From Civil War to Civil Rights

New Permanent Display at National Civil War Museum

Notes Direct Harrisburg Tie to U.S. Colored Troops

As commemorations of the Sesquicentennial of the end of the United States Civil War in April 1865 continue, the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg ups its efforts to expand and explain local connections to the war in different ways; this time with a new permanent display that features a life-size figure of one of Harrisburg’s longest-living veterans from the Civil War, Ephraim Slaughter.

Born into slavery, Slaughter (the name of his owners in North Carolina), eventually escaped and enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) in 1863. He was a member of one of the 175 regiments of the USCT that, by war’s end, made up about 10 percent of the entire Union Army. Other notable members of USCT regiments included Martin Robinson Delaney and Christian Fleetwood, recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Slaughter served in Company B, 37th Regiment USCT, under the alias Ephraim Newsome. After the war ended, he came to Harrisburg and lived and worked in the capital city, including at the Lochiel Hotel, until his death on February 17, 1943 at age 97. He was buried with honors at Lincoln Cemetery in Penbrook.

Today, descendants of Slaughter who still reside in Harrisburg helped with preparations and technical assistance for the Slaughter figure to help ensure its authenticity, while other members of the community still belong to American Legion Post 733 named in his honor.

“This exciting new exhibit helps make Civil War history real for young people who may not realize that the struggle for civil rights began with the efforts of not only Lincoln and other abolitionists, but also with the individual efforts of volunteer Colored Troops like Ephraim Slaughter,” noted National Civil War Museum Board Chairman Mike Love.

“The bravery and contributions of men like Ephraim Slaughter are inextricably linked with what ultimately became the movement toward full citizenship that, for some, continues to be debated today. We intend to honor other local heroes like Jim Weedon and Les Ford in the near future,” Love said.

In fact, the courage and devotion displayed by colored troops during the war played an important role in African-Americans gaining new rights. As Frederick Douglas wrote: “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny he has earned the right to citizenship.”

Recognized as one of the nation’s leading interpretive sites for the Civil War, the latest exhibit is part of the museum’s ongoing efforts to “make history come alive for young and old who may or may not know of the many exciting and notable local ties to the Civil War that are all around us,” explained Wayne Motts, CEO of the National Civil War Museum. Additional special exhibits with local connections are planned for later this summer and fall, he said.

According to Motts, exhibits that feature local ties, like the Slaughter connection, help broaden both the reach and scope of the museum by highlighting the contributions of blacks and other minorities in the Civil War effort. For example, about 3,500 Latino-Hispanics – many of them nationals from other countries, like Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico – fought in the Civil War, mostly in the Confederate Army. Notables with Hispanic roots include the U.S. Navy’s first full admiral, David Farragut, whose Spanish father fought in the Revolutionary War, and Captain Henry Pleasants, commander of union forces at the Battle of Petersburg, who later became an anthracite coal executive and is buried in Pottsville, Schuylkill County. Pleasants was born in Argentina.

By the fall of 1865, the Civil War regiments of the United State Colored Troops were disbanded, but the new exhibit at the National Civil War Museum, including the figure of Ephraim Slaughter, stand as a permanent memorial to this important and significant segment of the blue-uniformed troops who helped save the union.

To learn more about the Civil War and its connections locally, visit The National Civil War Museum at 1 Lincoln Circle in Reservoir Park, Harrisburg. The museum is open daily. Summer hours are: Monday through Tuesday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission is $11 for adults, $10 for seniors, $9 for students and $40 for a family pass good for up to two adults and three children (immediate family members only).

 

For more information, call (717) 260-1861 or (800) BLU-GRAY or visit nationalcivilwarmuseum.org.

Joe Benish

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