With Gettysburg on everyone’s minds lately, and understandably so, we took the chance to visit the Pennsylvania State Museum in Harrisburg, and their recently renovated and enlarged Civil War exhibit. What follows are a few snapshots from the visit. Apologies for the grainy cell phone pictures.
When visitors enter the large exhibit space, they are greeted by the enormous (16’x 32′) depiction of the terrible fighting at the apex of Pickett’s Charge. Painted by Peter Rothermel from 1867 to 1870, the stunning image, which was part of a series of Gettysburg paintings which are also on display, can draw one’s attention for hours. So many details and notable figueres can be seen on the canvas. Thankfully, the State Museum provides benches for just such awe inspired staring.
Looking around the exhibit, as one might expect, many of the objects relate to the Battle of Gettysburg. However, with a skilled eye, we managed to find a few objects with Antietam connections.
The PA State Museum has a remarkable collection of presentation swords, many of which are not on display, so you can be sure that the ones that are, are their finest examples.
Col. Joseph Mathews of the 128th Pennsylvania was presented this handsome sword in March of 1863. While the 128th fought their first battle at Antietam as part of Mansfield’s 12th Corps, Mathews was not there with them. Instead, Mathews was a Major in the ranks of the 46th Pennsylvania, also part of 12th Corps. In the late fall of 1862, Union army commanders realized that the thousands of new regiments that were rushed to front during the McClellan’s pursuit of Lee through Maryland still needed to receive proper training. Major Mathews was assigned the task of training the men and officers of the 128th PA. The men of the 128th came to so admire and respect Mathews, that when it came time to select a new leader for their regiment, the officer unanimously demanded that Mathews be reassigned to lead the 128th. Col. Mathew’s presentation sword is unique in that a photograph of Mathews was placed in the pommel of the sword.
Mathew’s own commander at Antietam, Col Joseph Knipe, also has his presentation sword on display. Earlier in the war, Knipe had been the first commander of the famed Camp Curtin camp of instruction in Harrisburg, PA. In fact, he is credited with giving the camp its name, in honor of the serving Pennsylvania governor, Andrew Curtin. Knipe would receive his sword just days before the fighting at Antietam, in remembrance for his, “…gallantry in Battles of Newtown, Middletown, Winchester and Slaughters Mountain…”
A presentation sword is not all that Knipe has on display. A beautiful pair of ivory handled pistols, given to Knipe in 1864 can also be seen.
By the time of the Battle of Antietam, the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps had already won fame for their gallantry in earlier bloody battles, but among their ranks, no unit was more notable than the Pennsylvania “Bucktails”. The 42nd Pennsylvanis, aka the 13th PA Reserves, aka the 1st Pennsylvania Rifles, was commanded at Antietam by the dashing Col. Hugh McNeil. In February of 1862, the men of Co. D, “the Raftsman Guards” from Warren County, presented McNeil with a sword crafted by the famous Tiffany & Co. of New York. McNeil would write to his sister, telling her about the sword, saying that it, “…is the finest thing I ever saw. Too nice for ordinary wear.” He would then go on to tell her that he had left it with a friend in Washington, and that if he should be killed in the War, that she should retrieve it. Sadly, McNeil would never wear his sword again, having been killed in action on the afternoon of September 16 in the East Woods at Antietam.
Augustus Kyle was a drummer in the ranks of the “green” 130th Pennsylvania during the Battle of Antietam. He and his regiment would spend many horrific hours battling in the fields in front of the Bloody Lane. By June 1863, the 130th would find themselves going home; their nine month term of enlistment having run out. Kyle, and many others in the 130th, decided to re-enlist in the newly raised 187th Pennsylvania, and head back to war. Instead of picking up a musket this time, Kyle would continue to carry his trusty drum. At the very end of the war, after Lincoln’s assassination, Kyle and the 187th would lead the fallen president’s body through the streets of Philadelphia. Kyle’s drumsticks are unique also, in that Kyle used small tacks to spell out his and Lincoln’s initials, as well as the numbers of his regiment. One can imagine the sights Kyle’s drum was amongst, and the frantic orders that were beat on it during the terrible fighting at Antietam.
Next time you’re in a museum, take a hard look, and see if you can locate any Antietam connections. Have a Happy 4th of July (hopefully you’ll be attending Antietam National Battlefield’s “Salute to Independence” on July 6th), and continue to celebrate the 150th of Gettysburg. The 151st of Antietam will be here before you know it!
(Antietam Guide and Guide candidates Jim Rosebrock, Jim Buchanan, and Dave Maher help fire the guns for the early morning “Cornfield Walk” – 9/17/12)
The boom of artillery and the rattle of muskets were not the only sounds coming from the many Living History demonstrations heard all over the Antietam Battlefield during Anniversary Weekend. Several times on Saturday and Sunday, the excellent Fife and Drum Corps from Fort McHenry could be heard connecting visitors with other historical sounds from the past.
(Videos by Dave Maher)