Museum celebrates Abraham Lincoln
The histories of Abraham Lincoln and of West Virginia are inseparable. Had Lincoln not been elected, the likelihood of West Virginia being allowed to separate from the Commonwealth of Virginia would have been non-existent.
Feb. 12 marked the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. West Virginia itself will turn 150-years-old on June 20, 2013, a birthday the state owes to the foresight of Lincoln.
“He preserved the American Union during the Civil War,” recounted Tyler County Museum Director Ruth Moore. “He proved to the world that democracy could be a lasting form of government. He did some of this through the Gettysburg Address, and many of his speeches were classic statements. Lincoln was the first Republican president.”
The provisional West Virginia government applied to Congress for admission to the Union, and on Dec. 31, 1862, an enabling act was approved by President Lincoln admitting West Virginia, on the condition that the state included in the constitution a provision abolishing slavery. While experts have said that West Virginia’s admission to the Union was unconstitutional, Lincoln welcomed the new state anyways.
On April 20, 1863, President Lincoln issued the proclamation, admitting the state at the end of 60 days (June 20, 1863), thus becoming the 35th state. At the start of the Civil War there were just 33 stars on the American Flag; the additional stars for Kansas and, later, West Virginia were added in 1861 and 1863 respectively.
The split between the North and the South divided the citizens of Sistersville. Because of this, 51 men formed a group known as the Sistersville Blues. Out of that group, 21 were Southern sympathizers and 30 were true to the North. As a result, the rivalry within the group became violent and fights constantly broke out.
When the group formed, the ladies of Sistersville made them a flag, known as the Sistersville Blues Flag. The 140-year-old flag measures 56 inches by 70 inches with 13 red and white stripes and 33 stars surrounding a green circle with “Sistersville Blues” stitched inside. The reverse side shows the Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“It’s a nice piece and we’ve preserved it,” said Moore. “It was papered in a wall. I thought it was interesting that these soldiers put it in the hands of two old widows to see that it didn’t get captured. They papered it in a wall of a house close to Union Bank and it stayed there for many years. Jane Neuenschwander, who went to Sistersville High School, was the person that gave it.”
The two widows, Martha and Temperance Wells, concealed the flag behind wallpaper at their home on 809 Main St. near the Wiser Oil Building. The flag was given to their nephew, Paul Neuenschwander, and passed down to his daughter Jane. She donated it to the Tyler County Museum, where the flag is displayed in the Military Room.
The Military Room at the museum holds a vast treasure of artifacts from wars, from the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the American Civil War.
One piece that links the museum to the legacy of Abraham Lincoln is a piece of painted muslin cloth that once adorned the funeral train of the assassinated president.
Lincoln, after being shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater April 14, was pronounced dead the next day at 7:22:10 a.m. April 15, 1865. He was the first president to be assassinated or to lie in state
Lincoln’s body was carried by train in a grand funeral procession through several states on its way back to Illinois. On one of those stops, a young girl was given a piece of history.
“We have a framed (picture) of two flags criss-crossed,” described Moore. “The history on it says that it came from the funeral train of Abraham Lincoln. How it came to be preserved and how it came to be removed from the funeral train was a little girl 11-years-old. She carried water to the soldiers who guarded the train.”
Moore says the train was like nothing ever seen at the time and traveled all over the United States so people could pay their last respects. The train passed through Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, New York City, Albany, Erie, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Springfield.
“Six days after Abraham Lincoln’s death, they put his body on this train,” explained Moore. “The funeral train was seven cars and was to travel 1,700 miles and practically retrace Lincoln’s journey to Washington, D.C. four years prior. It would stop along the way at the villages so people could pay their last respects to Honest Abe.”
The museum has many other interesting artifacts from the Civil War, including diaries from various soldiers who fought in the conflict, perfectly preserved. One diary recounts a visit from Lincoln himself.
Moore looks on Lincoln as the greatest of American presidents.
“He met successfully the greatest crisis in the nation’s history,” said Moore. “Some of his outstanding assets were insight. Lincoln realized at the beginning of the Civil War that the Union must be saved or the United States would cease to be a democracy and it would split into two nations. Then one of his other big assets was his ability to express his convictions so clearly that he made million of Americans take that on as a part of their beliefs. And of course the freeing of the slaves.”
To check out the many Civil War pieces at the Tyler County Museum, you can schedule an appointment with Moore at 304-758-2100. The museum is closed for the season, but will re-open in spring.