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Monday, April 20, 2015

National Civil War Museum

Hi Blog! Today is Monday, April 20, 2015. We are staying in a campground new Lancaster, PA in order to get our Truck and RV inspected. This morning we dropped Great White off at the Lancaster Freightliner Service Center. Since we are expecting rain and thunderstorms today, we looked for some local indoor activity. Unfortunately, many museums are closed on Monday. After looking at a dismal list of movies in the area, we decided to visit the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.

The Museum is located in Reservoir Park, which sits high above the City of Harrisburg. The original portion of the park dates to 1845. In 1872, a reservoir for the City of Harrisburg was built in an undeveloped area outside the city limits, then called Prospect Hill (now Allison Hill). City leaders recognized the spot as a wonderful vantage point to view the State Capitol, the Susquehanna River Valley and the Blue Mountains and, in 1890, officially established the area around the reservoir as a park. The park is the highest point in the city. Here is the spectacular view:

The museum is located in a two-story brick building. The exhibits and self-guided tour begin on the second floor of the museum and continue on the first floor. There is a gift shop, temporary exhibit gallery, and museum support on the first floor.

After paying our admission fee, we headed upstairs to get a better understanding of the entire Civil War. During our travels, we have visited a number of Civil War sites, but this is the first place that attempts to explain the entire conflict and the implications it had on our country as a whole. Each exhibit shows both the North and South perspectives. The museum uses a mix of life-sized dioramas, artifact displays, narrative texts, live actor video and educational lectures. Here is an example of the life-size diorama of the first shots fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.

As you start your journey, you are introduced to a number of characters that talk about their situation - whether it be farmer, businessman, plantation owner, blacksmith or slave, both North and South. In each exhibit room, there are videos of these characters describing their thoughts and feelings during that time of the conflict. There are also plenty of artifacts on display.

The Museum doesn't pull any punches. It discusses the good, the bad and the ugly. While not visually graphic, it does describe the horrors of war.

The most impressive exhibit in the Museum was Meet Mr. Lincoln. The interactive display lets you choose from a list of hundreds of questions to ask President Lincoln. The actor who portrays Lincoln answers those questions based on historical answers Mr. Lincoln gave during his life.  By clicking on the link above, you too can Meet Mr. Lincoln.

The final exhibit dealt with the reconstruction of the South and the emancipation of the slaves. Here Kathy stands next to Ephraim Slaughter, an escaped slave who joined Company B of the 3rd North Carolina Colored Infantry, which was renumbered as the 37th United States Colored Troops. Ephraim Slaughter died on February 17, 1943 at the age of 95 as one of Harrisburg's last surviving Civil War soldiers, and was buried with honors in Lincoln Cemetery in Penbrook, Pennsylvania.

Just outside the Museum is the "Walk of Valor," consisting of red bricks bearing the names of Civil War veterans who have been honored by their surviving descendants. The tall US flag is surrounded by masses of both blue and gray small flags.

The National Civil War Museum had a rocky start, with the Mayor of Harrisburg accursed of bankrupting the city, while still buying millions of dollars of Civil War memorabilia for his pet project. Today, most of the turmoil has passed and the Museum is now affiliated with the Smithsonian. If you are interested in U.S. history, this is will be worth a stop.

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