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Historical society putting in bid for Westmoreland colonel's Civil War garb

| Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, 12:20 a.m.
The Civil War collection of Col. Thomas Foster Gallagher, a New Alexandria native, includes two frock coats, two sashes, a sword belt, trunk, saddle and horse tack.

Dressed in the signature blue of the Union Army, Col. Thomas Foster Gallagher led forces into battle during the Civil War.

Now, the Westmoreland County Historical Society is hoping to lead the New Alexandria native's military accoutrements home again.

“It couldn't be more pertinent to Westmoreland County,” society board member and collections committee chairman John Mickinak said of the extensive collection of military items providing a direct link between the county and one of its war heroes.

But the historical society is working against the clock.

The group has just 13 days to gather enough donations for Mickinak to successfully bid for the collection, consisting of two frock coats, two sashes, a sword belt, a trunk and a horse tack, at a Nov. 2 auction.

During the war, Gallagher was captured by Confederate forces in Virginia but was released and later fought during the September 1862 Battle of South Mountain, the name given to the Blue Ridge Mountains as they enter Maryland.

During that skirmish, as Union soldiers continued their pursuit of Gen. Robert E. Lee's forces, Gallagher was severely wounded, one of 1,800 Union troops and 1,500 Confederate troops wounded in the battle.

Shortly after, Gallagher returned to New Alexandria, where he remained until his death in 1883, just shy of his 62nd birthday. He is buried in the New Alexandria Union Cemetery.

The items set for auction were passed down through generations of Gallagher's family and tucked away in attics for safekeeping until recently, when members of the family decided the relics should be put up for sale by Massachusetts-based Skinner Auctioneers.

Westmoreland Historical Society Executive Director Lisa Hays said the goal is to secure $20,000 in pledges by Oct. 30 to send Mickinak to Boston where he will bid for the items. The funds will only be collected from donors if the society is the successful bidder, Hays said.

Society officials estimate that bidding could reach $15,000, with the winner responsible for an additional 20 percent fee payable to the auction house, she said.

If the society prevails, Hays said the first order of business will be to clean and preserve the items, she said.

“We want to give it the attention that it deserves,” Hays said.

Hays said Gallagher's blue jacket with neat gold buttons and vibrant red sash could be a display at the society's proposed History Education Center in Hanna's Town. The society currently is undertaking a campaign to raise $4.3 million for construction of the center.

“We would be proud to include the Gallagher collection in an exhibit in that center,” Hays said.

Celebrations were held statewide this year to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, including three days of re-enactments in Gettysburg. During the four-year Civil War, about 625,000 soldiers perished. The war was won by Union forces and ended slavery.

“That makes it all the more timely for us to try to get this collection back,” Hays said.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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