The sound of musket shots will be heard ringing through Kittanning Borough as the Armstrong County Historical Museum features a special Civil War weekend.
Jim Johnson, one of the living historians that will be dressed in uniform and telling stories about his great-great-grandfather’s Civil War plight, said the Open House will be held from 10AM until 4PM on Saturday, and from Noon until 4PM on Sunday.
“On Saturday and Sunday, it’s going to be an Open House for the Museum,” Johnson said on the WTYM morning show, “David & Friends.” “In conjunction with a Civil War encampment, the local Living History Group, Company-D, the 62nd Pennsylvania, will be encamped out on the lawn here. We’re also going to display, as part of the Open House of the Museum, the new Civil War Display. So, we’re bring in some living historians who will be able to talk about camp life and also talk about the importance of the display and also the importance of Armstrong County in the Civil War. The display is focusing on the men who left this County and fought for the Union Army, for those who came back to tell their story, and also to remember those who did not.”
Johnson said there are a lot of new things to see at the Museum.
“This past summer, the museum received a donation from a brother and sister from Ohio. They drove over here and donated what is called the Morning Reports Book for Company G of the 78th Pennsylvania. Now, of course, the 78th Pennsylvania trained here just north of where we are sitting today in what was called Camp Orr. It was located at the Fairgrounds at the time and Camp Orr was located just south of presently where the new YMCA is. And, also, many of the 78th were boys from Armstrong County. But this document is very close to me because my great, great grandfather was Captain John Jordan and he was the captain of Company G. Throughout this Morning Report Book, I see his name quite often. It’s very interesting for me to see part of his history right there in a book that was donated by a brother and sister from Ohio.”
In addition, Johnson said there was a book on general orders and other artifacts.
“We worked to expand our display to not only focus on the 78th Pennsylvania, but also men who fought in other units – Company D the 62nd Pennsylvania, Company K the 155th Pennsylvania, also a lot of the boys from Companies B and C from the 139th Pennsylvania.
Johnson said that in all, there were probably four dozen units consisting of approximately 3,500 men that came from Armstrong County that fought in the War of the Rebellion.
“We’ve expanded with some artifacts. We have a period fife. We have an amputation kit. We have some regimental books on regimental history books on those various units – original books, well over 100 years old.”
Johnson said that they have on display other artifacts from the 103rd Pennsylvania regimen.
“The 103rd men also camped at Camp Orr and trained there. They were actually the surplus soldiers. The 78th recruited more men than what they actually needed. So after the men of the 78th mustered out in October of 1861, those men who were left over helped form the 103rd Pennsylvania. Then they were mustered out and left Kittanning the following year. That was the unit that suffered a lot of hard luck. Most of the unit was unfortunately captured down in North Carolina and a lot of those soldiers went/were shipped to Andersonville Prison in Georgia. We have a soldier here who we highlight, Levi Schrecengost, from up in the Putneyville area. He maintained a diary while he was in Andersonville. We have a gentleman from Chicora who loaned the museum Levi’s diary for display here. So, it’s something to see. It’s very small, maybe 2×3 diary, but I can’t imagine that that diary is what that man kept while he was in that terrible, terrible prison down in Andersonville. The gentlemen from Chicora also donated his image too.“
Johnson said that there is information from the 155th Pennsylvania that unit fought at Gettysburg.
“That unit was also present on that day in April 12, 1865 when General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant. The 155th stood there at the Appomattox Court House to receive the arms of those soldiers from the Northern Army of Virginia. So 155th was very well represented from Armstrong County and travelled throughout the eastern seaboard, were honored to be present, one of the few regimens to be present that day during which those Confederates gave up their arms to the Union.”
Johnson said that in addition to camps being established out on the museum lawn, there are other guests that will be present.
“Larry Smail, a local historian on our Native Americans, painted a picture called ‘The Whirpool of Death’, depicting the 62nd Pennsylvania at their battle on July 2 in the wheat field at Gettysburg. We’re also having Peggy Spezak here. Her husband wrote a book on the 62nd Pennsylvania. We’re also having two gentlemen coming out from the Pittsburgh area who are on the backstretch putting together a book on the volunteers of the 139th Pennsylvania. So in addition to the Living Historians, we’re going to have some visitors here that will be focusing on soldiers that came from Armstrong County.”
Larry Vorpe, who was a re-enactor in earlier days, said the Living Historians are a wealth of knowledge.
“They’ll show you how to load the rifle. You’re going to hear musket firing up here over the weekend. Nothing to fear, but, you’re going to hear that. Those guys are going to do demonstrations on their rifles. They’re going to have a camp fire, ladies are going to be cooking out, and other things. It will be really neat to show the family what life was like during that time period for the soldiers.”
“We’re a small unit. We’re not going to have hundreds and hundreds of re-enactors here,” Tyler Woodside added. “One of the biggest things I’ve experienced in these types of activities is the stories that people tell. Both from us to the visitors and also from the visitors to us, we always like to hear people tell about what they know of their ancestors. And if they don’t know, we can also provide some help maybe where they can find information on their ancestors, so it’s sort of a give-and-take. It’s just amazing that some of these stories that people will walk by and tell us and even about some of the items that they have of their ancestors. It should be a very enjoyable event for people of all ages.
There is no admission charge for the event.