WALLA WALLA — Fort Walla Walla Museum has assembled original Civil War artifacts from private collections — several that are unusual and extremely rare — for a special exhibit titled “Civil War: From the Battlefield to the Home.”
The exhibit opens today and continues through February.
During the height of the Civil War, Walla Walla was a tiny, newly incorporated town far from the scene of battle, but its citizens watched as troops headed east from Fort Walla Walla to serve with the Union Army.
The exhibit will show visitors what ordinary life was like at the time, for those soldiers and their families on the homefront.
Nearly 300 items carried by Union soldiers and more than 80 articles used at home are featured.
The exhibit also commemorates Fort Walla Walla’s official connections with the Civil War, which include visits by such key military figures as Brig. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, who led troops in 26 battles, from Bull Run to Gettysburg, and Ulysses S. Grant, who later took charge of Union forces.
Inspired by last summer’s very popular two-day Civil War exhibit, this new exhibit was created with the assistance of a recent private cash donation.
Visitors will see separate displays of items used by artillery, cavalry and infantry soldiers and a large assortment of firearm accessories, belt buckles, buttons and personal items.
There is a wide array of objects carried into battle, from weapons and accouterments to a portable shaving mirror and bone-handled toothbrush.
One unusual display includes a collection of all the colorful wool cords used to adorn the Hardy hats worn by enlisted men from different branches of service, including artillery, cavalry, dragoons, engineers, hospital steward, infantry, ordnance and riflemen.
“Several of these cords are extremely rare; this is one of a few complete sets,” said museum director James Payne in a release.
A model 1840 Dragoon waist belt shown “may be the only one in existence.
“After decades of research, military equipment expert R. Stephen Dorsey was unable to locate an example to include in his book ‘American Military and Naval Belts 1812-1902,’ the seminal work on this subject,” Payne said.
Another extremely rare item is a regulation U.S. army-issue axe carrier and sling. “The usefulness of this fragile leather item assured high sales in the post-Civil War civilian market. A relatively low production item, very few have survived,” Payne said.
Additional displays show artifacts associated with food preparation and other household activities, among them a candle mold, a bed warmer, an apple peeler patented in 1856 and colorful table ceramics used during the war years.
Through a partnership with Northwest Anthropology in Richland, a special display has been prepared on Brig. Gen. Howard.
In the 1870s, Howard served as commander of the District of the Columbia. In this capacity he visited Fort Walla Walla multiple times in an effort to keep peace between the settlers and regional Indian people. Museum visitors can see an original photograph of Howard taken by Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.
“Civil War: From the Battlefield to the Home,” overlaps with the museum’s heritage quilt show and a display of original 1860s dresses.
Other exhibits on the history of Fort Walla Walla are featured in the Museum’s Soldiers and Indian Peoples Gallery.
Information on the military presence of the region is available in the book “The Illustrated History of Fort Walla Walla” available at the Fort Walla Walla Museum Store.
A selection of other books and Civil War related items are also available in the Museum Store.
Children can learn about the insignia and different colors that represent some of the branches of service at a new hands-on station and explore the wooden play fort outside.
Fort Walla Walla Museum, 755 Myra Road, is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily through Sunday, and weekdays Jan. 2-March.
Admission is free to members, $5 for children ages 6-12, $6 for students and ages 62 and older, and $7 for adults. Online visit fortwallawallamuseum.org.