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Civil War Not Forgotten In Pennsylvania

21 April 2011 No Comment

I read a story recently bemoaning the fact that the northern states seem to have forgotten the Civil War, aka the “War Between The States,” the “War Between Brothers” or the “Great Tea Party Rebellion.” Ok, I made up that last one.

But seriously, “northern states” in the context of this story must mean “states that are not Pennsylvania.” Because, and we’re not just whistling “Dixie” here, you can’t raise the Stars and Bars at a redneck revival in this state without seeing it flap over a Civil War memorial, graveyard, re-enactment site or battlefield. And you don’t have to pitch a tent at Devils Den in Gettysburg to get a taste of what the war meant to our country.

The realistic exhibits at the National Civil War museum include a surgical tent.

April 12 marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War – the date that Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Incited by Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency, southern states seceded from the union, created their own nation and testing whether “a nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” could long endure, to quote Lincoln.

Many in the north expected it to be a quick war, three months at most to bring those Johnny Rebs to heel. Instead, it ran almost five years and became the most traumatic event in our history. It put an end to slavery and saw the beginning of true civil rights in the United States. It would take another 100 years before those civil rights were effectively granted and even in the most recent 50 years, there are questions about just how much progress we have really made.But you don’t have to travel to southern battlefields or even Gettysburg to get an idea of what the Civil War meant. There are some interesting and little-known or visited sites much closer to home that provide a great education for all ages.

I recently visited the National Civil War museum in Harrisburg, which offers one of the most complete one-stop educations about the war. Replete with exhibits that explain the roots of the slavery debate and the tragic consequences of slavery to those whose lives were bought and sold like cattle, the true causes and the long-term impacts of the war, the museum covers more than just the war years. It’s exhibits and educational videos range from 1850 to 1876 and include very life-like arrays that include everything from slave auctions to war camps to a medical tent where surgeons prepare to amputate the leg of a wounded soldier.

If you like weapons and battlefield implements, this is your place. The museum has more than 3,400 artifacts with about 850 on permanent display.

The National Civil War museum does a great job at portraying life in both armies. Photo courtesy of National Civil War museum.

Closer to home, you can check out the Liberty Bell Shrine on Hamilton Street in Allentown, home of the First Defenders memorial. The First Defenders were a Lehigh County militia assembled to protect Washington from Confederate troops at the beginning of the war and the exhibits tell the story of the troops who marched through angry crowds in Baltimore to get to their destination.While they made it – not without incident or injury – many never returned home alive from the war.

The Union and West End Cemetery between Chew and Liberty and 10th and 12th streets in downtown Allentown is the final resting place for 714 Civil War soldiers, including Medal of Honor winner Ignatz Gresser. It is the largest Civil War cemetery in Pennsylvania outside of Gettysburg.

“Twenty-one of these soldiers were members of the Allen Infantry, a Militia Unit that answered President Lincoln’s call for troops to protect and defend Washington at the outbreak of the Civil War,” said cemetery association President Everette Carr. “Additionally, there are five Revolutionary Soldiers buried in the cemetery.  Also, there are veterans from the War of 1812, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and the Viet Nam War.”

If You Go: The National Civil War museum is located at Reservoir Park in Harrisburg, just a mile or so from the Capitol complex. It’s open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon-Tues and Thurs-Sat;, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m,. Wednesday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $9 with discounts for seniors, active military and students. The Liberty Bell Shrine is located at Zion Church, 622 Hamilton St., Allentown. Admission is free but donations are requested.

What To Know: Encampments, commemorations and other activities will no doubt continue for the next four years as America marks the 150th anniversary of this conflagration. Check with your desired destination to find event calendars.

Facts: Abner Doubleday, the man credited with inventing baseball, fired the first shot for the Union at Ft. Sumter. Later promoted to general, he reportedly distinguished himself at the Battle of Gettysburg.

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