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New Museum Celebrates Midwest Soldiers

No battles took place in Kenosha, Wis., but the town is centered in a region that dispatched more than 740,000 men to the war effort. Kenosha’s brand-new Civil War Museum focuses on the contributions of six Midwestern states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. “This region’s heart was in the heart of the cause, even if it was only near the edge of the battle,” is the way it’s explained on the museum’s Web site, www.ken

The $16 million, two-story museum occupies a modern building that overlooks Lake Michigan, but its interior features Civil War–era architectural touches such as pillars and ironwork. A fire last March that began in a janitor’s closet caused about $200,000 damage, but the museum went ahead with its scheduled dedication just a week later. A grand opening was held on June 14 and 15.

Not all the displays had been opened to the public at press time, including a permanent exhibit, “The Fiery Trial,” which was still under construction. Temporary displays have so far focused on the Union ship Maple Leaf (March 29–September 28), followed by an exhibit of Kurz & Allison prints from the Carthage College Palumbo Collection (October 11 through February 2009). A memorial gallery as well as a gift shop are also open.

Two Major Historians Die in July

The deaths of John Y. Simon on July 8 (age 75) and Alan T. Nolan on July 27 (age 85) sent a wave of sadness through the Civil War world.

As editor of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant between 1962 and his death, John Simon presided over the collection and publication of thousands of documents from the pen of the man who stood second only to Abraham Lincoln in the Union pantheon. It is especially poignant that Simon died just before he could bring his great project to a triumphant conclusion.

Alan Nolan’s major publications appeared 30 years apart. The Iron Brigade: A Military History (1961) established him as a leading figure in the field. Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History (1991) triggered hot debates and spawned a gaggle of imitators. Both titles remain in print and continue to find new readers.

Gary W. Gallagher

Coal Fuels Aerial Attack on Battlefields

Add another worry to the perennial list of concerns about the condition of our national parks: dangerously polluted air. Greenhouse gas emissions are increasing in regions of eastern Virginia and southern Pennsylvania and West Virginia that lie within a 186-mile circle of Appomattox, Petersburg, Richmond, Fredericksburg, Manassas, Cedar Creek, Gettysburg and Harpers Ferry.

According to a recent report by the National Parks Conservation Association titled “Dark Horizons: 10 National Parks Threatened by New Coal-Fired Power Plants,” the plants that are located close to Shenandoah National Park have already resulted in extensive environmental damage with their emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. Additional problems are expected, since eight new plants will soon come on line or are under construction.

Watchdogs blame relaxed EPA regulations for this new crop of power plants, in addition to the continued use of existing plants that have clearly violated federal government standards. Existing problems, including poor visibility, fish kills and heightened ozone levels, are predicted to get much worst in years to come.

Virginians Can Take Lee For a Ride

General Robert E. Lee, looking dignified in his gray beard and uniform, now decorates hundreds of license plates in the Commonweatlth of Virginia. Under his portrait are the dates 1807-1870 and the words “The Virginia Gentleman.”

In 2006 the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans applied to the state for the specialty tag to commemorate Lee’s 200th birthday. The plates became available this year after 350 car owners paid for the tags in advance.

For an extra fee, the tags can also be personalized. According to the state DMV, Lee tags have already been issued with “HONOR, “TRUST,” “HERO,” “REL” and “REBYEL,” among others. The Lee plate is available to the general public. The Commonwealth has also issued a specialty tag to honor the Civil War’s sesquicentennial.

Great Books, Welcome Gifts

Looking for gift ideas as the holiday skirmish looms ahead? Award-winning books just might be the answer.

Two titles earned this year’s prestigious Lincoln Prize, endowed by Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman and administered by Gettysburg College. The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics, by James Oakes, traces the president’s growing bond with abolitionism’s iconic leader.

Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters won the Lincoln Prize as well as the Museum of the Confederacy’s 38th annual Jefferson Davis Award.

An honorable mention from Gilder Lehrman also went to Chandra Manning’s What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War.

The George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War at Shepherd University recognized Bruce Le – vine of the University of Illinois with its Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship for his book Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War.

Lightning Zaps Witness Tree

A veteran honeylocust that escaped damage during the Battle of Gettysburg and grew to shade the graves in the national cemetery was severely damaged by lightning in early August. The tree had stood on Cemetery Hill, 150 feet from the platform on which the Gettysburg Address was delivered on November 19, 1863.

More than 100 feet of this giant either fell or had to be taken down, leaving about 40 to 50 feet of thick trunk, according to Gettysburg Battlefield spokesperson Katie Lawhon. “We are hopeful the part that is left will continue to grow,” she said, referring to the remaining portion of the tree. “There are multiple trunks and some living branches, and the foliage is still green.”

Trees that have lived so long and were alive during the 1863 battle are referred to as Witness Trees, and many still remain on Gettysburg battlefield property.

The National Park Service has donated the wood from the damaged tree to the Gettysburg Foundation, a nonprofit fund-raising partner of the park. Lawhon described the wood as “good sized pieces with some rot.” The foundation is considering ways the wood could be used to raise money for preservation, but no decision has as yet been made.

“We started getting calls right away from people asking if they could have some of the wood to make things,” Lawhon noted. “We referred them to the foundation.”

Statuary News

Connecticut’s first memorial to the Connecticut 29th Colored Regiment was scheduled for dedication on September 20 at New Haven’s Criscoula Park. The bronze’s creator, African-American sculptor Ed Hamilton, has created a number of highly acclaimed sculptures, including the Spirit of Freedom Memorial in Washington, D.C., as well as the Amistad Memorial. The new monument was commissioned by The Descendents of the Connecticut 29th Colored Regiment Infantry.

This fall Rapid City, S.D., will unveil a life-size bronze by artist John Lopez of Union General and U.S. President Ulysses Grant. Located close to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Rapid City started its “City of Presidents” project in 2000, adding sculptures of as many as four commanders in chief to its eye-catching collection on its sidewalks each year since.

The board of Richmond, Va.’s American Civil War Center has formally accepted Gary Casteel’s Jefferson Davis statue, commissioned by the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and mentioned in Civil War Times’ October issue. The sculpture, which should be ready for installation in November, depicts Davis with son Joe and adopted mixed-race son Jim Limber. No promises were made as to where it would be exhibited.


Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here