a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pennsylvania marks its role in the Civil War

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH – Samuel B. McBride of the 140th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry crouched for his life behind a tree after having survived three solid days of battle in what became the most-successful drive of Confederate forces in the Civil War.

The Union soldier from Canonsburg, Pa., serving the Union Army likely was relieved to see back up troops arrive on the morning of May 5, 1863, during another skirmish along the banks of the Rappahannock River in the Battle of Chancellorsville, Va. 

Then McBride, a young theology student, became counted among the wounded after being struck in the forehead by a Minié ball in the surprise Southern victory that killed more than 17,000 Northern soldiers.

McBride’s story was retold May 7 and 8, 2011, when a traveling Pennsylvania museum marking the 150th anniversary of the war made its first stop in Pittsburgh at the Sen. John Heinz History Center along its four-year tour of the Commonwealth. One of its display cases is left empty to be temporarily filled by local historical groups as the Pennsylvania Historical Society trailer makes its way to each of the state’s 67 counties.

“I think it’s fantastic for a roaming museum,” said John Schroeder, manager of the road show named Pennsylvania Civil War 150. “There is a lot of information but it’s not overwhelming.”

There are kiosks reminding visitors the war was the deadliest on U.S. soil, and that its outcome restored the union, abolished slavery and increased the power of the federal government. It speaks to Pennsylvania’s legacy of having been the location of a major turning point in the war, the Battle at Gettsyburg, and a state where every resident was transformed by the war and affected by its outcome.

For example, Pittsburgh supplied the manufacture of iron, steel and textiles to the war effort. Farmers in neighboring Washington and Greene counties contributed the bounty of their lands to feed the army and also supply it with wagons and livestock. Yet at the same time, thousands of Pennsylvanians fueled by racism chose to serve the enemy forces of the Confederate Army.

McBride kept a detailed diary of his wartime experiences, and some of its most-compelling entries involved the four days he spent around the village of Chancellorsville in Virginia’s Spotsylvania County. The Chancellorsville Campaign gave Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces the confidence to launch another raid into the North. His diary, Bible and other artifacts now belong to the Heinz History Center, which chose to feature him in the temporary display case in the traveling museum.

But all McBride had to do was look into a mirror to be reminded of the horrific battle he survived. For the rest of his life he wore a dent in his forehead, a battlefield scar from his near-death experience. Judging by the photo, right, he wore it proudly even long after he was assigned to a Presbyterian church in what would become known today as New Kensington in Westmoreland County, Pa.

(Click here to watch a video of the Wildcats - re-enactors of the 105th Pennsylvania Regimental Band - performing at the Pittsburgh event.)

1 comment:

Gina said...

I can't believe I missed this! I'm a civil war buff and always visit battlefields, etc on our vacations. I guess I will have to take a trip to one of the other stops.