Pittsburgh's Soldiers & Sailors to bring slices of Gettysburg to life

John F. McCabe has a ready answer on why it is "fitting and proper" to mark the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland.

"Look there," he told a visitor last week, pointing to the back wall of the hall's stage. There, the text of Abraham Lincoln's famous speech is inscribed. Mr. McCabe is president of the hall and museum that honors members and veterans of all branches of the military.

Soldiers & Sailors will host the free commemorative program of the Gettysburg Address from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the hall at 4141 Fifth Ave.

The evening event will include a performance by the 6th Regiment United States Colored Troops Drum Corps, a group of young African-American re-enactors, and a recitation of the Gettysburg Address by Lincoln presenter Rea Andrew Redd.

Mr. McCabe also promised some surprises for visitors as they view the museum's displays of artifacts from all the nation's conflicts. Figures from 10 of the display cases, dressed in the uniforms of their times, will be portrayed by actors who will answer questions about their lives. He compared the experience to becoming part of the movie "Night at the Museum" in which mannequins of Teddy Roosevelt, Genghis Khan and Amelia Earhart come to life.

"We don't want people just reading plaques," Mr. McCabe said. "Instead they'll be experiencing the museum in a different way."

Those attending the commemorative program also will get a first look at a new museum exhibit that features the sword and other items that belonged to Union Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren.

The artifacts are on long-term loan to the museum from the descendents of William John Warren, the general's brother.

The general's sword, telescope and spur had been passed down to an Enfield, Conn., man named Howard C. Smith II, whose wife, Virginia, is an Upper St. Clair native. After her husband's death, she agreed to lend the items to Soldiers & Sailors. "We'll keep up the new exhibit as long as she'll let us display the items," museum curator Michael Kraus said.

Mrs. Smith's sister, Karen Godwin of Bridgeville, had encouraged her to contact Mr. Kraus about displaying the items. When she finally did, she said she was impressed by his enthusiasm about the objects and his knowledge of the Civil War.

"I decided they belonged there," she said of Soldiers & Sailors. "I know my husband would be proud and happy to know they are in a place where other people can appreciate them."

While most people may not know Warren's name, visitors to Gettysburg would recognize his statue. A bronze monument on Little Round Top shows the mustachioed Warren, holding binoculars and looking out over the battlefield.

A New Yorker and a graduate of West Point, Warren had been promoted to brigadier general and was serving as chief engineer for the Union Army of the Potomac.

As Northern and Southern armies jockeyed for position July 2, 1863, Warren discovered that Little Round Top -- located at the tip of the Union line -- was almost undefended. Trained as an engineer and mapmaker, he recognized the danger of a Confederate attack on the Union flank and he scrambled his staff officers to find troops to defend it. Erie's Col. Strong Vincent responded. His brigade held the hill, but Vincent was mortally wounded during the battle.

Warren survived the war and served as an army engineer until his death in 1882 at age 52.

His 1850-model staff-and-field sword that will be on display at Soldiers & Sailors looks very similar to the weapon depicted by the general's side on the statue at Little Round Top, Mr. Kraus said.

Also part of the display will be several images of Warren, including a 24-inch-by-30-inch lithograph. A copy of a smaller photo of Warren, taken in 1861 at Fortress Monroe, Va., shows two telescopes that resemble the one now at Soldiers & Sailors.

Soldiers & Sailors was dedicated in 1910 as a tribute to Union troops who fought in the War Between the States. Its collection contains numerous Lincoln artifacts, Mr. McCabe said. Those items will be augmented Tuesday when Photo Antiquities, a photography museum on Pittsburgh's North Side, displays a 10-piece collection of Lincoln images and documents as part of the commemorative program.

Strong ties connect Lincoln and America's veterans, Mr. McCabe said. The president understood the sacrifices that service members and their families make, he said. In his second inaugural address, Lincoln famously pledged "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan."

When Soldiers & Sailors opened, and for several decades afterward, veterans of the Civil War would have been in the audience for many programs there, Mr. Kraus said. That creates a direct link between Gettysburg and the building in Pittsburgh.

"If you can't be in Gettysburg on Nov. 19, you should be here," Mr. McCabe said.

More information about Tuesday's program is available by clicking on "News and Events" at www.soldiersandsailorshall.org or by calling 412-621-4253.

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184.

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