Brought back by popular demand, this exhibit features hundreds of original items from weapons to table ceramics to a bone handled toothbrush. Local connections include soldiers who served at or visited Fort Walla Walla and current residents with ancestors who fought in the War.
Although the Civil War was fought a long way from Southeast Washington, it is remarkable how many links exist between our region and that significant part of American history.
Famous military leaders visited the area, including Gens. Sherman, Sheridan and Howard. Many Civil War veterans relocated to our region; their headstones frequent local cemeteries. And area museums and residents own a wide assortment of artifacts related to the war.
Of all of these, some of the strongest local ties with that war are the personal associations folks have with their soldier ancestors. Chances are good that someone you know is descended from a Civil War soldier.
The first version of a Civil War exhibit installed by Fort Walla Walla Museum was an experiment to see if there was any interest. It included several hundred different items carried by soldiers. These items were identified as to name and use, but had few local ties. The response was overwhelmingly positive, so the museum created a larger exhibit adding a focus on local connections.
The museum team’s research uncovered a lot of information with our first round of inquiries. We found a grandson of a Civil War veteran, someone with nine Confederate ancestors and another with a direct connection to President Abraham Lincoln.
Nationwide, there are hundreds of thousands of descendants of Civil War soldiers. Typically, these folks are four to seven generations removed from this conflict that ended 150 years ago. However, on rare occasions, veterans had children when they were in their 60s and one of their sons fathered a child when he reached the same age. This is the scenario for Rod Hahn of Walla Walla, whose grandfather, Sgt. Jacob F. Hahn, served in Company K of the 8th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry. Sgt. Hahn fought in the battles of Franklin and Nashville, Tenn., plus numerous engagements associated with General William T. Sherman’s famous “March to the Sea.” Shortly after the war Stg. Hahn came to Walla Walla before settling near Spokane.
Former firefighter and Walla Walla Mayor Fred Mitchell’s great grandfather, Sgt. Loriston W. Adkins, served in Company B, 122nd New York Volunteer Infantry. He fought in the battles of Gettysburg, Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Antietam and Cold Harbor. According to family history, Loriston met his wife, Elizabeth, when he was wounded and was carried to her house for care after a battle. In the 1860s they moved to Walla Walla County, where Adkins Road now bears their name.
Longtime Fort Walla Walla Museum volunteer Robert Stevenson helped install this exhibit. He knew he had some Civil War ancestors, but it was not until recently that one of his relatives told him that he is descended from nine Confederate officers from Virginia. Some Virginians who served as Federal officers prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, such as Robert E. Lee, could not bring themselves to fight against their beloved home state.
While it is a common misconception that all Northern troops had blue uniforms and all Southerners wore gray, it is also untrue that all Southern units fought for the Confederacy. Capt. Mortimer R. Flint led Company E of the Union’s 1st Alabama Cavalry. Flint also served with the 10th Missouri Cavalry at Vicksburg and as an aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. John M. Corse. A portrait of Flint was recently made available for this exhibit by his great-grandson, Mike Howell of Walla Walla.
Pvt. Robert Carson of Company K, 215th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry enlisted too late to be involved in any battles, but was honored to serve as a pallbearer for President Lincoln in Philadelphia. Carson’s great-grandson, Robert J. Carson III, is a professor of geology and environmental studies at Whitman College.
This is not the only Lincoln tie included in the exhibit. Visitors can view an 1863 picture of the president and his assistants that is reported to be a gift from President Lincoln to Springfield, Ill., schoolboy W.P. Winans. This young man went on to become an early mover and shaker of Walla Walla and other parts of Eastern Washington.
Museum guests who wish to contribute to the exhibit can share information about their Civil War ancestors in a log book. Of the dozens of soldiers listed in the log, visitors have entered their connections with a number of military leaders including James B. McPherson, John S. Mosby, John Hunt Morgan and Stonewall Jackson.
Fort Walla Walla Museum patrons can experience images, documents and artifacts associated with the aforementioned and other local ancestors in Walla Walla and the Civil War. Due to popular demand, this exhibit has been extended to run through May 3.