Apollo Area Historical Society's Civil War series highlights lesser-known local heroes
The Apollo Area Historical Society kicks off its Civil War speaker and re-enactor series this weekend with a talk about local and, sometimes, little-known Civil War heroes.
The series' first speaker will be Ray Rusz, a member of the society and a North Apollo resident. Rusz found his way to local Civil War history when he started showing interest in becoming a battlefield guide at Gettysburg.
When he started researching the battle, he discovered a local connection — Gen. Samuel McCartney Jackson of Apollo.
According to Rusz, Jackson started Company G, which fought from the beginning of the war to the end. The company was composed of Apollo residents and, according to Crawford, the commanding officer of the Pennsylvania reserves, Jackson and his men “saved the day at Gettysburg, because they stopped the rebels from attacking and taking over Devil's Den, the Peach Orchard, and places like that,” Rusz says.
Jackson became a notable resident beyond the war, as well. He served as a state senator, state congressman, secretary of the treasury and started the Apollo Trust Co.
In all, Apollo contributed about two-and-a-half companies, or 250 soldiers, from a male population of only 449, he says.
But Rusz plans to talk about other local communities and soldiers.
Namely, there was John Guthrie who formed a drafted militia unit of 100 soldiers from Freeport, Leechburg and Vandergrift. Sirwell formed the 78th regiment of nearly 1,000 men who fought throughout Tennessee and Kentucky, and were part of Sherman's march to the sea. David Rupp, a local soldier, witnessed the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. Alfred Hicks of Leechburg was in Forbes Theater the night President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
The 139th Company E out of Apollo included 50 soldiers from the surrounding area. Thirty of them were ages 15 to 20, Rusz says.
“They had one of the highest casualty rates during the Civil War,” he says. “That's something that the people around this area just don't know. The people should know what goes on in their own backyard. It's our own local history. When I do these talks, people say, ‘I didn't know that. I didn't know this.”
In the midst of the 150th anniversary years of the war, the society felt a Civil War series would be appropriate and of interest to the community.
In addition to the speaker series, the organization plans to restore a Civil War cannon in Apollo Cemetery and rededicate it, hopefully with a wartime re-enactment June 15. The time of the event has yet to be determined.
The series will continue in April with a portrayal of Clara Barton, a teacher, nurse, and the founder of the American Red Cross.
Following a break in the summer, in September, Ken Williams will give a talk about the basics of the war. A final re-enactment, Thom Gressman portraying Lorenzo Barber, known as the fighting parson, will be in October.
Sue Ott, a Kiski Township resident responsible for organizing the series schedule, says she hopes the community will take full advantage of this opportunity to connect with a small part of our history.
“It's immensely valuable,” Ott says.
“History itself needs to be learned. I think, we today, tend to overlook the value of it. I don't think our kids appreciate it. I know I didn't when I was younger. This will be something interesting that will, hopefully, get younger people involved, and everyone will come out and listen.”