JOLIET – Stories from the Civil War are on display at the Joliet Area Historical Museum.
A sword used in Pickett’s Charge is a reminder of the bravery and bloodshed in a war in which an estimated 620,000 American soldiers died – more than in any other war.
An amputation kit and artificial limb tells of the fate that a Union or Confederate soldier typically met when hit by a Minie ball in an arm or leg.
A child’s slave collar and shackles are remnants of why the war was fought.
An African-American doll given to the daughter of Capt. William Dougall, a white man from Joliet who led the 13th U.S. Colored Infantry, by one of his black soldiers in a reunion after the war suggests the promise of a changed nation to emerge.
“Joliet Remembers the Civil War” opened Thursday, the 150th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox Court House that effectively marked the end of the war, in the museum at 204 N. Ottawa St.
Fittingly, the exhibit even includes a handwritten telegram setting out the terms of the surrender as it was sent to Southern soldiers.
The exhibit primarily is the collection of Daniel Michalak of New Lenox and Dr. Joseph Matheu of Palos Park.
A collection of local letters and other artifacts, including Mayme Dougall’s doll from Tim and Michelle Smith of Plainfield, offers a look at Will County’s place in the Civil War.
“For anybody who collects, the key is sharing,” Matheu said. “We hope that this inspires people to learn. That is where our satisfaction comes from.”
Matheu and Michalak have been building their collection for 15 years.
Some of the pieces are rare.
A shell jacket worn by Samuel Creese, an artilleryman from Pennsylvania, is one of only five uniforms available for exhibition that were worn by a soldier at the Battle of Gettysburg, Michalak said.
“It was in an attic all this time until 10 years ago,” Michalak said. “When the last descendent died, all this came out of the attic.”
The Samuel Creese display comes to Joliet after being in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and Library in Springfield for three months.
“You’d be hard pressed to find a better exhibit with all the material we have here,” museum Executive Director Gregory Peerbolte told a gathering that came for the opening of the exhibit.
Noting that the exhibit even includes strands of hair from Lincoln and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Peerbolte joked, “I think this is the only place where Lincoln’s hair and Lee’s hair are in the same room.”
Strands of hair from two of the great figures of American history may seem an odd thing. But they, too, tell a story of life during the Civil War.
“Hair was given to family members and friends,” Matheu said. “It was not unusual to save that.”
Other items include a Confederate drummer boy’s kepi, a cap that the collectors say is rare to find because Southern families tend to hold onto Civil War artifacts rather than let them go for collectors.
The fatal bullet that killed James Gowers, a Union soldier from New York, along with an excerpt from his diary, is on display.
Letters home from James R. Clark, a soldier from Lockport, change over the years to the point that he closes them with the words: “Until death.”
“Sometimes,” Peerbolte said, “we forget that these were real people and the sacrifices that they made.”
“Joliet Remembers the Civil War” is scheduled to be on display until July 26.