Culpeper museum exhibit focuses on Civil War events locally in 1863
In 1863 the forces of the Confederate States of America were heavily engaged in a war they would not win. Three battles were fought that year in Culpeper County.
The museum of Culpeper History is tracing the history of the War Between the States as it impacted Culpeper County using four key themes: Military, African-Americans, Women and the Homefront.
Each year during the five-year span of the sesquicentennial, the museum will update its display to focus on events in those four areas 150 years ago.
“Some of the information we gleaned for this exhibit came from a diary by Sallie Armstrong, an 18-year-old girl who lived on the Rose Hill Estate near Waterloo in the northern tip of Culpeper County,” said Lee Langston-Harrison, museum executive director. “We are very fortunate to have it preserved although she only wrote from January to September of 1863. We don't know why she quit writing.”
Langston-Harrison said that Armstrong survived the war and later married John Roberts Turner of JEB Stuart's Black Horse Calvary, mustered in Fauquier County under Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee.
Visitors can look at a timeline for 1863, and also turn back to previous timelines from 1861 and 1862.
On display are a number of weapons used during the war as well as a sword made in 1863 and patterned after a Roman blade. On it is an eagle, symbol of the Federals and also of ancient Rome. There is also a Confederate frock coat, one of only 10 known to exist.
“By the end of the war, there was little textile production left in the South and Confederate soldiers were very poorly dressed,” said Langston-Harrison.
On Jan. 1, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation was mainly symbolic as it freed slaves in states over which the Union had no control. However, said Langston-Harrison, many slaves in Southern states began leaving when they could get away.
“Sallie writes that their slaves left one day and left a grandmother behind and that the woman cried for a week,” said Langston-Harrison. “She mentions 'good Yankees' – Union soldiers placed there to guard the crops. She says one soldier helped granny with the laundry and the gardening and writes that now she, Sallie, would have to do all the work and that she finds it to be not that hard.”
The women of Culpeper focused on a ball that was held June 4 at Auburn, right before Lee held a grand review of the troops. A painting by Mort Koestler titled “Before the Ball” memorializes the event and a similar dance was held last weekend at the Inn of Kelly's Ford, near the site of the March 17, 1863 battle.
The Civil War brought the first actual war photos, many of hem taken by Matthew Brady.
“He also sent apprentices to shoot everyday life and not just battlefield,” said Langston-Harrison.
She said that “99 percent of the people who stayed in there homes did not have their homes destroyed by the Union Army. During much of 1863 in Culpeper there was still some crops and meat to be had, but it was also in that year that the concept of 'total war' (punishing civilians as well as soldiers) really hit home in Culpeper.”
Now much of what life was like in those days can be seen by local school children in their classrooms.
“We are building four traveling trunks that teacher's can borrow,” said Langston-Harrison. “For the first year they will be free and after that there will be a small rental fee. They can have a costumed interpreter if they desire and there are games and hands on activities and worksheets customized for the age group. And geared to the SOLs.”
Culpeper was 1863 very much a “hospital town,” Langston-Harrison said.
“The night before we opened a man came in to loan us a wooden leg used by a soldier named Brown from Greene County,” she said. “It's amazing how much people have in their private collections. A great majority of what is on display here is from local folks.”
The Museum of Culpeper History is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is free to town and county residents. Visitors who live outside Culpeper are charged a small entrance fee.
Although the museum receives some support from both the town and county of Culpeper, that represents less than 15 percent of expenses for a year, according to museum board treasurer Bob Kenefick.