The New York State Military Museum is preparing a major new Civil War exhibit using some of its many artifacts from the nation’s bloodiest war.
“It’s such a large subject, we will break it down into manageable segments,” said Courtney Burns, the museum’s chief curator.
The exhibit is called “Empire for Union” and it will outline and explain the part soldiers from New York State played in the Civil War.
On the eve of the Civil War (1861-65), the New York militia was larger than the United States Army. Burns said the state militia numbered more than 19,000 soldiers while the pre-war U.S. Army numbered just 15,000.
Once war was declared in 1861, the Union Army expanded quickly, incorporating militias into its ranks.
The exhibit will be installed at the east end of the museum at 61 Lake Ave. in Saratoga Springs.
A large exhibit called “The Company Room,” a typical New York National Guard company room from the early 20th century, and an older Civil War display have been removed for the new “core” Civil War exhibit, said Michael Aikey, museum director.
Aikey said the exhibit is being mounted as part of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War (2011-2015). The Friends of the New York State Military Museum, a nonprofit organization, has raised over $50,000 for the exhibit.
Museum officials expect the exhibit to be completed in late March but no opening date has yet been set.
The museum’s collection was started in 1863 and has an enormous number of Civil War artifacts, some of which will be part of the new exhibit.
Burns said he and other museum staff members are working with a contractor, The Exhibition Alliance of Hamilton. He said the museum provides a list of artifacts and text for display panels as well as photos.
The consultants, a nonprofit organization, take this material and suggest a layout. “We have a back-and-forth discussion” about how the exhibit will be designed.
“We are approaching the construction phase,” Burns said.
Burns said the beauty of many of the museum’s Civil War artifacts is that they come with a clear history: who donated the artifact, where it came from, and what it means.
One artifact, for example, is a Confederate jacket purchased by a Union soldier in the 4th New York Heavy Artillery after he was captured by rebels during the 1864 siege of Petersburg and jailed in North Carolina’s Salisbury Prison. Burns said Union soldier James Hughes paid a rebel soldier $15 for the coat and wore it for six months prior to being freed, when the war ended.
“We are trying to make this personal, connecting it to New York and New Yorkers,” Burns said.
The exhibit will have subsections on the New York’s special and ethnic units, war manufacturing, camp life, prisoners of war and field hospitals.