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Hampton museum exhibit helps tell story of the Civil War

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
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This life-sized Civil War figure is of Kate McBride, a woman who made rifle cartridges at the Allegheny Arsenal, and it represents the women and children who toiled on the home front to support Union efforts during the war.
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This life-sized Civil War figure is of Strong Vincent, a young attorney from Erie, Pa., who rallied Union troops in the battle on Little Round Top with the phrase, 'Don't give an inch!'
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Dog Jack was a brown and white bull terrier who was adopted into Company F of the 102 nd Pennsylvania Volunteers.

Battle of Gettysburg hero Strong Vincent — an Erie County attorney who mobilized Union troops on Little Round Top — is among the life-size, life-like characters in a traveling Civil War exhibit opening April 12 at the Depreciation Lands Museum in Hampton.

“The Civil War in Pennsylvania,” a 500-square-foot display, also presents Pittsburgh abolitionist Martin Delaney, the Civil War's highest ranking black officer; Gettysburg teenager Tillie Pierce, who carried water to troops; and Kate McBride, a girl who worked at Allegheny Arsenal in Lawrenceville.

But the show's most visited star might be Dog Jack, a replica white bull terrier.

“He was apparently a stray that wandered into a fire station in the Strip District and was adopted by the firemen,” said Leslie Przybylek, curator of history at the Senator John Heinz History Center, which created the traveling exhibit.

“When the men enlisted in the Civil War, the dog went with them. … At one point, all of the men pitched in and bought him a fine silver collar,” Przybylek said.

“The dog disappeared during a campaign in, I believe, Maryland,” Przybylek said. “The thought is that the dog most likely was killed for the silver collar. There's no conclusive evidence.”

In conjunction with the exhibit's opening, the Pittsburgh Historical Music Society will present “Battle Cry of Freedom: Music of the Civil War” at 1 p.m. April 12 at the museum.

The concert will include readings of letters sent home from the battlefield by Civil War re-enactor Marilyn Sorvas of Collier Township.

“The major component of the exhibit is the set of figures,” Przybylek said. “Each figure is in its own self-contained environment ... and there are support materials around them, for example a pedestal that has a Civil War soldier's meal.

“Each one represents the experience of either a civilian or a soldier and their personalized example of that,” Przybylek said.

Kate McBride, another character depicted in the exhibit, died in the Sept. 17, 1862, explosion at the U.S. Allegheny Arsenal in Lawrenceville — the Civil War's worst industrial accident. Seventy women, plus a few boys and men, perished in the blast.

The Allegheny Arsenal employed many young women, such as McBride, to assemble the cartridges containing bullets and gunpowder that Civil War soldiers put in their rifles. The young women's nimble, small fingers suited such work, Przybylek said.

Life Formations of Bowling Green, Ohio, made the figures in the exhibit.

To complement the exhibit, the museum also is displaying its own War-era artifacts and those of local residents. The items include a Colt 1851 Navy revolver owned by retired Hampton police Lt. James Wyle and a museum-owned brocade gown worn by “Mrs. Laughlin” — of Jones & Laughlin Steel fame — to an affair for Abraham Lincoln.

Laura Lockard of Shaler is sharing items from her collection of Civil War-era sewing tools, including hand-carved ivory implements.

“I've got a ladies magazine that was published in 1861,” said Karen Parsons of Richland, the museum's volunteer coordinator.

Parsons also is displaying a coverlet, hand-woven in 1852 for her great-great grandmother.

“I think we have a nice variety of things coming,” Parsons said.

Exhibit hours are noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through May 6. The museum is at 4743 S. Pioneer Road. Admission for adults is $3 for members or $5 for non-members. For children ages 11 and younger, cost is $1 for members and $3 for non-members. For information, call 412-486-0563, or go to www.depreciationlandsmuseum.org.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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