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Display highlights local connection to Civil War

Posted on Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 2:44 pm

This photo of a confederate soldier and many other Civil War artifacts were archived by the Tennessee State Library on Friday at City Hall

Tullahoma has a rich history tied to the Civil War, and a special memorabilia gathering at City Hall Thursday showcased just how close the present is linked to the past.

Representatives from the Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Tennessee State Museum were at hand for several hours to record and digitize Civil War memorabilia owned by local residents for a new exhibit.

With gloved hands, the archivists carefully scanned, described, and documented the materials, some of which will be featured in an online exhibit commemorating the 150th anniversary of the war titled, “Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee.”

A steady stream of area residents brought in a variety of photographs, documents and other artifacts related to the Civil War, starting with Jimmy Walker of Tullahoma, who presented a small glass case full of items he had found with a metal detector in various parts of Tullahoma and Manchester.

Ronald Westphal, Curator Science & Technology at the Tennessee State Museum, took a keen interest in identifying the pieces in Walker’s collection, including confederacy-stamped horse tackle, several “Block C” buttons, decorative belt buckles from confederate uniforms, and more.

“These are bullets, and this is an old finial from the tip of a bayonet,” Westphal explained, holding up the decorative but bent old metal piece that appeared to have once fit over the end of an ancient weapon.

Tullahoman David Bond brought in a unique item that seemed to capture the interest of several of the archivists, namely an old “spork,” or combination spoon and fork.

The metal spoon and fork pieces are connected to opposite ends of the same wooden handle, folding inward for storage and outward for use. The back of the spoon shows a large indentation that appears to be roughly the size of a small bullet.

“My great-grandfather carried this spoon-fork in his breast pocket throughout the civil war,” Bond said, “and the story goes that he was shot in the chest at one point, but the bullet hit the back of the spoon in his pocket and probably saved his life.”

Bond added that his family’s research had determined that their ancestor had been shot during the Battle of Shelton’s Hill, near Corinth, Mississippi, and the family always thought it was likely that the bullet mark in the spoon was from that battle.

John Rickman brought in several photos and hand-written letters from 1861, written by his great-great grandfather during the war.

“One of the letters was written to his sister and the other was to a friend,” Rickman said. “He’s describing things like where he’s being camped, the condition of the soldiers in his group, things like that.”

Rickman said he had great respect for this ancestor, whom he also identified in one of his old photographs.

“He got shot right under his nostril during the war,” Rickman said, “It made his face partially paralyzed, made him lose his hearing, and he lost several of his teeth, yet he still lived to be 81 years old.”

In addition, Rickman presented a hand-written letter dated July of 1864 from a confederate soldier named Tom Hunter.

The letter is addressed to Rickman’s great-great grandmother, Cleopatra Robinson, describing his regiment’s assignment to police the “town” of Atlanta.

After naming several friends who have been killed or wounded, Hunter writes, “This is a cruel war…. I do sincerely hope the dove will bear the olive branch of peace into our national ark this year.”

The virtual exhibit can be found on the State Library and Archives’ section of the Office of the Secretary of State web site at http://tn.gov/tsla/cwtn.

According to Carol Roberts, Director of Preservation Services at the State Library, the entries may be running a few days behind, but Coffee County’s portion should be available within a week or so.

This photo of a confederate soldier and many other Civil War artifacts were archived by the Tennessee State Library on Friday at City Hall.