“The Brave, The Gallant and Men Behaving Badly,” a Civil War exhibit featuring new artifacts, will be unveiled Saturday at the Pettis County Historical Society Museum’s open house.
During Memorial Day weekend Rhonda Chalfant, president of the society, was preparing the exhibit by placing items into glass cases to share with others the stories and lives of the soldiers, citizens and slaves alike from a long ago war.
She said there were brave and gallant Pettis Countians, both men and women, during the Civil War but also bushwhackers, guerrillas or irregulars who terrorized the area.
“Some of them fell into what they were doing after their families were attacked,” she said. “Jesse James for example. He joined the guerrillas as a response as to how Union troops had treated his family. Some of them like Cole Younger became respectable after the war.”
Others, including women and slaves, exhibited bravery in the face of all odds and the brutality of war.
“We will be sure to include the women’s stories,” Chalfant said. “We have information from women who were involved as participants, who delivered messages, who got into trouble for feeding the troops. We have information about the black men who joined at the camp in Sedalia, Ft. Malcolm. We have information about the black men who assisted the Home Guard.”
She said the exhibit will be divided into three sections: a third before the war, a third pertaining to the war, and a third taking place after the war.
“The part of the before the war will be about slavery in Pettis County,” she said. “There will also be maps that will identify the settlements in Pettis County before the war and pictures of some of the homes of some of the people before the war.”
One of the new items in the exhibit will be maps showing where some of the skirmishes took place.
“There was activity all over the county,” Chalfant said. “And because we have a collection of official records, ‘The War of the Rebellion,’ which we were given, we can pinpoint where the various troops were moving when, and what happened.”
Series I of “The War of the Rebellion” was donated to the society from Texas from the estate of a person who once lived in Sedalia; it takes in close to 30 large volumes.
“The Missouri State Archives has the complete collection,” she said. “We are very fortunate to have series I.”
Much of Series I is devoted to the Missouri-Arkansas Campaigned, Chalfant added.
“And a great deal of the information that we put onto the exhibit will come from there.”
Another new addition is an old photo of Union soldier Michael Thomas Slane, dressed in his uniform. Slane once lived at 916 W. Sixth St. The current home owner, Dennis McFadden, found Slane’s photo in the attic and donated it to the society.
“He came back here and lived in Sedalia after the war,” Chalfant said.
Many of the items have been donated to the society and a few are on loan for the exhibit.
A period briefcase belonging to George G. Vest, a U.S. Senator, is also on exhibit.
“Vest came into Georgetown in 1853,” Chalfant said. “Served in the Confederate Senate and the Confederate House of Representatives and then served in the United States Senate after the war. We’re also going to have, we don’t have artifacts, but we’re going to have information about John Phillips, Thomas Crittendon, and Frances Cockrell. They were four attorneys from the Sedalia area, from Pettis County who became very important in the years after the war. Vest, Phillips, Crittendon and Cockrell — two of them supported the Confederacy during the war and two of them supported the Union during the war.”
A U.S. Army saber with hand guard dating from 1864 and a muzzle loading 1850 Springfield rifle and bayonet are included in the exhibit, as well as a surgeon’s bag belonging to Dr. Willaim H. Evans who came to Pettis County with his family in 1840.
“Medicine in the mid 19th century was very primitive,” Chalfant said. “Dr. William Evans was the assistant surgeon to the Missouri State Militia and 13th Missouri Cavalry. He was a Union officer, and this is the field surgeon’s kit. It has two bone saws, various probes. A person who was shot, the doctors might have been able to remove the bullet. If the damage was very severe amputation was pretty much the only option. And many of the people who had bullets removed then, ended up having amputations because gangrene would set in.”
She said the doctors had to be very “quick.” Surgeries were performed without anesthesia and with most soldiers taking a swig of whiskey and biting a bullet.
“If they were lucky, they may have had morphine to give the patients, but likely not,” she added.
While preparing the exhibit, Chalfant confirmed recent rumors that the Historical Society may have to close the museum due to lack of funds.
“We may have to close the museum by next winter,” she said. “We hope not. But we are financially strapped like all other museums. It costs about $500 a month to keep the museum open. That’s an average of utility bills throughout the year. We are in the middle of a fundraising campaign, we sent out letters requesting donations. The society itself will not disband, it will continue to meet, and to do our historic research and answer questions and such.”
Chalfant said the artifacts would be placed into storage if the museum has to close.
“We have not gotten rid of anything,” she added. “We have not deaccessioned anything, we do not plan to.”
Chalfant said they try to cut expenses as much as possible and that many board members contribute to the society to keep the museum doors open. She said she is hoping for the best.
Those interested in contributing funds to the museum may call the society’s secretary-treasurer Clell Furnell at 826-6946. Membership fees are $8 for an individual, $12 for a family and $25 for corporate, but are likely to increase, Chalfant said.
“The Brave, The Gallant and Men Behaving Badly” Civil War Exhibit open house will run from 1 to 4 p.m. this Saturday at the museum, located at 228 Dundee Ave.