Good Life

Museum tells stories the of North and South

The National Civil War Museum in Harriburg is the first museum in the country devoted to covering the entire war from the multiple perspectives of Union and Confederacy, black and white, general and private, soldier, politician, and plain, suffering citizen.
The National Civil War Museum in Harriburg is the first museum in the country devoted to covering the entire war from the multiple perspectives of Union and Confederacy, black and white, general and private, soldier, politician, and plain, suffering citizen. TNS file photo

Pennsylvania’s role in the Civil War immediately conjures images of Gettysburg — Union and Confederate armies clashing at Pickett’s Charge, repulsing the Confederate advance and turning the tide of war.

But what if you’ve already done the Gettysburg thing? You or your family has already toured the battlefields, the historic homes, even the ghost trails, but you want to experience more.

Just a short ride away is the National Civil War Museum.

The museum, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., promotes itself as “the only museum in the United States that portrays the entire story of the American Civil War” without bias to Union or Confederate causes.

The two-floor museum in Harrisburg is an hour and 40 minutes from State College on U.S. Routes 322 and 22. It in Reservoir Park, the largest municipal park in the city at 85 acres.

This collection of artifacts, manuscripts, documents and other printed matter portrays the war as a time line.

More than 24,000 items are on display in exhibits throughout the museum, which opened in 2001.

The museum emphasizes the “human side” of the conflict, according to the website, displaying materials on the common soldiers and men and women on the home front, while military pieces cover the full range of the combatants’ experience — weapons, equipment, wounds, being a prisoner-of-war and mental drain.

A large majority of artifacts were collected by the city of Harrisburg between 1994 and 1999 under Mayor Stephen Reed, the website said.

“I proudly consider our museum to be one of the premier American Civil War museums in the country,” museum CEO Wayne Motts wrote in a message. “Our mission is to serve as a national center to inspire lifelong learning of the American Civil War through the preservation and balanced presentation of the American peoples’ struggles for survival and healing.”

Along with the physical exhibitions, visitors can interact with Abraham Lincoln in a “Meet Mr. Lincoln” exhibit. Using a touch screen, visitors can ask an actor portraying Lincoln questions such as, “When and where were you born?” and “How do you feel your early years influenced your life?”

Visitors can also interact with other historic figures who knew Lincoln, including his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

But there’s more than just what’s in the museum itself to entertain visitors. Living history encampments are scheduled for various weekends throughout the summer, giving attendees the chance to ask historians questions about attire, food rations and daily life, as well as watch musket loading and firing demonstrations.

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