The National Civil War Museum
I am a volunteer for the National civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, at Reservoir Park. I have been a volunteer there for well over a decade. Probably close to 15 years. I usually only work one or two days a week when my schedule permits me to do so because of other things I’m involved in as well as the several medical and dental appointments I have each year. I have an alter ego while I work there and go by the name of General Horacio Ludwig von Hassell which was given to me by a friend who owns and operates the best Civil War bookstore in Mechanicsburg, PA where I reside. I wear a Civil War Generals hat plus a museum uniform. Why this General? Good question, well he was an aide to General George Meade who was the victor of the Battle of Gettysburg.
The museum opened in 2001 because the former Mayor of Harrisburg Stephen Reed, now deceased, had the idea to design and build a museum that could house his wide collection of Civil War artifacts. Why did he choose Harrisburg for this museum? Well, here is the answer back: in late June 1863 Robert E. Lee, the Confederate Commanding officer of the army of Northern Virginia, talked to Confederate States of America President, Jefferson Davis, about his plan to take the war out of Virginia and to invade the North. So, Lee and his army began the long march to invade the north and they crossed the Potomac River at Williamsport, Maryland where there was sporadic fighting with Union troops. Once they go to Pennsylvania, Lee’s different divisions were located in York, Carlisle, Chambersburg, PA. The people of Chambersburg and Carlisle were ordered to feed the Confederate troops but they refused, causing the town of Carlisle to be bombed by the troops. Buildings are damaged and Chambersburg is burned down. In Mechanicsburg, PA, where I live, the town’s people were also ordered to feed the troops and provide money so the town surrendered to a Calvary brigade. However, Lee’s real plan all along was to capture Harrisburg, PA and to turn northern sentiments and to destroy the army of the Potomac somewhere in PA. Now in Harrisburg, Union troops were trained at Camp Curtain, which would be located nearby where the Farm show complex is located today.
Where is the national civil War museum located? The museum is located at 1 Lincoln Circle at Reservoir Park in Harrisburg, PA. The main entrance to the museum is located at National Civil War Museum Drive, where you can turn left onto Chamberlain Drive and park in the lower parking lot. Once you park, you can expect to see a sculpture of two soldiers called “Moment of Mercy.” You also have a spectacular view of part of Harrisburg City since Reservoir park is located on a very high hill. You will enter a large rotunda and on the floor of the rotunda there is a star compass pointing East, West, North and South because the museum faces all four directions. To start your tour, you can climb a large staircase or for those who need a wheelchair or have trouble walking there is an elevator to take you to the second floor where the first part of the museum begins. The entrance fee for touring the museum tickets are adults – $16, Military -$14, seniors – $15, Students -$14 and children are free. Tickets can be purchased at the bookstore where you can also buy shirts, hats, magazines, posters currency books, Christmas ornaments, and other souvenirs.
There are 17 different exhibits in the museum all in all there are over 27,000 artifacts in the museum! Let me take you through some of the exhibit halls below:
1. A House Divided 1850 -1860: A time line of incidents and issues prior to the civil war.
2. American Slavery: The Peculiar Institution, 1850 – 1860: Presents slavery as scene by 19th century Americans.
3. First Shots, 1861: Depicts the firing on fort Sumter, South Carolina.
4. Making of Armies: Focuses on the recruitment, training, equipping of Armies.
5. Weapons and Equipment: A world class collection of artifacts
6. Campaigns and Battles: An overview of tactics, strategies, and logistics of the early campaigns of the civil War.
7. Battle Map, 1861 -1862: Depicts the theater of war, the geography, and topography that effected troop movement.
8. Camp Curtin: The largest Union camp of the Civil War located here in Harrisburg.