Taking a step back in time with exhibit
Civil War life featured in Historic Fort Steuben Visitors Center exhibit
STEUBENVILLE — For the next three weeks, Historic Fort Steuben Visitors Center is offering area residents a glimpse of life during the Civil War.
The exhibit celebrates the 160th anniversary of a speech then-President-elect Abraham Lincoln delivered in Steubenville on Feb. 14, 1861, just two months before Confederate troops would fire on Fort Sumter, the first shots in the Civil War.
“We thought it was an appropriate way to commemorate his visit here on his way to his inauguration,” Historic Fort Steuben Director Paul Zuros said. “It was such an important event in American history.”
Lincoln spent only 15 minutes in Steubenville, just long enough for him to address the crowd from a platform “at the lower end of Market Street, in immediate connection with the Pittsburgh & Cleveland railroad.”
“There may be a dispute as to what are our rights under the Constitution,” Lincoln had told the crowd. “To decide this, a judge is wanted. Can you think of any other judge than the voice of the majority? If it does not control, the minority must. Would that be any more just or generous? Though the majority may be wrong, and I will not undertake to say that they were not wrong in electing me, yet we must adhere to the principle that the majority shall rule…”
Zuros said Lincoln’s visit, although short, “was a monumental event in our history.”
“It really could be seen as a tangible beginning of Steubenville’s role in the following years of the Civil War,” he said. “It wasn’t long after his visit here … that he called for 75,000 troops to quell the rebellion in the southern states in which Steubenville answered the call.
“It was also a way for our local area to play a part, not only in the inauguration of Lincoln, but in the many other ways that (this area) contributed to the war effort, from the brave soldiers and the goods that were made here, and the native personalities like Secretary of War Stanton and David Bates, Lincoln’s telegraph operator, that were all a product of our city. To have an exhibit like this in Steubenville brings the realities of Civil War to life and, more importantly, pays respect and honor to the memory of those contributions and our important place in American history.”
Zuros said the exhibit uses objects and artifacts to tell the story of the Civil War: An extensive collection of maps, a compass, uniforms, one of them a West Point cadet’s. There’s a tattered drum from the Continental Drug Corps autographed by the men who played it, bugles, shots and shells, swords, canteens, pocket watches, medicine bottles, a doctor’s kit, a McClellan saddle, saddlebags, and flags — one a South Carolina flag and the other a beautiful but tattered 34-star flag carried by the 2nd Ohio Independent Company Sharpshooters into battles like Mount Zion, Fort Donelson and Shiloh.
“More than likely it (the U.S. flag) was the one they carried in battle,” he said. “With 34 stars, it was made after January 1861, but before June 20, 1863, when West Virginia was born out of the Civil War and became the 35th state.”
Union Cemetery also loaned the museum the historic cannon donated by the Steubenville Militiamen who’d served during the war. Zuros said the cannon, which normally stands guard over the veteran’s section, was fired during Morgan’s Raid. That may have been the last time it was fired in anger.”
There are also text panels that attempt to explain the Civil War and its impact on the Ohio Valley, and a poignant collection of letters written by service men, some of the prisoners of war, to wives, mothers and sweethearts back home.
“Seeing objects from that time period, it just brings it all together,” Zuros said. “It connects us to history in a way you don’t get from a textbook.”
There are books and memoirs as well as historically significant signatures: In addition to Lincoln, they include Civil War Generals Phillip Sheridan, William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant, as well as Frederick Douglas and Treasury Secretary Salmon.
“Think about those people and their impact on American history,” Zuros said.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and weekends from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
While there, visitors can also grab a guide to nearly 20 points of interest from the Civil War era, including the Edwin Stanton Monument (301 Market St.); the site of the old U.S. Hotel, which counted among its guests Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes; the Steubenville Female Seminary, which educated young women from both sides of the conflict; the original Market House, which once stood in the green space opposite the courthouse; Camp Steubenville, three miles south of Mingo Junction, where Union soldiers assigned to the 98th and 126th Ohio Volunteer Infantry once trained; and the home of Robert Sherrard at Fourth and Washington streets, also demolished, who’d led two regiments of Union Solders to intercept the Confederate Morgan’s Raiders in 1864, preventing them from entering West Virginia.