Friday, June 01, 2007

The Blanket and the Chandelier: Civil War Relics tell of Compassion and War Crimes

I have just returned from a road trip which took me through the beautiful little town of Litchfield, Minnesota, in my ongoing quest to visit every one of the 3,141 counties in the United States.

Such trips always turn up unexpected gems. One I discovered in Litchfield was the historic Grand Army of the Republic Hall, the only one of its kind remaining in the state of Minnesota and one of only three in the United States. The Grand Army of the Republic was an organization of men who were veterans of the Union army who fought in the War Between the States, 1861-1865.

Today the old hall still stands much as it did well over a century ago. It is now used as a museum to preserve relics and records of America's tragic and unnecessary conflict, often misnamed the Civil War.Being a history buff, and a descendent of several Confederate veterans, I have long had a special interest in the War Between the States, so I enjoyed visiting this historic old hall and exploring many of the exhibits.

When the nice lady at the GAR Museum learned that I was a grandson of Confederate veterans, she took me over to see this small case with a display of Confederate items. In it was obsolete Confederate currency, a saber which was like those used by both Union and Confederate soldiers, and a very interesting wool Confederate Blanket.

The blanket was brought back to Minnesota after the war by a Union Soldier, Sargent Marty, who was in the First Minnesota Volunteers. As Sargent Marty lay wounded on the battlefield at Gettysburg, an unknown Southern soldier came and covered the enemy with his own blanket.

Marty survived the War and brought the blanket back to Minnesota, where it was preserved for many generations by his family, before being donated to the museum.

Another very interesting artifact in the Grand Army of the Republic Museum is the ornate chandelier which hangs over the old meeting hall. There are two stories of the origin of the chandelier. One is that it was originally from a bordello in New Orleans, Louisiana. The other is that it was brought back to Minnesota from the South as a part of the "spoils of war." Perhaps both stories are true.

The War Between the States, was fought mostly on Southern soil by Northern aggressors. When Union soldiers captured a town or even a farm in the Confederate States it was very common for them to steal every item of value and destroy that which they could not carry away. Such plunder was clearly criminal according to the established rules of war, and a vile and evil act according to every standard of human decency. Yet the rape of the South was overlooked or even encouraged by Northern generals such as Sherman and Grant. Because the North won the war, such despicable actions were never punished.

Here is but one quote from a Union invader of Louisiana from the "Official Records: War of the Rebellion" published by the United States Government after their subjugation of the South: "No squad of men ... can live anywhere we have been. The people have neither seed, corn, nor bread, or mills to grind the corn if they had it, as I burned them wherever found.... I have taken from these people the mules with which they would raise a crop the coming year, and burned every surplus grain of corn...."

General William T. Sherman wrote from Vicksburg on January 31, 1864: "The Government of the United States has ... any and all rights which they choose to enforce in war - to take their lives, their homes, their lands, their everything .... To the persistent secessionist, why, death is mercy, and the quicker he or she is disposed of the better."

The chandelier, which is a symbol of these heinious atrocities against innocent civilians, hangs in the GAR museum in Litchfield to their shame, and they don't even seem to realize it.


James said...

Mr. Conn,
Thank you for visiting us here in Litchfield. The G.A.R. is a very unique and well preserved piece of history.
A challenge with history is separating facts from tales. I regret that you were not told a third and most probably the actual source of the chandelier...a store in Boston. We believe it was purchased and shipped cross country by train. That is the most probable source of our chandelier.
This perhaps lessons the impact of your statement: "The chandelier, which is a symbol of these heinious atrocities against innocent civilians, hangs in the GAR museum in Litchfield to their shame, and they don't even seem to realize it."
A light fixture from Boston doesn't have quite as much shame as a chandelier stolen during the heinous atrocities. When you hear the historically accepted story of the chandelier, it is not to the shame of Litchfield, and we are not quiet as naive as you indicate. But you don't even seem to realize it.

Paul said...
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