Having `The' Civil War museum in Harrisburg's sights

Project: The capital city and its mayor rallies to have not just any Civil War museum, but the most comprehensive one anywhere.

Grand Review 2000

June 11, 2000|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Like a diligent general, the museum sits on a peak overlooking the rolling hills of this capital city.

No Civil War soldiers fought battles here, but the hilltop of Reservoir Park would have been a perfect location for troops to assemble.

Harrisburg may not have a claim to fame for Civil War battle, but starting Nov. 15, it will have the country's largest, most comprehensive Civil War museum.

"Our name is The - capital `T' - National Civil War Museum," said George Hicks, executive director of the museum. "We have chosen to take on the responsibility of being the official Civil War museum."

The museum was funded by a $16.2 million grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a $17 million investment from Harrisburg.

Harrisburg commemorated the Civil War this weekend by putting on Grand Review 2000, in which people dressed in Civil War-era clothes and re-enacted battles.

Hicks and other museum officials thought this would be the perfect time to introduce The National Civil War Museum.

Under nonstop construction since early fall, the museum building is about 85 percent complete, Hicks said.

He credited the speedy construction to a team effort. The steel contractors worked through the winter months, and the masons laid bricks in a heated tent while sleet and snow fell outside, Hicks said.

"Everybody is just totally immersed in this project," he said. "This museum is no doubt going to be the crown jewel of Harrisburg."

Hicks also is quick to point to Mayor Stephen Reedas the force behind the museum. Reed, a Civil War buff for many years, initially wanted to create a museum focused on the Civil War training grounds in Harrisburg. But when he realized there really was no comprehensive Civil War museum, Hicks said, he proposed that Harrisburg be the location for one.

Elayne Goyette, the museum's assistant archivist, said she is proud to be involved with a museum that is trying to portray both sides of the war.

"Most people take one side or another, but this museum doesn't make a value judgment," she said. "We are the only ones in the country telling the entire story."

That story will include black soldiers, women and people with disabilities, Goyette said.

"There's no such collection like it out there," Goyette said. "I think it takes a woman to say this is important enough to collect."

The all-inclusive nature of the museum sets it apart from the many other Civil War museums peppered throughout the South and East, Hicks said. Although this is the first Civil War museum in Harrisburg, the concept isn't a new one. The East and South are checkered with such museums.

Maryland is no exception. Scotland, Md., has its own Civil War museum at Point Lookout State Park. Baltimore even has a museum, called simply, the Civil War Museum, on 601 President St.

Hagerstown's Civil War museum project got shut out of the Maryland state budget this year, but project coordinators still hope to get funding through existing state programs.

Construction on the museum, which coordinators predict will cost between $30 million and $40 million, could begin this September and be completed next year.

Hicks said that these museums are a great tribute to the Civil War but that they don't come close to including as much data as the Harrisburg museum will.

Even people involved in the museum project are surprised to hear about some of its exhibits. Goyette said she frequently hears about parts of the museum she didn't know would exist.

One of the newer ideas is a large statue that will greet museum-goers at the door. The working title for it is "Moment of Mercy," and its sculptor, Terry Jones, said it will be the perfect symbol for the theme of the museum.

The sculpture depicts a scene where Confederate Sgt. Richard Kirkland ran to the aid of 9,000 Union troops who lay dying during the Battle of Fredericksburg.

"It's an ideal scene because the museum is trying to convey compassion and promote reconciliation, just as in this sculpture," Jones said.

"Moment of Mercy" will be dedicated on Dec. 15, the anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

In addition to the statue, the museum's landscape will feature a Walk of Valor that tells how many casualties each state had. People also can purchase individual bricks to inscribe the names and positions of Civil War veterans.

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