CORSICANA — One hundred fifty years ago this week, the battle that changed the course of the Civil War took place far from Texas in Gettysburg, Penn.
This Saturday, artifacts from the Battle of Gettysburg, including a Confederate cavalry carbine, belt buckles, soldiers’ letters and post-battle photographs, go on public display in the exhibit “Gettysburg: Standing With Desperate Bravery” at Navarro College’s Pearce Museum in Corsicana.
A Union army led by Gen. George Meade blunted a Northern offensive by Southern Gen. Robert E. Lee and his troops in the bloody three-day battle, from July 1 to 3, 1863. About 50,000 soldiers died in the fighting and although the war would continue for nearly another two years, many consider Gettysburg the turning point.
Opening day activities for the exhibit, which features items on loan from the Gettysburg National Military Park and the Library of Congress, include three lectures on Gettysburg topics, Civil War reenactors in period dress and children’s activities.
Lecturers and their topics are Richard McCaslin of the University of North Florida, on Confederate general Robert E. Lee and his acceptance of blame for the Confederate defeat; Navarro College’s Tommy Stringer, Lincoln’s Gettyburg Address and its impact; and Texas Christian University’s Steven Woodworth, the significance of the Battle of Gettysburg.
“Gettysburg: Standing With Desperate Bravery” complements the Pearce Museum’s collection of Civil War letters, which numbers some 15,000 documents.
“It’s the first loan we’ve had from a major battlefield. Having objects for people to look at is a pretty unique experience for us,” said Pearce Museum archivist Jennifer Coleman.
The Pearce collection, started by Charles and Peggy Pearce, includes letters from both Union and Confederate sides in the four-year War Between the States, the bloodiest conflict in American history.
“Ours is more focused on the common soldier than the big name guys, the guy in the field eating hardtack and complaining about not having washed his clothes in more than a month,” Coleman said.
The Pearce Museum’s exhibition of Civil War letters follow a rough
chronology of the war as attitudes shift from optimism that the fighting would end in a matter of months to despair at the war’s length and a deep longing for family members at home.
The Gettysburg artifacts, on display until December, include a rusted carbine from a Confederate cavalryman, recovered from the battlefield; buckles from Union soldier cartridge box belts; a bayonet; a North Carolina soldier’s hand-drawn map of the battlefield; a Union surgeon’s war journal with a scrap of Confederate battle flag; and a letter from Union general Meade.
It also includes remarkably detailed photographs reprinted from glass slide negatives in the Library of Congress. “You can see the eyelets on soldiers’ uniforms and even how they combed their beards,” Coleman said.
The Gettysburg sesquicentennial also lines up with the Pearce Museum’s 10th anniversary, whose celebration continues in September with a western art show, “A New Look at the West,” said museum director Holly Beasley Wait.