Re-enactors will give Home Show visitors a sample of what life was like for Civil War soldiers

Recalling the Battle of Gettysburg


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If the Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show offers a glimpse of how we'll live in the future, then Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum is a peek at the past - through a soldier's eyes.

An exhibition at this year's show, "Gettysburg 150," marks the upcoming 150th anniversary of that pivotal Civil War battle with artifacts, weapons and uniforms from the Oakland museum. On weekends, local re-enactors will march, drill and simulate firing a rifle like those used by Union and Confederate soldiers on the Pennsylvania battlefield in 1863. No need to cover your ears - there will be no gunshots.

In between demonstrations, soldiers and civilians will discuss with show visitors what it was like to live at that time as they tour a military camp and battlefield hospital. Other exhibits include drums and music, an actual uniform worn by a Union soldier from Pittsburgh, Civil War battle flags and an artillery display featuring a half-size replica of a Napoleon gun, a popular cannon of the period that shot 6- or 12-pound balls.

The entire exhibit was designed and organized by Michael Kraus, 58, curator of Soldiers & Sailors and a Civil War re-enactor with the 116th Pennsylvania. He portrayed a Union captain at the 150th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Fredericksburg in December and will take part in a National Park Service demonstration and large-scale re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg in July.

Mr. Kraus, who lives in McCandless and did his first re-enactment in 1966, says museum visitors often remind him how lucky he is that his hobby and job dovetail so closely. "I'm doing exactly what I love. I'm around people who enjoy history. I happen to be doing the perfect thing."

Also a sculptor, Mr. Kraus has created a bust of a Medal of Honor winner for the museum's hall of valor and several pieces for the battlefield park at Antietam in Maryland. He said the most delicate artifacts that will be displayed at the convention center March 1-10 are actual Civil War flags, framed and displayed under glass. His personal favorite is the bullet-riddled flag of Col. Jacob Bowman Sweitzer's 2nd Brigade, 5th Corps, 62nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

"It's a big Maltese cross peppered with .58- and .69-caliber guns. You can actually read the caliber by the size of the holes," Mr. Kraus said.

The exhibit's entry will feature a large image of the exterior of Soldiers & Sailors and a trip through time that begins in the present with uniforms worn by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Passing by uniforms and gear used in Vietnam, Korea, the two World Wars and earlier wars takes visitors back to the Civil War period. It also includes a view of life on the homefront in Pittsburgh. The last station will provide information about the museum and its collections.

Gettysburg 150 was the idea of home show director John Desantis, who said it was the perfect vehicle to remind Pittsburghers of the museum's extraordinary collection.

"People recognize the building, but they don't know what it is," he said. "We're trying to make people aware of this fantastic resource right in our midst."

homes

Kevin Kirkland: kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978.


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