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Baltimore museum exhibit showcases W.Va. during Civil War

By Cecelia Mason

West Virginia Public Broadcasting | AP

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- The Baltimore B&O Railroad Museum's main feature is an historic roundhouse where visitors can see old train engines, cars and cabooses. An exhibit called The War Came by Train commemorates the Civil War's sesquicentennial and currently includes artifacts and displays from West Virginia.

The War Came by Train is a five-year long exhibit that changes each year to highlight events that took place 150 years previously.

Dan Toomey, guest curator, said part of the exhibit is in the roundhouse with some of the railcars as a backdrop to highlight eight real people who lived during the war. The people are represented by mannequins.

"You have this German immigrant who worked for the railroad and lived a few blocks away, Toomey said. "As we pass through, you'll see an escaped slave from West Virginia who went to work for the railroad brigade, we'll see a Union soldier, we'll see a Confederate officer, we'll see a lady who was taking a trip from the Shenandoah Valley to New York via Martinsburg, we'll see a locomotive engineer and we'll see Gen. B.F. Kelly from West Virginia."

One mannequin is dressed as Capt. Thomas Sharp; whose photo appears on a plaque explaining how, under the command of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, Sharp was charged with moving stolen train cars from the Martinsburg to Strasburg, Va., beginning in 1861.

"Over a period of about six or eight months, he moved 14 locomotives and 83 railcars belonging to the B&O Railroad up the Shenandoah Valley via the Valley Turnpike because there weren't any railroads, and then reassembled them," Toomey said, "and then they were used for the Confederacy throughout the war."

In addition to the exhibit in the roundhouse, an adjacent gallery features some West Virginia history and artifacts. Toomey said one display case is dedicated to the state's participation in the war and its soldiers.

"Also, one of the really unique items in the case is the actual [U.S.] flag that flew over the corporate headquarters of the B&O Railroad in 1863, when a new star was added for the state of West Virginia," he said. "So that's a real 1863 flag that belongs to the B&O Railroad."

Other items in the case tell the story of West Virginia's military participation and statehood. They belong to Richard Wolfe of Bridgeport, W.Va., who serves on the state's Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission.

There's also information on the May 1863 Jones-Imboden Raid into what is now West Virginia. During the raid, Brig. Gens. William Jones and John Imboden set out to disrupt the railroad throughout Western Virginia by damaging bridges and other infrastructure.

"Their mission was to destroy the B&O Railroad in its entirety, from Cumberland west to the Ohio River," Toomey said. "They did destroy the Fairmont Bridge; they set fire to the oil fields up near Wheeling at Burning Springs."

"The petroleum industry was just getting started, and one of the largest oil fields was in West Virginia," he said, "and the Confederates completely burned it out; it didn't come back to life ever again the way it was."

Toomey said the Confederates destroyed a number of bridges, wrecked trains and did quite a bit of damage.

"They were on the loose for several weeks," Toomey said.

One of the more interesting artifacts on display is a wooden rifle crate donated to the museum by collector Richard Berglund of Silver Spring, Md. Berglund said the crate was used to transport Model 1841 rifles from the Harpers Ferry Arsenal.

"The crate itself was sent from Harpers Ferry Arsenal in, at that point, Virginia by the master armor Burton to Colonel Huger at the Pikesville Arsenal, which was just outside of Baltimore" Berglund said. "The crate was shipped by the B&O Railroad and it's a very unique crate, particularly since it was made of wood and the thing that happened to almost all of them, they were broken up for firewood."

The exhibit will remain on display at the B&O Railroad Museum for one year.


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