Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hall of Treasures

I sometimes pinch myself and remind myself that I work at Gettysburg National Military Park, a sacred ground and all around historic place, so much so, that sometimes you can feel the history (no, I'm not talking about ghosts, that's an entirely different story). The park is very lucky to have an extraordinary collection of Gettysburg and period artifacts in its collection, some of which is on display in the Park Museum, and some of which is in curatorial storage. The core of the Park Service collection came from the Rosensteel family, who operated a museum beginning in the 1920s which eventually became the NPS visitor center for the Park (which has now been replaced by a new Visitor Center, and since has been torn down). The Rosensteels donated their significant collection (and museum) to the Park, and bolstered by additional donations since.

I was able to visit the curatorial collection on a special tour several months ago, and got to see some very special treasures, including a Confederate Battle Flag used in Pickett's Charge (aka Longstreet's Assault). Of some items, the Park holds a multitude of, especially bullets (I remember a figure of at least 2,000 minie balls and etc.).

A pretty cool feature that the park has been doing recently is to record a short video called "Museum Mondays", where the park curator selects an item from the collection and explains a little bit about it. It has been going on now for several months, and I really dig it. The most recent edition is below (about a pocket revolver), but there are many more on the YouTube page, and older ones on the Park's Facebook page.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Unknown Soldiers

A month or so ago I discovered the Liljenquist Family Collection at the Library of Congress (LOC). This collection of nearly 700 or so ambrotypes and tintypes was collected over the years by the Liljenquist family and only recently was donated to "America's Library" (aka the LOC) for posterity. The LOC has digitized many of the images and set up a flickr page with many of the images. Unfortunately, many of the soldiers and individuals depicted in the images are unknown.

I began looking through many of the images on the page, looking at the differing faces of those who fought on both sides. The collection really shows the breadth and diversity of the soldiers who engaged in the Civil War.

However, I came to this picture here:

I was intrigued, to say the least, by this picture. The facial features seem very feminine, which got me thinking if this soldier was actually a woman (of which there have been numerous examples of, the most notable being Albert Cashier aka Jennie Hodgers). What do you think?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Simeon Roosa


Simeon  J. Roosa was born March 18, 1836 in Fallsburg, New York. In 1862, at the age of 26, he enlisted with the 145th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. At the time Gen. George McClellan had been pushed by from the Peninsula by Robert E. Lee in the daring Seven Days Battles, and there was an urgent need for troops.Simeon's unit, after its organization, was immediately sent to the front to serve with the Army of the Potomac, and would subsequently fight in the Battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. In a daring move in the summer of 1863, Robert E. Lee moved his army of Northern Virginia north for an invasion of Pennsylvania. George G. Meade, the newly appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac moved to counter Lee's move and block any advance to Baltimore or Washington, D.C. Even though neither army originally planned to fight at Gettysburg, the "spider web" of roads passing through the town made it an idea place to mass troops. 

Simeon Roosa's regiment, the 145th, found itself in the thick of the fighting in the Wheatfield late on July 2nd. This small field would be one of the most fiercely contested portions of that day's fighting.  While fighting with his unit, a bullet entered Simeon's right eye and came out his left eye, destroying both eyes, but somehow leaving his eyelids intact. Rendered unconscious by the hit, he was left for dead on the battlefield. The next morning, when members of his unit when to find and bury him, they could not find his body, but noticing that a freshly dug grave was near where they thought he fell, they declared him dead and buried. Three days later, he was discovered wandering blindly through the woods 3 miles from where he was wounded, calling for his mother. He was positively identified, taken to a hospital in Harrisburg, and reunited with his family, and discharged. However, due to his injuries, he passed away several months later in Tidioute, PA on September 30th.

Hardtack and Coffee

Working at a history-laden such as Gettysburg, PA, it's hard not to get drawn in. Those who know me know that I am a history fanatic, and since I have been working with Civil War history these last few months, I have been drawn to the stories of the common soldiers who fought here at Gettysburg, Confederate and Union. In the course of work here, I have encountered some amazing people and their stories. I am using this blog to highlight some of their stories and some other fascinating items from the era.

Soon after arriving here, I read two works by Bell I. Wiley that really laid the groundwork for myself in thinking about the common soldier (they also were groundbreaking for their time), The Life of Johnny Reb and The Life of Billy Yank. Wiley, mainly by going through their letters, tries to find out what the common soldier was about, North and South.

Wiley once said that "History is people", and I strongly believe that myself, and will try to exhibit that history on this blog.