Friday, November 23, 2007
Local expert will discuss Carlisle's special collection of Civil War relics
How did the town of Carlisle become the home of the largest collection of Gettysburg Battle artifacts outside of Pennsylvania? And where is the collection now?
The man with all the answers is Dr. Paul Carpenter of Carlisle, who has done extensive
A key visit to Antietam
Carpenter is a self-described history enthusiast, but not a formally trained historian. He began researching the Civil War collection at the Historical Society's Heald House a few years ago. He traces his interest in the Civil War era to the time years ago when he was working in the Washington, D.C. area and visited Antietam in Maryland, which he described as "the best-preserved battlefield, like stepping back into time."
Carpenter credits Stephen W. Sears's book, Landscape Turned Red: Battle of Antietam, with deepening his interest in and knowledge of the Civil War. (Sears was in Carlisle not long ago, visiting his friend Charlie Forsberg. He toured the Civil War collection at Heald House, where he met Carpenter.)
"I started reading everything" on the subject, recalls Carpenter, and mentioned that his brother-in-law, a physician at the Mayo Clinic, studies Civil War medicine.
By profession, Carpenter is an economist, specializing in energy issues. He founded and is a principal in a consulting organization, the Brattle Group, in Cambridge. He and his wife Liz, a Historical Society board member, moved to Carlisle in 1990, and purchased the historical house in the town center built by Cyrus Nutting.
The Danner Collection
The collection at Heald House was originally one-third of a collection of Gettysburg relics owned by Joel Albertus Danner. As Carpenter explains it, the Gettysburg Battlefield is filled with monuments placed by "sentimental Americans" on both sides of the battle who came to visit the battlefield in the 1800s. Some monuments were gaudy, in Victorian style, and most were huge.
To cater to the crowds attracted to the battlefield, Danner established a museum in Gettysburg in 1865, rather like today's Visitor's Center. Danner sold his museum in the late 1890s and the collection was divided into three parts: one went to the state of Pennsylvania, another part was moved to Chicago, and the third piece "was rumored to have gone to Massachusetts, but no one knew where." The "where" is Carlisle.
Then there's the "how." How did the collection end up in Carlisle? Washington Irving Heald of Carlisle purchased the collection from Danner, shipped it to Carlisle and gave it to the town in 1915. The collection was stored in boxes on the third floor of the library ("the historical room") until the Historical Society purchased Heald House in 2002 and finally had room to display the artifacts.
And why was Heald interested in acquiring the collection? Carpenter has a theory on Heald's motivation, which he will reveal during his talk.
There are 109 items in the collection, of which about half are artillery shot and shells. "Artillery was in transition from the Revolutionary War to what would be World War I," explains Carpenter, and he is clearly pleased at the breadth and diversity of the artillery in the collection. He does report, however, some missing items over the years — "Reportedly confederate money was there, but it's gone now."
In addition, the collection includes some Whitworth projectiles from England. Apparently the Confederates had stolen two guns from a British ship and they were used at Gettysburg. The projectiles are now in Carlisle, prompting Carpenter to comment, "There are history lessons in our collection."
Carpenter says that identifying one of the Civil War cartridge boxes and finding the name of its owner, a member of the famous Michigan Iron Brigade, was "most exciting in a personal way" for him. He will tell the soldier's story in his talk.
For those who want to study up on the Civil War and especially Gettysburg before the talk, Carpenter recommends these books: James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (a Pulitzer-Prize winner); Douglas Southall Freeman, series of books on Civil War generals; T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and His Generals; Michael Shaara, Killer Angels; and Stephen W. Sears, Gettysburg. A 1993 movie that Carpenter has seen "about 20 times" is Gettysburg, an adaptation of Shaara's book, which he recommends despite some "hokey parts" and some scenes that never happened.
The Civil War collection will be available for viewing at the Historical Society's next open house on Sunday, December 9, 2 to 4 p.m.
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito