Restoration Starts on Mosby Rendezvous Church
One of the most significant buildings related to Confederate John Singleton Mosby’s storied career is soon launching an important restoration.
During the Civil War, Mount Zion Old School Baptist Church, built in Aldie,Virginia, in 1851 by a group of parishioners who had split off from another congregation, was pressed into service as a military council space, a battleground and a prison. Both armies used the red-brick building as they needed. Beginning in January 1863, the church was a frequent rendezvous point for Mosby and his Rangers,as they conducted raids throughout the region. Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry saw action near the church during the Gettysburg campaign. Union forces used the church as a field hospital.
In recent years, the Mount Zion Church Preservation Association (MZCPA), working with other partners such as the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and the Civil War Preservation Trust, has led a multifaceted effort to restore the church.Already, extensive architectural and archaeological investigations have been conducted at the church, which was stabilized in 2000 to protect against structural failure and allow the interior to be used for educational and other events.
This year, Loudoun County will embark on a new phase of restoration at the church, including the installation of a new foundation under the west wall, as well as other interior and exterior rehabilitation, which will allow the site to continue serving the community in myriad ways.“The MZCPA conducts Civil War reenactments, educational events and tours of the site throughout the year,” explains Debbie Heimburger, the project team leader in Loudoun County’s Office of Capital Construction.“The county has received numerous requests for use of the facility for family events, picnics, meetings and weddings, and it has designed the restoration to accommodate these uses.”
More information can be found at www.mtzioncpa.org.
—Kim A. O’Connell
Memorialized: Sam Davis, Boy Hero
It’s no surprise that the country is littered with memorials to Abraham Lincoln, but who knew how many sites commemorated young Sam Davis? Known as the “Boy Hero of the Confederacy,” Davis was famously executed at 21 years of age in 1863 by Union forces.
Davis was a member of “Coleman’s Scouts,” gathering information on Union troop movements. He was arrested south of Pulaski,Tenn., and taken to Union Brig. Gen. Grenville Dodge.A search of Davis produced papers that Dodge thought could only have come from his desk. Davis refused to say where he had gotten them, and a court-martial convicted him of espionage. But at the Pulaski, Tenn., execution site, the hangman was visibly troubled by having to dispatch the brave youth.Yet Davis calmly stepped to the gallows, turned to his executioner and said,“I am ready.”
Today, his boyhood home in Smyrna, Ga., is a museum; a monument to Davis can be found at the hanging site, and statues of him stand on the grounds of the Tennessee capitol in Nashville and in the Pulaski town square. In addition, a residential district in Pulaski is named for Davis and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Civil War Vet’s Gift That Keeps on Giving
If Civil War veteran Adam Brinker planned his attacks half as well as he planned his financial future, he must have been one helluva soldier.
Born in Forks Township, Pennsylvania, Brinker enlisted in the 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at the tender age of 16, according to The Morning Call, an eastern Pennsylvania newspaper. His unit fought at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg (although there are no records confirming whether Brinker actually participated in those battles).After the war, Brinker went on to become a successful businessman in and around Bethlehem, Pa., where he served on the town council.
After his death in 1928, his fortune— which stood at $552,000—was divided among six heirs, including his wife, daughters and their offspring.As those heirs died, the remaining funds were put in an interest-earning trust fund. Brinker stipulated that, when the last of the six heirs died, the accumulated monies were to be distributed to charities of his choice.
By July 2005, the last person identified in his will had passed away, and the trust had mushroomed to the unbelievable sum of $9.3 million.As Adam Brinker requested, the funds were distributed equally among three Pennsylvania charities—the Children’s Home for troubled youths in Salisbury Township (now Kids Peace); St. Luke’s Hospital in Fountain Hill and the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem.When they were notified, the officials of all three nonprofit organizations expressed shock and gratitude to their Civil War benefactor.
More information on the 153rd Pennsylvania, including a muster roll that lists Brinker as part of Company A, is at 153rdpvi.com.
—Kim A. O’Connell
New Gettysburg Museum Will Roll Out Restored Cyclorama
On a Thursday afternoon in September, six shoeless conservators were face down on a mat, kneeling as if in supplication before a massive sheet of canvas. Inch by inch, they pulled the canvas flat, a necessary step in the painstaking process of restoring the enormous cyclorama painting at Gettysburg. Reviving the treasured painting is just one aspect of the new Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War, scheduled to open in April.
Built on low-lying ground away from the main areas of the battlefield, the museum is designed to resemble agricultural buildings of central Pennsylvania, as is the barnred round cyclorama structure.Visitors will be oriented to the battlefield while viewing top-notch museum exhibits and far more artifacts than the park had previously been able to display in its outdated visitor center. “Gettysburg has one of the nation’s largest and most significant collections of artifacts,” says Superintendent John Latschar.“In our current visitor center they were moldering away, and now they will be in state-of-the-art conditions where they will be preserved for future generations.”
In addition to interpreting the three-day battle of Gettysburg, the 139,000-squarefoot museum aims to delve deep into the surrounding context of the Civil War—including segments on slavery, civilian life, the Gettysburg Address and 20th-century racial strife. Interactive stations, video presentation, and hands-on opportunities will be hallmarks of the visitor experience.The main exhibit area is laid out chronologically, beginning with the nation’s founding principles and ending with the modern story of the battlefield’s preservation.“It’s much more than a who-shot-whom-where museum,” Latschar says,“but also why they were shooting and what did it mean.”
The project was developed to be environmentally sustainable, including a geothermal heat pump system and wetland preservation. “Everything on the site is planted with native plants that require a minimum amount of maintenance,” says Robert Wilburn, president of the Gettysburg National Battlefield Museum Foundation, which works in partnership with the National Park Service. “We’ve reused timbers from period barns of the Civil War era. Considerable effort was made to ensure that the building and site were as environmentally sensitive as they could be.”
Inside, the greatest attraction will undoubtedly be the cyclorama painting. Completed in 1884 by Frenchman Paul Philippoteaux, the painting originally measured 377 feet by 42 feet and captured both the bucolic countryside of Gettysburg and the fierce third-day battle that raged over it. In the decades since, however, the painting’s skyline was lost, and fire, humidity, flawed hanging and ill-considered repairs had seriously damaged other sections. Latschar reports that, by the mid-1990s, when the painting was only a few years away from experiencing the catastrophic separation of paint from canvas, the Park Service and the Foundation launched a partnership to restore the painting and build it a new home.The restoration process is so exacting—including stitching the historic canvas to new fabric, careful painting to fill in missing elements and proper hanging that involves the right tension and weight on the canvas—that the cyclorama is not planned to open until September.“The most challenging part has been to take a logistical effort that’s never been done on such a scale and fit it into a very tight overall schedule and budget,” says David Olin of Olin Conservation, Inc., the Great Falls, Virginia-based firm in charge of the cyclorama restoration.
Once the new museum opens, the 1960s cyclorama building, designed by the famous architect Richard Neutra, will likely be demolished soon afterwards (along with the old visitor center) as part of ongoing efforts to restore the battlefield to its 1863 appearance in an area where nearly 1,000 soldiers became casualties.
In early 2007, the nonprofit Recent Past Preservation Network filed a lawsuit against the Park Service, charging that the agency violated federal law in planning for its demolition and not considering relocating the architecturally significant Neutra building instead.“The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation said in a nutshell that there are other Neutra buildings, but there is only one Gettysburg battlefield.The building must yield,” Latschar says.“We’re taking [the lawsuit] very, very seriously. It is winding its way through the paces, but I fully anticipate taking down the cyclorama building in fall 2008 or spring 2009.”
Latschar hopes that visitors to the new museum will come away with a new appreciation not only of the battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War but also of the enduring strength of our nation as a whole.“No matter how bitter our past couple of elections have been, none of us woke up in the morning with thoughts of secession,” he says, referring to exhibit areas that will commemorate the great sacrifices of Civil War soldiers.
He adds,“The durability of our democracy during times of stress, like we’re living in now, we owe to these guys.”
–Kim A. O’Connell
Originally published in the January 2008 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.