Upper Midwest Civil War Museum Coming in June

In June, a new Civil War museum will open, and it won’t be located in Virginia or Pennsylvania, or near a battlefield, or anywhere along the Eastern seaboard. Instead, the museum will sit along the shore of Lake Michigan in Kenosha,Wisconsin— a city sandwiched between Chicago and Milwaukee.Although its location seems unlikely at first, the museum fills an important niche in Civil War interpretation: highlighting the role of the Midwest during the war.

Located next to the Kenosha Public Museum on a reclaimed brownfield site not far from the lake, the Civil War Museum of the Upper Middle West specifically focuses on the wartime contributions of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana,Iowa,Michigan, and Minnesota. Although no battles were fought in those states, a surprisingly high number of soldiers—nearly 741,000, according to museum officials—hailed from the Upper Midwest, including about 15 percent of the 1860s populations of Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana.The famous Iron Brigade, known for its black Hardee hats, was composed of infantry units from Wisconsin and Indiana, as well as Michigan.

“The Upper Middle West was so integral to the war,” says Museum Director Paula Touhey, who credits Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, an avowed Civil War buff, as the museum’s driving force.“These states gave men, they gave products.The Iron Brigade was from here, and of course Old Abe [Lincoln] was from here.”

To tell these and other stories, the museum will include a 15,000-square-foot permanent gallery, research center, veterans’ memorial, temporary exhibit space, gift shop and meeting rooms.Visitors will tour through a recreated Main Street to show the impact on civilians, and then ride in a simulated train car like the soldiers who left for the front.“It’s not really a museum of war,”Touhey says. “It’s a museum of people and their individual stories and how they relate to this big picture.”

The museum’s dedication ceremony will take place on March 29, with the full opening on June 14-15. Details and upcoming events can be found at www.kenosha.org/ civilwar/.

—Kim A. O’Connell

Atlanta Diorama Display Gets Its Annual Checkup

Last November, Shae Avery got his troops into Atlanta faster than William Tecumseh Sherman could have ever dreamed of.As the co-owner, with his wife Gwenda, of Avery Gallery in nearby Marietta, Avery has led an annual restoration project at the Atlanta cyclorama for the last 23 years. In just one evening, his team of conservators sweeps in, cleans and repairs the diorama in the the painting’s foreground and leaves before the next morning’s visitors arrive.

Like its counterpart at Gettysburg, the Atlanta cyclorama was created in the 1880s to commemorate the war. Most similar works from the period have not survived.The massive cylindrical painting, created by a team of German artists and completed in 1886, illustrates the July 1864 battle of Atlanta and hangs in a classically designed building in the city’s Grant Park. In 1936, a three-dimensional diorama was added, extending the painting into the foreground with soldiers, wagons, and other battlefield items. Its most famous feature is a dying soldier modeled after “Rhett Butler”—actor Clark Gable—who had visited the painting after the opening of Gone With the Wind.

Decades later, however, the diorama has suffered from both accidental damage and everyday wear and tear. Every fall since 1985,Avery Gallery— which is both a fine art gallery and a restoration laboratory— has brought in a team of conservators, historians and other interested parties for one intense evening of maintenance on the diorama (the painting itself has undergone both a major restoration and periodic upkeep by other contractors).With guidance from gallery conservators (and dinner, drinks and dessert provided), the volunteers clean, repair and replace sculptures as needed.This year, the 50-person group replaced a handful of missing bayonets and did serious surgery on the Gable figure’s foot, which had broken off.

“The Atlanta Cyclorama feels like a child to me in a way,” Avery says.“It’s something we have taken care of and nurtured and improved in several ways over the years. It’s always interesting, and it’s always fun.”

‘Faugh a Ballagh’ for the Boys of the Irish Brigade

Few Civil War military organizations earned as much lasting fame and glory as the Union’s Irish Brigade. Formed in September 1861, the brigade comprised regiments from New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Commanded by Brig. Gen.Thomas Francis Meagher, its officers and men served with distinction at several key battles in the East before being disbanded in the summer of 1864. Marching under memorable green standards emblazoned with golden harps of Erin, the brigade was known for its war cry “Faugh a Ballagh,” a Gaelic phrase meaning “Clear the Way.”

— Kim A. O’Connell

Tony Horwitz and Confederates in the Attic: Ten Years Later

A decade ago, author Tony Horwitz introduced the nation to the unexpected pleasures of the “Civil Wargasm” in his blockbuster book Confederates in the Attic. The book’s cover featured the distinctive image of a man whose level stare was haunting, enigmatic and a touch odd. That man, of course, was not a Civil War soldier but contemporary living historian Robert Lee Hodge. Horwitz’s adventures with Hodge through the South, where hardcore reenactors still lived and breathed the war in their endless quest for “the ‘Gasm,” were just one highlight of a humorous and poignant travelogue that plumbed America’s continuing fascination with this “unfinished” war.

A former newspaper reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of low-wage working conditions, Horwitz has also authored books about the Australian Outback, the Middle East and Captain James Cook. Recently, Horwitz moved from Virginia to what he calls the “ur-Yankee land of Massachusetts,” but the past remains close by. His next book, A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World, comes out in May.

—Kim A. O’Connell

What do you remember most about researching and writing Confederates?

The thing I remember best—and worst—are my misadventures with the Confederate hardcore Robert Lee Hodge. Even after a decade, it’s hard to shake the chill (physical and spiritual) of camping out in Bloody Lane during our Civil Wargasm, the discomfort of spooning with Rob and other Southern Guardsmen in a damp Virginia field, and the period rush of reenacting Pickett’s Charge on the same ground and date and time of day as Confederates charged in 1863.

How has the book affected your life since? Have you stayed in touch with any reenactors or do you still attend reenactments?

The book was a commercial success, which made it easier for me to give up my day job as a newspaper reporter and devote myself to book-writing fulltime. It’s also left me passionate about preservation and angered by the failure of Virginia in particular to better protect what remains of the state’s natural and historical landscapes.

The only reenactor I’ve stayed in touch with is Rob, though mostly by email, since I moved to Massachusetts.The last time I saw him was about two years ago when he came to speak to my son’s elementary class in Waterford,Va., in uniform—though he and the students were dismayed that the school wouldn’t let him bring in his musket. Still, he was a huge hit and patiently answered every thirdgrader’s questions, most of which were about loading and firing his missing gun.

Your wife, Geraldine Brooks, took up a Civil War-era story in her novel March. Did your previous experience with writing about the war inform her work, and if so, how? Do you think either of you will revisit the Civil War in the future?

Yes, my Civil War experience helped lead Geraldine to March, though rather against her will. She griped for years about my dragging her to battlefields—and, most of all, to the belated burial of Stonewall Jackson’s horse in Lexington— but somewhere along the line the drama and tragedy of the war began to sink in. That being said, she took her writing about it in a very different direction from mine, and all I contributed to the novel were some reading suggestions and a few corrections on battle dates.

It’s hard to say whether either of us will revisit the war in our writing.We tend to shoot off in entirely new directions with each project.

Your forthcoming book deals with the explorations and colonization of the New World. Can you tell us about that project?

A Voyage Long and Strange is about the early and largely forgotten exploration and settlement of North America by Vikings, Spanish conquistadors, Huguenots, English castaways, and others who preceded the Pilgrims to this continent.The book’s a little like Confederates in that it mixes history with contemporary travel and journalism, and much of it takes place in the South.Also, I hung out with conquistador reenactors and briefly dressed as one.As scratchy and hot as Confederate butternut may be, it’s light and comfortable compared to wearing 60 pounds of chain mail and plate armor in Florida’s swampy heat.

What’s next for you?

I’m not sure what’s next, as I’ve just finished A Voyage and need some time to read and recharge before diving into a new book. But I’m certain it will be about some aspect of American history, probably 19th century and possibly related to the Civil War. No matter how much I learn about other eras and events, it’s still the one I’m most passionate about.As Gertrude Stein said,“There never will be anything more interesting in America than that Civil War never.”

James Dukenfield

James L. Dukenfield came from England to America at age 12 in 1854,settling with his family in Philadelphia. When the war came, he was among four Dukenfield boys who answered the call for volunteers,signing up for three years with the 72nd Pennsylviana Fire Zouaves. The experience must not have suited him well because he was listed as a deserter for five months.He left the army permanently in 1862 after losing the fingers on his left hand while on picket duty at Fair Oaks, Va.. After the war, Dukenfield told people that he had lost them while engaged in battle at Lookout Mountain. Many years later,his famous son commented it was more likely that he lost them while they were inside someone else’s pockets.

Dukenfield lived out the remainder of his life in Philadelphia. He married, raised a family,sold produce and tended bar. In his later years he took pride in being a veteran and drank a toast every month when he collected his pension. A decade after his death, his son honored the old man’s service with a headstone: James L. Dukenfield, Father, 1841-1913,A Great Scout.

Today,Jim Dukenfield is remembered,in a periphreal way, not for his Civil War experience,but for what he did 18 years after the war ended: he sired a son who would grow up to become a 20th century American legend. Papa named the boy William Claude Dukenfield.We know the boy by his stage name:W.C. Fields.

—Marty Jones


Originally published in the March 2008 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.