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Center brings big guns to Pa. Civil War exhibit | TribLIVE.com
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Center brings big guns to Pa. Civil War exhibit

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Martin Delany was the highest ranking African American in the Civil War. Senator John Heinz History Center
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Fiddle from 193rd Pennsylvania has names of the unit's members inscribed on back. Ken Turner Collection
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The 149th Pennsylvania was known as the Bucktails because of the decoration of their hats. Ken Turner Collection
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Erie's Strong Vincent anchored the end of the Union line at Gettysburg and died there. Senator John Heinz History Center
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Dog Jack was captured by the Confederates and freed in a prisoner exchange. Senator John Heinz History Center
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Arsenal worker Kate McBride was one of the victims of the explosion in 1862. Senator John Heinz History Center
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Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
The giant Rodman cannon at the Heinz History Center in the Strip District on Friday June 14, 2013. the 18,000 pound replica will be the centerpiece of the Civil War display at the history center.
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Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
The giant Rodman cannon at the Heinz History Center in the Strip District on Friday June 14, 2013. the 18,000 pound replica will be the centerpiece of the Civil War display at the history center.
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Flag bearer Sgt. Alexander Rogers of the 83d Pennsylvania. He eventually was killed at the Wilderness in 1863. Ken Turner Collection
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A recruiting posters lures the adventurous to the outfit that became nicknamed Rush's Lancers. Ken Turner Collection
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A stick points out the entry and exit holes of a Confederate shot at Antietam in the hat of Andrew Eagleson. Ken Turner Collection
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The replica of the massive Rodman gun is rolled into the museum on June 8. Senator John Heinz History Center
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Tillie Pierce's parents thought they were sending her to a safe spot in Gettysburg and she ended up the the center of the maelstrom. Senator John Heinz History Center

When the Civil War and Pennsylvania are mentioned together, the sentence often has to do with Gettysburg.

But Leslie Przybylek, a curator at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District, says the story of the war and the state goes far beyond that battle.

“It is the story of how people experienced the war,” she says of the exhibit, “Pennsylvania’s Civil War,” which opens at the center June 22. “In this state, there wasn’t great consensus of what to think. Western Pennsylvania was very pro-Union, but there were businesspeople in the Philadelphia area who were thinking that some sort of agreement could be reached.”

Przybylek is one of the main planners of the exhibit that will run through Jan. 5. It is being presented this year because it is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, the Civil War event for which Pennsylvania is most famous, Przybylek says.

The exhibit is a followup to the smaller “Civil War in Pennsylvania,” which opened at the history center in 2011 before beginning a five-year tour at small museums and libraries across the state.

This exhibit will have more that 150 artifacts, but is dominated by a massive life-size model of a Rodman gun. The original cannon was built at the Fort Pitt Foundry, which was along the Allegheny River just across Smallman Street from where the museum is today.

The gun, named after army ordnance expert and inventor Thomas J. Rodman, was built to guard the Verrazano Narrows off the coast of Brooklyn from enemy ships — whether from the Confederacy or European powers that might get involved.

The Rodman gun could fire a 20-inch-diameter shell 4 miles and was “the atomic weapon of the Civil War,” says Andy Masich, president and CEO of the history center. It is 20 feet long, and the reproduction with the carriage holding it weighs 18,000 pounds, which is massive, but far below the 116,000 pounds of the original, still in place in Brooklyn.

The reproduction gun, made using 3-D photography, bears engravings from the original and was made by LF Creative Design in Bowling Green, Ohio. Ned Schano, the history center’s director of communication, says the reproduction was made to withstand weather and is being considered for a place outside after the display is over.

While the gun is easily the most-striking part of the display, it is only part of one section in the design of Michael Dubois, director of exhibits. He says he spent about six months coming up with a way to present the information after about four years of discussion on what kind of display to have.

“I look at it as directing a movie,” he says of his work, “and the artifacts are the actors.”

His job of directing involved a “great bit of back-and-forth” between him and curators as they gathered information and artifacts from the Smithsonian Institution, the State Museum of Pennsylvania and the National Civil War Museum, both in Harrisburg.

The artifacts come from the history center’s collection and private collectors. They include rifles, pistols, fiddles, card and board games, clothing, pictures and letters in an effort to “show what life was like in-camp,” Przybylek says.

But some items from the battlefield create a little chill of fear, she says, mentioning the cap of a Pennsylvania reservist through which a musket ball passed during the battle of Antietam.

The exhibit includes six, life-size figures: Strong Vincent, the colonel who died at Little Round Top after telling Joshua Chamberlain and his men “not to give an inch”; abolitionist and highest-ranking African-American officer Martin Delany; flag-bearer Jacob Funk from Fayette County; Allegheny Arsenal worker Kate McBride; water-bearer Tillie Pierce from Gettysburg; and Dog Jack, the beloved mascot of the 102nd Pennsylvania Volunteers.

Masich says that, during the exhibit’s run, there will be times when live re-enactors will create a tableaux at various locations within the exhibit.

The various rooms Dubois designed deal with concepts of the engagement, from the moral and philosophical dilemma Pennsylvanians faced to the two-sided reality of the end of the conflict, which involved as much mourning as it did celebration.

“It isn’t all about battles,” Schano says of the exhibit.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected] or 412-320-7852.

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