New National Civil War Museum Strives to Present Balanced View

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The campaign was long and hard and the fighting fierce, but Harrisburg now has its museum to the War Between the States.

The National Civil War Museum, a $38.5 million project that traces the history of the four-year conflict that pitted North against South, opened last week on a hill overlooking the city.

"It's not just about the battles, but about the times in which they were fought," said Gov. Tom Ridge, who opened the museum with Harrisburg Mayor Stephen R. Reed before a crowd of about 500 people, including Civil War re-enactors representing both sides of the conflict. "Visitors will know why Gen. William T. Sherman said, 'War is hell,' and why it had to be fought anyway."

Operators of the 66,000-square-foot museum are describing it as the only one that tells about the entire Civil War and presents both sides in balance. Other museums, they said, focus on a single battle or a specific aspect of the war.

To accomplish the task, curators are relying on a collection of more than 12,000 artifacts that Reed began buying in 1992, sometimes to the grumbling of critics. About 10 percent of the items will be on display at any time.

The $17 million that the city spent on the collection has brought in implements of history such as the stovepipe-shaped box that held Abraham Lincoln's hat in 1860, Gen. Robert E. Lee's pocket Bible, and a sash and cap belonging to Maj. Gen. George Edward Pickett. The dapper Virginian's name is permanently linked to Pickett's Charge, the unsuccessful Confederate assault that ended the Battle of Gettysburg.

The state contributed $16.2 million toward construction of the two-story building.

A gun kit given to members of Col. Hiram Berdan's 1st U.S. Sharpshooters, a Union unit known for its deadly marksmanship, includes a small card with this advice: "Trust in God, keep the sight straight and powder dry. …