamped in four places, and all match.  Inside the fluting of the cylinder is marked, “PAT SEPT 10th 1858”.  The wooden grip still retains its finish; however, the metal shows some wear.  Though it does show signs of use, it is in very good condition overall, and should be a good addition to the displays at the NMCWM!

     The pistol’s former owner has a good story to tell as well.  Gustavus A. Sniper was born on June 11, 1836 in Germany.  His family immigrated to the U.S. when he was a boy, and they settled in Syracuse, New York where he attended school.  When he was 18 years old, he joined several local militia groups.  In 1859-60 he organized a company called the Monroe Cadets and served as its captain until the start of the Civil War.

     Sniper served during the Civil War as Lieutenant Colonel of the 101st New York Volunteer Infantry, and later as Colonel and Commander of the 185th New York Volunteer Infantry.  It was his service in the 185th that gained him the most fame.  In the book, "Joshua Chamberlain, the Soldier and the Man", by Edward G. Longacre,  General Joshua Chamberlain gives his opinion of Sniper, “[H]e would describe the 185th as a ‘splendid’ regiment,’ its commander, Sniper, as ‘fearless’ and ‘clear-brained’.”

A small portrait of General Sniper.

     The 185th regiment was mustered into service on September 22, 1864, under the command of Colonel Edwin S. Jenney.  Col. Jenney was discharged in February 1865, and Col. Sniper succeeded him as commander of the regiment.  On March 29, Col. Sniper led his regiment in a charge at the Quaker Farm near Petersburg. VA.  According to the 1885 History of Cortland County, “The fate of the colors of the 185th during this charge was most thrilling.  B. B. Wilson was color-bearer at that time; he soon fell wounded.  A private then seized the flag, and was immediately killed.  Another private of Company D then grasped the banner and instantly fell wounded.  Private Herman Rice, of Company B, next seized the colors, but his arm was pierced by a bullet, and they again fell.  At this juncture Colonel Sniper, who was dismounted and in the thickest of the fight, seized the fallen flag, waved it on high and shouted, "Men of the 185th---forward!"  A wild cheer went up, the regiment rushed forward and the field was won.  For his personal bravery Colonel Sniper was warmly complimented by the general officers, while the brave regiment was also showered with congratulations.  He was brevetted Brigadier General, US Volunteers for “conspicuous gallantry in the battles of the Quaker Road and White Oak Road, Virginia.”

     After the war, Sniper went into politics.  In 1870 he was elected to the New York State Legislature, where he served three terms.  In 1876, he was appointed the Deputy County Clerk, and was promoted to County Clerk in 1882.  He died on March 29, 1894. 
In 1905 a monument to General Sniper was erected in Schlosser Park in Syracuse, New York, to honor his contributions as a Civil War veteran.
Artifact photo courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.