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Students tour historymobile
Museum on wheels leaves early due to weather
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John Redd Smith III (left) of the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society talks about experiences of Civil War soldiers to students (from left) Jontavia Bunch, Zavier Perry (back to camera), Alexis Watts, Aaliyah Turner and Lauren Foster, all fifth-graders at Patrick Henry Elementary School. They were at the historymobile Friday. (Photo by Kim Buck)
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Sunday, March 24, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

About 600 local youngsters walked in the footsteps of those who lived and died in the 1860s by touring the Civil War 150 HistoryMobile on Friday.

The historymobile arrived Thursday. It was to have concluded its visit today with public hours, but it left early due to the weather, according to the Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center & Museum on Main Street in uptown Martinsville.

Martinsville teacher Ashley Diaz and her class of 18 fifth-graders were among those touring the interactive museum on wheels on Friday.

Bill Ross, a tour staff member, pointed out photos on the outside of the exhibit.

The pictures depicted several Civil War era scenes, including an exterior view of one of the country’s largest slave trading companies in Alexandria, a view of Richmond dated between 1860 and 1865, and a row of rifles propped up by Union soldiers surrendering in Petersburg six days before Confederate soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia stacked their rifles and surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

Four rooms were inside the historymobile, with depictions of the battlefront, the homefront, slavery and freedom, and loss/gain of various people and places.

In the first room, students heard an audio recording of what soldiers might have said during battle, said Noelle Baker, a tour manager.

As the audio started, the room darkened and lights flashed to simulate fired weapons and fires.

A recorded voice heard above the sounds of the battle said, “Not yet ... Wait till we can see something.” A few seconds later came the command, “Fire! ... Fire at will ... Hold the line, men.”

Also in that room students heard an audio of the final letter written by Pvt. James Robert Montgomery of Mississippi.

“Dear Father, This is my last letter to you ... I have been struck by a piece of shell and my right shoulder is horribly mangled & I know death is inevitable,” Montgomery scribbled on blood-stained paper after he was mortally wounded in a battle in Spotsylvania, Va.

Baker told the youngsters that the letter was real and was written 150 years ago. She also directed students to look for two things as their tour continued: uses for charcoal and Jack the dog.

In the second room, students Zavier Perry and Katie Hruza discovered that charcoal was used to clean soldiers’ teeth, Perry said. But, “I’d throw up” if she used it, Perry added.

Hruza saw that thorns were used for pins, and people used persimmon seeds as buttons, and acorns were used in coffee.

In the last room of the historymobile, Daveon Wade and Jamar Hairston “found” Jack the dog.

Jack was a stray bulldog who took up with the Volunteer Fire Engine House in Pittsburgh, Pa., Wade said, excitedly.

The dog went to war with the firemen who joined the 102nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and took part in nearly every major campaign. He suffered severe injuries during the battle of Malvern Hill in 1862, and in 1863, was captured by the Confederate Army. Jack was later released in a prisoner exchange, only to disappear on Dec. 23, 1864, shortly after he was given a silver collar by the regiment.

In another room, letters written by a 9-year-old girl named Sophia (Sophy) Downman of Idelwild (in the Bedford area) captured Aaliyah Turner’s attention.

Reading a letter from Downman to her Aunt Mona that detailed some of the horrors of war, Turner said, “I didn’t think it would be like this” back then. “It’s hard to imagine” living in that time period, “because the kids from today and then are much different,” she added.

If youngsters of today were forced to live in that era, “it would be really hard for them, especially me. I think we’re much luckier” today, said Turner, who planned to tell her parents about the mobile history center.

“I hope I get to come back again,” she added.

The historymobile is an initiative of the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission.


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