The Trust's newest exhibit: The Fiery Trial: York County's Civil War Experience, highlights York County's and the South Central Pennsylvania Region's national role in perhaps the United States' greatest conflict, from its beginnings in the 1820s to its enduring legacy.
Introducing the Top 10 Must-See Artifacts:
Every week we will feature a favorite artifact, selected by our staff, from The Fiery Trial exhibit, currently on display at the Historical Society Museum.
Artifact #10: Telegraph Machine
The operational and interactive telegraph equipment on display in The Fiery Trial is on loan from the Morse Telegraph Club, Inc. The objects were also used on the set of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
Today communication is instantaneous; you can be connected with another person at a moment’s notice via cell phones.
The telegraph revolutionized communication. The system of dots & dashes developed by Samuel Morse was critical to Union success. Abraham Lincoln was the first president who utilized telegraph lines as a means of communicating with his troops in a timely manner. Battlefield reports were transmitted and new orders could be dispensed directly to the field.
Innovations like the telegraph not only changed the way wars were fought; it changed the way people lived.
Artifact #9: Tree Trunk with Artillery Shell
“But here a new revelation of the brutality of war was presented to my eyes. No imagination could paint the picture in that wood. I instinctively recoiled from the sight.” – Mary Caldwell Fisher on visiting a Gettysburg field hospital after the battle
This tree trunk, embedded with artillery shells, is attributed to the Battle of Gettysburg. York resident Joseph Smyser recalled hearing the battle in York 30 miles away as “…the cannonading was terrific, could hear it distinctly in York.”
On fields that once originally comprised York County, the bloodiest battle fought on the North American Continent, Gettysburg took place July 1- 3, 1863. The duel between the Army of the Potomac and Northern Army of Virginia resulted in more than 50,000 casualties. In the aftermath, the battle has been considered a major turning point in the war.
Lewis Miller also has s ketch on this and states the battle could be heard in York too (interesting conversation on acoustic shadow for the noise carrying many miles) Accounts can be found from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh of the July 3rd cannonading being heard.
Artifact #8: Pay Voucher, 1862
Jacob Wiest, father of Harrison, received this note to get payment for Harrison’s salary from July 1862 to his death in November. Harrison’s four month salary was over $150.00. Jacob later enlisted with the 200th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in 1864. Jacob served as Captain and commander of Company H. This voucher is a rare example as most were turned in and destroyed during the war. It also offers an emotional connection between father and son, highlighting their sacrifice to their country and beliefs.
Private Harrison Clay Wiest of Company I of the 107th was wounded at Antietam. Wiest was transferred back to his home town of York to recover at the U.S. General Hospital. The wound proved to be mortal, as Wiest died at the Hospital two months later. Wiest is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery.
Artifact #7: Charles Shetter's Grave Marker
Wooden Grave Marker of Charles Shetter
In South Central Pennsylvania, as a response to fears of a Confederate invasion in 1862, in late August, Pennsylvania recruited additional soldiers to serve in nine month units and in local militia guards. Known as the “emergency men” the 130th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment was recruited from most of the region’s counties. Mustered in Harrisburg, the undrilled troops saw their first major combat at Antietam.
During the Battle of Antietam, fought on September 17, 1862 the 130th lead an attack on Confederate positions holding the famous “Bloody Lane.” The 130th charged the center of the Confederate line facing the 6th Alabama Regiment, commanded by Colonel John B. Gordon.
During the 130th’s assault, Private Charles Shetter of Company B was wounded. The wound proved fatal as Shetter died two days later. The body of Shetter was later brought back to his hometown of York. He rests in Prospect Hill Cemetery.
Known as the “Bloodiest Day” in American history the Battle of Antietam ended as a draw. The single day battle cost 23, 583 Americans, nearly evenly split with 13,000 from the South and 11,000 from the North. President Abraham Lincoln used the outcome of the battle as the thrust to issue a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that formally went into effect on January 1, 1863.
Artifact #6: Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1852
two volume set of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s publishing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852 showcased the realities of slavery. The 1.5 million copies sold in America and England by 1853, brought the issue of American slavery to the attention of the general public. Political events throughout the 1850s furthered the divide between north and south.
President & CEOArtifact #5: Broadside, Ford's Theatre
Ford’s Theater Broadside for “Our American Cousin”
“News came early this morning that Lincoln was shot last night, Seward badly stabbed. I have still some hope it is not so.” John Beidler, York County resident April 15, 1865
Less than a week after Robert E. Lee’s surrender, on April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater while watching a comedy play “Our American Cousin.” Lincoln died the following morning. The news of the President’s death saddened the entire nation.
The assassin, 26-year-old John Wilkes Booth was an internationally acclaimed actor, once publicized as “the handsomest man in the Nation.” Booth, along with a band of conspirators planned to assassinate Lincoln, Grant, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward. Booth was the only one of his group to succeed. Booth escaped from the theater, aided, it was believed by some, by theater employee Edman (Ned) Spangler.
Twelve years earlier John Wilkes Booth attended Bland’s School or Academy, also known as the Sherwood School located in York.
Born in York in 1825, Spangler was later charged as a conspirator, but was only convicted of aiding and abetting Booth’s escape. After serving four years of a six year sentence, President Andrew Johnson pardoned Spangler. Afterward, Spangler wrote that he never knew Booth’s full intentions and was associated with him from the time he was a boy.
Daniel Roe, Director of Education
Artifact #4: Brass Portrait Lens, 1867
Patented brass portrait lens by London optician J. H. Dallmeyer, who founded his camera company in 1860. U.S. patent date, June 11, 1867. With the development of photography rapidly advancing through the 1840s and 1850s the Civil War, marked one of the first times warfare was graphically documented for the American public. Following the Battle of Antietam in September of 1862, Matthew Brady’s New York City gallery displayed images called “The Dead of Antietam.” The images were some of the first photographs of war brought to the American public. The New York Times stated, "Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it…."
President & CEO
Artifact Number 3: William Franklin's Writing Desk
William Franklin, a York native and perhaps the most famous Civil War general you never heard of, served as a Major General in the Union’s Army of the Potomac. Graduating first in his United States Military Academy class of 1843, Franklin oversaw the construction of the United States Capitol dome in 1859. Upon the outbreak of war, Franklin advanced quickly through the Union ranks. Franklin’s military career was ruined when he was blamed for the Union defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862.
Reassigned to the western theater in 1864, Franklin was wounded and never assumed another command. Franklin later left the military, and rose to the position of Vice President at the Colt Firearms Manufacturing Company, located in Hartford, Connecticut. He is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery.
Katie Lamb, Marketing Intern
Artifact Number 2: Jacob Crist's Bible
“I saw an open field …so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing, in any direction, stepping on dead bodies, without a foot touching the ground.” - Ulysses S. Grant on the Battle of Shiloh April 6 -7, 1862.
Jacob Crist’s New Testament Pocket Bible, printed by the American Bible Society, 1861.
Born in York in 1829, Jacob Crist migrated to Iowa before the start of the Civil War. In the fall of 1861, Crist enlisted with the 14th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
At the Battle of Shiloh, the 14th saw some of the heaviest fighting of the battle in an area called the “Hornet’s Nest.” Crist, like so many other soldiers carried his bible in action. During the fighting, Crist’s bible prevented a bullet from piercing his heart, deflecting it downward. Crist survived the war and returned to York County, residing in Wellsville until his death in 1893.
Union commander Ulysses S. Grant took credit for victory at Shiloh. However, the battle brought the magnitude of war into the national discussion as the 62,000 men engagement cost the Union 13,000 and the Confederates 10,000 soldiers killed, wounded or missing.
Lila Fourhman-Shaull, Director of Library & Archives
Artifact Number 1: John Brown's Pikes
On October 16, 1859 fanatical abolitionist John Brown planned to raid the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) to secure firearms and other weapons and distribute them to slaves throughout the south. Believing that most of the slave population was untrained in the use of firearms, Brown prepared by contracting with Charles Blair, a blacksmith near his home town of Collinsville, Connecticut, to make 1,000 specially designed pikes. In late September 1859, Blair shipped 954 pikes south to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Blair shipped the wooden handles separately, calling them “forks” (for farm implements) and the blades as axes. From there, local merchants delivered them to Brown in Sharpsburg, Maryland. Brown’s raid failed, as he eventually surrendered to United States Marines under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee. The event and the quick execution of Brown in December moved the nation closer to war.
Of the 954 pikes produced, the two examples on display in The Fiery Trial offer a rare physical connection to an event that brought the country to the verge of civil war.
All of Brown’s men were either killed or captured; except for one, Osborne Perry Anderson. Anderson made his way into south central Pennsylvania, and later wrote that he “… received nourishment…” in York, Pennsylvania. It is likely that William Goodridge helped the fugitive Anderson, hiding him for three weeks in his building on center square. Anderson eventually made his way safely to Canada.
Daniel Roe, Director of Education
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