EATON — Naval artifacts from the Civil War are hard to find and for that reason scarce for public viewing. The Union Army at the end of the war had one million men in uniform, surplus material was plentiful when they went to a peacetime National Guard status. The Navy, on the other hand, was a small percent of the total Union force, and it continued serving all parts of the world, using or modifying arms and accouterments from the Civil War. Because of this, many or all the items that are displayed in the Naval exhibit are important in telling the story of the Navy.
The exhibit will be on display in Preble County on Saturday, Sept. 24.
One item is the Ames 1846 Navy Box lock pistol. This is the first Navy contracted piece designed with the sailor in mind. There also is an Ames Gold gilded officer’s belt buckle (the Smithsonian Institution has a matching one.) Relics from the Ironclad the USS Cairo, sunk in 1862 and recovered in 1963, will be displayed, along with Goodyear Rubber Company items that were produced to make the sailor’s life a little easier.
Mixed with the Navy items you will see civilian wares and army items that were known to have been used in the war. You will see both because this is a joint Army-Navy Expedition. Kraig Lawson and Jack Barnhart started this unit in 1977. The two took the 35th to personal highs, participating in many reenactments, movies, and mini-series, such as Glory, North-South II, and The Blue and the Gray.
Other Civil War credits include cruises on the steamboat Delta Queen, National Park Visitor Center films, and Living History demonstrations in many National, State, and city parks. While performing in many of the Western Civil War Battlefield parks that have a direct relationship with the river campaign, Lawson developed an interest in the types of equipment, boats, and logistics used by both the Navy and the Army in that arena. This has not adequately been presented in many of our National Parks. In addition to his connection while visiting these parks, he began building 1⁄4” to the foot scale models of the types of paddle wheelers used during the Army /Navy expeditions of the western waterways to better understand and visualize that part of the conflict. During the same period, his friend Barnhart began collecting artifacts focusing on the infantry, cavalry, and artillery of the Civil War.
Following his friend’s lead, Lawson began to collect Navy artifacts, and the two found mutually supportive historical exhibits. As their interest waned with the 35th OVI, they decided to call it quits to the unit in the the early 1990s but not quits for their desire to educate and share their knowledge with the public.
Contemplating what they could do to continue their hobbies, they realized the two collections of memorabilia between them provided something not many have to offer — a collection of both Army and Navy, artifacts with models, to bring a rarely talked about aspect of the Civil War to life: “The Army-Navy Expedition of the Western Rivers.”
For the last two dozen-plus years the two, along with their wives, have been presenting this collection in numerous forums, including The Ford Museum Greenfield Village, Fort Donelson NPS, and The Ohio Riverboat Museum, and are happy to be displaying their collections for this year’s Fall Gathering Festival and Historical Days at the Preble County Historical Society on Saturday, Sept. 24, from 10-6 p.m. Admission is free to the public. The address is 7693 Swartsel Road, Eaton
Visit the website at www.preblecountyhistoricalsociety.com for a full schedule.