SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — In 1863, the first items from Civil War battlefields where New Yorkers were fighting and dying started to arrive at the newly created Bureau of Military Statistics in Albany. Among them were a uniform button and the bullet that struck it at the Battle of Cedar Mountain in Virginia.
Thousands of artifacts and 150 years later, more than 100 of those relics — including the damaged button and bullet — are being displayed in a new exhibit at the New York State Military Museum as part of the Empire State’s commemoration of the war’s sesquicentennial.
The exhibit, “Empire for Union,” officially opened July 27 at the museum in downtown Saratoga Springs and will be a permanent part of the museum, which tells New York’s military history from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
New York provided the most soldiers, supplies and funding and suffered the most casualties of any state — North and South — that fought in the war, according to museum curator Courtney Burns. Nearly 40,000 New Yorkers fell during the war.
“The thing we wanted to do was to highlight New York’s role in the war and the war’s impact on the state,” Burns said at the museum, housed in a former state armory in this resort town 25 miles north of Albany.
The exhibit details New York’s role chronologically, focusing on a major battle from each year, such as Gettysburg, fought 150 years ago this summer.
Of the 94,000 Union soldiers who participated in the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, more than 23,000 were New Yorkers. According to the museum, the Union’s first shots were fired by a trooper in the 9th New York Cavalry. Another trooper from the unit, Cpl. Cyrus James, was the first Yankee to die when he was hit by Confederate fire during a skirmish early on July 1.
When the Confederate army began its retreat south on July 4, more than 6,800 New Yorkers had been killed, wounded, missing or captured, more than a quarter of the total Union casualties suffered at Gettysburg.
The Gettysburg artifacts on display include a Confederate soldier’s metal body armor and a shattered musket retrieved from the battlefield.
The museum staff dipped into the state’s extensive Civil War collection, which includes about 900 battle flags carried by New York units during the four-year conflict, the nation’s largest collection of banners.
It’s the first time the state’s Civil War collection has been displayed to such an extent, Burns said, adding that the flags had been displayed for decades at the Capitol after being “just thrown into cases,” while other artifacts were “bounced around” to state armories and the Watervliet Arsenal.
The artifacts — including photos, artwork, weaponry and uniforms — are used to tell the story of New Yorkers’ experience in Civil War battlefield medicine, wartime manufacturing and prisoner of war camps.
The bulk of the museum’s Civil War collection dates back to the creation of the Bureau of Military Statistics, which began acquiring items at the height of the war and continued to do so in the years after the Confederates surrendered in 1865. Many of the items came directly from New York veterans.
“Everything we have we know where it came from, what unit it was with, and how it was acquired,” Burns said.
If You Go…
NEW YORK STATE MILITARY MUSEUM: 61 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs, N.Y., http://dmna.ny.gov/historic/mil-hist.htm . Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Free admission.