Col. Thomas Foster Gallagher didn't know when to quit.
"He was captured, sent to Libby Prison, freed, and returned to the army," Lisa Hays said of the Civil War officer from New Alexandria. "He was wounded in another battle. After he recovered, he returned to service. He kept going back to the war."
Ms. Hays, the executive director of the Westmoreland County Historical Society, said her organization has plans to let more people know about Gallagher's adventures.
The historical society recently bought military clothing and equipment belonging to Gallagher when the items were sold at auction by his descendants. Now the society is in the midst of a fundraising effort to pay for conservation of the artifacts.
Gallagher, born on Jan. 17, 1822, made his living as a merchant in New Alexandria. "Prior to the Rebellion he was a prominent figure in the Pennsylvania militia movement, and advanced from the office of lieutenant to major general," John Newton Boucher wrote in his two-volume "History of Westmoreland County." "His record during the great civil conflict of 1861 to 1865 was one of a marked success."
Gallagher and his wife Elizabeth had seven children. The items recently acquired by the historical society had stayed in the family until they were put up for sale through Massachusetts-based Skinner auction house on Nov. 2.
Board member John Mickinak successfully bid for the collection via telephone. The items, which sold for $9,600, including a buyer's premium, included two military coats, two sashes, a sword belt, trunk and saddle. Also included were pieces of horse tack -- items such as bridles, reins and bits. "The tack is so ornate that we speculate it was given to him by his men or was some other kind of ceremonial gift," Ms. Hays said.
The society bid on the items after Mr. Mickinak investigated the provenance, or chain of ownership, of the artifacts. "We felt comfortable knowing that the items were coming from the family," Ms. Hays said.
Gallagher enlisted on July 2, 1861, and was commissioned colonel of the 11th Pennsylvania Reserves, also known as the 40th Regiment in the Pennsylvania Line. He and much of his command were captured in June 1862 in Virginia at the Battle of Gaines Mills.
Following his release from Richmond's Libby Prison, he returned to the army and was promoted to commander of the Third Brigade of the Pennsylvania Reserves. He was badly wounded in Maryland during the Battle of South Mountain on Sept. 14, 1862.
His last command was of the 54th Pennsylvania Militia, which helped in the capture of Confederate raider Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his men in 1863.
He died in 1883 at 61 and is buried in New Alexandria Union Cemetery.
The society has received about 50 donations toward the costs of acquisition and conservation of the Gallagher artifacts. Gifts have ranged from $10 to a five-figure donation from the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation. Tax-deductible donations can be made to the Westmoreland County Historical Society, 362 Sand Hill Road, Suite 1, Greensburg, PA 15601, or by calling 724-532-1935.
In addition to collecting money for preservation of the Gallagher items, the society is about halfway through an effort to raise $4.3 million for the construction of a History Education Center at Hanna's Town county park in Hempfield and Salem.
The proposed center would become home for the Gallagher artifacts as well as items related to all eras of Westmoreland history, Ms. Hays said. The county is home to about two dozen local history organizations.
The center would offer permanent, long-term and temporary exhibits that could feature items from organizations that do not have display space for their collections.
Information about the proposed education center and donation information are online at westmorelandhistory.org/campaign.
Len Barcousky: firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-772-0184.